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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Atul Gawande uses fun analogies and memorable stories to explain why health care in the US is a mess and getting messier:

Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coördination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.


Dramatic improvements and savings will take at least a decade. But a choice must be made. Whom do we want in charge of managing the full complexity of medical care? We can turn to insurers (whether public or private), which have proved repeatedly that they can’t do it. Or we can turn to the local medical communities, which have proved that they can. But we have to choose someone—because, in much of the country, no one is in charge. And the result is the most wasteful and the least sustainable health-care system in the world.

One sentence upset me: “Skeptics saw the Mayo model as a local phenomenon that wouldn’t carry beyond the hay fields of northern Minnesota.”


Northern Minnesota doesn’t have hay fields — it has lakes, iron mines, forests, and resort towns. It also doesn’t have a Mayo clinic. Southern Minnesota does. Other than that sentence, the essay is a one-page wonder. Read it.


There were some remarkably bad dancers that episode. Again, Mary lays down some unnecessary sexism on that Hawaiian guy by dissing his dance as “feminine”. I was actually troubled by the way Sex was talking to his mom, but I think CPS wouldn’t interfere if the abused is like 28. The Ukrainian guy cracked me up, if only because of the immediate association I made with my Russophile friend Paulya. I’m surprised that Nigel didn’t fall head-over-arse in love with the cute blonde contemporary dancer from L.A.; maybe it’s a sign of sexual senescence, which might be good for his judicial impartiality.

It was good to see Joshua and Katee again. And Mia Michaels, for that matter. And speaking of…

(So You Think You Can Dance [Season] 5)

H2money blogged about the ultimate summer reality entertainment, so I figured I can, too.

Yeah, Nigel’s going to dish out most of the authoritative criticism on the show, but Mia Michaels will say some insightful stuff, too. Mary provides the oomph, e.g., screaming and scary outfits. I’m surprised Mr. Money didn’t mention the tango-dancing dude duo. The criticisms were like: “I couldn’t tell which one of you was supposed to be the man and which was supposed to be the woman” and stuff like that. It set my sexism alarm bells a-janglin’, that’s for sure.

It also set off my you-don’t-know-that-much-about-dance-history alarm bells, too. Tango started out in Buenos Aires as a male-male dance. Text proof. Video aid.

That said, I’m really looking forward to the post-audition part of the show.

This video shows what it would be like if you mixed me with my friend Dan. The aesthetic absolutism and the Midwestphilia are all mine, while Dan contributes the violent impulses, the facial hair, and the storytelling finesse. I’m thinking of grabbing some merch just because it’s been a while since I got a new t-shirt.

Time travel doesn’t exist in the sense that most people/sci-fi writers want it to. But the incredible Sean Carroll, science blogger extraordinaire, leaves open the possibility of parallel universe time travel, the kind they use in the new Star Trek movie.

As I was watching the movie, the thought of parallel universes rocked my ethical foundations. I remember in my intro to philosophy course we discussed a thought experiment (I think by Derek Parfit) in which there’s this fabulous new technology that scans your body, molecule-by-molecule, disintegrates it, and transmits the information at the speed of light to another super-appliance, which builds you back up, at the exact molecular state you were at in the first location. Anyway, the point of the thought experiment is that the whole thing gets messed up if the first machine doesn’t disintegrate you, and all of a sudden there are two yous, with different perspectives and memories, and it gets you thinking about A) the special nature of subjective experience and B) how carelessly you gave yourself up for disintegration when you were sure that your molecular structure would instantiate somewhere else in the universe, when that doesn’t ensure a continuity of consciousness. It would just be like all of a sudden having a twin.


But it seems to me that parallel universes lessen the moral gravitas of large-scale civilian deaths, like the demolition of planet Vulcan. Because most planet-destroying events are relatively quick and painless for the inhabitants of the unfortunate planet. See Star Wars or the new Star Trek. It’s not comparable to a modern-day genocide in terms of suffering and indignation that the victims experience. What Earth genocides and sci-fi planet-destructions have in common: the intensely evil intent of the perpetrators, and the tragedy that a culture has been wiped from existence.

What the existence of a parallel universe does, however, is qualify that second part of the evil of planet-destruction. The destruction of planet X is not as tragic if in some parallel universe planet X has not been destroyed, and therefore the cultures and ways of life of the citizens of planet X (hereafter referred to as Xians) goes on.

Some assumptions I’m going off of:

  • Our moral judgments aren’t limited by space, time, or the confines of our own universe.

One might object: It’s possible that events in parallel universes are so far removed from our reality – more like fiction than something happening on the other side of our planet – that they should cause us no grief or consolation. To that, I answer: we didn’t make it up. If parallel universes actually exist, then things might actually be flourishing or suffering. And that’s what we need to consider in our moral reasoning, not where/when the suffering/flourishing things are.

  • It doesn’t matter if Xians can procreate and return to parallel universes in which they’ve been wiped out, it just matters that they exist in any universe.

If you agree that you don’t have to know a culture personally to be happy that its extinction, then you should also agree that you don’t have to be in the same universe as the Xians to be content that their way of life continues in some form.

This argument is limited to the cases in which we have two parallel universes, A and B, and in A a planet, X, is destroyed and in B, planet X is not destroyed. Even with an infinite number of parallel universes, it isn’t always the case that you get that case. It’s possible that planet X being destroyed is a necessary characteristic of any universe, and in which case we (and the Xians, I suppose) can at least take consolation in the fact that the Xians’ total annihilation was a cosmically necessary tragedy that couldn’t have gone any other way.

Democrat fail:

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? …

REID: I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

Democrate win:

“American prison guards, they went on to say, quote, “have no idea what they’re getting into,” close quote. Well, I would just say to my colleagues who made those statements, you ought to take a look at some of our security facilities in the United States, and you ought to have a little more respect for the men and women who are corrections officers and put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe and to make sure that those who are dangerous are detained and incarcerated. The reality is that we’re holding some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world right now in our federal prisons, including the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the shoe bomber, the Unibomber, and many others.”

-Dick Durbin, D-IL

2 points:

1) If Obama is #1 on the Dem pecking order and Pelosi/Reid are #2/#3 in some order, that’s one short, short bench.

2) Surely Reid knows that no one has ever escaped from a federal supermax prison, so why is he bumbly peddling these paranoid falsehoods?

It’s called “noodling.” This is really really crazy. I can’t understand a single word they say.

Thanks, kottke.

So Gingrich is kind of a new character to me, since in the ’90s I was way more into cool amphibians than presidential blow jobs, much less the resulting political scandals. He doesn’t strike me as wise or principled; he contorts and fabricates facts to appeal to the masses’ basest drives: greed and fear.

Gingrich on how Republicans love America, Democrats love terrorists: “There’s this weird pattern, where the Bush people wanted to defend Americans, and were pretty tough on terrorists, and these guys [Holder et al.] are prepared to take huge risks with Americans in order to defend terrorists.”

On how thinking about investigating war crimes is like McCarthy’s paranoid crusade against undercover communists: “What we’re seeing now, in a very sad way, is as bitter a partisan attack on the Bush people, as we’ve seen since the McCarthy era. The degree that they’re putting people at risk for criminal prosecution in America is unprecedented.”

On how defense attorneys willing to defend alleged enemy combatants are actually spies for Jihadist terrorists: “Now, his (captured, maybe-enemy combatant) defense attorney would like you to share with them all the ways in which you’ve spied on terrorists. Which they will then promptly give back to Al Qaeda and other terror organizations.”

A few thoughts:

  1. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, punk.
  2. You can’t just “put people at risk for criminal prosecution,” they have to do something illegal for there to be any risk at all. It sounds like he agrees that it looks like the “Bush people” broke laws. Otherwise he wouldn’t think that if we investigated, we might find a basis for prosecution. In hindsight, it seems that Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to the torture memos was the most consistent for the Bush defenders, if also the most monstrous and historically aberrant. “Slapping, sleep deprivation, and a little water on your face can’t be torture.” It’s the only way to pay lip service to the rule of law. If you accept the fact that we tortured, but object that the law shouldn’t be applied to the most powerful people, then there’s not really any argument to be had. We’re just a country that elects a 4-year dictator, and we cross our fingers and hope they don’t figure out a way to extend their term limits.
  3. I would love to hear Gingrich get into the details of why the Lewinsky scandal wasn’t a “bitter partisan attack” but it when you form a bipartisan investigation of Republicans and Democrats who gave torture the thumbs up, it’s just posturing.

Sorry, this is just a test. Besides, she’s 17 in the alleged pictures, and that means it’s illegal.

Here’s your consolation:

  1. My friend Nisse transcribes a few touching stories from an old math notebook in his last post.
  2. Stillness is the Move” by Dirty Projectors is catchy, dancey, and soulful.
Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors