Saturday, 25 August 2012

Starving the Future

The New York Times‘ Charles M. Blow had an op-ed by that title in today’s issue, lamenting American support for education, including plenty of depressing stats I won’t repeat here. He is, sadly, on target. The right seems to consider educators to be their enemies, despite the obvious fact that most of them received a pretty fair education themselves. As a budget item they consider education an unwelcome burden that interferes with their program of tax cuts and defense increases.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

What R&R don’t understand, along with their Tea Party followers and too many reasonable Republicans, is that we do not invest in education for the benefit of the student. Their position seems to be that every student should be paying for his own schooling, and certainly his own lunch, and if they can’t pay for it their parents should or they should land a scholarship — anybody but the society as a whole. This is nonsense. As a society we pay for education because we want to live in a world that benefits from having an educated populace. An educated society is less violent, more creative, wealthier, and, if nothing else, has cooler toys.

If I Were King my realm would probably err in the other direction. With any luck the Tea Partiers would be clamoring to emigrate to the benighted lands of their choice. That would be my only area of agreement with them.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Todd Akin, Redux

What Rep Akin said on Monday regarding his plan to not allow an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape in legislation he would like to see was this, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” For obvious reasons, this has caused a dramatic kerfuffle, most of his own party wanted him to withdraw from the race. Significantly, he could have done just that by close of business on Tuesday and allowed the party to replace him with very little expense or inconvenience.

Apparently his political judgment is as acute as his comprehension of human physiology and he not only failed to withdraw he brazenly committed himself to continuing the race. He apologized for his remarks: “Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way, and for that I apologize.” No, Congressman, you didn’t use the wrong words in the wrong way, you used very effective words in a brilliant way to demonstrate that you are absolutely clueless.

To my great surprise, much of the published discussion about the case somehow actually revolves around the extreme, if common among social conservatives in the Republican Party, position that there should be no exception for rape in any future ban on abortion. But that seems to dramatically miss the point. Akin is in a position of significant power and believes that he has the moral, theological, and philosophical authority to control the medical decisions of women when he doesn’t understand as much of the process as the average 13-year-old girl. At least where I grew up, girls seemed to have an extremely clear understanding of human reproduction, even if some of us boys were a little slower.

If I Were King I would be grateful that I was not king of Missouri.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Medical expertise and Todd Akin

In my youth, most Americans tended to defer to their doctors on questions of diagnosis and treatment. It was father-knows-best, most doctors were men and most patients treated them as demigods. I think it’s a clear improvement that we generally take responsibility for our own health care decisions now.

If my doctor tells me “We’re going to do blah-blah-blah” I am likely to reply “What if we try this <other> first?”. Or if a prescription is mentioned, I’m likely to ask if that’s the most effective solution or if a less-expensive drug might not avail. Or even, on rare occasions, “You’re not listening to me!” before overruling the doc’s initial plan.

On the other hand, my doctor has more training and more experience. I don’t think I’ve ever challenged a choice of antibiotic, I just don’t know all the variations on that theme and primary-care doctors do. Plus, she has the prescription pad, so as with almost every case, we have to agree on a plan before we can pursue it.

There are obvious exceptions. Young children would never choose to have their vaccinations, so parents have to make that decision. Some pathetic souls have been ruled incapable of managing their own affairs and a guardian steps in to the breech. And some simply lack the intellectual horsepower or discipline to make these decisions.

For example, Todd Akin, a Republican representative from Missouri’s second dictrict and now running for the Senate, recently avered that women who had been victims of a “legitimate rape” had physiological responses that prevented conception, so we shouldn’t need to exempt rape victims from a ban on abortions. That’s a two-fer: there should be no ban on abortion that would interfere with a woman’s ability to choose a course of medical treatment in consultation with her doctor, and Todd Akin is clearly among those without the knowledge and intelligence to manage anyone’s health.

If I Were King I would certainly work with my parliament, but I’m certain that a parliament elected by my subjects wouldn’t put an ill-informed cretin like Todd Akin on a committee on science, space, and technology.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Medicare’s future

The Republican budget plan created by Paul Ryan will destroy Medicare, according to the Democrats, and it’s the only way to save Medicare, according to Mitt Romney. Somebody’s lying.download film Phoenix Forgotten 2017 now film download

Medicare is only available to the elderly at a time when their income potential is generally fixed. Worse, given the current value of their investments, that income is probably fixed at a far lower value than they expected just five years ago. The important element of Medicare is that it promises fixed benefits and the cost for participants is basically fixed.

While R&R assail Obama for making changes that will result in rationing of health care, they’re rich men with no experience of the potency of rationing based on empty bank accounts.

The Ryan plan, by contrast, would eliminate the central benefit of the program. Instead of footing the bills for plan participants they would push Medicare recipients into private insurance programs. There are many things wrong with the American system of health insurance, the absolute worst of which may be what happens when an individual attempts to buy it. Major corporations have leverage, couples and individuals have none. There is no “market” for such insurance, and nothing to prevent the costs raising significantly every year while the Ryan plan severely limits the annual increase of money available to pay those premiums. Worse yet, for some, is that the money will be granted to the states as block grants. This might not be fatal for a state that will make the effort to increase funding to cover the growth of premiums, but what about someone living in Texas or Alabama?

Currently the federal government has a great incentive to bring changes that will reverse the dizzying climb in health care costs. Under the Republican plan, the feds no longer have nearly as much skin in the game. They’ll still be on the hook for current participants, military personnel and retirees, and congress critters, but that’s a far cry from their involvement now. And every year it will get worse as those of us in the privileged class shuffle off this mortal coil.

To add injury to injury, the party that has railed so loudly about the Obama administration fostering “class warfare” in America, this plan is designed to start ten years after adoption. Anyone over age 55 when enacted will continue in the current system, meaning that the person aged fifty becomes the enemy of the person aged sixty or seventy. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Whichever, after spending decades attempting to eliminate class difference in this country. This plan sets up a new, wholly artificial, distinction.

This plan has nothing to recommend it other than it will, ten years from now, cost less money. If I Were King, this would not be enough.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Too Stupid for Words?

Mitt Romney yesterday announced his choice for the vice presidential nomination in a rally at Norfolk, Virginia. “There are a lot of people in the other party who might disagree with Paul Ryan. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t respect his character and judgment.”Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Is Romney too stupid for words? Look, Mitt, we may regard Ryan’s honesty, sincerity, patriotism, generosity, piety, or any of a number of other character traits in a positive way; we will certainly learn a lot more about those things in the next eighty-six days. But when we disagree with Ryan’s politics, with his economics, and with his Tea Party biases, what we’re saying is that we don’t respect his judgment. Romney may not be too stupid for private equity (what was once more honestly referred to as “leveraged buyouts”) or high positions in the rigidly-hierarchical Mormon Church, but it’s pretty clear he’s not up for dealing with words and the concepts that they represent.

If I Were King we wouldn’t have to put up with this, I would just appoint people who understood economics to the roles needed. Economics relate to aspiration, motivation, talent, exertion, physical resources, utility, space, time, and a great many lesser factors, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney understand only “the movements of small green pieces of paper”, to use Douglas Adams’ brilliant phrase.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Badminton Blues

I haven’t played badminton for over forty years. I did grow up in a town that was somewhat mad for the sport and I was good enough to make it to the junior nationals several times. If memory serves, I got a trophy (whether it was the runner-up or the title I don’t now remember) for 13-and-under mixed doubles, probably in 1966 at Wilmington, Delaware. Don’t bother to hunt that up, it isn’t important to me. What it means is that I’m not one to ridicule the sport, I know exactly how demanding it is. And my brother is still active in the senior brackets, one of the few Anglos competing with the Asians that dominate the sport.

So even though I’m not following the Olympics, it was inevitable that I was swiftly informed of the scandalous developments on the courts at London. Four women’s doubles teams (two from South Korea, one from China, one from Indonesia) were disqualified from the games for throwing their matches. The Badminton World Federation ruled that they were guilty of “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport”, defined as “not using one’s best efforts to win a match”. The world seems to agree that this was bad form and poor sportsmanship.

Bovine excrement! The eight ladies were doing exactly what they should have been doing in the face of the cockeyed rules in force. The tournament organization was divided into three rounds. First came the qualifying round, which determined the eight teams for the rest of the tourney, during which winning each match was good strategy. Last came the elimination round, in which winning each match is essential. In between was a “round robin” round which determined who played whom among the eight teams in the final rounds.

One Chinese team, Zhao Yunlei and Tian Qing, lost to Denmark in a close match. (At least the first game was close: 22-20, 21-12.) At this point, the other Chinese team, Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang, would have been in the same bracket of the elimination round as the first Chinese team. That is, they would meet their compatriots in the semi-final round at the latest, and only one of them could compete for the gold. So they intentionally, and fairly obviously, threw their match against a South Korean team which, in turn, was trying to throw the match as well, presumably for the same reason.

In other words, for at least four different teams, the winning strategy was to lose at least one match in the round robin. Therefore, by rational standards, competing to the best of their ability in the tournament meant playing very badly at least once. This is not a moral question, this is a strategic question. And this isn’t a “grey area” in sportsmanship, although it’s a disaster for the fans who paid good money to watch the round robin round. This is not something that should lead to disqualification of any of the players, it’s something that should lead to disqualification of some of the organizers. The players came to play, they came to win, and the first thing they doubtless did was to learn the rules of the tournament. I certainly remember huddling around the tournament brackets at every tournament, before I even found the locker room. (Yes, I was once svelte enough to play competitive badminton. I was thirteen.) It’s not the players that were wrong, it’s the rules.

I don’t expect a lot from those who organize sporting events. I am reminded of something William Simon, then president of the US Olympic Committee said of the IOC president: “Explaining something sensible to Lord Killanin is akin to explaining something to a cauliflower. The advantage of the cauliflower is that, if all else fails, you can always cover it with melted cheese and eat it.”

If I Were King, the players would be reinstated and this tournament would be completed under the current rules. And I would direct the Olympic Committee of my imaginary country to insist that rules for future Olympiads not be written in a way that requires anything but the best effort of every player in every game. The spectators deserve much better. My cheddar and cranberry mustard sauce on cauliflower, perhaps.