Futures and Options

Just another town along the road.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

You Keep Supporting That Bill, I Do Not Think it Covers What You Think it Covers

Now that the important work of passing the health care bill has been done, we can turn to the trivial task of finding out what the bill actually covers.  It seems that there are a few surprises

Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.

Oops…

posted by Zenmervolt at 18:03  

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Scott Brown wins Mass. Senate Seat

This is huge. I don’t quite know what the fallout from this will be, but it’s a rare event for Mass. voters to elect a Rublican and the race wasn’t really even that close. Consider too that the seat in question was Ted Kennedy’s. Perhaps the bloom is off the rose.

posted by Zenmervolt at 19:59  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Testing new functionality

So, now I can update this from my smartphone. The jury is still out on whether this will have a positive affect on either post quality or quantity, but one can dream.

posted by Zenmervolt at 01:59  

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NPR Article Reveals that NPR Doesn’t Understand Statistics

The article in question.

One could just as easily take the exact same poll and just a truthfully say: “90% of doctors oppose government control of healthcare.”

The article is playing fast and loose with wording. 63% of doctors favor the inclusion of a public option while keeping private insurance available. 10% favor the exclusive use of a government plan. It is inaccurate to say that 73% support the inclusion of a public option because that 10% don’t support an “inclusion”, they support exclusivity of the governmental system. There’s a big difference between those two viewpoints and it’s bad statistics to lump them into the same group.

Ultimately, this is the issue with statistics.  People need to remember to check on the underlying data before immediately regurgitating what some news article claims the data “find”.  Even more of an issue than the sloppy statistical analysis in the article, however, is the unproven premise upon which the article’s implication rests.

The article implies that, because physicians favor the inclusion of a public option, such an inclusion is a good idea.  This implication requires that there be two separate logical fallacies in play.  First is the fallacy of appeal to authority in which it is assumed that physicians, whose task is healing the physical body, are qualified to judge the economic and metaphysical desirability of a public option.  Unfortunately there is no solid evidence to suggest that physicians, as a group, are any more equipped to judge the economic or metaphysical wisdom of such plans than any other group.  The second fallacy in play is the appeal to popularity.  Even if physicians were, as a group, more able to evaluate the consequences of a public option (which they are not), the mere popularity of a public option among physicians would not be sufficient proof that a public option was a good idea.

As has been said many times, “what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular.”

posted by Zenmervolt at 08:18  

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Nothing like a little John Phillips Sousa on Independence Day…

Editor’s Note:  I was away from the blog and did not see this in my publishing queue until today; the delay is entirely my own fault and not that of Mr. Nebulosa.

posted by Strix nebulosa at 05:31  

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift

The New Criterion has a lively review by Mark Steyn of Paul Rahe’s book Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift. The central idea of the article (and presumably the book, although I haven’t read it) is summed up by this two-hundred-year-old passage from Tocqueville, who was musing on ways in which a free republic could, on its own, collapse into a despotic state, quite apart from the coercion of a nineteenth-century-style despotic monarch:

I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls.

Over these is elevated an immense, tutelary power, which takes sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate. It is absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident, and gentle. It would resemble the paternal power if, like that power, it had as its object to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks, to the contrary, to keep them irrevocably fixed in childhood … it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principal affairs…

The sovereign extends its arms about the society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of petty regulations—complicated, minute, and uniform—through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous souls know not how to make their way… it does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them; rarely does it force one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own … it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way: it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Sound familiar? The problem is that the transformation to “soft despotism” occurs stealthily, perhaps imperceptibly. The key to retarding its creep, according to Steyn and Rahe, is the vitality of the institutions that traditionally served as intermediaries between the individuals and the sovereign state: family, church, school board, township, county, and the like. These are the institutions that are on the ground, that are actually capable of observing and responding to the problems of individuals and communities, and in which individuals can feel genuinely invested. But that ideal is increasingly forgotten as the federal government assumes greater and greater responsibility for our everyday lives.

Steyn offers this current anecdote in support of Rahe’s thesis:

Today, the animating principles of the American idea are entirely absent from public discourse. To the new Administration, American exceptionalism means an exceptional effort to harness an exceptionally big government in the cause of exceptionally massive spending. The can-do spirit means Ty’Sheoma Bethea can do with some government money: A high-school student in Dillon, South Carolina, Miss Bethea wrote to the President to ask him to do something about the peeling paint in her classroom. He read the letter out approvingly in a televised address to Congress. Imagine if Miss Bethea gets her way, and the national bureaucracy in Washington becomes responsible for grade- school paint jobs from Maine to Hawaii. What size of government would be required for such a project? And is it compatible with a constitutional republic?

Can you imagine a schoolgirl in 1793 sending a letter to George Washington asking the federal government to please do something about the leaky roof on her local schoolhouse? And can you imagine President Washington actually inviting said schoolgirl to come to Philadelphia and sit behind him as he read her letter during an address to Congress in an attempt to shame them into sending a check to Dillon, South Carolina (as Obama did with Ms. Bethea)? We have been sliding down this slope for a long time; perhaps the slippage has accelerated enough during this new administration that people will finally notice.

posted by Strix nebulosa at 10:43  

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On Second Thought…

Couldn’t resist passing along this nicely put bit of exasperation:

I keep hearing about how smart Obama is because he has the wisdom and judgment to implement policies that contradict his campaign positions now that he is in office and has all the facts before him. I agree — that is evidence of his intelligence. It makes him almost as smart as the people who believed what he now believes back when he believed the opposite.

You know, I actually have more respect for those folks who complain that Obama isn’t liberal enough than those who celebrate the wisdom of his fickleness. The former at least have some consistent political opinions; the latter (including a distressing portion of the press) are apparently just mesmerized by the sound of our good President’s voice.

posted by Strix nebulosa at 10:43  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cheerios, my anti-drug

Or maybe not.

It seems that the FDA has ruled that Cheerios (yes, the General Mills breakfast cereal) are a “drug” and the media are having a field day with this.  On objective analysis it’s really a simple case of a governmental agency being a little bit pedantic in the way that governmental agencies tend to be.  The usual suspects on both sides, however, are desperately searching for ways to paint the actions as either ridiculous liberal nonsense that is all Obama’s fault, or as a great leap forward in public safety that Bush held back because he was a slave to corporate interests.

Obviously, this is neither, and, thankfully, most people understand that.  This is really just one of those rather comical situations that come up when regulations get byzantine and when there are grey areas in the law.  The FDA’s position certainly appears to be legitimate under a purely literal reading of the applicable laws, but this particular violation, despite being called “serious” by the FDA’s letter, strikes me as the equivalent of being pulled over for going 68 mph in a 65 mph zone; yes it’s technically against the law, but it is difficult at best to argue that there is any substantive risk to the public involved.

posted by Zenmervolt at 16:19  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Federalism Amendment

Check out Randy Barnett’s proposal for a Federalism Amendment to the Constitution. You can post comments and see updated versions of the proposal here. Probably a fanciful exercise, but as Professor Barnett points out, “Stranger things have happened — including the adoption of each of the existing amendments. States have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making this Federalism Amendment the focus of their resistance to the shrinking of their reserved powers and infringements upon the rights retained by the people.”

posted by Strix nebulosa at 07:00  

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

$1.2 trillion in deficits

But hey, we’re going to cut $100 million! (Pay no attention to the fact that this represents only 0.003% of the total $3.5 trillion budget.)

Greg Mankiw offers the following comparison using numbers that are more readily comprehensible to those of us who don’t have trillions at our disposal:

To put those numbers in perspective, imagine that the head of a household with annual spending of $100,000 called everyone in the family together to deal with a $34,000 budget shortfall. How much would he or she announce that spending had to be cut? By $3 over the course of the year–approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks. The other $33,997? We can put that on the family credit card and worry about it next year.

Hey, at least it looks like Obama’s trying to make cuts.  I mean, his policies may be wrong but at least he’s symbolically in the right place.  Right?

*crickets*

posted by Zenmervolt at 11:30  
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In ignorantia confidenter praegredi.