26 October 2005

Learning from conservatives

Sometimes they have a lot to teach us. Listen once in a while, and we might learn something. For example, here's Wal-Mart on the evils of Medicaid-dependency:
The memo said Wal-Mart workers tended to overuse emergency rooms and underuse prescriptions and doctor visits, perhaps from previous experience with Medicaid.
They go on to point out that health savings accounts are mostly useful for screening out people likely to get sick (also known as skimming). While this is pretty obvious, most people wouldn't realize that just making jobs more physically active is an even more cost-effective way of achieving this!
The memo proposed incorporating physical activity in all jobs and promoting health savings accounts. Such accounts are financed with pretax dollars and allow workers to divert their contributions into retirement savings if they are not all spent on health care. Health experts say these accounts will be more attractive to younger, healthier workers.
Also, sometimes people say that efficiency and health gains from causing people to change behavior will outweigh the negative effects of screening. "Not so!" says Wal-Mart, and one has to assume that they know their shit.
"It will be far easier to attract and retain a healthier work force than it will be to change behavior in an existing one," the memo said. "These moves would also dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart."

On a somewhat unrelated, and much less sarcastic, note, they might have some good points about the origins of the minimum wage and about the role of White Southern business owners in ending Jim Crow. (But lest we confuse conservatives with people with actually admirable politics, let's take a moment to remember Rosa Parks.)

Update: The full Wal-Mart memo is also educational. And encouraging! In the "Public Relations" section, it concludes that

While [Wal-Mart] critics have not yet harnessed all of these facts, they are successfully exploiting those they do have, suggesting that, when discovered, the others will also become effective ammunition.

23 October 2005

frogmarch! frogmarch! frogmarch!

It's been years since reading the news has been this enjoyable! Josh Marshall points out that we should still watch out for Administration damage control, specifically trying to get everything to stick to Libby, and letting Bush float above things the way Reagan did. More fundamentally, we shouldn't be fooled when the press starts saying that they've changed, and really do love democracy, and while they might mumble a lot over their apology for all that Iraq WMD reporting, everything's under new management and it's all going to be better now; despite this, let's not start trusting our abusers any time soon.

In any case, I think this is a good time to post some of my favorite links related to the scandal. (Drafted months ago, as with many of my recent posts...)

First, let's just take a moment to savor the word "frogmarch":

sadly, this was created using photoshop and is not a photo of actual events

Now, here's a video of the press trying to sweet-talk us into letting them back into our confidences. It's a beautiful sight, and if you haven't seen it before you should definitely watch, but don't let yourself be seduced.

Much less well-known is this gem from Josh Marshall about Robert Luskin, who is Rove's personal lawyer. You should just read the whole thing, but here's the key excerpt.

One case that jumps out at you is his representation of Stephen A. Saccoccia.

Saccoccia and his wife Donna were eventually convicted of laundering more than a hundred million dollars for various Colombian drug kingpins. Stephen is currently serving a 660 year sentence. Their racket was laundering drug money through companies which traded in precious metals.

Saccoccia was convicted in 1993. And Luskin [now Rove's lawyer] took up his case on appeal.

Eventually the Feds got the idea that the money Saccoccia had paid Luskin and his other attorneys for their services was itself part of the $137 million in drug money he was ordered to forfeit. Now, on the face of it this seems a bit unfair since under our system everyone is entitled to good representation and how was Luskin to know it was tainted money.

Well, the prosecutors thought he should have gotten some inkling when Saccoccia started paying Luskin's attorney's fees in gold bars.

Yep, you heard that right. Luskin got paid more than $500,000 of his attorney's fees in gold bars from his client who was trying to appeal his conviction on charges that he laundered drug money through precious metals dealers. Who woulda thought that was drug money?

Another key moment in this saga: the emergence of the line "double super secret background" on the national stage.

Mr. Cooper said he spoke to Mr. Rove on "deep background," saying the sourcing description of "double super secret background" he used in his e-mail message to his boss was "not a journalistic term of art" but a reference to the film "Animal House," where the Delta House fraternity was placed on "double secret probation."
Speaking of Rove, it's worth noting that he was fired by Bush Sr. for---you'll never guess---retaliating against an opponent by leaking a damaging story to Robert Novak! I have to admit, though, that I only learned about this via Mark Fiore.

Finally, in the recent Times coverage of the Miller fiasco, the google ads at the bottom were:

Cheap Flights - Iraq
Last minute deals and cheap flights to Iraq

Security Iraq
Convoy escorts, personal security, base security details

Jobs in the Gulf - US$79
Send your resume to 200 Consultants in the Gulf through Monster-Resumes

Lest we forget what this First Amendment crap is ultimately all about.

The first ad has a link to "Saddam Airport" in Baghdad with airport code SDA. Unfortunately, there weren't any flights available, and the page that says this seems to think that SDA stands for Shenandoah. On the other hand, the second website seems well-maintained...

20 October 2005

one of several courses competing for the attention of a student

The only internet quiz I've ever posted (via Mick and Steve Flammia).

If I were a Springer-Verlag Graduate Text in Mathematics, I would be Bela Bollobas's Modern Graph Theory.

I am an in-depth account of graph theory, written with the student in mind; I reflect the current state of the subject and emphasize connections with other branches of pure mathematics. Recognizing that graph theory is one of several courses competing for the attention of a student, I contain extensive descriptive passages designed to convey the flavor of the subject and to arouse interest.

Which Springer GTM would you be? The Springer GTM Test

I think it is safe to say that this subsumes many other quizzes, like the nerdiness quiz.

18 October 2005

TB muddies the water

Since the patent for ciprofloxacin (a.k.a. Cipro) expires soon, Bayer is going to test the successor drug moxifloxacin against tuberculosis. If the clinical trials work, it'll be the first new TB drug in 40 years; something which should be high on the priority list of the human race, as 1.5-2 million die of TB each year (at one point, 1/4 of all preventable adult deaths in developing countries were from TB).

This potential new treatment is great news, but it's hard not to notice the fucked-up incentives that dictate availability of these drugs:

Beside the small profits made serving poor countries, there are other risks to registering a drug for TB. For example, the cheaper pills may be shipped back to rich countries for "gray market" sale. In nations with broken-down health systems, the drug may be sold openly and overused, leading to drug-resistant germs that make their way to rich countries and render the company's best-seller useless. And when millions use a drug for months, rare side effects can emerge, forcing its withdrawal, much like unexpected reports of heart attacks forced Merck to pull Vioxx, its best-selling painkiller, from the market.

"Companies are much more likely to offer drugs that have no commercial value, or to piggyback a drug from the veterinary sector and give it a human application," said Dr. Mary Moran, an expert on drugs for neglected diseases at the London School of Economics. "Big companies say 'TB muddies the water.' If it works, governments may try to restrict it for TB use. And if you get a side effect, you've just trashed your best commercial antibiotic."

The problem with drug-resistant diseases isn't even that eventually White people will get them, it's that their spread will undermine the value of crucial intellectual property.

Hopefully a future civilization will some day look back on the broader picture the way we look back at, say, child sacrifice. But at least this development is positive!

06 October 2005

coexisting with nature

This is less of a post than a placeholder for article links, but I saw an article that asked why mosquitos were essential to ecosystems; a natural question since this is one species most of us would like to see extinct. It turns out that mosquitos are actually more important than most other species to ecosystem survival, but only partly because they keep animal populations in check by spreading disease. Much more important is that they keep humans away by spreading disease. A pretty gruesome tradeoff, and hopefully one that is not often necessary.

With that prologue, here's an article about how the Northeast of the U.S. wasn't originally covered in forest, since Native Americans regularly used fire to clear land. The forests appeared as the Native Americans disappeared, which is why they're only a few hundred years old.

Also, an article titled Does a Tiger Lurk in the Middle of a Fearful Symmetry? points out that tigers and other wildlife have returned to the Korean DMZ. Landmines and barbed wire are far less of a threat than highways and subdivisions. Likewise, animals are doing much better with post-Chernobyl radiation than anywhere where there are people.

I feel weird ending a blog post without some kind of bold and ill-thought-out political statement, so perhaps I should say here that the U.S. should depopulate the middle of the country (other than farming, mining, parks, a few roads, trains and Wall Drug) and move everyone into dense cities with populations no smaller than half a million each. This is sort of happening already, but people are doing things to stop it that are shitty economically and worse environmentally.

Shooting Friedman in a barrel

Though this post was drafted almost a year ago, and neglected, Thomas Friedman is fortunately constant enough that it should stay relevant.

In this Thanksgiving 2005 article, he mocks privileged Americans whose unconscious selfishness ignores the sacrifices that our troops are making to establish democracy in Iraq. Examples are Republicans changing House ethics rules to save Tom Delay's bacon, overpaid basketball players and of course SUV drivers. The way he keeps coming back to Iraq needs to be quoted,

Yes, I want to be Latrell Sprewell. At a time when N.B.A. games are priced beyond the reach of most American families, when half the country can't afford health care, when some reservists in Iraq are separated from their families for a year, including this Thanksgiving, I want to be like Latrell. I want to make sure everyone knows that I'm looking out for my family - and no one else's.
in order to bring out the connection with
WALTER: Those rich fucks! This whole fucking thing-- I did not watch my buddies die face down in the muck so that this fucking strumpet--

DUDE: I don't see any connection to Vietnam, Walter.

WALTER: Well, there isn't a literal connection, Dude.

DUDE Walter, face it, there isn't any connection. It's your roll.

But what really makes this article over the top is that it's written by one of the leading American cultural figures most responsible for getting us into Iraq! If we're assigning blame to elites, Thomas Friedman gets way more of it than Latrell Sprewell. Adding further to the irony, of course, is that his article is all about how these elites enjoy their privilege entirely self-righteously, without any apparent guilt about our troops dying over there.

On a vaguely similar note, Naomi Klein has an article about how thoroughly blind Americans are to the fact that we're butchering Iraqis on a massive scale. In contrast, the Bristol Metro recently had the front three pages about war pornography on the normally "regular porn" website nowthatsfuckedup.com (no link to the Metro article, but see billmon for an explanation). The emphasis is still on how this is bad for the soul of the West, but at least violence against Iraqis is an implicit theme.