January 2009, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
High Tech Surgery: There is a high technology device that can dramatically improve surgical results, without adding to costs.
The high tech device? A checklist.
A simple checklist, similar to the one pilots use before takeoff, helped to halve the rate of surgery-related deaths, an international team of doctors reported Wednesday.In fact, since complications almost always run up the bill, checklists would almost certainly cut costs.
I have been arguing for years that we can improve outcomes and reduce medical costs at the same time. This study provides more evidence for my unconventional view.
(I am only half joking when I call a checklist high tech. As a tool of management, or self-management, as in this case, it is high technology, though we don't often think of it that way.)
- 1:26 PM, 16 January 2009 [link]
Bush's Image Will Improve: Because, says Charles Krauthammer, Barack Obama will adopt Bush policies.
Except for Richard Nixon, no president since Harry Truman has left office more unloved than George W. Bush. Truman's rehabilitation took decades. Bush's will come sooner. Indeed, it has already begun. The chief revisionist? Barack Obama.You'll want to read the whole column.
I have to say that I am a little less optimistic than Krauthammer, in two ways. There is not much evidence that Obama has learned from Bush successes in domestic policy, nor do I expect much decline in "cheap criticism and calumny" during the next four years, though they will appear even more foolish to fair-minded people.
- 1:07 PM, 16 January 2009 [link]
Skillful Pilot Saves Passengers: U. S. Airways Captain Sullenberger is being described as brave by almost everyone. And no doubt he is brave, but I think that his skill, rather than his bravery, made the difference yesterday.
But from early indications, it appears the pilot handled the emergency river landing with aplomb and avoided major injuries, evacuating the plane, an Airbus A320, calmly in the middle of the river, passengers and officials said.If I should ever be in an airplane crash, I would hope that the pilot was a "seriously good aviator".
- 9:36 AM, 16 January 2009 [link]
All Right, What Will Obama Sacrifice? Last Sunday, George Stephanopoulos asked Barack Obama about sacrifices we might have make under his policies. Here's the exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me press you on this, at the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of a grand bargain? That you have tax reform, health care reform, entitlement reform, including Social Security and Medicare where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?(Note that Obama does not use Stephanopoulos's word, sacrifice, though he accepts it twice. And at the end, changes it to something else, since "skin in the game" means accepting a risk — which may or may not result in a sacrifice.)
Now at this point, I would have asked Obama for some specifics. What sacrifices does he expect us all to have to make? But Stephanopoulos changed the subject, leaving me wondering what sacrifices Obama expects us all to make, and even, given that last bit, whether he expects us to sacrifice at all.
And, I would have gotten a little impertinent and asked Obama what he expected to sacrifice, personally. (One thing is for certain; it won't be his inaugural, which will be the most extravagant ever. And, though I haven't made an exhaustive search, I can't recall any other sacrifices Obama plans to make.)
If he agrees with Stephanopoulos that we all must sacrifice — and that isn't absolutely clear — then Obama should set an example and give up something.
- 3:22 PM, 15 January 2009 [link]
The Seattle PI Admits They Have A Double Standard: (At least. They may have a triple or quadruple standard.)
In an editorial on the Geithner nomination.
There's another problem here: transparency. Obama's staff told senators about the tax problems on Dec. 5. We should have been clued in, say, Dec. 6. It should not come up hours before a Senate confirmation hearing -- not when it's clear that transparency is supposed to be the standard for this new administration. We can only imagine what we would have said had Geithner been a Bush appointee.
And so can anyone else who reads the PI regularly.
I appreciate this admission, and would like to see similar admissions from other "mainstream" journalists. We are better off when biased journalists admit their biases, rather than pretend that they treat both parties equally. (Best of all would be "mainstream" journalists who held our two major parties to the same standards, but there is no reason to expect that to be common behavior any time soon.) I appreciate it enough so that I actually bought a copy of the PI because of that admission.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(Incidentally, anyone who expects transparency from the Obama administration is unfamiliar with his record, or believes that his past performance does not predict what Obama will do in the future. Obama has chosen to hide much of his past. That makes it almost certain that he and his administration will hide much of what they do.)
- 1:44 PM, 15 January 2009 [link]
No One Is In Favor Of Terrorism: I learn the most interesting things when I listen to the Dave Ross show. Some might think all those gentle folks blowing themselves (and others) up shows that at least a few people are in favor of terrorism. Others might suggest that the school curriculum in areas controlled by that terrorist organization, Hamas, also shows that at least a few people are in favor of terrorism. Those who know a little history will recall that there were open celebrations in the areas controlled by the PLO after the 9/11 attack. And those with just a little sophistication can find polls showing that support for terrorism is quite common in some places.
Nonetheless, Ross can conclude, or at least can say, that no one is in favor of terrorism. In its own perverse way, his refusal to see the evidence is impressive. But his refusal is not novel. As Orwell said, "the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome". Ross doesn't want to believe that some people are in favor of terrorism — and so he doesn't.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Curiously, or perhaps not so curiously, Ross describes himself as a "crusader for common sense", and often criticizes others, especially others on the right, for being trapped by their own ideologies. I would guess that Ross has never heard Keynes' famous lines:
Ross is not a madman, but somewhere he acquired an ideology that is remarkably impervious to facts, if those facts are unwelcome.A semi-apology: I always feel a little embarrassed when I criticize Ross, as if I were picking on a little kid. But he has a big audience, so it is fair to conclude that many people agree with him, that many people would see nothing wrong with his claim that no one is in favor of terrorism. I would not be surprised, for example, to learn that Washington state's senior senator, Patty Murray, is in that deluded group.)
- 10:48 AM, 15 January 2009 [link]
Ruth Marcus Has A Dry Sense Of Humor: At the end of this column, she describes a senator as "wise". Which senator? Gaffe master Joe Biden.
(I suppose she might be serious, but it is kinder to assume that she is joking.
The column is mildly interesting. Marcus is complaining about non-answers in the hearing on Obama's nominee for Secretary of Labor, California Congresswoman Hilda Solis. Since Solis is a two-fer, a Hispanic woman, no one will be surprised to see Democrats treating her gently.)
- 3:30 PM, 14 January 2009 [link]
December Was A Lousy Month For Retailers: But a good month for most workers.
Despite this, hourly wages rose 0.3% in December and were up 3.7% from December 2007. With the Consumer Price Index (CPI) expected to decline by 1.2% in December (data released this Friday), real (or, inflation-adjusted) wages likely increased 1.5%. Moreover, those real wages are likely up 4.8% from a year-ago, the fastest increase since 1972.If real wages are increasing faster than any year since 1972, then I don't think that we are in another Great Depression.
This isn't necessarily good news for job seekers. Typically, employment lags in recoveries. Businesses wait until they are certain that they need more workers before adding to their payrolls. The wait may be even longer than usual this time, given the uncertainty about Obama's policies.
(I have been making similar arguments for some months, as you can see here, here, and here.)
- 1:42 PM, 14 January 2009 [link]
Sushi Chefs Are Knife Experts: As two men who attempted to rob a Paris restaurant learned.
(Tim Blair is going along with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and calling fish, "sea kittens".)
- 9:47 AM, 14 January 2009 [link]
From Junkyard Dogs To Lapdogs: Our "mainstream" journalists are making that transition with ease.
As ferociously as we march like villagers with torches against Blagojevich, we have been, in the true spirit of the Bizarro universe, the polar opposite with the president-elect. Deferential, eager to please, prepared to keep a careful distance.Carol Marin is comparing how reporters treat Blagojevich and Obama. But she could say almost the same things about how reporters treat President Bush and president-elect Obama.
It is fascinating to see how willing "mainstream" reporters are to be Obama lapdogs. (A small bit of evidence: On last Friday's Gang of Four show, two of the journalists, or perhaps I should say "journalists", were planning to attend the Obama inauguration. And they were not going there in a critical mood. In contrast, one of the four, Knute Berger, had attended Bush's 2000 inauguration — to protest against it.) As Marin says, many reporters attend the press conferences, but don't even bother to raise their hands. Instead, they are "deferential" and "eager to please" Obama.
As most of you have already realized, by picking reporters in this systematic way, Obama can control the questions he is asked, since his press people can usually make pretty good guesses as to which reporters will ask which questions. It is too much to expect that the Obama people will choose reporters who will ask challenging questions. And a reporter who does ask a challenging question will probably not be on Obama's list at the next press conference. Reporters, knowing that, will self-censor.
It is obvious, but I suppose I should say it anyway. We are best served when reporters are watchdogs, rather than junkyard dogs or lapdogs.
(These reporters are behaving toward Obama like Jeff Gannon behaved toward President Bush.)
- 7:26 AM, 14 January 2009 [link]
Bush Should Pardon Scooter Libby: Clarice Feldman makes the case.
In sum, on the only charge of a leak which the jury considered (to Time's Matt Cooper) Libby was acquitted. The jury never found that he'd leaked Plame's identity to anyone. Nor was there any evidence of any rational motivation to lie on his part about any of the conversations into which the FBI or the grand jury was probing. There was a significant body of evidence that, as with virtually every witness for the prosecution, Libby, too, may have -- many months later -- innocently confused the substance of the Russert conversation with similar conversations with others in that same time period. But make no mistake about it: This recollection of a conversation in which Wilson's wife was never mentioned by Libby (but may have been mentioned by Russert) -- and which took place at a time when there was no reason to think, in any event, that such information was of the slightest significance -- is the entire basis for Libby's conviction.I have not followed this case as closely as Feldman has. But I will add this: I have read enough on our faulty memories to find the differences between what Libby remembered, and what Tim Russert remembered exactly the kinds of differences we should expect.
In fact, I will go a little farther. If Russert and Libby and agreed on every detail (without consulting written records), that would have been highly suspicious.
And it is simply outrageous that the trial judge did not allow memory experts to tell the jury these scientific facts.
(Not so incidentally, former ambassador Joseph Wilson told very different stories when he was under oath, and when he was not. And there is good reason to think that his wife, Valerie Plame, may not have told the complete truth when she testified to Congress, under oath.)
- 4:46 PM, 13 January 2009 [link]
Geithner Has A Few Problems: Tax problems.
President-elect Barack Obama's choice to run the Treasury Department and lead the nation's economic rescue disclosed publicly Tuesday that he failed to pay $34,000 in taxes from 2001 to 2004, a last-minute complication that Senate Democrats tried to brush aside as a minor bump on an otherwise smooth path to confirmation.He should get along well with the Charlie Rangel, the chairman of Ways and Means, who has a few little tax problems of his own.
There are two possible explanations of his failure to pay self-employment taxes; he made an honest mistake, or he hoped not to get caught. The first seems more likely to me, simply because our tax system has become so complicated. On the other hand, Geithner should know more about taxes than most of us.
(There's a bonus at the end. Obama's choice for "chief performance officer", Nancy Killefer, failed to pay all of her District of Columbia taxes.)
- 3:38 PM, 13 January 2009
More: I am told by a correspondent with experience in such matters that employees of the International Monetary Fund get clear guidance on their tax liabilities. And Tom Maguire makes a telling point:
Fine, it was tricky and he got bad tax advice - not a real resume boost for a former Under-Secretary of Treasury aspiring to the top job, but there it is. However, as of 2006 he knew he had a liability for 2001 and 2002 - where was his check? Was his conscience unruffled by his non-compliance? Or does Geithner have a ""Don't ask, don't tell" policy on back taxes?After an IRS audit caught his underpayments in 2003 and 2004, Geithner paid up for those years — but did not pay up for 2001 and 2002 until he knew he was going to be named Secretary of the Treasury. It is hard to see not correcting his 2001 and 2002 returns as as an innocent mistake. And once we concede that point, we have to have more doubts about the 2003 and 2004 returns.
- 2:04 PM, 14 January 2009 [link]
Lenticular Clouds: Mt. Rainier often produces them. But they are seldom as spectacular as this set from last month.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(It's not hard to see why some might think lenticular clouds were flying saucers.)
- 12:57 PM, 13 January 2009 [link]
Common Sense On Waterboarding: From Debra Saunders. Here's a sample:
The interrogation methods cited in the New York Times exist in a different universe. Yes, the techniques, which some Bush administration critics want to prosecute, were harsh. But there is strong reason to not call them torture. Grabbing, shaking, open-hand slapping, sleep deprivation, exposure to cold and even the simulated-drowning technique called waterboarding do not scar. They're not the sort of brutal punishment meted out by Saddam Hussein.You'll notice that, unlike the New York Times, Saunders relies on facts for her argument.
And she makes a point that deserves repeating. Waterboarding has been used for years to train our military officers who might be captured. It has also, as Saunders points out, been used by the CIA for similar purposes. This was not a secret, though a series of administrations did not publicize the practice. And no one at the New York Times ever objected.
In fact, as far as I know, they still do not object to waterboarding — when it is used against Americans who have volunteered to protect us, at the risk of their own lives. The New York Times does object to waterboarding when it is used to interrogate terrorists, who would murder us if they could.
- 12:41 PM, 13 January 2009 [link]
More About Hummingbirds: My winter hummingbirds inspired me to find out more about these tiny birds. And they are tiny. They are the smallest birds in the world, weighing, according to the Sibley Guide, between .1 and .4 of an ounce.
As you would expect they have a high metabolism. Their usual body temperatures range between 104 and 111 degrees Fahrenheit. But you might not have guessed this:
At times of food deprivation or cold temperatures, however, they can almost totally suspend body functions by entering a state of torpor. The birds employ this strategy when energy-stressed, such as during cold nights.Hummingbirds eat insects and spiders, or, as the Sibley Guide puts it, "almost any arthropod small enough to swallow", as well as consuming nectar. They can catch insects on the wing, and often do. Some steal prey from spider's webs.
Their ability to migrate is impressive.
Most migrating hummingbird species travel overland. The vast majority of Ruby-throated hummingbirds, however, apparently cross the Gulf of Mexico in nonstop flights each spring and fall. Such long distance flights are possible because the birds can increase their fat reserves and double their weight in as little as seven to ten days before migrating.Try translating that into human terms, if you want to boggle your mind. (Don't forget to allow for the difference in size; a human would have to travel much farther to perform an equivalent feat.)
Hummingbirds are difficult to study because they are so small, fast, and quiet. And so much about them is still a mystery. No one knows, for instance, how they navigate on their migrations, though ornithologists do know that the instructions are inherited, rather than learned.
(You can watch a National Geographic video of hummingbirds, if this description has made you want to see some pictures of the birds. The so-so quality of the video makes me feel a little better about my own difficulties photographing the birds.)
- 7:38 PM, 12 January 2009 [link]
Dave Barry Reviews 2008: Just in case you missed it. (I had, though I had seen excerpts.) Here are my favorite Obama bits:
On the Democratic side, the surprise winner [of the Iowa caucus] is Barack Obama, who is running for president on a long and impressive record of running for president. A mesmerizing speaker, Obama electrifies voters with his exciting new ideas for change, although people have trouble remembering exactly what these ideas are because they are so darned mesmerized. Some people become so excited that they actually pass out. These are members of the press corps.But even Obama supporters will find some bits they like in the review.
- 2:18 PM, 12 January 2009 [link]
Should The CIA Collect Intelligence? Not according to by this New York Times editorial. The Times favors the appointment of Leon Panetta as head of the CIA, for pretty much the same reasons that Dick Morris opposes the appointment. The Times expects Panetta to punish those who have fought the war on terror, rather than fight the war on terror.
Think that's too strong? Then read these excerpts from the editorial:
There has been some grousing in Washington (and a lot more across the river in Langley) about how Leon Panetta, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, is not an intelligence insider. As far as we're concerned, that's not Mr. Panetta's only qualification for the job, but it is certainly on the list.And, if you still don't believe me, read the whole thing. Not once in the editorial does the Times say that Panetta will improve intelligence operations at the CIA. Or even keep them the same. As far as the Times is concerned, that just doesn't matter. (They do say that the CIA has "essential" work, but that it is as close as they come to mentioning actual intelligence operations.)
Note also that the Times strongly favors an accounting "as public as possible". Such a public accounting will help our terrorist enemies — as anyone who has any common sense should know.
(For the record, the CIA apparently used waterboarding three times and, judging by the public reports, got important intelligence every time.
I've sent a letter to the Times making these obvious points. They won't publish it, since their letters editor does not care much for dissenting views.)
- 1:24 PM, 12 January 2009 [link]
Does It Work Both Ways? While cleaning out my browser bookmarks, I found this 2007 David Ignatius column on the sale of the Wall Street Journal. In the article, Ignatius makes this claim:
That balance began to change in the 1990s, after Pearlstine and his pal John Huey left for Time Inc. The Journal's editorial page increasingly did its own reporting, with equal portions of journalistic hustle and ideological spin, and it often overshadowed the news side. I suspect that helped undermine the franchise. Advertisers, in the end, perhaps weren't enthralled with a newspaper distinguished by vitriolic right-wing attack editorials.Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that Ignatius is right. What I wonder is whether he thinks this works both ways. Would vitriolic left-wing attack editorials undermine a left-wing newspaper? (Or vitriolic left-wing columns, op-eds, articles, or blog posts.)
For instance, during almost the entire eight years that President Bush has been in office, the New York Times attacked him with vitriolic editorials. Would Ignatius agree that this is one of the reasons that the Times is in serious trouble? Another example is closer to home. I used to read the Washington Post web site more regularly than I do now. One reason I read it less is that the on-line blogs there are often filled with vitriolic attacks on President Bush and the Republican party. (Another reason is that the Post site is badly organized, so badly organized that I have sometimes wondered if the person who designed the site was being paid to damage the Post.) Would Ignatius agree that those vitriolic blog entries have hurt the Post?
In short, does it work both ways? Because, if so, there are many "mainstream" news organizations that would be doing much better if they tried to be a little fairer and a little less vitriolic toward Republicans and conservatives.
- 10:29 AM, 12 January 2009
Ignatius did not reply to my email asking him whether the thought it worked both ways. I do think it works both ways, and I think that vitriolic left-wing attacks have hurt far more news organizations than vitriolic right-wing attacks have. For what it is worth, the New York Times is in serious financial difficulties and the Wall Street Journal, the target of his criticism, is not.
- 7:37 AM, 19 January 2009 [link]
That Will Work For One Generation: Feminist "freethinkr" says we should say no to reproduction.
Thus as I realized how the cultural imperative on starting a family was unfair to women and the poor, I felt an instinctive aversion to it. That is the emotionally conditioned response that could override our responses to needs and instincts that make us want to reproduce. And if we rule out the biological 'instinct', which is strictly only to have sex and not to reproduce, my case for saying no to reproduction becomes much stronger.Does freethinkr realize this solution has an end date? Why, yes, she does.
So it makes sense to say that if the world has to change, reproduction has to go. Of course there is an ecological responsibility to reduce the human population, or even end it , and a lot was said about that on the blogosphere recently (here, and here), but an ecological consciousness is not how I came to my decision to remain child-free.And she's in favor of that end date. Not for ecological reasons, but because, as she sees it, families are just so darn unfair.
Hard-hearted conservative that I am, I tend to reject solutions that end in the extinction of the human race. But that's just me.
(By way of Darlene Click. Click agrees that freethinkr should not reproduce, but thinks that others should.
Incidentally, freethinkr is wrong to think that families necessarily lead to greater inequality. One of the best things that a woman can do to improve her financial prospects is to marry a hard-working man. Overall, this reduces inequality.
As you probably noticed, she's also wrong in her understanding of instincts. If that isn't obvious, take a baby to a college campus and watch the reactions of the young women.)
- 8:40 AM, 12 January 2009 [link]
Morris And McGann Are Unimpressed By Obama's Anti-Terror Picks: To put it mildly.
President-elect Barack Obama's appointments to Homeland Security, the Justice Department and now the CIA indicate a virtual abandonment of the War on Terror.Morris and McGann are incorrect when they say Panetta was a pro-Nixon congressman, although Panetta did work in the Nixon administration. Here's how the 1998 Almanac of American Politics explains his party switch:
Panetta first made headlines in 1970, when he was fired as head of the Office of Civil Rights at HEW over policy differences; he switched parties in 1971, returned home and ran for Congress in 1976 against a starchy Republican out of sync with the newcomers to the district. (p. 123)But they are right to mention Panetta's Republican background. Panetta has been relatively cautious about spending throughout his career — especially for a California Democrat.
The reason Panetta was fired from HEW tells us something about his values. Although it is seldom mentioned, Richard Nixon was about as liberal on civil rights issues as his two Democratic predecessors, Kennedy and Johnson. (And Nixon achieved far more than Kennedy did, though that fact may not appear in your children's textbooks.) Apparently, Panetta was far to the left of the Nixon administration on the issue.
And that fits with what Panetta has said about the War on Terror. Panetta worries greatly about how we are treating terrorists, and worries little about how effective we are in finding terrorists. Those attitudes are understandable for those in the civil rights movement; they are crippling for the effective prosecution of the war on terror.
(Here are descriptions of the FALN and Clinton's controversial pardons. The Senate voted to condemn Clinton for the pardons, 98-2.
Panetta was briefly an aide to Mayor John Lindsay of New York — after Lindsay had switched from Republican to Democrat. Lindsay did great damage to New York, but did not learn much from his failures.)
- 8:07 AM, 12 January 2009 [link]
The Alabama Jailhouse Diet: Let me start out by saying that, if these charges are true, Sheriff Bartlett was mistreating the prisoners.
The prisoners in the Morgan County jail here were always hungry. The sheriff, meanwhile, was getting a little richer. Alabama law allowed it: the chief lawman could go light on prisoners' meals and pocket the leftover change.But at the same time, it is clear that Bartlett has developed a successful diet.
"There was undisputed evidence that most of the inmates had lost significant weight," the judge, U. W. Clemon of Federal District Court in Birmingham, said Thursday in an interview. "I could not ignore them."And such diets are often worth a great deal of money. Especially when they have such great records of success.
- 1:31 PM, 9 January 2009 [link]