Monday, 23 April 2007

Teaching moments

Free Exchange notes New York Times reporter Erik Eckholm playing fast and loose with infant mortality statistics to extrapolate ominous trends from what appear to be random year-to-year fluctuations in infant death rates (and a downward-sloping overall trend, to boot).

One might also wonder what effect—if any—Hurricane Katrina had on the 2005 mortality rate. That is, if one weren’t Eckholm, who doesn’t even mention the possibility of a relationship with the largest natural disaster in Mississippi history.

Friday, 6 April 2007

If I were you, I'd stick with condoms

Somehow I doubt New York City will be seeing long lines of uncircumcised adult males volunteering to get their foreskins lopped off, even if it does substantially reduce their risk of getting AIDS from unprotected sex.

Update: As Jane Galt notes (thanks for the link!), “In all this, the obvious point was missed: is anyone really going to take the city up on this?” Not bloody likely—with an emphasis on the word “bloody.”

Friday, 2 December 2005

Aim low, and keep reaching for the Prime Minister's job

Stories like this one make me thank God we didn’t get Hillarycare. On the stump, Canadian Conservative leader Stephen Harper made this, dare I say bold, promise to his countrymen:

[P]atients should not wait more than 10 months for non-urgent hip and knee replacements.

I suspect it’s pretty easy to say that when it’s not your bum hip or knee you’re hobbling around on for the best part of a year.

Of course, Canadians at least have, for now, the choice of private provision: they can come here for treatment and pay twice—once for the not-very-timely provision of services in Canada and once for the actual provision in the Land of the Gringos. In Democratic-wet-dream America, where’s our (and their) safety-valve going to be? Grenada?

Sunday, 5 June 2005

Real women have curves (but don't tell Disney)

Amber Taylor and Hei Lun Chan of Begging to Differ have uncovered yet another reason not to bother with the new Love Bug movie: you won’t be seeing as much of Lindsay Lohan as you might have figured—no pun intended:

Disney technicians were forced to go through numerous scenes – especially those showing the actress jumping up and down at a motor racing track, reducing her breasts by two cup sizes and raising revealing necklines on her T-shirts.

That must have been a hardship tour. Both linkers think this problem could have avoided during production; Taylor with technology, Chan with casting:

If Disney wanted a teenage blonde without big breasts for the movie, why didn’t they just cast Hilary Duff?

A question for the ages, to be sure.

Meanwhile, given Lohan’s recent emaciation (documented by Taylor), someone really ought to get her to read up on the health benefits of having body fat (þ: Instapundit).

Monday, 2 May 2005

Opposition research

While searching for a PBS show on psychology I promised to record for my friend and colleague Suzanne (which I never found), I stumbled across this program listing:

Electric Orgasm: An anesthesiologist uses pain relief technology to trigger the brain’s pleasure zone in three women.

Ah, but will the anesthesiologist remember their birthdays? I think not.

Saturday, 30 April 2005

Social insecurity

Me, three months ago:

The beauty of social security is that the public was conned into having a welfare system for seniors the only way a pluralistic society can—by turning it into a handout for everyone. That social security, and its related pal Medicare (which is universal healthcare for poor seniors, packaged as a handout for everyone), are both in serious fiscal trouble is no unforseeable accident; it’s the unavoidable consequence of a system established by Democrats to ensure these two welfare schemes wouldn’t be taken away at the ballot box, like “welfare as we know it” was and Medicaid is almost certain to be [in the future].

The New York Times, tomorrow:

In choosing to preserve benefits for the less well off and not raise taxes on more affluent people, Mr. Bush sought to cast himself in the Democrats’ traditional role as a defender of the poor. In his radio address on Saturday, he said: “By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we’ll make good on this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty.”

But critics, including most Democratic lawmakers, say that such an approach would undermine a central bargain conceived during the New Deal: that Social Security is not just a welfare program for the poor but a form of social insurance that people at all income levels pay into and reap rewards from.

“Social Security is not a poverty program, it is a retirement system people have worked hard for, paid into and have earned,” said Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan.

If it becomes increasingly irrelevant for middle-income people, the critics warn, Social Security will eventually become little more than an empty shell.

Most intriguing. (þ: Eric Lindholm)

Wednesday, 20 April 2005

What to blog, what to blog

Well, there’s a new pope… I guess I should say something about that. Instead, I’ll let the Catholics duke it out—in particular, I’ll witness the fur fly between Andrew Sullivan and Stephen Bainbridge.

In other news, Ms. Passey has good news for those men who engage in regular sexual activity (solo or otherwise); more details here. One wonders what Pope Benedict XVI thinks of this news.

Oh, and my semester is over in 13 hours (except for finals and this pesky honor code violation problem I’m having to deal with). I plan to celebrate enthusiastically with friends.

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

She has a point, you know

I shouldn’t have laughed at this post on the Terri Schiavo saga from the newly-made-over Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey, but I did:

In all the debate about “what Terri would have wanted” people seem to be forgetting that her vegetative state was initially caused by anorexia and bulimia. She was TRYING to starve herself. Let her finish.

In all seriousness, though, I’m thinking there are far more important things for the Florida and U.S. legislatures to be using their time on; of course, the libertarian in me thinks (perhaps on the erroneous assumption that time is a meaningful legislative commodity) the more time they spend on this the less they can spend futzing with my life.

Monday, 21 March 2005

The rational public

I tend not to put a large amount of stock in public opinion polls, but caveats aside, an ABC News poll shows the public is rather unconvinced of the merits of Congress’ intervention in the case and the case itself, as am I (þ: PoliBlog); there’s more details on the poll here.

Update: Orin Kerr points out some rather serious issues with the question wording of the ABC News poll.

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

My annual nod to the Fairness Doctrine

Although I don’t really buy the arguments of the “keep Terri Schiavo alive” brigade, Dean Esmay thinks her parents have a fairly strong case; read their side here. Unfortunately, I can’t find anything on Michael’s side except this statement from 2003 before Florida’s legislature got involved. The truth being a three-edged sword, take both with a rather large grain of salt.

I won’t pretend this is an easy issue, but I tend to think—whatever its other faults—the legal system does a better job of deciding these things than the court of public opinion or grandstanding politicans do, and the judiciary remains unconvinced of the merits of Ms. Schiavo’s parents’ case.

Monday, 14 February 2005

He's read my mind

James Joyner on the interminable Terry Schiavo saga:

While the issue of withdrawing life support is a messy one, I have a rough time getting too upset with the husband, who I consider the real victim in this case. His wife died fifteen years ago but, because of advancements in medical technology and the stubborn resistance of his in-laws to facing the truth, he’s being cast as the villain for simply wanting to pull the plug and get on with his life. He shouldn’t have to divorce a woman who died fifteen years ago in order to do that.

Why the Schindlers have any legal standing in this case is beyond me. Terri was an adult who was legally married. Absent a living will or other document whereby she was able to establish her desires before she entered a vegetative state, her husband is the one who has to make these crucial determinations. Certainly, he is in a better position to know what she would have wanted than the Florida legislature or Jeb Bush.

Monday, 7 February 2005

Tupelo lawmaker supports teen pregnancy

More evidence that Mississippi has too many lawmakers and, apparently, too long a legislative session:

A practice of some teenage girls — getting birth control from neighborhood health clinics without their parents’ consent — would end under a bill pending in the Mississippi Senate.

Public Health and Welfare Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said he’s filed the bill for about eight years without the legislation ever getting out of committee. Nunnelee’s chairmanship guarantees that the bill will at least get a Senate vote this year.

A particular highlight of the piece is Nunnelee’s apparent belief that sexually active teenagers are “little girls.” And, since the AP can’t be bothered to include the bill number in the article (a pet peeve of mine), here’s a link to all the information.

Saturday, 15 January 2005

Roid rage

David Pinto has a good explanation of Type I and Type II error in the context of baseball’s new plan for steroid testing, while Jayson Stark has a pretty good Q and A on the agreement that nonetheless makes a rather dumb statement:

What’s amazing, in some ways, is that one positive steroid test actually carries a more serious penalty than a cocaine-possession conviction. One positive steroid test leads to an immediate suspension. It takes two cocaine convictions to get suspended.

Unless someone shows some evidence that doing coke or pot improves athletic performance, it seems to me that baseball is properly putting the emphasis on drugs that affect the integrity of the game; while it’s potentially embarrassing to the league to have a coke-head on the field, his presence doesn’t encourage any other player to do coke. Indeed, if coke and pot were legal substances, it’s likely the only ban on those substances in any sport would be on their use on the field because of public image issues, similar to the ban on tobacco use.

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Arms and the man

Apologies for the light blogging; I found out Monday I have a “second degree” separated left AC joint, which is doctor-speak for a separated left shoulder. I’ve been spending most of the past 24 hours in a sling, with a bit of physical therapy added. Allegedly I’ll be mended by the week after New Year’s.

Saturday, 11 December 2004

Institutional inertia

With exams over less than twelve hours, I wasn’t planning on doing much thinking—who knows, after reading this you might conclude that I haven’t been doing much thinking—but this is an issue I care about. So I blog.

I read a proposal in the WSJ earlier this year, which has apparently come up again, about ending the tax deductibility of health benefits and was struck by how simple it is. I wish I still had the archive from my old site so I could find the original article.

Anyway, making benefits exempt from taxable income causes people to over-consume and employers will opt for more elaborate plans for more expensive workers. They’re the ones with the bargaining power. Will eliminating this distortion, by treating different forms of income equally, cause employers to abandon health insurance as a benefit? I suspect not for two reasons.

First is institutional inertia. Employees have come to expect employers to offer some sort of health benefit and it’s one of the first things employees think about when evaluating jobs. Employers will likely continue to offer health benefits simply because employees expect the benefits.

Another reason employers will continue to offer health benefits, even without the tax benefit, is because it’s something that they can offer relatively cheaply, as opposed to having employees get their own insurance. This won’t be true in every case, to be sure, but in general employers will be able to buy insurance at a lower rate than employees can alone, therefore adding more value to a compensation package from the employee’s perpective at a relatively low cost to the employer.

Will the benefit of eliminating the propensity to over-consume that’s built into the tax code outweigh the costs of disintermediation and other considerations? I don’t know, but on its face it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to treat one form of income as preferable to another.

More on this issue can be found here and here.

Update: click through the "here" links if you want to see actual numbers.

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

Nuking one's nads

The BBC helpfully informs us that using your laptop on your lap may have negative effects on male fertility.

However, someone will have to explain to me later why health researchers are allowed to make inferences about the entire human male population from a study of just 29 subjects. They’d shoot me if I tried that. (þ: memeorandum)

Friday, 3 December 2004

Bonds was juiced, news at 11

In what has to be about the most unsurprising other-shoe-drop since the Michael Jackson child abuse allegations, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (via that San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds (unknowingly, he alleges) used performance-enhancing drugs supplied to him by his trainer, according to sealed grand jury testimony leaked by prosecutors obtained by the newspaper. Coupled with Jason and Jeremy Giambi’s admissions that they used steroids supplied by Bonds’ trainer, things aren’t looking good for baseball’s image.

A larger issue here, pointed out by David Pinto, is that these leaks are likely to undermine the grand jury system—not just in this case, but in a lot of other cases too. Given that the Justice Department is not only responsible for prosecuting this case, but investigating grand jury leaks (which, pretty much by definition, can only come from prosecutors, as no other parties have unrestricted access to the transcripts), the “fox guarding the henhouse” aspect of these leak investigations does not fill one with much confidence about the integrity of the grand jury system.

Update: Steven Taylor questions the sanity of Bonds’ reported decision to use unknown substances (steroids or not) obtained from a guy who lived in his car. No kidding. David Pinto recommends reading the whole thing for a glimpse into Bonds’ mindset, and asks the $64,000 question—what does Bud Selig do about these revelations?

Sunday, 28 November 2004

Good Luck, Randy Barnett

I’m no big fan of Randy “Buy My Book” Barnett qua blogger, but after Lawrence Lessig, he’s my second favorite lawyer. I join Jim Lingren in wishing Mr. Barnett the best of luck Monday in oral argument before the Supreme Court in the case of Raich v. Ashcroft.

I’d love to see Raich win the case, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004

Third party payers in medical care

Alex Tabarrok has an excellent post that explains the reason that the cost for most medical procedures skyrockets: third-party payers, including both government and private insurance.

Why the price decline in this market and not others?  Could it have something to do with the fact that laser eye surgery is not covered by insurance, not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and not heavily regulated?  Laser eye surgery is one of the few health procedures sold in a free market with price advertising, competition and consumer driven purchases.  I’m seeing things more clearly already.
Makes sense to me and one of the reasons I’ve supported the idea of MSAs for so long. The more we marginalize third parties, the better off we will be. There are even some insurance companies that see the wisdom of this approach, such as Lumenos and Health Market. I hope they prosper in the coming years.

Monday, 15 November 2004

RFIDs on prescription bottles

Viagra and Oxycontin bottles will soon be tagged with RFID chips, under a new FDA initiative to discourage theft and counterfeiting.

"Right away, for the first time ever, a cop can say 'that bottle came from a crime scene and this suspect is in possession of stolen property'," [Purdue Pharma chief security officer Aaron] Graham said.

(Purdue Pharma is the manufacturer of Oxycontin, a narcotic.)

Maybe I’m missing something, but what will stop thieves from just removing the pills from the bottles and throwing the bottles away?

If the “war on drugs” didn’t have such a high cost in human freedom, the ineffectual antics of the drug warriors would be a laugh riot.

Monday, 8 November 2004

It's the consumers, stupid

Tyler Cowen wonders why health care sucks:

It remains a mystery, why private health insurance has performed badly in holding down costs. Companies compete fiercely to shed costly patients but they do less to invest in reputations for reliability and trustworthiness. Similarly, it is a puzzle why HMOs don’t do more to invest in good reputations; lately Kaiser has moved in this direction.

All of this, I suspect, can be traced directly to the disconnect between health care consumption and health care customers; employers contract with health care plans as a fringe benefit for their employees (which Cowen has noted before), but they have no real incentive to make sure the health insurance is good (although there certainly is an incentive to make its cost as low as possible), except to the extent that a good health insurance plan can attract new employees; but, once employed, few people change jobs solely because their health insurance sucks (and nobody in a cartelized labor market, like academe, does so), so there’s little incentive to improve health care coverage.

It seems to me the sensible course forward is to couple HSAs with incentives for employers to provide a health insurance purchasing account (in lieu of employer contributions), which employees could use to purchase a health insurance plan in a competitive market. This would align the customer-consumer interest much better than the present system.

Sunday, 24 October 2004

How not to encourage live organ donation

From the Miami Herald:

Authorities are seeking to extradite a Tennessee man - wanted for failing to pay child support - after learning that he underwent surgery in Colorado to donate his kidney to someone he met on the Internet.

Rob Smitty, 32, faces charges of failing to pay his ex-wife $8,100 in child support and medical payments, and a warrant is out for his arrest. He was recovering in a Denver hospital following surgery Wednesday to donate his kidney.

Smitty’s ex-wife apparently wishes that Mr. Smitty had not donated a kidney and saved a man’s life:

But Angie McCoy, Smitty's ex-wife, said she didn't think Smitty was acting out of altruism.

“It’s unethical, and it’s not right,” she said.

Others are also accusing Mr. Smitty of having non-altruistic motives, according to this Knoxville News-Sentinel story (registration or BugMeNot required).

In 1992, Smitty was sentenced to 12 years in prison for possession and conspiracy to distribute LSD. He served less than six months at a boot camp before being put on probation.

The criminal background only raises ethical questions surrounding the exchange, including worries that Smitty was paid for giving up a kidney.

“Why would someone give up a kidney to a stranger?” said Cathy Paykin, transplant programs director for the National Kidney Foundation in New York. “To get a sentence reduced? To look better in the eyes of the law? To get money? It’s so hard to manage motivation even under the best of circumstances.”

My take: let’s set aside the question of whether a free and open market for live organ donations would be a good thing. (See Tyler Cowen's thoughts on ths matter.) Mr. Smitty gave up a kidney and saved another man’s life. Whether his motives were altruistic or mercenary are irrelevant to assessing the morality of his action. At worst, his kidney donation was unwise from the perspective of self-interest.

If indeed he was paid for the kidney, I doubt that Ms McCoy will be complaining if she gets her cut.

Wednesday, 13 October 2004

Edwards promises Goa'uld sarcophogi to all

You know, if George Bush had said something this idiotic, he’d be the laughingstock of America. But the unfortunate phrasing of the day award goes to John Edwards on the stump:

People like Chris Reeve [of blessed memory – ed.] will get out of their wheelchairs and walk again.

There’s nowhere to even start with that one.

Thursday, 26 August 2004

So that's why it's called "Platinum Plus"*

From CNN:

Researchers have found high concentrations of platinum in women who got silicone breast implants....

Tuesday, 17 August 2004

Worthy cause

Lee Iacocca is leading an effort to raise 11 million dollars to fund human clinical trials of a potential cure for type I (juvenile) diabetes. Mr. Iacocca has already given a million of his own money to the cause: one million down, ten million to go. So go donate some money.