Wednesday, April 28, 2010


More on the incinerator storyline I’ve been following: the Times posts an op-ed on the subject.

It’s time for debt armageddon: states are angry about the credit default swaps being sold on their governments (their mere existence, natch). Actually, this has me comforted: California’s (the lowest) only sets you back $19k/year, which is many multiples fewer than our Eurozone buddies. Speaking of them, let’s play wildly differing analyses again. Here’s The Guardian on British bank’s exposure to Portugal, Greece, and Spain, and here’s the NYT on German bank’s exposure. These articles say one hundred billion pounds and twenty-eight billion euros. Let’s say a 40% haircut just because it’s a number I’ve heard widely and this is a back-of-the-envelope deal. Well, forty percent of 100 billion pounds is 40 billion pounds, which you’d imagine would do serious damage to the British balance sheet; the roughly 12 billion euro hit to German banks is probably more manageable. By the by, here’s the New York Times on humiliating Japan’s bureaucrats (remember that Greece’s debt/GDP ratio is around 120 or so; Japan’s is a very healthy 200% with an ageing population. Fun!)

A great Wall Street Journal article on the problems with electronic medical records:
A 2009 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that hospitals with more-advanced electronic systems fared no better than other hospitals on measures of administrative costs, on average, even if the systems "might modestly improve" performance on certain measures of the quality of care.
Perhaps the most important strategy has to do not with how digital records are implemented, but with how they're designed in the first place.

One common complaint: The systems seem to give short shrift to improving patient care; they focus on administrative tasks such as making savvier use of complex billing codes for insurance reimbursement. "When you're trying to read the notes of your colleague [in an electronic record], it's almost impossible to figure out what happened to the patient," says Rushika Fernandopulle, an internist, instructor at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of consultant Renaissance Health. "You have to read through two pages of all this junk that's put in to increase billing."
I think the key here is to designate a common standard that’s simple and effective, in order to realize the vast potential of the system.

So, I don’t often read my alma mater’s newspaper, but this column on Arizona’s immigration law can fairly and minimally be described as ridiculous. The author, in insisting that the Arizona law was merely an extension of current federal law, didn’t think through the extent of the discretionary powers the police were granted. Now, if you want to argue that’s a good thing, that’s certainly your right. But the problem with the piece is simply its lack of empathy: it recognizes so little of its opponent’s arguments that it cannot bother to acknowledge simple, basic facts. The article did have a significant achievement, however: I think it deserves its own entry in “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell’s famous essay concerns using evasive language to deceive the reader using jargon and euphemism to soothe the mind. This is different: it uses biting attempts at humor to evade argumentation and engagement thereof. Apparently ridicule can substitute for logic. It’s a common rhetorical style nowadays, and Rush Limbaugh is probably the foremost practitioner of the style (would conservatives argue the Stewart/Colbert axis is the left’s equivalent?). In this article’s case, the only one being deceived is the author herself.

Foreshadowing? A number of NHS doctors argue that a 20% cut can lead to better health care. Would’ve liked more detail here, but it’s the kind of thinking we’ll be needing to do soon.

Do C.D.O.s serve any social purpose? (They talk mostly about synthetic CDOs, which are more useless.)

A provocative point: are the GOP’s lies actually useful for public discourse? The article points out that no one was discussing end of life issues and health care previous to Palin’s death panel Facebook status update, and that that update led to a debate. This is true, but is it useful? The debate was sparked, but it focused on—as the article note—triviality and talking points. The result was the removal of an inoffensive and inconsequential portion of the bill. I think debate can be prized too richly: if the debate has no good practical consequences (as a debate founded on lies likely will be) then it’s not a worthwhile debate. That we discussed end of life issues in the health care debate is like asking four-year-olds to debate War and Peace. (By the way…should I read that book? It’s the generic long book along with Ulysses for when we need to say “THIS IS A LONG BOOK.”)

For the Stanford football fan in your life: a profile of Andrew Luck. We’re attracting attention; hopefully we can live up to it. I suspect another 8 win season is in the cards.

Here’s a question I have. We know the state of our schools is unacceptable. Let’s leave aside the causes and the solutions here. What I want to know is, why is college enrollment at a record high simultaneously with this schools disgrace? Do these statistics count graduate students and undergrads both?

Debunking the paradox of choice.

A deficit group focused on cutting defense expenditures. Barney Frank remains my hero for quotations like this: "There's a big debate right now about where 3,000 Marines in Okinawa should go. My suggestion is Nebraska," he said. You go, Barney Frank.

The problem with being a trendsetter in fashion: people will knock off your fashion too quickly. The article essentially blames it on technology: the internet, the supply chain being so well managed. I think this is interesting, but true of more fields than fashion: it seems to me TV and movies feature more knockoffs and more remakes every year. I suspect the fault is the culture’s: there’s so much information out there that to gain everyone’s attention, you have to refer to old events to produce that familiar kick of “oh yeah, now that’s interesting.” That’s why we’ll have Magic 8 Ball: The Movie.

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