Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanks Again, Grey Lady

The rancor and belligerence surrounding the decision to try the 9/11 conspirators in New York is regrettable. Yet, there are still those out there who will practice good manners in the debate. For example, in the interests of hearing all positions on the matter, the New York Times editorial page has politely waived any elitist or arrogant demands that writers of letters to the editor maintain an attachment to facts in their letters, so long as they represent a constituency that has some symbolic connection to the attacks.

The plan to bring the terrorists to New York City is an abomination and easily the most pernicious step the Obama administration has taken to date. It is almost certain that such a monumentally misguided decision will have a chilling and deleterious effect not only on our ability to prosecute current and future detainees, but also on our ability to prosecute the overall war on terror. These are war criminals, not American citizens.

The reason you have a Guantánamo in the first place is to avoid the circus that this will inevitably become. In so doing, the president has placed politics above principle and consequently has violated his most sacred oath: the protection of American citizens.

James McCaffrey
Yonkers, Nov. 14, 2009

The writer is a lieutenant in the New York Fire Department and a 9/11 family member.

Only an ill-bred jerk would point out that the President makes no oath to defend Americans, but only to defend the Constitution.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sometimes Impoliteness Overtakes Me

And I notice things like this in airport bookstores, and start to think quite nasty thoughts, like "other than having the superfluous word "BY" in it, this headline is quite apt. Perhaps she will henceforth be known to internet wits as TETTGEW...."

It's impolite, I know, but the stress of traveling makes one susceptible to the lures of the easy joke.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How Not to Discuss a Previously Foreseen Outcome

If anyone out there intends to discuss recent developments in the health care debate, here is a model of how NOT to initiate the discussion:

Say, Barack Obama: You bent over the entire left wing of your party and pissed all over your most loyal supporters to foster a back-room deal with AHIP in which you gave them the store while they used Max Baucus to give the public the shaft. Then they looked at the atrocious corporate welfare bill that the Baucus Dogs in Finance produced (on their orders), and decided that it did not go far enough to serve their special interests, and went all Harry and Louise on you. The insurance companies are a bunch of fucking snakes and if you didn't see that stab in the back coming, you are truly retarded.

Statements like this are completely uncouth and should not be uttered in polite society.

If Politico is to be believed, the White House did not see this coming.

UPDATE: An administration official called. The White House isn't happy.

AHIP chief Karen Ignagni met with White House and Senate Finance officials last week, and she said they were "a ways away from doing an analysis," the official said. "There is a feeling among White House officials that they were misled."

If this is accurate, it calls to mind frogs, scorpions, and aquatic adventures that end badly for everyone. The reliability of Politico is probably also a subject best excluded from polite conversation, however.

UPDATE: Speaking of which:

Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said she was surprised by the report because she met last week with Ms. Ignagni and they vowed to work together.

An uncouth person might be tempted to remind DeParle about the worth of industry promises when political negotiatons turn away from their preferred outcomes and the track record of the insurance industry with regard to health reform, perhaps suggesting a degree of naivete or "retardation" on the part of the Office of Health Reform. A polite person would repress that temptation as if their life depended on it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I've Got No Choice: Medicare Billing Perversities Will Force Me to Bilk the Public

At risk of being uncouth, there appeared today in the New York Times a letter to the editor by Dr. Richard Bazarian of Portland, Maine, that I found rather curious. Dr. Bazarian opined that the capricious decisions of medicare bureaucrats portend disastrous consequences under national public health insurance.

A foreshadowing of what is to come under government-led health care reform: An anonymous Medicare bureaucrat decides to change the billing code for a $30 drug so that physicians are reimbursed only about 25 percent of their cost. The annual savings nationwide: about $11 million.

Unintended consequences: The ophthalmologists who had been offering the drug, Avastin, off-label are unwilling to take the loss, and justifiably recommend that their patients switch to Avastin’s sister drug, Lucentis, which costs more than $2,000 per monthly dose. The annual cost to taxpayers: hundreds of millions of dollars.

In other words, an eye doctor stands to eat 75% of $30--$22.50-- each time he prescribes Avastin to a patient. Divided up, the $11 million estimated national savings reflects about 489,000 annual prescriptions of Avastin. Remember that number.

What's a rationally operating capitalist physician to do? Why, refer his patients to a drug that is sixty-six times as expensive and recoup all of the cost. At 489,000 prescriptions a year, that would translate not to "hundreds of millions of dollars," but nearly a billion. Of course, Dr. Bazarian magnanimously offers his patients a choice:

Today, an average day in my office, of 14 patients to be treated, 8 were scheduled for Avastin and 6 for Lucentis. When shown your article, all agreed to change to Lucentis. While they would like to be socially responsible, they don’t want to see their physician lose money on their treatment.
An uncouth person might suggest that a doctor has undue influence over his elderly patients, who are likely experiencing some anxiety over their impending blindness. Since these patients have no personal financial stake in the prescription decision, while the prescribing physician does, an uncouth observer might also point out the presence of a conflict of interest. An uncouth observer might also speculate that Dr. Bazarian and his colleagues, were they to express in writing this particular situation to their Congressmen or Congresswomen, or to the professional associations to which they belong, might have some influence to produce a productive remedy without resorting to an apparently spite-driven recourse of screwing Medicare.

A really uncouth person might engage in basic math and assess the outcomes of this typical day. Dr. Bazarian presses his elderly patients to adopt the name-brand drug in order to avoid harming the nice doctor who is helping them to retain their sense of sight. How does it work out for Medicare? Instead of (8*$4.50)+(6*2000)=$12,036, Medicare is on the hook for 14*$2000=28,000, a net loss of $15,964 . As for the doctor, by shifting eight patients to the name brand drug he saves himself $180. A spectacularly uncouth person might ask of Dr. Bazarian what he intends to do when his individually rational actions, replicated by his colleagues across the country, have the predictable systemic consequence of bankrupting Medicare and his pool of clients dwindles to the independently wealthy sufferers of macular degeneration in southern Maine. Might the doctor inquire of one of his Senators whether some sort of systematic overhaul of the health financing system might alleviate this one bizarre incentive? Might the doctor participate with others in an effort to remedy a procedural fault in the system that creates a perverse incentive? Might the doctor, to use the unfortunately coarse parlance of our times, suck it up and take one for the team, as most people in these troubled economic times have had to do? After all, the fact that the doctor claims to have offered his patients the final decision suggests that he recognizes the basic absurdity of his position, that his potential individual loss of an Andrew Jackson should outweigh the public interest of saving two large. It's not as though he has any choice in the matter. His patients insist that he give them the most expensive drugs the taxpayers can buy.

As a gentleman, however, I find it absolutely reprehensible that an honest physician would be forced by the absolutely irresistable power of perverse economic incentives to inflict eighty-three fold on the taxpayer the losses that public insurance would inflict on him, and therefore am swayed by the sheer power of this isolated anecdotal argument to reject the public option entirely.

Monday, October 5, 2009

True Gentleman-Lady: Judith Warner

Warner gets it: when people like Michael Moore attempt to shame and humiliate the malefactors of great wealth, they create hard feelings and no one can be happy. It would be far more polite and effective to invite the management ranks of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan over for some coffee and really listen to them. Hear about their dreams, understand how bad it makes them feel to be called bloodsucking evil parasites. With a little understanding, they might be convinced to slightly modify the publicly visible manifestations of their ill-gotten wealth, which would allow everyone to live comfortably in the belief that nothing's wrong.

Also, Warner displays an astute political insight when she observes this:

Maybe Moore has spent too much time documenting the other side. He seems to have lost sight of the fact that the other side is out of power. Why play their game and risk letting them win?
See, Republican hissy-fits are the most potent political weapon in the land. If Democrats concede all matters of economic and social policy to them, thus neutralizing the power of manufactured outrage, there is a chance that Democrats may preside over a more polite and sane America, in which we are free to raise our precocious and well-adjusted children with common names spelled according to European conventions. Which is what we all want and need so desperately. It's a slim chance, but, since raising issues of governance, social responsibility, and systemic inequalities is totally gauche, it's the only chance we've got.

Unless they turn to Plan B, spite politics. Nothing beats that.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

That's Uncouth: Alan Grayson

This cad has some nerve. Imagine the gall of pointing out GOP obstructionism, and then stubbornly refusing to apologize for this breach of decorum. Then arrogantly claiming that some sort of "public" interest is more important than bipartisan civility in the halls of Congress. Then, treating the noble and informed queries of the journalistic classes with utter contempt! Why, when Borger compared his comments to Joe Wilson's, Grayson ignored their nominally common rudeness and insisted that each statement be evaluated on its factual merit. And when Blitzer invoked Professional Journalistic Balance by comparing his words to Sarah Palin's accusation that health reform would create death panels, Grayson not only insulted the honor and virtue of a lady by suggesting that she was an ill-informed scaremongering twit, but again demanded that his statement be evaluated on factual merit.

Alan Grayson is still wet behind the ears as a Congressman, but he's achieved levels of uncouthness in eight months on the job that it's taken Barney Frank decades to master. If he plays his cards right, he may make a run at the Hall of Uncouth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

That's Uncouth: Frank Schaeffer

Politeness: exhibiting deference to any and all opinions expressed that have anything to do with God.

Uncouthness: making statements like "a village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot."

It should go without saying that this guy is also incredibly uncouth:

His induction to the Hall of Uncouth is awaiting this blogger's time to properly chronicle his uncouthness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Still a True Gentleman: David Brooks--UPDATE--UPDATE II

Brooks has done it again. He's identified a lamentable tendency in American culture--rampant, heedless, disproportionate, egotistical, megalomaniacal, world-historically-excessive boastfulness over accomplishments of trivial stature--but refrained from any ultimate judgment beyond a shrug:

This isn’t the death of civilization. It’s just the culture in which we live.

Kudos, David. I especially enjoy your polite disinclination to investigate the glaring contradictions exposed by your post--that a countercultural trend toward self-actualization created in one moment was visible in another as the practice of the establishment:

Everything that starts out as a cultural revolution ends up as capitalist routine.

Rude people might begin to question how it is that these "things" "end up" as something different than they started as, and speculate that the things themselves lack any inherent power to "end up" without human action, intent, and ideas. Truly rude people might speculate that if a distasteful practice like self-promotion is so thoroughly integrated into the core institution of American society, then perhaps there is something amiss with that society.

Follow David Brooks' example and you will be sure to stay on the right side of politeness.

UPDATE: Brooks is a bottomless well of good manners. Today, he makes reference to the producerist ethos of nineteenth century labor populism and declares it the animating force of the Tea Party movement. This, Brooks assures us, proves the absence of racism in the movement (Not to be uncouth about it, but....):

And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism. The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country. In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output. Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.
Truly, this is the work of a black belt in politeness. There is no uncouth mention of the fact that the majority of these "producers" appear to be retirees, dragooned children, or those who, to put it politely, are rather far removed from the creation of wealth. There is also no mention of the possibility that as with other manifestations of right-wing populism, the bluster of the people might be harnessed to the interests of a non-producing and parasitic elite. You see, despite his immense wealth, higher education, and constant appearances on television, David Brooks is a regular guy, the most polite and therefore best thing to be in American society. It would be both rude and irregular to wonder for even a second if large masses of similarly regular folks might be completely wrong.

UPDATE II: The Republican Party, which has nothing to do with the Teabaggers, is wholly owned by Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck, who are railroading it to ruin with race-baiting. Since Brooks didn't see Limbaugh or Beck personally mingling with the Teabaggers on the Mall during his jog, it's a dead certainty that these salt of the earth populists are still free of the taint of race-baiting. Whew.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Races to the Bottom are Great Sport, and endorsed by True Gentleman Charles Boustany

By now we've all picked our jaws up off the floor in the aftermath of the inspiring address we heard last night. Well, one of the addresses. This guy was barely trying (I mean, he failed to convince an insurance company executive and a libertarian ideologue), but at least his successor was there to pick up the pieces. Thank you, Charles Boustany, from one doctor to another, and may you successfully ignore the jests and taunts of the great uncouth masses.

You have proposed a set of ideas both simple and powerful, ones that are sure to produce results, and ones which, in true gentlemanly fashion, attribute blame to impersonal forces, government, and lawyers rather than to actual human beings. Allowing consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines can in no way fail to lower costs and ensure fair competition. And tort reform will with one stroke cut a whopping 1.5% of our current costs and protect honest, competent doctors from cynical ambulance chasers.

Perhaps you can combine the two ideas and allow the federal government to incentivize the states to pass the most aggressive tort limits possible and let doctors base themselves in those states. Only a clod would suggest that immunity from lawsuits against gross incompetence might draw deadbeats and charlatans to practice medicine in a state and thereby increase costs.

True gentlemen agree that recourse to the courts when one is wronged is clearly the prerogative of nobility.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Stupid Texas: Yes, I Live Here

I'm not making this up

To be fair, though, we aren't talking about a Bush policy speech, but one promoting the Super Bowl, a matter of universal social and cultural significance far surpassing the importance of Obama's "stay in school so you don't grow up to be an imbecile" speech.

Here's How It's Done: James D. Cox

For a while, it looked as though uncouth haters might scare the proud innovators of Wall Street away from the innovations that have made the U.S. economy the current envy of the world.

Fear not. No one will tell Wall Street that there is anything irrational in creating transferrable financial assets out of the mortality probabilities of Americans. There is, understandably, some anxiety about this. But there is a polite way to express this and an impolite way. First, the polite:

“It’s bittersweet,” said James D. Cox, a professor of corporate and securities law at Duke University. “The sweet part is there are investors interested in exotic products created by underwriters who make large fees and rating agencies who then get paid to confer ratings. The bitter part is it’s a return to the good old days.”
That's how you make it into the venerable Gray Lady. Polite concern revolves around the prospect that such securities might not create gigantic, never-ending flows of cash. Other polite concerns revolve around the prospect that the root asset behind the security might be unpredictable:

In addition to fraud, there is another potential risk for investors: that some people could live far longer than expected.

The challenge for Wall Street is to make securitized life insurance policies more predictable — and, ideally, safer — investments.
It's a fine line from polite to impolite, though, and while it's OK to point out the lamentable fact that people might screw up this great idea for everyone by living longer lives, it is not OK to point out that the entire scheme is a lottery of human death. I hate to even link to anyone who could be this uncouth:

But even beyond that… what the fuck??? This feels like financial innovation as practiced by Josef Mengele meets the Zucker Brothers; not just evil, but wacky evil. I don’t even want to think about what happens when Goldman Sachs suddenly has a large financial stake in the premature deaths of a bunch of old people. Where are the crazy police? Where is the crack federal crazy squad with the big butterfly net?
I've dealt with you before, Matt. Please keep your uncouth tirades to yourself.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

More Stupid Texas

A humble proposal: If Newt Gingrich is to be treated as one of the giants of American history, make sure to cover his life and work in the complete detail that it deserves.

Also, incorporate Gingrich's description of Gettysburg as part of the state history curriculum. If it's desirable to teach children that Gingrich was a stalwart for human liberty then it should be desirable to teach them that the Confederacy won, a delusion that is evidently well-established in these parts and consistent with the contemporary state of the union.

Friday, September 4, 2009

That's Uncouth: Pointing Out Reagan's Proselytizing to School Children

Pointing out when right-wing activists engage in blatant hypocrisy is uncouth. Please don't do it.

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True Gentlemen: David Brooks

Brooks is an admirable gentleman, and never fails to find a way to describe complex and politically fraught situations in terms that allow everyone to feel good about themselves and require nothing so uncouth as affixing blame to individuals or groups. Well, unless those individuals happen to be liberals. But no one's perfect.

Brooks shows his gentlemanliness in his opening line:

If I were magically given an hour to help Barack Obama prepare for his health care speech next week

Yes, if only. Rare is the pundit today motivated not by self-aggrandizement but by the desire to assist a politician with whom he disagrees vigorously. Brooks's advice? Quite reasonable. Peruse an article in the estimable Atlantic Monthly with the perfectly non-inflammatory title "How American Health Care Killed My Father." But wait, you say. Such an article by name alone suggests the impertinence of populist anger against The System, a social plague thought eradicated in the 1960s. Fear not, for both Brooks and author David Goldhill seek not to rouse pitchforks against The System, an entity guided and driven by recognizable and identifiable human hands. Rather, perverse incentives are to blame for costs. As Brooks summarizes:
Goldhill’s main message is that the American health care system is dysfunctional at the core. He vividly describes how the system hides information, muddies choices, encourages more treatment instead of better care, neglects cheap innovation, inflates costs and unintentionally increases suffering.

As Brooks is an upstanding gentleman, I trust the reader will feel no need to pursue a full reading of Goldhill's piece to judge the veracity of Brooks's summary. Clearly, once Barack Obama declares war on the Malefactors of Perverse Incentive this reform is as good as done. I also trust that the reader, like Brooks, sees no possible obstacle to a government initiative to regulate the health delivery system to avoid unnecessary expenses, encourage economies, and streamline information. No one has any problem with suggestions so reasonable.

Kudos, David Brooks, for solving one of our most intractable problems, without asking us to bicker and argue about who's gouging/overcharging/dropping/denying/defrauding whom. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

It is unfortunate, however, that David Goldhill's dad had such strong perverse incentive to die.

Update: An uncouth person might point out that Goldhill's article, which deals with a fatal infection contracted in a hospital as a result of systemic failure to practice good hygiene, describes an important issue but one that is nonetheless irrelevant to the issues being debated now, which largely involve the financial end of the health system rather than the health delivery end.

Update 2: An even more uncouth person might point out that Goldhill's aversion to blame-fixing is perhaps insincere since it allows him to proceed to a standard glibertarian argument for market-oriented reforms:

To achieve maximum coverage at acceptable cost with acceptable quality, health care will need to become subject to the same forces that have boosted efficiency and value throughout the economy. We will need to reduce, rather than expand, the role of insurance; focus the government’s role exclusively on things that only government can do (protect the poor, cover us against true catastrophe, enforce safety standards, and ensure provider competition); overcome our addiction to Ponzi-scheme financing, hidden subsidies, manipulated prices, and undisclosed results; and rely more on ourselves, the consumers, as the ultimate guarantors of good service, reasonable prices, and sensible trade-offs between health-care spending and spending on all the other good things money can buy.
A truly uncouth person might point out that, while Goldhill's proposed remedy of eliminating "moral hazard" by ceasing the funding of routine care through insurance would, indeed eliminate much bureaucratic overhead for administering preventive care, it would also discourage anyone from seeking care until their illness was debilitating.

Society’s excess cost from health insurance’s administrative expense pales next to the damage caused by “moral hazard”—the tendency we all have to change our behavior, becoming spendthrifts and otherwise taking less care with our decisions, when someone else is covering the costs.
Evidence? hold on to your hats. How spendthrifty are we when a generous insurance company is footing the bill?

Want further evidence of moral hazard? The average insured American and the average uninsured American spend very similar amounts of their own money on health care each year—$654 and $583, respectively. But they spend wildly different amounts of other people’s money—$3,809 and $1,103, respectively. Sometimes the uninsured do not get highly beneficial treatments because they cannot afford them at today’s prices—something any reform must address. But likewise, insured patients often get only marginally beneficial (or even outright unnecessary) care at mind-boggling cost.
An super-duper uncouth reader might say: Where exactly is this "other people's money" that the uninsured are spending coming from? Doesn't such a ridiculous statistic undermine Goldhill's whole point? Such a clod might argue, "I've racked up more than $10,000 in charges in three hours. For an ambulance ride, an X-ray, six stitches, and an antibiotic IV. I guess I should have explained to the 19-year old who hit me with his car while I was cycling that we were engaging in moral hazard. I guess I could have texted him 'OMG: mrl hzrd plz dnt rn me ovr11111'."

A yet-more uncouth reader still might read Goldhill's proposal for paying for medical expenses -Health Savings Accounts--and exclaim "Dear God, this horseshit again?" After spending a few moments swearing and stomping around the room, this person might wonder how they might be expected to save enough to pay for treatments whose costs might exceed by a factor between 1 and 100 the amount they spend on food in a year:

What about care that falls through the cracks—major expenses (an appendectomy, sports injury, or birth) that might exceed the current balance of someone’s HSA but are not catastrophic? These should be funded the same way we pay for most expensive purchases that confer long-term benefits: with credit.
Here, our reader, by now approaching asymptotal uncouthness, might wonder if all of the health savings accounts in America could cover the cost of extracting David Goldhill's head from his anus (if this reader were either a glutton for punishment or a snarky smartass, this piece would truly be a gift that kept on giving).

But such crudeness has no place in polite debate. David Goldhill is a "media executive", and therefore has numerous great ideas for managing risk and incentive in high-stakes contexts. His opinions are to be respected and his demands obeyed.

Final update: Others noted Goldhill's piece when it was first published last month, and good manners dictate that I credit or scold them accordingly. Consumer Watchdog had a particularly uncouth response. The Economist more politely glossed over the logistical, logical, moral, and sociological merits of the article and contented itself with pointing out that Goldhill was being a bit hasty in demanding the immediate implementation of his ideas, as sudden change is unpleasantly disruptive to all parties involved.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Okay There Guy: Curt Schilling

Far be it from me to point out that Curt Schilling would have an uphill fight in seeking a U.S. Senate Seat in Massachusetts, given the state's recent electoral showing.

I would also certainly not be so crude as to torpedo this statement with an ironic barrage of links:

While Schilling has never run for or held political office, he said it’s an asset because he’s unencumbered by special interest connections.

“My credentials are that I have no baggage,” he said.

While I myself will of course take a gentleman at his word until given reason to doubt it, others might not observe a code of proper conduct so rigorously. "No baggage, indeed. Nothing between the Bloody Sock Game and this morning," an ignorant, uncouth oaf might remark between bites of his hamburger sandwich and immoderate swigs of beer. "Okay guy, whatever."

That clod might continue to read a statement like this one

“The person that works 9-to-5 for crap dollars gets spat on, and it’s becoming a state that’s next to impossible to live and prosper in, and I think it was anything but when it was founded,” he said at one point. At another, he proclaimed, “The status quo sucks. The status quo is not working.”

and opine that Curt Schilling Professional Baseballer's knowledge of said subject has been gained from his extensive study of the Boston Herald opinion page while seated in stall 3 of the home clubhouse in Fenway Park. This person might bray that, considering only thirty percent of state voters supported repealing the income tax in November 2008, there might not be a big enough "eeeeeevil gubmint is taking my money and giving it to bums and darkies" vote to put Schilling over the top. Said person might note the high rankings of the Commonwealth on most measures of quality of life, and also might declare that if Curt Schilling could name the century in which either Massachusetts Bay Colony or the Commonwealth were founded he would eat his hat.

And finally, our hypothetical man-of-low-breeding might question whether there is any causal connection between Schilling's well-thought-out analysis of public rectitude in the Bay State and his choice of comparison:

“This state, next to Illinois, is probably looked on as one of the most corrupt, laughable political scenes in the nation, and it should be just the opposite,” he said during one of his regular appearances on WEEI-AM, a sports radio station. “I think there’s so much broke here, that the fixing piece, I don’t think you’d have to look very hard to pick up the pieces of debris and start to reform and fix it.”

And, finally, our hypothetical Joe-Twelve-Pack might rudely and impolitely note a proclivity on the part of Mr. Schilling to run his mouth and then issue half-assed apologies and backtrack when when criticized. This person might opine that if Schilling could only master the art of blaming the media for his ill-advised comments, an art that he's begun to practice--

And he expressed surprise at the reaction after he told a cable television reporter he was considering a campaign.

“The chances of it happening are slim to none, but they ran with I’ve been thinking about it, so it’s gone nuts,” he said.

then he might make the leap to running for Vice President.

Bearing in mind, of course, that to actually speak these things would be terribly uncouth.

In conclusion, our imaginary interlocutor, were he a native-born Masshole, might thank Schilling for the memories and suggest that Schilling pursue his political interests in the Granite State, where the Northabamans are more receptive to this stuff.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Okay There Guy: Michelle Bachmann

It would probably be uncouth to point out that there is very little chance that this tactic will derail the modest reforms that the insurance industry will countenance from the O-Rahm-a administration. Hey, if you insist, by all means, go to town. It worked for the Judean People's Front I guess.

Also uncouth to argue that suicide pacts have a bad name, or that, much like the Rapture, this particular suicide pact will be a win-win for those leaving this earthly realm and those left behind.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That's Uncouth, Ted Kennedy! (UPDATE)

Such gall to absent yourself from the Senate due to a brain tumor. Your absence is forcing the Republicans to act like obstructionist asses. If only you were there, you could use your incredible credibility with movement conservatives to smooth the way for a practical, humane, and effective reform of the health care funding system. But no, you have to be off enjoying your terminal cancer. Jerk.

Update: Ted Kennedy's untimely death has finally given the media an opening to ask questions about the moral validity of a health system that discriminates on the basis of ability to pay. All it took was the passing of a powerful, long-serving Washington insider for the average Beltway journalist to be able to relate to this issue.

Update: Movement conservatives have recognized the solemnity of the occasion and refrained from politicizing it in any way (b/w/o Digby). Surely universal and affordable health coverage is right around the corner.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Stupid Texas

My wife and I have cultivated a saying that we use to describe any local annoyance we've encountered in a year-plus of employment-related exile in North Texas. That saying is "stupid Texas."

Before telling me to take my Yankee ass back to L.A./Chicago/Boston-whatever you do don't throw me in that briar patch--hear me out. There is a special sort of forethought-be-damned, full-speed ahead spirit among the people here that is truly unique. There is also a notable affinity for grandiosity in matters transportational and sartorial. Exaggerated by spiteful Yankees or the work of city-slicker transplants from elsewhere? Not entirely.

When this spirit is constrained by communal standards (that is, by the presence of "haters"), it amounts to a colorful kind of charm. When it isn't, the results can be harmful or fatal both to those involved (warning: loud animated intro--duh) and to innocent bystanders (warning: may cause vomiting).

Thankfully, most often "Stupid Texas" stops well short of bloodshed and occasionally tempts the observer toward uncouth displays of schadenfreude. Particularly when the beloved local sporting franchise resumes play for the year hoping to erase the stench of the worst game ever played in the history of football (warning: link to Gregg Easterbrook who here proves the broken clock principle--when narrated on a play-by-play basis the horror/awesomeness of the 'boys' performance is incredible) by opening a new stadium, nay, no mere stadium but a gleaming monument to man's triumph over the limits of physics and good sense. Particularly when the crowning glory of that stadium, the largest television in the world, is predictably dinged by punts.

Did I mention that the Cowboys' last game of consequence was the worst game ever played by one team in the history of football?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inaugural Members of the Hall of Uncouth

I was recently thinking that if my blog had a Hall of Uncouth, this guy would be in it, on the basis of covering finance from a hater's point of view:

The recently-crowned head of international financial embarrassment AIG, Robert Benmosche, has launched a campaign to “restore morale” to his beleaguered employees, who are apparently a) cracking under the strain of public anger and b) having performance anxiety that may be linked to a fear that they will never again be allowed to make obscene and undeserved bonuses, so long as the taxpayer is writing their checks.

This is very sad, no doubt, and must be a terrible burden for anyone working on Wall Street to have to bear. So into the breach steps Benmosche, who became CEO of the firm last month. His new public mantra is that what happened to AIG isn’t the fault of AIG, but rather the fault of the government regulators who allowed AIG to destroy itself and iceberg the hull of the American economy. This is how he put it:

“It’s time the people in Congress stopped talking about you as the problem, because you’re the solution,” he said. “It’s not your fault, it’s their fault, it’s the regulators’ fault.”

In reporting this story Bloomberg, following this quote, did not immediately add a phrase like, “Benmosche after uttering this appalling horseshit quickly stepped sideways so as to avoid the lightning bolt that rained down from the heavens, frying to a crisp two senior executives and the company’s communications chief, Christine Pretto.”

It also occurred to me that someone who refuses to patiently and mildly indulge any species of paranoid rambling is also quite uncouth. Notably this guy. One more time for fun:

Ladies and gents, your inaugural class of the Hall of Uncouth. Congratulations to Matt Taibbi and Barney Frank, the first of many

Shocked! Shocked!

It is incredibly uncouth to say "I told you so."


First, let me say something about haters. Haters are the killjoys who insist that a rule for everyone is also a rule for you, precious. Haters are the uncouth jerks who point out self-serving bullshit rather than letting it slide by. Haters point out the self-serving way in which many people like to attribute their successes to their own talents and other people's failures to their own deficiencies while ignoring the social structures in which those successes and failures unfold. Haters are the defenders of sense in our society, and thus of the Republic itself. Hail Haters!

It's virtually guaranteed that when you encounter a complaint about someone being a hater, or jealous, or "butt-hurt" (to use the parlance of our times), or any reference to "pussification" or "the nanny state" you will also encounter an effort to shovel fifty pounds of horseshit into a twenty-five pound sack. I could spend all day looking for examples of this on the grand stage of politics, and soon I'm sure I will. But it's also important to see how this plays out in the humble context of everyday life. For an example, let's turn our attention to the heartland burg of Greenwood, Indiana.

Now, young Greenwood resident Chris Mickle appears by all accounts to be a fine young man with a healthy love for some good ol' smashmouth football. But as a 13-year-old sixth grader, he's too old for youth league and ineligible for junior high football. I've got nothing bad to say about Chris, and it is a bit sad that he will be a man without a team this fall. The problem here is what ensues when parents seek to displace one fact-based explanation for the situation-Chris is older than league rules allow-with an ego-based one--my kid is too good, so they hatin'. Of course, the remedies suggested by each explanation differ dramatically. The first analysis suggests that Chris might sit out a year of football, occupy his time with studies, exercise and drills and store up his frustrations to unleash in a frenzy of seventh-grade grid mayhem. That strategy pays off in a year. Unfortunately, the strategy suggested by the "stop hatin'" analysis--bitch and moan about haters to anyone who will listen-- pays off right now.

As a congenital hater, I've just got to ask that we consider a question: why do youth football leagues have age limits? Perhaps because 13 year old boys are, on average, quite a bit bigger and stronger than their twelve year-old peers? When your kid is a 150 pound sixth grader, perhaps you ought not to be so proud of his achievements on the field against kids some of whom are less than half his size. After all, the purpose of this league is for kids to learn how to play football and hopefully have some fun. Not to enable any specific kid to kick ass.

That's apparently the line that some parents took. This point was lost on some others however, because a good number of the people involved appear to be concerned that this boy's status as too-old-for-bantams-not-educated-enough-for-junior-high might derail the guaranteed NFL career he's got coming. And one local news reporter who caught wind of this controversy was there to sort it all out:

Some parents on an opposing team wanted Mickle kicked off his team. They got their way, based on the boy's age. He's 12 days too old to play on a 6th grade team, 6News' Rick Hightower reported.

Yes, some haters will even rely on rules and regulations to get their hatery way. Thank goodness 6News' Rick Hightower was there to call 'em out, and to finally give voice to those bedeviled by the haters.

"All the coaches teach the kids to go out and ... give it 110 percent," said John Mickel, Chris' father. "He does that and is good at it and they want him to back off."
Yes, if by "back off" you mean "adhere to league rules." The thing to note here is the casual move that disconnects the kid's above-limit age from his status as the monster of the tween gridiron, thereby preserving the delusion that some kind of honor attaches to physically dominating younger and smaller boys. This reminds me of the time, after my undermanned Babe Ruth league team of fourteen year-olds yet again lost by the ten-run mercy rule, that four of us riding home in the coach's car engaged in a staring contest with the other team's catcher. The staring contest happened because the catcher saw us see him climb into the driver's seat of his beater Camaro and prepare to drive off in a hail of dust and a blaze of hair metal. We waited it out for a while before the irate drivers stacked up behind us started honking and we had to drive off. I'm not sure if the word hater had been invented yet, but if we had complained to the league I'm sure that some synonym would have been deployed against us. Back to Greenwood:

"The father of a 67-pound boy who gets hit in practice by Mickel, who weights 150 pounds, said football is a contact sport that will result in children hitting each other -- something he contends all parents should realize before they sign children up for football."

This is a man who gladly, proudly, and self-righteously sends his own son to get tackled by a boy more than twice his weight who, to reiterate, is playing in the league improperly. If this behavior happened outside the context of athletics, it could be described as bullying. And as disturbing as it is for the parent of our bully-analogue to honor the behavior, it defies comprehension for the parent of the bullied-analogue to defend the situation with equal vigor. The only logic I can find at work is the belief that interfering with this state of affairs would abet some sort of national pussification. Whatever this father might be (and the words "ignoramus" and "neglect" are bouncing around my skull), he is certainly NOT a hater. Whatever you do, don't read the comments section of this story, because they make this dad look like one of the sharper tools in the shed.

I suppose football will be good training for adult life in 'Murka-sticking up for bigger, stronger people who also manipulate the system to whale on you. Anything else would be hatin'. More upstanding family-values football fans rejecting haterism here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Matt Taibbi: Hater

Matt had the gall to go on Morning Joe and present facts that disturbed Maria Bartiromo's lizard brain reflex knowledge that American health care is the best in the world.

Aren't you listening, Matt? The UK's National Health Service doesn't pay for two cancer drugs! It's like an elderly death farm over there! This hater wouldn't even stop his cruel onslaught of facts when Maria put her hand up! Matt Taibbi is uncouth.

One-Word Answers to Begged Questions

From the Times letters to the editor today:

To the Editor:

Alternate Plan as Health Option Muddies Debate” (front page, Aug. 18) provided an interesting discussion of the “co-op option” as a potential factor in the reform of our health care system in the light of what appear to be bleak prospects for the “public option.”

Is it reasonable to imagine that there is a third valid approach — that of the establishment of one or more new private-sector, for-profit health insurance companies — that would offer quality coverage at premiums lower than the present average?


For all you logical fallacy fans, let me anticipate your complaint that the writer is merely making an awkward rhetorical construction. I’m counting this as “begging the question” because the writer, despite his demure language and humble request for permission to exercise the innate mental faculties of a human being, so clearly presumes the uncertain premise that this third approach exists, is valid, and will accomplish what he asks permission to imagine it accomplishing. After all, he’s delighted to tell you all about it.

Bonus action:

If invited, the general public might be motivated to provide a sizable portion of the capital in hope that the net result would be successful competition in that business sector, which would bring down the cost of health insurance across the nation.

This solution would, to quote Homer, truly be a wonderful, magical animal—producing the bacon of lower premiums, the ham of covering the uninsured, and the pork chops of being private and for-profit. In other words, such a plan would be a pig. And hoping for this to work is like hoping for that pig to fly.

So who is this fuggin' guy, anyway?

Peter Raudenbush
Falls Church, Va., Aug. 18, 2009

Well, as we say here (or will from here on out), Okay There, Guy. That's well and good. But if you think that pig's gonna fly, there's a really groovy cat I think you should meet: Peter Raudenbush of Falls Church, Virginia, circa last month:
Congress is considering several health-care reform plans, but I favor a plan that will support the basic requirements of this administration: coverage for everyone, guaranteed choice in health-care providers and a public plan for those who cannot afford the cost of commercial plans, all paid for without adding to the budget deficit.
So why am I being so uncouth as to rake a guy I've never met over the coals? Aside from the fact that he submitted letters for publication in two of the nation's leading newspapers a month apart contradicting himself? Neither one of these Peter Raudenbush characters is any sort of teabagger. In fact, their ancestor Peter Raudenbush January 1, 2009 gave fifty bucks to Obama's transition fund, and a still more distant ancestor, Peter Raudenbush 2008 made a donation to the Obama campaign.

No, the problem I have with Peter is that his letters to the editor follow a trajectory of influence. They parallel Obama's path from endorsing a public option as a great way to kick those insurance companies in the pants and force them to cut costs to talking about the public option with all the conviction of Ted Haggard endorsing straightness.
Rahm Emanuel Anonymous White House Staffers are already eagerly painting the public option, itself a compromise position from single-payer, as a hobby horse for hippie lunatics who want to screw up the great thing they've got going (and by "great thing" I mean insurance industry campaign cash and a policy difference with Pelosi that will combine to make Rahm the Speaker if the half-assed reforms he champions make Obama a one-termer. You gotta have the angles covered). Perhaps I'm jumping the gun on the death of the public option. But it doesn't ease my mind to see that well-intentioned people like my pal Peter Raudenbush are capable of making themselves believe totally improbable things about health insurance reform to avoid the conclusion that public funding of health care is not only nice but vital.

Sorry to be uncouth.