I’ve beat the odds!

Headline in today's Science Times:

Given that, much to my dismay, I am occassionally addressed by telemarketers as “Mam,” my three kids would suggest I have surely done quite well for myself.


It’s the laziness, Stupid

Though my students typically come into class convinced that it is the liberal bias of the media steering them wrong, the truth quite clearly lies elsewhere.  Al Franken has my absolute favorite quote on this:

make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a
or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda
is do they use too much oil in their hummus. And sometimes they do
use too much oil, and sometimes they don't use enough. But the real
problem with Al-Qaeda is they want to kill us.

The problem, as much as anything, is that journalists are too lazy to get the story right.  There's a fascinating case study in this as Glenn Greenwald has absolutely handed Time's Joe Klein his head in reference to complete fabrications (smearing Democrats as terrorist-loving) that Klein had printed in Time magazine.  In response to being called on his unthinking repetition of Republican spin (i.e., lies), Klein replies:

I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right.

In other words, Klein's job is to sit back in his pundit chair and just say stuff about politics that sounds good.  If he's writing about FISA, well, his time is too important to actually try and understand the legislation or figure out if the Republican staffer feeding him lines is telling the truth.  Heck, that might require actual work. 

Forensic Science is often only one of the two

I really wanted to do a nice post about the great 60 Minutes and Washington Post joint investigation that shows how hundred of people have been put in jail based on FBI science that has been completely debunked.  Alas, I haven't.  If you have not read the story, you should really take a look, though.  It's amazing that the FBI can put people in jail for decades based on “science” when they never even did meaningful tests to see if their “science” really deserved the name.  If you are more in the mood to listen than read, you can also download the 60 Minutes podcast of the story.  Either way, it is really worth your time.
This Thanksgiving, you can be thankful that you are not reading this from jail based upon a bogus, scientifically invalid conviction.  

A bit more Surge

Eaerlier this week I posted that the surge has not worked.  Today, Ezra Klein provides a nice summary of an American Prospect article that extensively makes the case (from Ezra):

Read Matt Duss
on “the Surge.” Glad as we all are that Iraq is getting better, not an
inch of the improvement, so far as anyone can tell, is related to the
surge, or has furthered the cause of national political reconciliation.
There's been a drop in violence because Sunni tribes have turned on
jihadists, because mixed areas have been ethnically cleansed, because
certain factions are tentatively working together, because Sadr has
decided to calm his militia's actions, and so forth.

We have surveyed this great bounty, noticed it has nothing to do with national reconciliation, and in fact points the other way,
and happily embraced “bottom-up reconciliation,” which means arming
various tribes and warlords under the hopes that they later,
voluntarily subsume their authority to a central government they

But these aren't changes that we wanted. Indeed, they're changes point
away from the direction we've always claimed to favor, and are exposing
the failure of our political strategy — national political
reconciliation — which the Surge was supposed
to abet. So judged on its original aims, the surge has been a
tremendous disappointment…

Basically, the same point I was trying to make earlier this week, but much more nicely done. 

Republican health care

Don't want to be the only lefty blogger not to link to today's great LA Times story on the Republican candidates' health care plans.  Giuliani, McCain, and Thomspon have all had cancer and:

All three have offered proposals with the stated aim of
helping the 47 million people in the U.S. who have no health insurance,
including those with preexisting medical conditions. But under the
plans all three have put forward, cancer survivors such as themselves
could not be sure of getting coverage ? especially if they were not
already covered by a government or job-related plan and had to seek
insurance as individuals.

?Unless it?s in a state that has very strong consumer protections,
they would likely be denied coverage,? said economist Paul Fronstin of
the Employee Benefit Research Institute, who has reviewed the
candidates? proposals. ?People with preexisting conditions would not be
able to get coverage or would not be able to afford it.?

Steve Benen's pithy summation is my favorite:

It offers a helpful contrast between the downsides of the two parties?
approaches to healthcare. The problem with the Dems? plans is that
they?re expensive. The problem with the Republicans? policies is that
sick people of modest means can?t get health insurance.


You'd think that hospitals, multi-million dollar operations would be smart enough to not have the whole operation fall apart over somebody who makes maybe $12/hour.  Alas, my experience at WakeMed Raleigh– where million-dollar diagnostic equipment sat idle where highly trained technicians sat waiting for patients, all for a shortage of patient transport personnel– is far from unique

Of all the cogs in that process (reports! scans! diagnoses! lab
results! consults! chains of command! available beds!), one of the most
essential and least respected is the patient transporter, whose
qualifications typically include a high school diploma, a pleasant
disposition and a clean record. ?My job is to move the patient from
Point A to Point B,? says Mr. Sarieminli, who has worked in this
position for seven years…

As administrators in major hospitals around
the country know well, a dawdling patient transporter can set off a
chain reaction of delays throughout the institution.

Seems to me, if hospital administrators had any sense, they'd make sure never to run out of these cogs in the machine so that million-dollar operating theaters, highly-paid doctors, etc., are not just sitting there wasted.  Better to have a patient transporter sitting around with nothing to do than an MRI machine and technician.

Let’s be clear: The Surge has not worked

Okay, so I've been meaning to do a nice long post regarding the title of this post.  Alas, time for blogging is in quite short supply these days.  Thus, let me mention that you should read last week's Tom Ricks' piece in the Post about the failure of the surge.  In short, it does not matter that casualties are down.  The whole point of the surge was to create an environment for political reconciliation that seems further away than ever.  From the beginning of Ricks' story:

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq — Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military
officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure
to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and
Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government
to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but “it's unclear how long that window is going to be open.”

The lack of political progress calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup President Bush
announced in January, which was premised on the notion that improved
security would create space for Iraqis to arrive at new power-sharing
arrangements. And what if there is no such breakthrough by next summer?
“If that doesn't happen,” Odierno said, “we're going to have to review
our strategy.”

About that strategy.  It's not working.  Dan Froomkin has a nice column juxtaposing Ricks' sobering account with GWB's Iraq enthusiasm.  


Just your everyday ad to appeal to the Republican base…

There is no social security crisis

Hopefully you were aware of that fact.  If not, Paul Krugman explains in Friday's column.  The central problem:

Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security ? declaring that
the program as we know it can?t survive the onslaught of retiring baby
boomers ? is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of
showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.

You can show just how politically knowledgeable you are by eschewing the inside-the-beltway wisdom and stop worrying about social security.  Medicare, you can worry about. 

Lethal Injection

Dahlia Lithwick, one of the smartest writers on legal/Constitutional matters, has a really good article up at Slate.com about the medical and legal mess that is lethal injection.  Though there may be a lethal injection protocol that would make sense, the current one would literally be illegal if used for cats and dogs.  Why does everybody keep using it?  Because that's what they've always used and to admit that it is problematic is to admit they've been using a very flawed way of executing people all these years.  When one learns how the protocol was adopted and then passed from state to state, it is pretty damning:

Even defenders of the current protocol concede it was simply copied
from state to state, each cheerfully adopting the 1977 version cooked
up by Dr. Jay Chapman, formerly chief medical examiner in Oklahoma, who
devised the system as a hasty alternative to the firing squad. A
state-to-state game of telephone: That's how the national patchwork of
lethal-injection protocols?many developed and administered in
secret?was born. Thus, at a 1990 meeting with Texas corrections
officials to devise a protocol for Louisiana, Texas officials were
asked why they used 5 grams of sodium pentothal instead of 2 grams,
like other states. According to testimony in a Louisiana appeal, Texas'
prison pharmacy director just laughed: “When we did our first
execution, the only thing I had on hand was a 5-gram vial. And rather
than do the paperwork on wasting 3 grams, we just gave all 5.” Dr. Chapman himself recently acknowledged that it's probably time to change the method.

Less to state governments– when coming up with a new policy and looking for models, do not assume that Oklahoma or Texas actually know what they are doing.  When I lecture on federalism I point out that one of the great features is that states can learn from the successes and failures of other states.  What's kind of disturbing is for them to blindly copy deeply flawed policies just because other states are doing it.  The “everybody does it” argument is no better for a rebellious teenager than a state government, yet:

The reason the states haven't acted is one part strategic and one part inertia. As the appellants' brief in Baze
(PDF) points out, most of the states have persistently stood by their
protocols with the argument that everyone else is doing it. Kentucky
adopted Chapman's cocktail without “any independent or scientific
studies” because “other states were doing it ? on a regular basis.”

As for whether we should have the death penalty, that's another post, but it is hard to argue with Lithwick's conclusion:

If carelessness, raw politics, and inertia should be driving policy,
the current lethal-injection system is a penalogical grand slam. One
shouldn't have to be opposed to the death penalty, be soft on
criminals, or be a liberal crybaby to insist that procedures that are
hopelessly outdated and medically suspect should be fixed.

Of good and bad Science Fiction

As much as I love to read (and as delinquent as I've been about updating my on-line reading list), I really ought to blog about books more.  that said, a couple thoughts on the science fiction genre.  I just finished an good science fiction novel, Rollback by Robert Sawyer, and put another one down after the first chapter (Glasshouse by Charles Stross) and decided not to continue.  What I think makes for good science fiction is taking intriguing premises about the future, technology, alien life, etc., and using those premises to illuminate the human condition.  What science fiction does is open up a vast array of new and interesting scenarios for us to think about humanity.  Thus, I think all the best science fiction is motivated by the human characters and what the author can ultimately say about them.  Unfortunately, there's a lot of science fiction authors out there who seem to be motivated primarily by the cool, speculative ideas.  Sadly, though, the coolest speculative idea cannot sustain a novel unless it has something interesting to say about people.  So, basically, to oversimplify, I've decided that there are two kinds of science fiction: that motivated to use speculative ideas to tell interesting stories about human character versus that motivated by coming up with coolest, most provocative speculative ideas, period.  I'll keep reading the former (e.g., Dune, The Sparrow) and dropping the latter after a few chapters. 

Voter ID = Democratic Vote Suppression

If there was any doubt that Voter ID laws are little more than a transparent attempt to suppress Democratic votes, the jury is in highlights via TPM:

# 21.8% of black Indiana voters do not have access to a valid photo ID
(compared to 15.8% of white Indiana voters – a 6 point gap).

# When non-registered eligible voter responses are included – the
gap widens. 28.3% of eligible black voters in the State of Indiana to
not have valid photo ID (compared to 16.8% of eligible voting age white
Indiana residents – a gap of 11.5 percent).

# The study found what it termed “a curvilinear pattern (similar to
an upside down U-curve)” in the relationship between age and access to
valid ID – younger voters and older voters were both less likely to
have valid ID compared to voters in the middle categories. 22% of
voters 18-34 did not have ID, nor did 19.4% over the age of 70.
(compared to 16.2% of Indiana voters age 35-54 without valid ID and
14.1% for 55-69 year olds).

# 21% of Indiana registered voters with only a high school diploma
did not have valid ID (compared to 11.5% of Indiana voters who have
completed college – a gap of 9.5%).

# Those with valid ID are much more likely to be Republicans than
those who do not have valid ID. Among registered voters with proper ID,
41.6% are registered Republicans, 32.5% are Democrats.

Kevin Drum has excerpted some nice graphs and adds a terrific final comment:

By a substantial margin, the Indiana residents most likely to
possess photo ID turn out to be whites, the middle aged, and
high-income voters. And while this is undoubtedly just a wild
coincidence, these are also the three groups most like to vote for
Republicans. (2006 exit poll data here for the suspicious.) Overall, 91% of registered Republicans had photo IDs compared to only 83% of registered Democrats.

But like I said, this is probably just a coincidence. I'm sure Karl
Rove and the RNC had no idea that the demographics broke down like
this. Right?

There is no widespread voter fraud.  We are simply seeing a Republican attempt to use the institutions of government to further tilt the playing field in their favor. 

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