Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 10:56 pm

Odds and ends for 12/16

Like Willie Sutton said, you rob banks because that’s where the money is: And if you want to cut the deficit, you also go where the money is:

Health-care reform: Nate Silver has 20 questions for people who want to kill the health-care bill, and Jon Walker has 20 answers. Go read this. Seriously, right now. I’ll wait. Because this might be the best combination of comprehensive and clear that you’ll find on whether or not the current Senate bill deserves to live. Kudos to both bloggers.

Glenn Greenwald says Obama is getting the health-care bill he really wanted. I find it hard to disagree.

But it isn’t the health-care bill WE wanted: 63% of Americans say they wanted Medicare expanded to cover 55- to 64-year-olds; only 33% disagree.

It isn’t the health-care bill doctors wanted, either: UC-San Francisco physicians explain, among other things, why the patents-forever provision is such as bad idea.

Indeed, health-care reform is JUST LIKE the Holocaust: Hey, if Laura Ingraham says it, it must be true, right?

Matthew Yglesias on Time magazine’s choice of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke as Person of the Year, for the win: “[I]t demonstrates a very specific class skew — extraordinary intervention into the market place just long enough to fix the situation from the point of view of asset-owners while leaving wage-earners holding the bag. But the owners and managers and editors of Time Magazine and the companies that advertise in it probably don’t care so much about that.”

What could possibly go wrong?: Western military leaders are seeking additional support in Afghanistan from … wait for it … Russia.

But … but … but … Republicans believe global warming is a myth!: A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to have visited a fortuneteller or to claim to have seen ghosts or talked to the dead. (Interestingly, whites, blacks and Hispanics all reported having seen ghosts at about the same rate.)

“One more such victory and we are ruined”: The Pentagon actually wins a Gitmo detainee’s habeas-corpus case … but comes out looking like dirt.

And the fun doesn’t stop with health care: John Cole of Balloon Juice observes, “The best thing about health care reform is that it is a primer for Banking and Financial Regulation. We get to look forward to watching the House bill get neutered down by the conservadems, the GOP will be aligned in unison with industry against, and then when the final bill is not up to Howard Dean’s standards, the progressives can sink it because it isn’t good enough, and noted liberals like Tom Harkin, Ron Wyden, and Russ Feingold will be labeled sellouts to the cause just like they were with health care. Also, I’m sure this will all be Rahm’s fault.”

John Cole was right: Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., indeed is getting ready to screw us over some more on bank bailouts. His 2010 re-election already is in serious jeopardy. Good.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 11:18 pm

Why James wears panties

I know that in many ways, large and small, it’s still a man’s world.

So does James:

I was still having a hard time landing jobs. I was being turned down for gigs I should’ve gotten, for reasons I couldn’t put a finger on.

My pay rate had hit a plateau, too. I knew I should be earning more. Others were, and I soaked up everything they could teach me, but still, there was something strange about it . . .

It wasn’t my skills, it wasn’t my work. So what were those others doing that I wasn’t?

One day, I tossed out a pen name, because I didn’t want to be associated with my current business, the one that was still struggling to grow. I picked a name that sounded to me like it might convey a good business image. Like it might command respect.

My life changed that day

Instantly, jobs became easier to get.

There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all.

Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate.

And I was thankful. I finally stopped worrying about how I would feed my girls. We were warm. Well-fed. Safe. No one at school would ever tease my kids about being poor.

* * *

Understand, I hadn’t advertised more effectively or used social media — I hadn’t figured that part out yet. I was applying in the same places. I was using the same methods. Even the work was the same.

In fact, everything was the same.

Except for the name.

The answer was plain. Without really thinking much about it, I tried an experiment when I chose my new pseudonym:

I became a man (in name only)

Taking a man’s name opened up a new world. It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.

No hassles. Higher acceptance. And gratifying respect for my talents and round-the-clock work ethic.

Business opportunities fell into my lap. People asked for my advice, and they thanked me for it, too.

Maybe I’m overly cynical, but the first thing that came to my mind when I read this was, “Surely you had telephone conversations with clients. Did they not pick up on the fact that you were, like, female?”

But whether this particular story really happened is immaterial, because I saw this happen to some pretty talented women in my years in the newspaper bidness. I’m sure a lot more of it went on that I simply wasn’t perceptive enough to notice, particularly at first.

I saw enough that when I got in a position to do something about it, I did: I pushed the women who worked for me just as hard as I pushed the men who worked for me. And when I say “push,” I mean two things: “motivate/train/hold high expectations for” and “promote” (in the sense of talking them and their work up to my fellow editors when their work merited it).

I’m under no illusions that I did this as well and thoroughly as I should have. But at least I knew going into management that this was a significant blind spot in management, even at a company that worked as hard as ours did at “embracing diversity.”

I didn’t do this because I’m a saint, or even because I’m a particularly nice guy. I did it because my mother, my wife, my sister, my sisters-in-law, my daughter and my nieces are all bright, talented women who deserve to reap whatever benefits their skills, energy and persistence would otherwise entitle them to, without the market distortion of an estrogen discount.

Go read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009 5:06 pm

Jesus, save us …

… from the evil done in Your name.

Chuck Colson is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. He has published a temper tantrum screed called “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience.” Colson, the Watergate-conspirator-turned-Christian-Nationalist, has produced a manifesto of Christianist jihad, a mishmash of factual and contextual errors and distortions, gross misreadings of history and other documents, and an utter betrayal of both the Constitution and what Jesus stood for. The word “conscience” shouldn’t be allowed within a thousand miles of this piece.

Chuck also badly needs an editor.

Because I have some personal experience with Colson’s — to be polite to the point of self-censorship — disingenuousness, I was going to fisk the thing, and I expected that that fisking was going to take days. Fortunately, instead of starting last night, I went to bed sick, and when I woke up this afternoon, I found that tristero had done the job for me, addressing everything from the factual inaccuracies to the not-so-subtle comparison of Obama and the Democrats to Hitler and the Nazis.

I’m not entirely sure what Chuck Colson is, but I can give you a quick list of things he is not: Telling the truth. Well-meaning. Changed in any meaningful way from the thuggishness of his Watergate days. A patriot. A Christian. Anything but evil.

UPDATE: Fec’s wife’s stepmother’s son … um, I guess that would make him Fec’s stepbrother-in-law … shows Colson how it’s done.

Friday, September 4, 2009 11:46 am

Your liberal media

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 11:46 am
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Jon Talton: If the Democrats aren’t screwed, they deserve to be:

The Democrats deserve to lose big in the mid-terms. They are operating on two fatal misconceptions: that they can gain the favor of the economic royalists that have apparently truly taken over the government, and that the liberal base will stick with them. Oh, and one more: That the Republicans are so discombobulated and off-putting that they can’t come back quickly. What the Republicans lack in sanity or truthfulness, they make up for with discipline and a true alignment with the corporate masters.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 8:34 pm

Insure this

The American Association for Justice, a professional association of trial lawyers (i.e., people who sue for a living), has named what it calls the Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America. Although this comes out at the height of the debate about health care, this paper is looking at insurance coverage in general, not just health insurance:

To identify the worst insurance companies for consumers, researchers at the American Association for Justice (AAJ) undertook a comprehensive investigation of thousands of court documents, SEC and FBI records, state insurance department investigations and complaints, news accounts from across the country, and the testimony and depositions of former insurance agents and adjusters. Our final list includes companies across a range of different insurance fields, including homeowners and auto insurers, health insurers, life insurers, and disability insurers.

Who’s No. 1? Well, let’s just say those hands you’re in may not be as good as you think.

Obviously, trial lawyers aren’t exactly the most unbiased source of information on this subject, and although the gathering of information and documentation might have been scrupulously factual, “worst” is still at least partially a judgment call. But take a look at the report and see what you think.

Of the four companies that handle our family’s various insurance needs, only one is on the list, I’m happy to say.

(h/t: Valerie)

Sunday, August 9, 2009 1:52 pm

Wisdom from Rabbi Fred

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 1:52 pm
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Fred Guttman, rabbi of Temple Emanuel here in town, blogs on the dangers posed by some of the rhetoric surrounding the health-care debate:

We are living during a very difficult time as far as health care costs are concerned. It is important for us as a nation to find a solution to this problem if we want our nation not only to have better health care, but to be economically competitive in the coming decades. Finding this solution will necessitate not only a lot of creative thinking, but will also require a lot of civility and respectful debate. Perhaps most important, it will require a lot of prayer, for we will need God’s help as a nation to take us from where health care is today to the place where it ought to be, a place wherein all of us, as holy manifestations of the Divine, will have access to high quality and affordable health care.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 5:33 pm

The Holocaust was only part of it

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 5:33 pm
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Timothy Snyder calls for a broader, deeper and more nuanced understanding of the mass killings of mid-20th-century Europe — an understanding that places the genocidal center of gravity well east of where Westerners tend to think it belongs, and that would puncture some of the Russian martyrdom claims. Because of that, Medvedev’s Russia may try to make such an understanding a crime.

Sunday, June 28, 2009 9:20 pm

I hope the St. Pete Times has suicide-vehicle barriers …

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 9:20 pm
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… and I’m only half-joking. One of the many things I learned while covering religion is that the Church of Scientology does not suffer gladly those who would publicly criticize it, and the Times is opening up a three-part case of whupass.

I know that the government already has ruled Scientology a “real” church for tax purposes. What I don’t know is why.

Friday, June 26, 2009 8:15 pm

Michael-Jackson- and Farrah-Fawcett-free post on how we treat one another

How we treat one another is the overarching theme of two otherwise disparate items I wanted to touch on.

First, earlier this week in the N.C. House, freshman Rep. Darren Jackson spoke in support of an anti-bullying bill. This bill encountered a lot more opposition than it should have. Some opponents feared it was giving “special rights” to gay kids or, tacitly, didn’t want to put any formal obstacles in front of kids who want to bully other kids who are, or who even appear to be, gay. Others, who looked to me like people who’ve never had to deal with being bullied themselves, kept insisting that bullying isn’t a real problem. Speaking as someone who got his butt kicked pretty regularly just for having a smart mouth, I can assure you it is. The bullied kid doesn’t want to go to school, doesn’t want to ride the bus, doesn’t want to be within a hundred miles of where the bullies are for any reason. Kids who are bullied suffer academically. On top of that, some bullying crosses the line of physical assault, and rather than treating it as a simple disagreement between kids, it needs to be treated as a crime, particularly when weapons are involved.

Here’s Jackson’s speech, in part:

[A constituent with an autistic son wrote me:] “Students learn more than academics in school, and part of their education should include how to treat others with respect and dignity and look to peers for support, not how to dodge a fist.” We can begin the process of tolerance tonight by taking a stand against bullying for any reason. I know some of you in this chamber have been having these culture wars for many years. This bill is not about that. …

This bill simply says that no child should be bullied even if they are perceived to be poor or disabled or maybe different. This bill’s about protecting kids; at least, it is for me. If this bill prevents one suicide, or one school violence episode, then it’s a success. If this bill is passed, then it will be a step forward for protecting children—maybe even one close to you.

If you’re going to vote no against this bill, at least be honest with yourself about why you’re doing it.

I’m going to count my vote as yes. And when my daughter and I, who’s serving as page this week, go out to eat and go home tonight, I’m going to go see her little brother, who’ll be in bed asleep. I’m going to lean across that bed and kiss my 10-year old goodnight. And I’m going to know that I voted the right way, the way to protect him and other children like him. And if that costs me my seat in this chamber, then so be it.

Then there’s this essay (h/t: Jill) by the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou on the parallels between the civil rights struggles of African Americans and those of gays. Right from the title, which drops the N-bomb, the essay is going to make a lot of people uneasy, even some who agree with the basic premise. But go read it, and struggle with it a little if you have to.

To say that gays are the new niggers is not to say that black oppression has disappeared. The claim that black folks are fully enfranchised and free is simply not true. Stark racial and economic disparities continue to exist in the United States, regardless of who is in the White House.

Legislative onslaughts and public disdain against queer folks invites them into the community of niggers. By carrying the racial epithet beyond race, Rustin insists that blacks and queers share a common quest to save democracy. He calls us to look critically at the ways in which racism and heterosexism are two heads on the same devil. …

For oppressed communities around the world, the civil rights movement is a model for their unique and particular struggles. Although geography, pigmentation, class, religion, and capacity to self-organize may differ, they hold in common the structures of relegation and resistance. The police of conservative, racist, and homophobic forces wield literal and legislative billy clubs.

A relevant point that bears a lot of repeating because it undergoes a lot of forgetting: The Second Great Commandment bars us from arrogating to ourselves rights we would deny others. To do that is to deny that of God that is in our fellow men and women.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:28 pm

“Losing the War”

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 9:28 pm
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The major campaign [Marine Eugene B.] Sledge fought in was Okinawa, which took place toward the end of the war. It was expected to be quick: one more island recaptured from a defeated enemy. But the Japanese withdrew deep into Okinawa’s lush interior, where the rains and the dense foliage made the few roads impassable. The marines had to bring their supplies in on foot — carrying mortars and shells, water and food on their backs across miles of ravine-cut hills. Often they were so exhausted they couldn’t move when the enemy attacked. The battle lines, as so often happened in the war, soon froze in place. The quick campaign lasted for months.

Conditions on the front rapidly deteriorated. Soldiers were trapped in their foxholes by barrages that went on for days at a time. They were stupefied by the unbroken roar of the explosions and reduced to sick misery by the incessant rain and deepening mud. They had to use discarded grenade cans for latrines, then empty the contents into the mud outside their foxholes. The rain washed everything into the ravines; the urine and feces mixed with the blood and the shreds of rotting flesh blown by the shell bursts from the hundreds of unburied bodies scattered everywhere. The smell was so intolerable it took an act of supreme will for the soldiers to choke down their rations each day. Sledge calls it “an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell’s own cesspool.”

He writes, “If a Marine slipped and slid down the back slope of the muddy ridge, he was apt to reach the bottom vomiting. I saw more than one man lose his footing and slip and slide all the way to the bottom only to stand up horror-stricken as he watched in disbelief while fat maggots tumbled out of his muddy dungaree pockets, cartridge belt, legging lacings, and the like. Then he and a buddy would shake or scrape them away with a piece of ammo box or a knife blade.”

The soldiers began to crack. As Sledge writes, “It is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane.” He catalogs the forms the insanity took: “from a state of dull detachment seemingly unaware of their surroundings, to quiet sobbing, or all the way to wild screaming and shouting.” Sledge himself began having hallucinations that the dead bodies were rising at night. “They got up slowly out of their waterlogged craters or off the mud and, with stooped shoulders and dragging feet, wandered around aimlessly, their lips moving as though trying to tell me something.” It was a relief to shake himself alert and find the corpses decomposing in their accustomed spots.

As we mark the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, here’s a remarkable 1997 essay by Lee Sandlin on the meaning of World War II in particular and war in general. Set aside some time for this. It’s good.

(h/t: commenter whet moser at First Draft)

Friday, May 29, 2009 9:25 pm

Why health care costs are so high … and will be hard to bring down

Atul Gawande is a Boston-based doctor who writes frequently about medical issues for The New Yorker. He has a piece in this week’s issue that, in examining what might be done to rein in health-care costs, starts with an excellent question: Why are per-capita Medicare costs (frequently used as an indicator for overall medical costs) in McAllen, Texas, so much higher than in the rest of the country, or even in comparable parts of Texas, such as El Paso?

Some of the things he learned:

  • It’s not that McAllen’s population is so much unhealthier than anywhere else’s.
  • The quality of facilities and overall quality of care aren’t markedly better in McAllen than in El Paso.
  • It’s not the cost of malpractice suits.

One thing he found is that there is simply more medicine, particularly of the more expensive type, practiced in McAllen than elsewhere.

Moreover, “[Dartmouth researcher Elliott] Fisher found that patients in high-cost areas were actually less likely to receive low-cost preventive services, such as flu and pneumonia vaccines, faced longer waits at doctor and emergency-room visits, and were less likely to have a primary-care physician. They got more of the stuff that cost more, but not more of what they needed.”

“Physicians in places like McAllen behave differently from others,” Gawande wrote. “The $2.4-trillion question” — that’s about what the U.S. spends annually on health care — ” is why. Unless we figure it out, health reform will fail.”

Gawande finds that, relative to a lot of other communities, physicians have worked hard to develop new revenue streams (e.g., investing in private, for-profit hospitals to which they refer patients):

About fifteen years ago, it seems, something began to change in McAllen. A few leaders of local institutions took profit growth to be a legitimate ethic in the practice of medicine. Not all the doctors accepted this. But they failed to discourage those who did. So here, along the banks of the Rio Grande, in the Square Dance Capital of the World, a medical community came to treat patients the way subprime-mortgage lenders treated home buyers: as profit centers.

The purest opposition to this approach might be at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic:

… decades ago Mayo recognized that the first thing it needed to do was eliminate the financial barriers [to better health care]. It pooled all the money the doctors and the hospital system received and began paying everyone a salary, so that the doctors’ goal in patient care couldn’t be increasing their income. Mayo promoted leaders who focussed first on what was best for patients, and then on how to make this financially possible.

No one there actually intends to do fewer expensive scans and procedures than is done elsewhere in the country. The aim is to raise quality and to help doctors and other staff members work as a team. But, almost by happenstance, the result has been lower costs.

Entire medical communities, such as that of Grand Junction, Colo., have adopted similar approaches (adapted to their own local needs) and achieved similar results. The lesson, Gawande says is that you need not just more efficient and effective treatments but better entire systems of care. “The lesson of the high-quality, low-cost communities is that someone has to be accountable for the totality of care,” he writes. “Otherwise, you get a system that has no brakes. You get McAllen.”

(He also says, “These are empirical, not ideological, questions.” Bless him, but dollars to doughnuts, that won’t stop politicians and lobbyists from treating them as ideological questions.)

We have little time to make changes, we have to make the right changes, and arguing about cost and accessibility of coverage, although important, may be missing an even more important, urgent and dangerous point: even some of the more efficient community systems may be evolving toward the McAllen model:

In El Paso, the for-profit health-care executive told me, a few leading physicians recently followed McAllen’s lead and opened their own centers for surgery and imaging. When I was in Tulsa a few months ago, a fellow-surgeon explained how he had made up for lost revenue by shifting his operations for well-insured patients to a specialty hospital that he partially owned while keeping his poor and uninsured patients at a nonprofit hospital in town. Even in Grand Junction, Michael Pramenko told me, “some of the doctors are beginning to complain about ‘leaving money on the table.’ ”

As America struggles to extend health-care coverage while curbing health-care costs, we face a decision that is more important than whether we have a public-insurance option, more important than whether we will have a single-payer system in the long run or a mixture of public and private insurance, as we do now. The decision is whether we are going to reward the leaders who are trying to build a new generation of Mayos and Grand Junctions. If we don’t, McAllen won’t be an outlier. It will be our future.

Go read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 4:41 pm

“Defending torture insistently means one’s moral compass is pointing straight down to hell.”

Batocchio at the Vagabond Scholar has posted a remarkable roundup and summary of the arguments against torture. In addition to its high-definition moral clarity, it’s chock-full of links to all manner of resources, background and information on the subject. This is the most comprehensive, best-documented post on the subject I’ve ever read, and if you’ve spent much time here, you know I’ve read quite a lot.

Even if — actually, especially if — you think torture is ever justifiable, you need to spend some time with this post and the pieces to which it links. The only thing at stake is your soul.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 10:19 pm

Be afraid

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 10:19 pm
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Eric Boehlert connects some extremely disturbing dots. I’ll quickly concede that proving cause and effect, as opposed to mere correlation, is next to impossible in these cases. But it’s also worth remembering that the last time we went through a period of such overheated radical-right rhetoric, we got Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph out of it.

Relatedly, David Neiwert, whose Orcinus blog has long patrolled the shadowy frontier between the far right and the bat-feces-insane right, has a new book out, “The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.” I’m looking forward to reading it, although I don’t think I’ll enjoy it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009 9:35 pm

Money for nothing

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 9:35 pm

When the country last considered a serious makeover of the health-care system, big business was one of the forces arrayed to stop it. This time around, it is at least recognizing the problem:

If the global economy were a 100-yard dash, the U.S. would start 23 yards behind its closest competitors because of health care that costs too much and delivers too little, a business group says in a report to be released Thursday.

The report from the Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs of major companies, says America’s health care system has become a liability in a global economy. …

Americans spend $2.4 trillion a year on health care. The Business Roundtable report says Americans in 2006 spent $1,928 per capita on health care, at least two-and-a-half times more per person than any other advanced country.

In a different twist, the report took those costs and factored benefits into the equation.

It compares statistics on life expectancy, death rates and even cholesterol readings and blood pressures. The health measures are factored together with costs into a 100-point “value” scale. That hasn’t been done before, the authors said.

The results are not encouraging.

The United States is 23 points behind five leading economic competitors: Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. The five nations cover all their citizens, and though their systems differ, in each country the government plays a much larger role than in the U.S. …

Higher U.S. spending funnels away resources that could be invested elsewhere in the economy, but fails to deliver a healthier work force, the report said.

“Spending more would not be a problem if our health scores were proportionately higher,” Dr. Arnold Milstein, one of the authors of the study, said in an interview. “But what this study shows is that the U.S. is not getting higher levels of health and quality of care.”

There’s a larger lesson here, and it needs to be hammered home because so many people don’t understand it, honestly don’t believe it or lie about it: The United States does NOT have the best health-care system in the world. Far from it.

The report addresses two separate but related issues: cost and effectiveness. Cost is driven by a number of factors, but one big one is profit-driven insurance companies — which play a much lesser role, or no role at all, in the countries that outperform us. The Business Roundtable, whose CEO members include at least one from the insurance industry, says private insurance should continue to play a role in the U.S. health-care system.

As for effectiveness, our system for too long has failed to gauge rigorously how effective health care is, both in absolute terms (Does any single drug or procedure really treat effectively and safely the disease or disorder it is supposed to treat?) and in relative terms (How do different drugs or different procedures for treating any specific illness or disorder compare to one another in terms of effectiveness and safety?). When I was still medical writer for the N&R, I wrote last August about this problem, which may constitute up to a third of the $2.4 trillion the U.S. spends annually on health care — and, worse, may be costing tens of thousands of lives annually.

It obviously is way too early to know what changes, if any, will emerge from the discussions the administration and Congress are having about U.S. health care. But it’s encouraging to know that some of the most influential stakeholders in the discussion are publicly acknowledging the nature and extent of our problem.

Keeping an eye on the surveillance problem

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 12:10 pm
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This is cool, not only from a technological standpoint, not only for what it might mean for restoring lost vision, but also for the ramifications it might explore of an increasingly surveilled society:

A one-eyed documentary filmmaker is preparing to work with a video camera concealed inside a prosthetic eye, hoping to secretly record people for a project commenting on the global spread of surveillance cameras.

Surveillance cameras have helped solve crimes — they are not an unalloyed evil. But we are a society that, while it increasingly gives up privacy through blogs, Facebook, reality TV shows and other media, still expects some measure of privacy and expects control over when and when not to give it up. If Rob Spence can shed additional light on those and related issues, his project will be invaluable.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 7:51 am

Best. Book review. Evah.

Filed under: Fun,Y'all go read this — Lex @ 7:51 am
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Ari Brioullete of Kensington, CA, reveals “The Secret.”

I once wrote  a very snarky review of Brett Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho.” It won an award from the N.C. Press Association. Yet I can only stand in awe of Brioullette’s genius.

(h/t: DivaGeek)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 7:46 am

Roadmap for prosecution

Filed under: I want my country back.,Y'all go read this — Lex @ 7:46 am

One of the two banned commenters on this blog is fond of saying that the question of whether Bush and his top officials committed war crimes is simply a matter of opinion.

Not being such a Foucaltian, I’ve taken the position that this is a factual question with only one true answer. Now comes one-stop documentation. Bonus: the intro, by a former Nuremberg prosecutor.

Saturday, December 13, 2008 3:02 pm

Predicting job success when it counts most

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 3:02 pm
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How do you tell when someone you’re thinking about hiring will succeed in the job you’re hiring for? In my experience hiring reporters for the paper, past success — as measured not necessarily by awards and prizes but by the caliber of work done (including but not limited to the four or five clips we typically ask for from applicants) and the creativity and leadership shown in past problem-solving — usually is a very good indicator. And even that package of attributes is not totally reliable.

And even in my line of work, a lot is riding on the outcome. Recruiting and hiring for an open reporting job costs a significant percentage of what we pay in salary and benefits in a year. In some other lines of work, it can run 40 to 50 percent of the position’s annual compensation.

So imagine the kind of money riding on the choice of a quarterback for an NFL team. And then imagine the nonfinancial but infinitely more important issues riding on the choice of a teacher.

Malcolm “Freakonomics” Gladwell didn’t just imagine it, he went looking for the recruiting answer in both lines of work. And in those lines of work, he found, predicting success is a whole lot more of a crap shoot than in my line of work:

[Pro scout Dan] Shonka began to talk about Tim Couch, the quarterback taken first in that legendary [quarterback] draft of 1999. Couch set every record imaginable in his years at the University of Kentucky. “They used to put five garbage cans on the field,” Shonka recalled, shaking his head, “and Couch would stand there and throw and just drop the ball into every one.” But Couch was a flop in the pros. It wasn’t that professional quarterbacks didn’t need to be accurate. It was that the kind of accuracy required to do the job well could be measured only in a real N.F.L. game.

Because the game of pro football is so much faster than the college game, particularly on defense, it’s much harder for quarterbacks, even the best in the college game, to succeed in the pros. Part of that difference, he observes, has to do with the offensive strategies college teams typically employ as opposed to the pro teams. But those strategy differences are driven by the speed of pro defenders — even the big, heavy ones. And you don’t have to be a football expert, or even to watch a lot of games, to see the difference.

In teaching, where the stakes are immeasurably higher even if the money involved doesn’t suggest so, there’s good news for parents, teachers and students: We’re learning a lot more about what is likely to make a successful teacher than pro scouts are about what makes a college QB likely to succeed in the NFL, as this examination of a recording of a teacher in action shows:

Then there was the superstar—a young high-school math teacher, in jeans and a green polo shirt. “So let’s see,” he began, standing up at the blackboard. “Special right triangles. We’re going to do practice with this, just throwing out ideas.” He drew two triangles. “Label the length of the side, if you can. If you can’t, we’ll all do it.” He was talking and moving quickly, which [Bob] Pianta [the dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education] said might be interpreted as a bad thing, because this was trigonometry. It wasn’t easy material. But his energy seemed to infect the class. And all the time he offered the promise of help. If you can’t, we’ll all do it. In a corner of the room was a student named Ben, who’d evidently missed a few classes. “See what you can remember, Ben,” the teacher said. Ben was lost. The teacher quickly went to his side: “I’m going to give you a way to get to it.” He made a quick suggestion: “How about that?” Ben went back to work. The teacher slipped over to the student next to Ben, and glanced at her work. “That’s all right!” He went to a third student, then a fourth. Two and a half minutes into the lesson—the length of time it took that [previously examined] subpar teacher to turn on the computer—he had already laid out the problem, checked in with nearly every student in the class, and was back at the blackboard, to take the lesson a step further.

“In a group like this, the standard m.o. would be: he’s at the board, broadcasting to the kids, and has no idea who knows what he’s doing and who doesn’t know,” Pianta said. “But he’s giving individualized feedback. He’s off the charts on feedback.” Pianta and his team watched in awe.

Writ large, the inability to predict success accurately during the hiring process is probably a significant drag on the economy. But if you’re a parent, you probably care a lot less about that than about how well one or a handful of teachers can help your kids learn (and learn how to learn). And if we’re not expert, at least we’re getting better.

Monday, December 8, 2008 8:10 pm

Scratch one suspect

“We have not yet seen empirical evidence to support these claims, nor has it been our experience in implementing the law over the past 30 years that the CRA [Community Reinvestment Act] has contributed to the erosion of safe and sound lending practices.”

So the CRA, created in part to ameliorate the effects of decades of redlining by banks, isn’t to blame for the mortgage-based mess in which we find ourselves. But don’t take my word for it. Take this guy’s, inasmuch as he might actually be in a position to know.

Friday, October 3, 2008 8:58 pm

The president gets letters

Including this one from the American Psychological Association: If you want to torture, you’ll have to do it without us.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 7:19 pm

Birth of an adoption blog

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 7:19 pm

Please welcome my co-worker Dawn and her husband Scott to the blogosphere as they chronicle their efforts to adopt a child.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 7:24 am

“We are stardust …”

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 7:24 am

Nick ponders two artifacts of prehistoric time and finds a connection.

Monday, December 17, 2007 7:57 pm

About damn time

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 7:57 pm

Turns out our friend and former colleague Andy Duncan not only has a blog, he is only now letting us know about it after roughly 18 months of blogging. Andy, for those who don’t know him, is a gifted fiction writer with a bent toward fantasy/scifi. Hie thee hence and show him some bloggy love, mmkay? I’d add a link below, but for some reason I don’t have time to track down right now, WordPress is not letting me edit that particular widget.

UPDATE: He’s added now. I was trying to mess with a widget when I should have been messing directly with the blogroll. Duh.

Saturday, January 20, 2007 4:18 pm

Hangin’ out there where everyone can see him.

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 4:18 pm

This might be a first.

Over at the legal blog Opinio Juris, which I’ve never read, there’s a new blogger joining the group: John Bellinger, head of the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser. (First post here.) I don’t know the guy from Adam, but so far as I know he is the highest-ranking federal government lawyer blogging out there under his own name, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006 9:37 am

Tips on election blogging …

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 9:37 am

… from one of the best bloggers in the business. No, not me, you philistines! Mr. Sun!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 9:43 pm

The most important op-ed piece you will read all year …

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 9:43 pm

… is this one by Billmon at Whiskey Bar.

Thursday, April 6, 2006 9:46 pm

Jonathan Swift’s crown remains secure …

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 9:46 pm

… but this is a — pardon the pun — well-executed work in that honorable tradition.

Monday, January 23, 2006 8:32 pm

” … I fear our children are learning a lot more than we really want them to know.”

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 8:32 pm

Boy, when he returns, he really returns: David Hoggard ruminates on Guilford County Schools attendance zones, and his piece has something to discomfit just about everyone.

Friday, October 28, 2005 6:13 am

Nazi magnet

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 6:13 am

Aldahlia describes what it’s like to be one when you don’t care for Nazis yourself, goes on to posit an entire structural system for latter-day Nazis and even provides context without being asked first. Brava!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005 6:19 am

11 years ago: The new Oskar Schindler

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 6:19 am

Just go read.

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