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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Environmentalism, at its very essence

A winning quote from a recent George Will column, which briefly summarizes the oil we've been running out of for a century.

Today, there is a name for the political doctrine that rejoices in scarcity of everything except government. The name is environmentalism.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's wrong with continued economic growth?

In response to an environmental press release, urging developed nations to just be less wealthy in the future, Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog has an excellent response.

Assuming that such thinking is not just a crass excuse for totalitarian control, it represents an enormous failure of imagination. The author cannot imagine what benefits increased wealth would provide, so he assumes those benefits to be zero. There is absolutely no reason that this same exact thinking could not have been applied in 1300 or 1750 or 1900. Fortunately it was not.

I fully support the increased wealth and comfort for American conservatives. I fully support the right of American liberals to live in penury. And I fully support applying the ingenuity of Americans to make the scientific and technological advances which will improve the life of the entire world.

The future of health care, as seen in... mammograms?

A seemingly innocuous statement about recommended medical treatment has inadvertently exposed Americans to the risk of a government-run health care system. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends less frequent mammograms to monitor for breast cancer. The new guidelines suggest that only women with risk factors get screened at 40, and two years between mammograms is fine for women in their 50s. The reason for these changes is that the false positives outweigh the early detections. Of course, home examinations can and should be continued as normal.

Understandably, many women are upset with this recommendation. Any woman whose early breast cancer was discovered by a mammogram would feel as if the early detection saved her life. "I wouldn't be here today if these guidelines were in place." (Some would have survived even with a later detection, of course.) Some fear these guidelines may be used by government and private insurers to set which medical procedures are covered.

In the current U.S. health care system, there is nothing to be afraid of. Some insurers may change their policies, but I don't think most will. Private insurance widely covers preventative care, normally at 100%. It may make theoretical sense for all insurance to exclude annual preventative care, like physicals and mammograms and prostate exams, because it's more expensive to pay with insurance's overhead than just paying out of pocket. But health insurance is not sold to homo economicus, the theoretical creatures that economists work with, who make perfectly rational economic decisions. In the real world, covering preventative care encourages utilization of preventative care (which can help discover problems early, though the actual economic cost/benefit analysis is extremely complicated) and is attractive to consumers. As long as the price remains reasonable, people won't mind over-pre-paying. As long as there's strong interest in this type of coverage at a
reasonable price, insurers have a financial incentive to offer this coverage.

However, put only one entity, the government, in charge of health care, and these type of recommendations may become enforcements. The absolute extreme case is a complete ban on mammograms before 50 for women without risk factors. The more reasonable extreme case is a system where almost all care is provided by government-paid and government-regulated doctors, who would have a prohibition on providing these mammograms, and only the very rich would be able to see doctors who operate outside the public sphere. In either case, being willing to pay for the peace of mind of an early mammogram would not be an option.

The larger issue, of course, is increasing health care costs, partly because people want care that is of limited or no benefit. They want antibiotics to treat the flu. They want the latest generation drug when an earlier, now generic drug might work as well. They want health screenings that are very unlikely to uncover a disease. Anecdotal evidence will uncover some who benefited, but practically, we do need to recognize that some risk will remain in an ideal system. We could virtually eliminate traffic fatalities by restricting automobiles to running no faster than 20 mph, but we accept those risks to get the benefits of being able to travel faster.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The hate crime bill reminds me of something

Two weeks ago, while stuck at an airport with CNN omnipresent, one of the big news items of the day was the signing of a new federal hate crimes bill. Suddenly, I realized it sounded vaguely familiar. I was reminded of the old practice of life insurers charging a higher premium for blacks than whites.

Now, please recognize that these insurance companies weren't charging a higher premium just because they could. The premiums were based on the higher mortality rates for blacks at that time.

Do you see the problem? The higher mortality rate was true, but the cause wasn't skin color. In other words, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Most hate crimes deserve to be punished harder. They are more brutal. They are premeditated. They intend to terrorize, not just harm the one victim. But these are the reasons these crimes should be punished harder. It has nothing to do with the defining characteristics of the perpetrators and victims. And to create a law that can be used selectively, and in a way that inherently criminalizes thought, isn't the way to punish the criminals that need to be punished.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Fear no bats

I just have to post this one: Someone released a live bat in the AT&T Center, during the Spurs-Kings game on Halloween. The bat caused a delay of game. Then the Spurs' Manu Ginobili swatted it out of midair.

The only animal hazard in my own workplace is gnatlike insects. They're hard to catch. I think I need to hire Manu for a small project.