Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The New And Improved Atlantic!

Obviously, the changes to The Atlantic were made to increase the number of hits, since we are forced to increase the number of hits we make to read McArdle's work. This is very, very interesting. Why is The Atlantic, which has never made money, trying to make more money? In 2008, the president of Atlantic Media was quoted: "The magazine is still in the red, in the $3-to-$5-million range, but he hopes to be in the black in five years." Is it necessary, or is David G. Bradley just trying to maximize the relatively small revenue that comes from the on-line magazine?

The new format is also filled with bugs.

Meanwhile, most of the more sane members of the comment section seem to have given up, leaving it to the rabid libertarians, who attack and gnaw at the few remaining less rabid libertarians like jackals at a corpse.

Also meanwhile, nearly two weeks after McArdle published "Myth Diagnosis," she has yet to directly answer her critics. McArdle's posts supporting her stupidity (Nine! Count 'em! Nine! Lovely supporting posts!) mostly restate her stupidity rather than backing it up with facts.

Stupidity the First: Make Up Shit

So while it's entirely possible--indeed certain--that some number of people are saved by having insurance, it's also very likely that some number of people are saved by not having it, or having less generous insurance, because they don't go in for a treatment that would have killed them.

The 2009 paper was looking at a small subset of conditions that are urgent, and which we're relatively adept at treating. But it may be washed out by the people who die having knee surgery.

Stupidity the Second: Nobody Knows Anything, Ever

I thought I'd made it clear, but apparently not: I think it is possible that the lack of insurance has no effect on aggregate mortality statistics. I do not think that this is likely, but I think it's possible. What I think is likely is that the effect is not that large, because if it were large, it would be very surprising to see so little effect on the mortality of an elderly population with a high mortality rate, or to have a study that samples 600,000 people and finds no effect.

Mostly what I think is that the statistics are really, really flawed. Not because the authors are bad social scientists, but because this stuff is so hard to tease out. Natural experiments are rare, and data sets often hard to come by.

Stupidity the Third: Science Stuff Is Too Hard To Figure Out

What I said is, the studies so far done often cannot exclude the possibility that there is no effect--this is true of one of the two studies that IOM/Urban relied upon, and also of the largest observational study done to date, which found no effect. That is not the same as saying there is no effect. Health data, like economic data, is very noisy. Sometimes effects that we're pretty sure exist just can't be easily teased out of the data . . . like, oh, I dunno, the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus, say.

What I am saying is that we don't know how big the effect is. Refuting me involves, not saying that well, here's another study showing some effect, but rather, taking a stand and saying we do know how big the effect is, or at minimum, that we can prove it's probably at least 20,000 people a year, the figure I was discussing.

McArdle promised to answer her critics within a few days, but that was about a week ago, so it must have slipped her wedding-occupied mind.

ADDED: More information from a post discussing the bugs in the new system:

This blog may never be exactly what you want. Let's be honest: I work for a commercial organization, and in order for them to continue to pay my paycheck, this site needs to be profitable. So we're going to have ads and other features that may well annoy you from time to time.

It's going to have to be a lot more profitable to make up a $3-5 million shortfall.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Megan McArdle is undergoing renovation, so we are taking the day off. I hope someone does something about the lack of post foundation and overall poor structural integrity.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shiny Objects

Megan heard that some little girls don't have any dolls. Fuck 'em.

Megan McArdle tweets:

I'm against gold buggery, but the commercials on FoxBusiness do make me want to have some pretty gold coins I can trickle through my fingers
about 11 hours ago via TweetDeck

@aphofer oops, let's say gold buggishness.
about 10 hours ago via TweetDeck

Lord, Hear My Prayer

Kathryn Jean Lopez twitters:

catholics and mormons together?
about 1 hours ago via web

Ordinarily I'd say, "Sorry, honey, he's married," but who knows? Maybe there's hope for her after all.

An Economic Guru Shares Her Wisdom

Megan McArdle discusses the thoughts of Ann Althouse. I think that actions speaks for itself.

Megan McArdle speculates that that inactivity leads to weight gain. If Obama had recommended exercise McArdle would now be churning out a dozen paragraphs saying that while one might surmise intuitively that exercise leads to weight loss, one would be wrong because of revealed preference, and the literature is just too noisy to draw any hasty conclusions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A New Low

I scarcely know what to say about McArdle's latest, except that is a very typical of McArdle's ignorant pronunciations on things she knows nothing about, but imagines she understands because the subject matter tangentially and momentarily intersected with her life. McArdle discusses pedophilia and expresses sympathy for the "innate" urge and says we should gather around and praise the non-practicing pedophiles. I will not quote the post.

She understands nothing and says anything. She should be fired for this embarrassment, but she should have been fired for all the other embarrassments too.

Paging Dr. McArdle, Stat!

Today we shall be brief. Dr. Megan McArdle explains the medical industry to us.

That's how cancer treatment has mostly advanced--not with a spectacular cure that can be funded by better targeted NIH money, or identified by comparative effectiveness research. It grinds out small improvements one at a time, experimenting with combinations of drugs and radiation and surgery, dosages, and timing. A lot of the improvement in mortality rates comes from better detection--but that means a lot of money wasted on tests, and biopsies for false positives.

Will the drug be "worth it"? What's the price of giving someone six months instead of one to say good bye to their family, or shrinking their tumors so that they don't die in pain? Technocrats can't answer those questions. We have to.

Therefore, we can't have national health care like everyone else. And the NIH Stem Cell Unit doesn't exist. And a new treatment for cancer using stem cells has not been developed.

I have an idea--instead of looking for a teaching job this spring, I will find someone to give me a lot of money to make up wrong information about subjects I do not understand and will not google, let alone research. My first article will be on prostitution so I will find a pimp to tell me all about his profession. I will pass on his word as gospel, and recommend to my readers that the buying and selling of women should be allowed. Otherwise millions will die, the markets for feather boas and wide-brimmed hats will crash, and Milton Friedman will cry one bitter tear.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Princess Bride, Part II

Today, Megan McArdle discusses the most fascinating subject in the world, Megan McArdle. You may have heard her mention once or twice that she is affianced to boy tea bagger P. Suderman, ret. McArdle spent the weekend buying her wedding ring and happily announced it to the world, but one small speck, one tiny blight, marred her Perfect Day.

Via McArdle's link to her boyfriend's present and cross-your-fingers-and-hope-to-die-future employer, we learn that some jewelers are eager to open a new market and increase revenue, the God-given right and duty of every free market entrepreneur. This should warm the cockles of McArdle's heart, but as we already know, if the gays get their hands on marriage, they'll just ruin it for everyone else.
It seems to me that there is a market opening for the brave young entrepreneur who is ready to redefine the gendered engagement ring for the gay community. But I'm a little puzzled about the idea of gay wedding rings. We bought ours yesterday, and though there was a big difference between men's and women's rings, I can't say that any of the rings in either gender screamed "gay" or "straight". The form factor for a circular band seems to have been pretty well settled, and I'm just not sure there's a lot of room there to express your sexual preference.

What puzzles our princess bride? Marketing? Niche marketing? Niche marketing for a new market? If a product is "pretty well settled" in form, should the form never change? Or should it not change just for gay couples?

Oddly enough, not everyone suffers from McArdle's lack of imagination and entrepreneurial spirit. If you Google "gay wedding and engagement rings," you get a wealth of information and merchandise available for the happy gay couple.* McArdle once again depends on her gut to tell her what other people want, and lo, her gut just happens to say that almost everyone wants the exact same things that McArdle and her friends want.

Ah, but that's not the good part. Let's take a look at the comments. We will paraphrase the commenters for brevity and directly quote McArdle.
Commenter: It's marketing.

McArdle: "Mmmm . . . but it's not like gay men are going to want to wear bigger womens' rings, and studding men's wedding rings with diamonds is more of a class thing than a sexual preference issue."

Commenter: Rings can't be designed for gay men?

McArdle: "I was in Act-Up, so yes, I'm familiar with triangles! But a very small minority of my friends from those days, gay or straight, have wished to incorporate those kinds of symbols into their wedding bands, and believe it or not, there are wedding bands with triangles already on them, for gay or straight people who like triangles."

So wedding rings are already designed for gay men, but there is no market for wedding rings designed for gay men. And if a friend of McArdle does not want them, nobody wants them.
Commenter: Small markets aren't served?

McArdle: "I'm saying that top of the line jewelers don't usually introduce "their new line of [celtic . . . asian . . . african-american . . . etc] rings, because only a small minority of any given population wants to make their group identity a major statement on their wedding rings. Yes, you can buy wedding rings emblazoned with any group symbol you'd care to name, but the problem is, then they don't look so much like wedding rings, and only a tiny percentage of the group in question usually buys them.

I'm not against it--I'm very pleased that they're trying to cash in on gay marriage, insofar as it recognizes that gay marriage is a coming trend. But like most attempts to cash in on trends, it seems a little dumb, too.

If y'all weren't totally convinced that everything I say is some sort of coded attempt to advance a right-wing agenda, you wouldn't need to work yourself into a lather every twenty minutes."

You see, gay marriage is just the trend of the moment, and cashing in on it will be dumb. But there will not be a market for specialized designs, despite the fact that there already is a market for specialized designs, because they don't look like traditional wedding rings. And we all know that the question of what a wedding should look like is "pretty well settled."
Commenter: So it's a class issue?

McArdle: "As for class issues . . . um, yes? I'm not under the impression that class doesn't exist, or that it's somehow bad taste to talk about it.

But then, we bought our wedding bands at Zales."

Commenter: What about Celtic rings?

McArdle: "I have seen them . . . but none of the Irish Americans I know even considered one. It's a very niche market, and weirdly, a lot of its customers don't have much connection, genetic or otherwise, to Ireland."

Well, if none of the people that McArdle knows buy Claddagh rings or rings with the Celtic knot, that means nobody does. Someone should tell all those people selling Irish rings that they're wasting their time.
Commenters: Megan doesn't know what gays want. Megan is being elitist.

McArdle: "Yes, Rob, because unless you're a liberal, you don't know any gay people! What a reasonable, informed conclusion to draw.

I'm not going to start iwth the "some of my best friends are gay" act, because that's ridiculous. Let's just say, I know a lot of people who want to marry folks of the same gender, and finding wedding rings that work is not one of the issues we've discussed. Engagement rings, now, are a big issue.

Calling this elite is even more moronic, Ginger . . . "not knowing any gay people" hasn't been a characteristic of the elite . . .well, ever, but for not knowing any "openly gay people" it's been a few decades at least."

Commenter: What? Also, your spelling is bad.

McArdle: "I do appreciate your corrections of my many spelling errors, but I do wish you would practice Reading Comprehension 101. On a side note, all you're contributing to the blog these days is hatred of me. If your target were anyone else, I'd already have banned you. Please try to get the "You suck!":discussion ration down to, say, 1:4, or I still may."

Commenter: You bought your ring at Zales?

As of this time McArdle has no responded to the comment on her choice of jewelry stores. Of course there is nothing whatsoever wrong with shopping at Zales, but it does do some damage to McArdle's elitist creds. It's kind of hard to argue from elitism when you buy your wedding ring next door to Hot Topic and an Orange Julius hut.

UPDATE: McArdle says that she bought her wedding bands (not her engagement ring) at Zales due to time limits.

*I also found out by googling that Hitler sent women who used contraception to death camps. They had to wear a black triangle, the same as lesbians and prostitutes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why We Fight

This is why we kill. Andrew Sullivan:

In my faith, God appears before us all the time and yet we do not see God's presence. But sometimes it is so over-powering even we cannot look away. This often happens in moments of great suffering and pain, in my experience, as if the veil we place over our eyes to protect ourselves from God's overwhelming love is somehow lifted paradoxically by suffering. I have never felt closer to God than during some of the worst moments of my life.

In suffering the attack on New York, some people were filled with the euphoria of oneness, the elusive and almost orgasmic thrill of being utterly absorbed by the group, no longer alone in fear and pain. For one moment the fear was repelled by strength of numbers, the alienation and loneliness replaced with perfect acceptance and unity, and the sense of relentless exploitation by our consumer society replaced with a sense of righteous common purpose. Then the burden of daily reality came flooding back, leaving the people even more afraid than before. They yearned with every fiber of their being to regain that orgasmic euphoria, and so we began the bombing and invasions.

This yearning for transcendence, through god worship or war or sex or heaven-knows-what is irrational and deadly. If you want to feel good about yourself, stop telling yourself that you're a sinner in the hands of an angry god. Stop looking to others for acceptance and a sense of purpose and look within. Accept who you are, like who you are, and do good to feel good.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Kathryn Jean Lopez bemoans our celebrity culture.

I can't really imagine what tiger woods has to tell the world tomorrow.
about 15 hours ago from UberTwitter

It's all so distasteful.

i really feel like i don't need to be watching this woods press conference.
about 2 hours ago from web

Liberal culture is so decadent. Conservatives prefer wholesome entertainment.

"Please leave my wife and kids alone." Without taking responsibility off himself, media becomes a shameful enemy too.
about 2 hours ago from UberTwitter

The media should be ashamed for avidly following this immoral farce.

Court Jester

Shorter David Brooks: Everything was so much better when we had an aristocracy.

It must be tough to be a royal ass-kisser when there are no more royal asses to kiss. Brooks puckers up and does his best, but the asses keep changing on him.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Megan McArdle: B.A., MBA, F.U.

Shorter Megan McArdle: Since I have special influence, plenty of money, and employer-and-government subsidized health insurance, other people do not need health care reform.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

St. Milton of Friedman Elementary

By scrapping the existing school system, conservatives can get rid of a powerful and influential Democratic union, gain a new source of revenue and a valuable consumer demographic, eliminate taxes, and ensure a permanent underclass of underpaid workers. The only wonder is that the public schools were allowed to exist at all.

Megan McArdle is pushing school voucher programs again, an utterly inexplicable action on the part of a "libertarian." Libertarians want all public schools abolished, as well as taxes and state control. The last thing they should want is public money being redistributed to help pay for someone else's education. But once you ignore that little complication, you are free to indulge in glowing fantasies of complete privatization, with businesses taking over schools and the government getting out of education. Still, privatization doesn't put cash in McArdle's pocket; vouchers would.

There's a small problems with this free market solution--it has all of the problems of the free market as well. Businesses want control over supply, freedom from regulation, ability to compete. They are cost-effective, stream-lined, out-sourced, and leveraged. Over here in the real world, privatization would deny poor children many services and risk even greater social and financial inequality. Fortunately for voucher proponents, not everyone lives in the real world. What does Our Lady Of The Atlantic Lake, Megan McArdle, think about this issue?

McArdle quotes Mathew Yglesias, who discusses a recent study on school vouchers:

Friedman (1962) argued that a free market in which schools compete based upon their reputation would lead to an efficient supply of educational services. This paper explores this issue by building a tractable model in which rational individuals go to school and accumulate skill valued in a perfectly competitive labor market. To this it adds one ingredient: school reputation in the spirit of Holmstrom (1982). The first result is that if schools cannot select students based upon their ability, then a free market is indeed efficient and encourages entry by high productivity schools. However, if schools are allowed to select on ability, then competition leads to stratification by parental income, increased transmission of income inequality, and reduced student effort--in some cases lowering the accumulation of skill. The model accounts for several (sometimes puzzling) findings in the educational literature, and implies that national standardized testing can play a key role in enhancing learning.

Friedman had no problem with children being left behind. He seemed to assume that it would happen, and in fact wanted only to provide the most minimum free education possible.

Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on "approved" educational services. Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an "approved" institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions of various kinds. The role of the government would be limited to assuring that the schools met certain minimum standards such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants to assure that they maintain minimum sanitary standards.

He had no problem with inequality, since it was a by-product of perfect individual freedom.

Essentially this proposal--public financing but private operation of education-- has recently been suggested in several southern states as a means of evading the Supreme Court ruling against segregation. This fact came to my attention after this paper was essentially in its present form. My initial reaction--and I venture to predict, that of most readers--was that this possible use of the proposal was a count against it, that it was a particularly striking case of the possible defect--the exacerbating of class distinctions--referred to in the second paragraph preceding the one to which this note is attached.

Further thought has led me to reverse my initial reaction. Principles can be tested most clearly by extreme cases. Willingness to permit free speech to people with whom one agrees is hardly evidence of devotion to the principle of free speech; the relevant test is willingness to permit free speech to people with whom one thoroughly disagrees. Similarly, the relevant test of the belief in individual freedom is the willingness to oppose state intervention even when it is designed to prevent individual activity of a kind one thoroughly dislikes. I deplore segregation and racial prejudice; pursuant to the principles set forth at the outset of the paper, it is clearly an appropriate function of the state to prevent the use of violence and physical coercion by one group on another; equally clearly, it is not an appropriate function of the state to try to force individuals to act in accordance with my--or anyone else's--views, whether about racial prejudice or the party to vote for, so long as the action of any one individual affects mostly himself. These are the grounds on which I oppose the proposed Fair Employment Practices Commissions; and they lead me equally to oppose forced nonsegregation.

However, the same grounds also lead me to oppose forced segregation. Yet, so long as the schools are publicly operated, the only choice is between forced nonsegregation and forced segregation; and if I must choose between these evils, I would choose the former as the lesser. The fact that I must make this choice is a reflection of the basic weakness of a publicly operated school system. Privately conducted schools can resolve the dilemma. They make unnecessary either choice. Under such a system, there can develop exclusively white schools, exclusively colored schools, and mixed schools. Parents can choose which to send their children to. The appropriate activity for those who oppose segregation and racial prejudice is to try to persuade others of their views; if and as they succeed, the mixed schools will grow at the expense of the nonmixed, and a gradual transition will take place. So long as the school system is publicly operated, only drastic change is possible; one must go from one extreme to the other; it is a great virtue of the private arrangement that it permits a gradual transition.

An example that comes to mind as illustrating the preceding argument is summer camps for children. Is there any objection to the simultaneous existence of some camps that are wholly Jewish, some wholly non-Jewish, and some mixed? One can--though many who would react quite differently to negro-white segregation would not--deplore the existence of attitudes that lead to the three types: one can seek to propagate views that would tend to the growth of the mixed school at the expense of the extremes; but is it an appropriate function of the state to prohibit the unmixed camps?

The establishment of private schools does not of itself guarantee the desirable freedom of choice on the part of parents. The public funds could be made available subject to the condition that parents use them solely in segregated schools; and it may be that some such condition is contained in the proposals now under consideration by southern states. Similarly, the public funds could be made available for use solely in nonsegregated schools. The proposed plan is not therefore inconsistent with forced segregation or forced nonsegregation. The point is that it makes available a third alternative.

Charming man.

McArdle responds to Yglesias's post:

There is more to a market than buying or selling. Armchair economists and parlor libertarians often act as if all you need to make a market is to remove the government barriers to trade. This can be true (ag subsidies, I'm looking at you!), but in many places it's nowhere near enough. You need the social norms that support market trade, and you need to set good rules by which trade happens. What we did to Russia is a good example of why the "get government out of the way" theory is not sufficient.

[the quote]

The rules surrounding markets matter a lot--and the reason we don't know this is that the rules that work have disappeared into the background, faded out of our consciousness, become part of the miasma of "the market". For example, I recall a web debate years ago in which someone made the standard point that cartels are very difficult to hold together, which means anti-trust rules about this sort of thing have dubious utility. I believe it was Eugene Volokh who pointed out that this was true . . . but only because courts refused to enforce cartel agreements. If courts did enforce them, cartels would work pretty well--which is why we still have professional sports leagues.

Luckily, this is the sort of rule that most voucher programs enforce--and because I find this paper pretty convincing, I'd say they should continue to.
The crux of the entire argument is whether or not most voucher programs enforce open enrollment, and McArdle gives us no proof at all of her statement. The DC voucher program gave out "scholarships" through a lottery system, and the kids could go to any private school that would admit them. Most of them went to Catholic schools. We have no evidence that admittance to the schools was equal, only that distribution of the vouchers was equal.

Friedman did not consider inequality to be a problem. He addressed the problem of class distinctions, losing the "healthy intermingling of children from decidedly different backgrounds," but dismissed it, saying that most children don't mix with other backgrounds under the present system due to residential stratification. "The establishment of private schools does not of itself guarantee the desirable freedom of choice on the part of parents," Friedman said, and there is no guarantee that a school will admit anyone who wants admittance, and won't retain the rights of refusal of service.

I was not able to find any regulations stating that DC Catholic schools were required to take children of other religions, children with expensive special needs that require additional personnel, services and equipment, mentally disturbed, disruptive students, or children with limited intellectual ability. (Federal law requires that public school districts identify private school students with special needs and provide them with equitable services, further subsidizing private schools.) They may be there, but I could not find them and evidently neither could McArdle, who presents her opinion as fact. Many, many private schools compete on the basis of high standards and accelerated learning, where intelligent children will not be held back by others of lower ability who need more time and help. These schools will not suddenly throw away their successful business plan. Schools with high scores and student achievement will be able to charge higher tuition and provide more services. More modest schools will not. Most of all, the amount of the voucher will dictate growing inequality. The poor will lose thousands in services every year.

Average per pupil costs of the public schools in Washington [DC] was $8,812 in 1995-96, thelast year for which reliable information is available.28However, this figure includes monies forancillary costs, such as transportation, school lunch, capital costs and central administration, costsnot incurred by all private schools. When public-school expenditures for services and programscomparable to those offered in private schools are considered, estimated average public-schoolper-pupil expenditure was $7,653 in 1995-96. Presumably, per pupil expenditure was higher in1998-99. But if public-school expenditure remained constant after 1996, the amount spent perpupil was an estimated 92 percent higher than those in the private schools attended by the averagescholarship student.

Given these differences in expenditure levels, one would expect to find more extensivefacilities and smaller classes in Washington public schools. But reports from parents are onlypartially consistent with this expectation. Smaller classes require more teachers relative to thenumber of pupils, and the number of teachers in a school is a significant determinant of schoolcosts. It is, therefore, surprising that public schools were said to have larger classes. Parents saidpublic schools, on average, had 22 students in their classrooms, four more than those in privateschools (Table 5).

In focus group sessions, Washington parents often expressed concern about the lack ofresources in both public and private schools. In one focus group consisting mainly of public-school parents, the conversation ran as follows:28 Data taken from the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. NationalCenter for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, School Years 1993-94 through 1997-98. (Washington, D. C.:2000). Comparable data estimate excludes public-school expenditure for student transportation, food services,enterprise operations, non-elementary/secondary programs, adult education, capital outlay, payments to other schoolsystems, payments to state governments, interest on school system debt, central support for planning research andmanagement services, and unspecified support services.

25Mother: I mean my kids have come home and told me they don't even have toiletpaper....That's ridiculous.2ndmother: Oh, yeah, and they can't drink the water. They had to take a case of water toschool.3rdmother: My son took two cases of water to school because some of the kids can'treally afford to bring them. They have to sit there all day without water.4thmother: One day this week, ... the coldest day in school, --- didn't have any heat. Thekids had sit in the classroom with coats on. 29

Still, findings from the parental survey displayed in Table 5 suggest that the number of facilitiesand programs were more extensive in public schools than in private schools of the District ofColumbia. Parents of students in public schools were much more likely to report that their schoolhad a nurse's office. They were also considerably more likely to say the school had a cafeteriaand special programs for non-English speakers—for each of these items, the differences werelarge, nearly 25 percentage points or more. Public-school parents were also somewhat morelikely to say their school had a special education program, library and a computer lab. On theother hand, private-school parents were more likely to report that their school had individualtutors, a difference of 19 percentage points. Moreover, they were somewhat more likely toindicate that the school had an after-school program and a program for advanced learners. Therewere no significant differences in the parent responses with respect to the following facilities andprograms: child counselors, arts and music programs, and a gymnasium.

But remember--opponents of vouchers are morally bankrupt.

Forgive me--I'm about to get testy again--but this thread on 11D really does seem to me to showcase in stunning technocolor the moral bankruptcy of voucher opponents who have pulled their own kids out of failing inner city schools. They have no good answer for why their choice is morally worthy, but vouchers are horrifying; their response to the deep need of kids in failing schools is a slightly gussied up version of "screw you, I've got mine." Their children's future, you see, is an infinitely precious resource that trumps their principles of distributional justice and community solidarity, but they cannot imagine putting the futures of poorer, darker skinned children ahead of sacred principles such as "Thou shalt not allow children to attend schools run by the Catholic Church" and "Supporting the public schools (even when they suck)". I could do a better job arguing against school vouchers.

Savvy fake libertarians understand that most voucher money will probably go to people already in private school, and Megan McArdle, whose parents paid a large fortune for her private school education, doesn't seem to mind redistribution if some of it comes her way. After all, some day there will be a Little Megan, God willing, and why should McArdle pay all of her private school tuition when she can con all the Heartland mommies and daddies into helping pay for it instead? Right now we're taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, when with the voucher system we can take money from the poor and give it to the rich!

Boogie Down

Tristero discusses the problem of the right-wing tea parties.

What matters is the mythology. These symbols represent America (the shirt), freedom (Rosa Parks), and liberty (Boston Tea Party). And the mythology works extremely well.

How to counter this? Do we engage these extremists, pointing out their distortions of history, thereby risking elevating the status of their myths to "a different point of view?" Do we normals create our own mythologies, justifying our efforts to smooth over the rough edges of our history as service to the "higher truth of a liberal society?" Do we, as Obama did with Reagan, coopt rightwing icons? Do we sidestep the whole notion of mythologies and find some new way to persuade people - and if so, what would that look and sound like?

I have absolutely no idea. But one thing I do know - whatever we're doing now, it's not working well enough. Kevin Drum, typically, thinks it's quite possible that this latest surge in rightwing extremism will fade, especially if the economy improves. What I would give for Kevin's optimistic personality and his lack of paranoia!

But I see no signs that this will go away. What I see is that the so-called Tea Party movement has enabled hitherto marginalized extremists - the militia crazies, the Birchers, the New World Order freaks - to move much closer to the center of public discourse. Oh, and I see no signs of the economy improving in a way that will impact this movement.

This is very serious stuff.

Throw liberal anti-spending (not anti-tax) tea parties. Tea parties with free giveaways and free hot dogs and sodas and coffee. Use better celebrities and speakers, better decorations, better music and media, and better transportation to the event. Include attractions for teenagers at the tea parties.

Probe people's weaknesses, not their strengths. Conservatives and libertarians are all about faith and blind belief, so use their beliefs. Get liberal ministers and priests to give speeches encouraging volunteering at churches and public charities. Use the authority of the church to help get your point of view across, don't work against it.

Isolate the fanatics. Give the authoritarian non-fanatics an alternative to conservative tea parties. Make it fun.

If the militias merge with the tea parties we are in serious trouble. If we do nothing, the vacuum will be filled by someone else.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Opposite Of Life Is Indifference

The Atlantic once again commissions Megan McArdle to put her mad math skillz, expertise in statistics and methodology, and razor-sharp logic to determine if the lack of health insurance, and therefore health care, results in the deaths of our fellow Americans.

If we lost our [health] insurance, would this gargantuan new entitlement [the health insurance reform bill] really be the only thing standing between us and an early grave?

The obvious answer is yes. If you can't afford health insurance, and therefore can't afford health care, you will be in grave danger of losing your life if you develop a fatal illness or injury. That fact is simply self-evident. Severe accidents don't heal themselves. Fatal illnesses must be treated. If you need a doctor and can't afford to go to one, you might not recover.

It's not easy to deny the obvious, to ignore simple fact. Thinking people don't need to puzzle out if getting medical attention is better than not getting medical attention. It is not even up for debate unless you just don't want to accept reality, for personal or financial reasons. Then you must put on your spangled gown, blare the John Phillip Sousa march, set your baton on fire, and twirl your little heart out.

Outside of the few states where it is illegal to deny coverage based on medical history, I am probably uninsurable. Though I’m in pretty good health, I have several latent conditions, including an autoimmune disease. If I lost the generous insurance that I have through The Atlantic, even the most charitable insurer might hesitate to take me on.

So I took a keen interest when, at the fervid climax of the health-care debate in mid-December, a Washington Post blogger, Ezra Klein, declared that Senator Joseph Lieberman, by refusing to vote for a bill with a public option, was apparently “willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands” of uninsured people in order to punish the progressives who had opposed his reelection in 2006.

Her first lie. She doesn't want the the denial of coverage to be reformed despite her illnesses, not because of her illnesses; she specifically said so. From: A Long, Long Post About My Reasons For Opposing National Health Care:

At this juncture in the conversation, someone almost always breaks in and says, "Why don't you tell that to an uninsured person?" I have. Specifically, I told it to me. I was uninsured for more than two years after grad school, with an autoimmune disease and asthma. I was, if anything, even more militant than I am now about government takeover of insurance.

It takes an incredibly sleazy hack to try to manipulate her audience by claiming victim status and trolling for the audience's sympathy. It is the technique of a two-bit con-woman, who sizes up her audience at a glance and insinuates herself by pretending to be like the mark, claiming to have the same interests or occupation or biases. If she has to make two totally contradictory statements to achieve her goal, facts, logic and reality are not even factors in her decision making process. Deceiving the mark is the only reality.

In the ensuing blogstorm, conservatives condemned Klein’s “venomous smear,” while liberals solemnly debated the circumstances under which one may properly accuse one’s opponents of mass murder.

McArdle does not provide any quotes to support her hysterical accusation; it is merely sufficient to make an unprofessional claim that one's opponents debate how to best make false accusations.

But aside from an exchange between Matthew Yglesias of the Center for American Progress and Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute, few people addressed the question that mattered most to those of us who cannot buy an individual insurance policy at any price—the question that was arguably the health-care debate’s most important: Was Klein (not to mention other like-minded editorialists who cited similar numbers) right? If we lost our insurance, would this gargantuan new entitlement really be the only thing standing between us and an early grave?

We've seen people make decisions that harm themselves and others countless times as people vote against their personal interests, but most of these people don't have an MBA from the University of Chicago.

McArdle finally introduces her topic: Being unable to afford medical insurance will not harm your health. McArdle is going to be tested to the limits to attempt to pull off this maneuver. First, she lays the groundwork by acknowledging that her statement is moronic. She could hardly do otherwise, although that's never stopped her before.

Perhaps few people were asking, because the question sounds so stupid. Health insurance buys you health care. Health care is supposed to save your life. So if you don’t have someone buying you health care well, you can complete the syllogism.

So, why is this statement not moronic?

Last year’s national debate on health-care legislation tended to dwell on either heart-wrenching anecdotes about costly, unattainable medical treatments, or arcane battles over how many people in the United States lacked insurance.

McArdle is saying that the debate relied on anecdotes or "arcane" information to determine the number of people unable to afford health care because of cost, and the number of uninsured. Arcane means "known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret; obscure; esoteric," so according to McArdle it should be nearly impossible to find any information on the subject. Of course she is utterly wrong, which we will cover later.

Republicans rarely plumbed the connection between insurance and mortality, presumably because they would look foolish and heartless if they expressed any doubt about health insurance’s benefits.

Well, yes, but we know that will not stop people who have repressed any empathy for any other living creature.

It was politically safer to harp on the potential problems of government interventions—or, in extremis, to point out that more than half the uninsured were either affluent, lacking citizenship, or already eligible for government programs in which they hadn’t bothered to enroll.

Oh, McArdle is being daring to make utterly ludicrous and false statements.

Even Democratic politicians made curiously little of the plight of the uninsured.

There will, of course, be no quotes or names to back up this statement.

Instead, they focused on cost control, so much so that you might have thought that covering the uninsured was a happy side effect of really throttling back the rate of growth in Medicare spending. When progressive politicians or journalists did address the disadvantages of being uninsured, they often fell back on the same data Klein had used: a 2008 report from the Urban Institute that estimated that about 20,000 people were dying every year for lack of health insurance.

But when you probe that claim, its accuracy is open to question. Even a rough approximation of how many people die because of lack of health insurance is hard to reach. Quite possibly, lack of health insurance has no more impact on your health than lack of flood insurance.

Now McArdle can settle comfortably into her favorite technique of weakly poking holes until she deems she has done enough damage to sow doubt. She doesn't need to prove anything. She doesn't even need to disprove anything. She just needs to look like she kind of knows what she is talking about, and--most important of all--that you do not.

Part of the trouble with reports like the one from the Urban Institute is that they cannot do the kind of thing we do to test drugs or medical procedures: divide people randomly into groups that do and don’t have health insurance, and see which group fares better. Experimental studies like this would be tremendously expensive, and it’s hard to imagine that they’d attract sufficient volunteers. Moreover, they might well violate the ethical standards of doctors who believed they were condemning the uninsured patients to a life nasty, brutish, and short.

So instead, researchers usually do what are called “observational studies”: they take data sets that include both insured and uninsured people, and compare their health outcomes—usually mortality rates, because these are unequivocal and easy to measure. For a long time, two of the best studies were Sorlie et al. (1994), which used a large sample of census data from 1982 to 1985; and Franks, Clancy, and Gold (1993), which examined a smaller but richer data set from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and its follow-up studies, between 1971 and 1987. The Institute of Medicine used the math behind these two studies to produce a 2002 report on an increase in illness and death from lack of insurance; the Urban Institute, in turn, updated those numbers to produce the figure that became the gold standard during the debate over health-care reform.

The first thing one notices is that the original studies are a trifle elderly. Medicine has changed since 1987; presumably, so has the riskiness of going without health insurance. Moreover, the question of who had insurance is particularly dodgy: the studies counted as “uninsured” anyone who lacked insurance in the initial interview. But of course, not all of those people would have stayed uninsured—a separate study suggests that only about a third of those who reported being uninsured over a two-year time frame lacked coverage for the entire period. Most of the “uninsured” people probably got insurance relatively quickly, while some of the “insured” probably lost theirs. The effect of this churn could bias your results either way; the inability to control for it makes the statistics less accurate.

I have never taken a class on statistics, can barely multiply, and can only figure out percentages because I buy a lot of things on sale, but even I can detect the wafting of bullshit coming off these statements. McArdle does not tell us how medicine has changed since 1987, or how those supposed changes made it less or more risky to be without insurance. We are to take her assumptions as facts, and our facts as assumptions. McArdle doesn't like the number of uninsured, so she says that if you're insured some of the time, you don't count as uninsured any of the time. McArdle doesn't need to research; she simply knows the facts intuitively.

The majority of the uninsured have been without insurance for a long time. Nearly 6 in 10 uninsured adults (59%) have been without insurance for over 2 years. (Chart 4)


If McArdle didn't like the Urban Institute Study she could have used recent information from the CDC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported: [pdf]

In 2008, 6.5% (95% confidence interval = 6.17%–6.87%) of the population failed to obtain needed medical care due to cost at some time during the past 12 months, which was higher than the 2007 estimate of 5.8%.

From 1998 to 2008, there was a generally increasing trend in the annual percentage of persons who failed to obtain medical care due to cost (from 4.2% in 1998 to 6.5% in 2008).

Gosh, that was kind of easy to find. Look, here's more from the Commonwealth Fund.

TUESDAY, July 21 (HealthDay News) -- Most people in the United States who try to buy an individual health insurance policy on their own never end up getting coverage, often because the premiums are just too expensive, according to a new study.

A report by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports independent research on health policy reform, found that roughly three of every four people who tried to buy a policy from the individual health insurance market in the past three years didn't get one. The main reason cited was premium cost. About 57 percent said it was very hard or even impossible to find coverage they could afford.

About 47 percent of the people surveyed said it was difficult or impossible to find a plan with the coverage they needed, and 36 percent reported being charged more or denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition or had the condition excluded from their coverage.

In one of the many amusing posts McArdle has made to defend her lies, she claims The Commonwealth Fund is biased in favor of health insurance reform, so let's see who they are.

The Commonwealth Fund is a charitable foundation established in 1918 by Anna Harkness (wife of one of the original Standard Oil investors, Stephen Harkness). Charged with the mandate to "do something for the welfare of mankind," Ms. Harkness founded the organization with an initial endowment of $10 million dollars. Her son Edward Harkness served as its first president, and through additional gifts and bequests between 1918 and 1959, the Harkness family's total contribution to the Fund's endowment amounted to more than $53 million.

The Fund is one of the major philanthropic foundations in the United States today and one of the few established by a woman. Over the years, it has given support to medical schools and to the building of hospitals and clinics in rural areas. In New York City, the Commonwealth Fund was a major contributor to the building of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center of the College of Physicians and Surgeons and Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University in 1922.


The Fund is currently led by president Karen Davis, a nationally recognized economist, with an extensive background in public policy and research. Before joining the Fund, she served as chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where she also held an appointment as professor of economics. She served as deputy assistant secretary for health policy in the Department of Health and Human Services from 1977–1980, and was the first woman to head a U.S. Public Health Service agency. Prior to her government career, Ms. Davis was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., a visiting lecturer at Harvard University, and an assistant professor of economics at Rice University. A native of Oklahoma, she received her Ph.D. in economics from Rice University.

The Fund states that it is pro-health care reform, which in McArdle's mind makes it hopelessly biased and untrustworthy. After all, she is biased and untrustworthy, so wouldn't everyone else be the same?

The bigger problem is that the uninsured generally have more health risks than the rest of the population. They are poorer, more likely to smoke, less educated, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be obese, and so forth. All these things are known to increase your risk of dying, independent of your insurance status.

McArdle ignores the financial causes of poor health in favor of causes she prefers, ones that she can blame on the uninsured instead of innocent, suffering insurance companies. For instance:

III. What Difference Does Not Having Health Insurance Make?
• The uninsured are less likely than the insured to have a regular place they go for medical advice. While the majority of the insured and uninsured say they have a regular place to go when they are sick or need medical advice, the insured (91%) are more likely than the uninsured (64%) to have a place to go (Chart 7). When asked where they go when they need medical care, the majority (68%) of the insured say a doctor’s office, compared to 34% of the uninsured who say they go to a doctor’s office.(Chart 8)
• The uninsured are also much less likely than the insured to have received preventive care. The uninsured are much less likely than the insured to have received preventive services in the past year such as mammograms (16% vs. 40%) and pap smears (49%vs. 76%) among women, prostate exams (12% vs. 20%) among men, and routine physical examinations (47% vs. 70%). (Chart 9)
• The uninsured are more likely than the insured to have skipped, postponed, or had problems getting medical care. The uninsured are more likely than the insured to have skipped medical treatments (39% vs. 13%), had problems getting mental health care (13% vs. 4%), or not filled prescriptions (30% vs. 12%) because of the cost. The uninsured are also more likely than the insured to have not received needed care (26% vs. 4%) or to have postponed care (39% vs. 10%) in the past year. Furthermore,the uninsured say that many of the medical problems that they delayed or postponed treatment for were serious problems. The uninsured are more likely than the insured to say they have not received needed care for serious problems (20% vs. 3%) or have
postponed care for serious problems (28% vs. 5%) in the past year. (Charts 10 and 11)
• The uninsured are more likely than the insured to have problems paying medical bills. The uninsured are more likely than the insured to have had problems paying medical bills (39% vs. 18%) and to have ever been contacted by a collection agency for medical care expenses (39% vs. 27%). (Chart 12)
• Many of the uninsured say they would have to give up basic necessities in order to buy health insurance. While half (51%) of the uninsured say that health insurance ranks high as a priority for where they spend their money, 3 in 4 (76%) of the uninsured say they would have to give up things to buy health insurance. Of those who say they would have to give up things to buy health insurance, 53% (40% of all of the uninsured) say they would have to cut back on necessities such as food, rent, and utility bills.(Chart 13)

Having satisfactorily disposed of the facts, McArdle happily moves on to just making shit up.

There are also factors we can’t analyze. It’s widely believed that health improves with social status, a quality that’s hard to measure. Risk-seekers are probably more likely to end up uninsured, and also to end up dying in a car crash—but their predilection for thrills will not end up in our statistics. People who are suspicious of doctors probably don’t pursue either generous health insurance or early treatment. Those who score low on measures of conscientiousness often have trouble keeping jobs with good health insurance—or following complicated treatment protocols. And so on.

The studies relied upon by the Institute of Medicine and the Urban Institute tried to control for some of these factors. But Sorlie et al.—the larger study—lacked data on things like smoking habits and could control for only a few factors, while Franks, Clancy, and Gold, which had better controls but a smaller sample, could not, as an observational study, categorically exclude the possibility that lack of insurance has no effect on mortality at all.

For a proper refutation of McArdle's McFacts, see "Letting Perfect Be The Enemy Of Good?" at The Incidental Economist, who makes up in actual knowledge what he or she lacks in sarcasm.

You're probably exhausted by now, but you have to stick around for the next bit. It's a pisser.

This result is not, perhaps, as shocking as it seems. Health care heals, but it also kills. Someone who lacked insurance over the past few decades might have missed taking their Lipitor, but also their Vioxx or Fen-Phen. According to one estimate, 80,000 people a year are killed just by “nosocomial infections”—infections that arise as a result of medical treatment. The only truly experimental study on health insurance, a randomized study of almost 4,000 subjects done by Rand and concluded in 1982, found that increasing the generosity of people’s health insurance caused them to use more health care, but made almost no difference in their health status.

It's okay if people die for the lack of health insurance, because sometimes doctors kill people! Not that anyone dies for the lack of health insurance, however! Likewise you should never eat, for sometimes people who eat are killed by what you eat!

If gaining insurance has a large effect on people’s health, we should see outcomes improve dramatically between one’s early and late 60s. Yet like the Kronick and Rand studies, analyses of the effect of Medicare, which becomes available to virtually everyone in America at the age of 65, show little benefit. In a recent review of the literature, Helen Levy of the University of Michigan and David Meltzer of the University of Chicago noted that the latest studies of this question “paint a surprisingly consistent picture: Medicare increases consumption of medical care and may modestly improve self-reported health but has no effect on mortality, at least in the short run.”

Of course, that might be an indictment of programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Indeed, given the uncertainties about their impact on mortality rates—uncertainties that the results from Sorlie et al. don’t resolve—it’s possible that, by blocking the proposed expansion of health care through Medicare, Senator Lieberman, rather than committing the industrial-scale slaughter Klein fears, might not have harmed anyone at all. We cannot use one study to “prove” that having government insurance is riskier than having none. But we also cannot use a flawed and conflicting literature to “prove” that Lieberman was willing to risk the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Government insurance should have some effect, but if that effect is not large enough to be unequivocally evident in the data we have, it must be small.

Klein responds to McArdle on Medicare here, pointing out the weakness of her positon and, again, that holding out for the perfect study doesn't work in the real world. (It works great if all you want to do is cast aspersions, however.) Since McArdle habitually confuses Medicare and Medicaid, I'll take Klein's word over McArdle's.

Even if we did agree that insurance rarely confers significant health benefits, that would not necessarily undermine the case for a national health-care program. The academics who question the mass benefits of expanding coverage still think that doing so improves outcomes among certain vulnerable subgroups, like infants and patients with HIV. Besides, a national health program has nonmedical benefits. Leaving tens of millions of Americans without health insurance violates our sense of equity—and leaves those millions exposed to the risk of mind-boggling medical bills.

But we should have had a better handle on the case for expanded coverage—and, more important, the evidence behind it—before we embarked on a year-long debate that divided our house against itself. Certainly, we should have had it before Congress voted on the largest entitlement expansion in 40 years. Unfortunately, most of us forgot to ask a fundamental question, because we were certain we already knew the answer. By the time we got around to challenging our assumptions, it was too late to do anything except scream at each other from the sidelines.

McArdle so dislikes the vituperation of the other side, which meanly and stridently insists on facts over opinion, reality over prejudice, and logic over wishful thinking.

In the mantime, wait. Do nothing. Start over from scratch. There's no hurry; it's not like anyone's dying here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The League of Extraordinary Bloggers: Goin' Galt At Last

In a Secret Location, a Meeting of Diabolical Minds takes place. It is the League of Extraordinary Bloggers, each a hero (or a heroine or a Coulter) in his (or hers, or Coulter's) own sphere. They are:

Col. Glenn Reynolds—famous defender of guns, wherever they are needed to fight the Brown Menace.

Michelle Malkin—a creature of the night, with an insatiable thirst for blood under her modest, cheerleader-clad fa├žade.

Jonah Goldberg—A barefoot man-boy with cheek, famous for being so lazy he got his research assistant to paint his fence.

Megan McArdle--a woman of mystery, of disguise, of charm, which hides an unscrupulous and greedy heart.

Ann Althouse—A respectable professor who digs deep into the evil aspects of her psyche when she drink an experimental potion know as “Merlot.”

Part I: The Adventure Begins
Part II: A Fresh Face
Part III: And The Band Played On
Part IV: Strange Bedfellows
Part V: The NRO Cruise: Voyage To Nowhere

Part VI: Goin' Galt At Last

Reynolds: Is everyone here? Good God, what a storm. If it weren't for my steampunk snowplow I'd still be stuck in Virginia. How did you get here, Malkin?

Malkin: I flew. It was easy once my eyes started glowing red.

McArdle: We should have been able to just drive here instead of getting a police escort. I blame the government for not taking better care of me when I needed them and when everyone else got to go to the Mediterranean on Spring Break and I had to go visit Aunt Bessie and her pet cow Daisy on the farm. Or was it the cow who was named Aunt Bessie? We pay our hard-earned money on taxes for services and where are the services?

Goldberg: We shouldn't be paying any taxes at all!

All: Yeah!

Althouse: And we shouldn't get any services either! We should all clear our own roads!

McArdle: Not so fast, Ann. I have no problem with privilege. Why should I clean my own house or cook my own meals or research my own columns when I can pay someone else to do it for me or not do it at all? It's a much more efficient allocation of resources. Plus work is hard.

Goldberg: Very well said, Megan. I tell my wife that all the time but she never listens to me just because she has more degrees than me.

Malkin: You upper class twits are helpless.

Goldberg: Not everyone has a stay-at-home husband to cook and clean for them.

Malkin: Your wife seems to-she's the lawyer; you blog in your "home office." Also known as "the den."

Goldberg: I work out of the home and office, I'm not a housewife! I'm writing a book and that proves it! I got a million dollars for my second book!

McArdle: What?

Goldberg: I got a million dollars to write a book about how cliches are stupid.

Malkin: Let me guess--your next book will be about how men who speak Klingon are just little boys who never grew up.

Goldberg: I'm an intellectual now, Malkin, so you better be nicer to me or I'll tell O'Reilly to stop putting you on tv. Oh wait, he already did.

Malkin's fangs pop out.

Althouse: Look out Jonah, she's starting to drool, just like when she almost ate Fluffy.

Goldberg giggles.

McArdle: God, you are so jejean, Jonah.

Reynolds: It's jejune.

McArdle: How the hell do you know, Glenn?

Althouse: Helen says it to him all the time. Then she makes him call her Mother Superior.

Reynolds: Gorram it, Ann, the first rule of Dr. Helen's Pleasure House of Pain is to never talk about Dr. Helen's Pleasure House of Pain. That's it--no more Merlot for you.

Althouse: (tosses her head) Fine, I have my own anyway.

Althouse pulls out a flask and takes a dainty swig.

McArdle: Shut up, Ann, and let Jonah talk. How did you get this book contract anyway, Jonah?

Malkin: His mother is a literary agent.

Goldberg: That had nothing to do with it. My reputation preceded me--

Malkin: (interrupts) Much like your stomach.

Goldberg--and everyone begged me to share my insights with my fellow intellectuals. They're making documentaries about me already.

McArdle: Eww, Peter made me watch that with him. It was stupid. Why couldn't we have watched Hoarders instead? I saw this tv show once where a woman filled a warehouse with her possessions. There were shoes and purses and kitchen appliances and electronic equipment and clothes and oh my God, they were everywhere I looked, heaps and piles and mountains of things that prove the superiority of the American Way of Life and our glorious consumer culture and yummy free markets and--and--.

Malkin slaps her.

McArdle sways and ignores the slap.

McArdle: Is it hot in here or is it just me?

Goldberg: Slap her again, Malkin, that was fun.

Malkin slaps Goldberg.

Goldberg: Why, you--I oughta--.

Malkin pokes him in the eye.

Goldberg: Stop it Malkin! That's not funny!

Malkin: I think it's hilarious. What are you going to do, Goldberg, tell your mommy on me?

Goldberg: Leave my wife out of this.

The women snicker.

Reynolds: Enough, enough, we're not here to beat up Jonah, unfortunately. We have a mission to accomplish.

Malkin: Speak for yourself, Reynolds.

Reynolds: WE ARE HERE to coordinate our response to the Snowpocalypse of the Century. My orders are to--

McArdle: By the way, Glenn, who is giving us orders now that Karl has retired to spend more time with his collection of bastinadas?

Reynolds: That's a secret.

McArdle: Come on, tell us. I won't tell anyone else. I deserve to know if I'm going to lead our nation to a new era of fiscal freedom and consumer-based individualism.

Althouse: I don't understand, Megan.

Malkin: Don't worry, neither does she.

McArdle: I went to the top, most expensive schools in the country, Michelle. Where did you go, a state school?

Malkin: I went to Oberlin, you idiot.

McArdle: Where did you go to school, Glenn?

Reynolds: SHUT UP!

Malkin whispers to McArdle. McArdle giggles.

McArdle: How sweet.

Reynolds reaches for his blaster but Malkin grabs his hand.

Malkin: The mission?

Reynolds: Right. Jonah, your mission is to---okay, what the hell happened to Jonah? He was here a minute ago.

K-lo: Look no further than I, Glennie--I mean Col. Reynolds!

Everyone turns around and sees K-Lo, dressed in a pith helmet, khaki skirt and jacket, and Pink Power Rangers quilted coat, holding a knife to Jonah's throat.

Jonah (croaks) K-Lo, let me go or I'll tell everyone what you begged me to do at the office party.

Malkin: Nobody move! He still owes me fifty bucks!

Reynolds: Calm down, K-Lo. Let H. R. Puffnstuff go.

Goldberg: Oh yeah? At least I'm not Jimmie, the magic flute!

Reynolds: Go ahead and cut his throat, K-Lo.

Althouse: Glenn! How will that look in The New York Times?

K-Lo: You guys, it's my turn to talk now. I hereby demand in the name of Pirate Law that you take this ship to Haiti so we can save the poor Haitites from their heathen gods, who are destroying the island in their wrath.

Malkin: K-Lo, you dolt, we are thirty feet under the ladies' washroom in the Lincoln Monument in Washington D.C. How did you even get here?

K-Lo: I'll have you know I got here entirely on my own, after Nanny dropped me off at the entrance and that nice young soldier walked me to the other entrance. Jonah was just coming out so I grabbed him and now you have to listen to me or I'll torture him, just like in my favorite tv show, "24," starring Kiefer Sutherland. I know how to torture because I practiced on Fluffy.

Althouse: You tortured your adorable little dog? That is so mean! And illegal, I think.

K-Lo: It's okay, Ann, I was just pretending. Fluffy was just yelping because I pinched his leg a little to make it more realistic. Mama took away my teeny little home-made electric brain frying machine.

Goldberg: (weakly) What the hell?

K-Lo: I made it with a lamp, magnets, some wire, and the little clips we use to keep the pretzel bags closed.

Malkin: I'm impressed.

McArdle: I'm not going to Haiti for my honeymoon, K-Lo. Forget it. Go ahead and kill Jonah.

Goldberg: Hey! What about my million dollar advance?

McArdle: It's not mine, is it?

Reynolds: K-Lo, I'm afraid to ask but why do you want to go to Haiti?

K-Lo: We have to rescue the heathen children from eternal damnation. Right now the Haiti-tian government is denying us our religious freedom to kidnap other people's' children when their country is hit by a natural disaster. If God didn't want them to convert, He wouldn't have destroyed their country, would he?

Goldberg: That's not a bad idea.

K-Lo: Oh, Jonah! Do you really think so or are you just saying that?

Goldberg: It would be a perfect time to create a libertarian utopia. No rules, nobody telling you what to do or what to wear, or to sit up straight and do your homework. God, I hate my wife. I mean my life.

K-Lo: Great!

K-Lo releases Jonah, who slowly backs away from her and stands behind Reynolds.

K-Lo: Now all we need is a boat and Nanny and we'll be all set to rescue orphans and establish free market capitalism! Megan, do you want to be in charge of all the money?

McArdle: Why, K-Lo, how magnanimous of you. I was just saying to Jonah that I wanted to be better friends--wait a second.

Reynolds: K-Lo, I just sent a message on my Blackberry to my Secret Boss, who promises to have a ship waiting for you by the time you get to the harbor. Now be a good girl and take charge of your new Pirate Vessel, while we all go home and hug our kids and kiss our wives good-bye.

K-Lo: Sure thing, Glenn. I know how hard it is to leave loved ones behind. I left Mama and Daddy behind in New York when I moved to DC. See you soon, everyone!

K-Lo leaves.

Althouse: I don't want to go to Haiti. I like to take pictures of reflections in mirrors and windows and all the glass in Haiti is broken. If you can't look into a mirror and see yourself, how do you know you're really there? Maybe you're the reflection and the real person is in the mirror. Maybe the person in the mirror is much happier than you are and has sex with famous politicians and gets her picture taken by other people instead of just taking pictures of herself taking pictures of herself taking---.

Reynolds: (interrupts) Go home, Ann. We don't need you for this mission anyway.

Althouse weaves her way to the exit.

McArdle: I don't want to go to Haiti either.


Goldberg: Jesus, Glenn, you don't have to yell.

Reynolds: Goldberg, you complain that the city didn't fix your lights fast enough. McArdle, you figure out how much money the government wasted by paying people overtime to fix the lights they should have fixed themselves.

McArdle: Figure?

Reynolds: You, know, do the math.

McArdle: Math?

Reynolds: (hopefully) You remember, don't you, Megan? Two times three? The square root of the hypotenuse is something or other?

McArdle: It wasn't fashionable at my school to learn how to do math, Glenn. Everyone knows that.

Malkin: That explains a lot.

Reynolds: Just make something up.

McArdle: Say no more, old chap. I can take it from there.

Reynolds: Malkin, you continue pushing those tea parties. I know by the time you're done with them, they'll be primed to hang the first non-white person they see.

Malkin: Consider it done.

Malkin changes into a bat and flies towards the exit.

Reynolds takes out his cell phone and punches in a number.

Reynolds: They're gone. Send in The Boss.

A glow of unearthly light slowly fills the corridor. A woman's form approaches, radiating in the growing light. She sways slightly as her four-inch high heels slide on the slick floor. The apparition finally steps forward into the room. It is----Sarah Palin!

Reynolds: Sarah!

Reynolds kneels before her. Palin smiles beneficently on Reynolds.

Palin: You betcha!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Coming Attractions

I'll discuss "Myth Diagnosis" by Miss Megan McArdle over the next day or two.

In the mean time, enjoy this correction from The Center of American Progress:

Thank you for your coverage of Matthew Yglesias in your article titled "Myth Diagnosis" for the March 2010 edition of The Atlantic.

We appreciate and value your press coverage but would like to clarify that the content referenced by Matthew Yglesias is from his blog, Yglesias, is a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Center's 501(c)(4) affiliated organization. While the Center and the Action Fund share a mission, the Center is a research and educational institute, while the Action Fund transforms progressive ideas into policy through rapid response communications, partnership with other organizations, legislative action, and grassroots and political advocacy. We hope you will keep the distinction between these two organizations in mind in the future.

McArdle knows Yglesias very well and tweets with him often. Her lack of professionalism is an inspiration to hacks everywhere. Megan McArdle: leading by example.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Conservative Elite (And Their Wannabes)

10 Feb 2010 01:36 pm
Shoe, Meet the Other Foot, Part III
I think it's a bit rich for the right to suddenly get all indignant about astroturfing. On the other hand, I doubt any of the lefties who were indignant about astroturfing three months ago will apply their outrage to this particular piece of work. More hilarity for libertarians!

Megan McArdle is a self-avowed libertarian, who sees herself as someone above the liberals and conservatives, neither poor like Democrats nor superstitious like Republicans. We have looked at McArdle's libertarian bona fides before, but let's revisit the topic.

Libertarianism is a term used by a broad spectrum[1] of political philosophies which prioritize individual liberty[2] and seek to minimize or even abolish the state.[3][4] The definition of libertarian in a political sense is a contentious issue and there is no single principle or set of principles on which all libertarians would agree. The proper role of government is described from a number of different metaphysical, epistemological, and moral viewpoints.[5] 'Libertarian' is an antonym of 'authoritarian'.[6]

Libertarians are anti-authoritarian. They don't want the state to exist, and they want absolute freedom for individuals as long as they do no harm to others. The philosophy is impractical in any real sense, since we have created a complex society that requires mutual cooperation, a basic factor in the success of human survival. We need to work together or we will die separately.

Libertarians choose to ignore this and must settle for chipping away at society's social fabric, hoping to rip it to shreds but content with stiffing their waiters. McArdle, however, does not believe in discarding the social fabric. She enjoys the benefits of the social structure and the luxuries of upper-middle class life, and has no desire to eradicate it in the name of self-reliance.

I understand this guilt; I've wrestled with it myself. But it's logically all wrong. Why shouldn't we pay people to clean our houses? I don't get all vaporish because I pay people to cook my food or wash my clothes, two jobs that were the province of the lady of the house-or if she was very lucky, her hired servants-until very recently in human history.


Paying a cleaning lady to clean your house is good for the cleaning lady. She wouldn't take the job if it weren't better than her next best alternative. And it's good for you, since presumably you have something to do that you value more highly than the money it costs you to pay her. It's probably also good for your family, since that's one less fight you have to have about whose turn it is to scrub the toilet. That's the awesome beauty of trade: everyone wins.

No, there is a name for the group that seeks to preserve status and privilege, that want society just as it is. McArdle is conservative to her bones, supporting bankers, developers, manufacturers of cheap furniture, sweatshop exploitation, and just enough baksheesh thrown to the natives to get them out of one's face.

Megan McArdle is a conservative who rejects the name while enjoying all its benefits, and seeks to further its domination over her own purported philosophy. The right is currently dominated by the rabble and their puppets and Jesus freaks, and she enjoys laughing at their antics while they provide the hard work and money to get conservative politicians elected. The darling of Wall Street-centered media, she directly benefits from supporting conservative policies yet refuses to call herself a conservative. It's just so--common. When voice-of-the-turtle David Broder is kissing the high heels of Sarah Palin, you know that the populist image is the dominant one, and there's nothing left for an elite conservative to do but pretend she is part of a third party that will restore the conservative elite to social dominance.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I knew Megan McArdle's twitter would be a gold mine. She's even more arrogant in there than on her blog.

Here she is crowing about her "gotcha":
Internet connection, $30. Blogging software, $49.99. Reveling in the full majesty of editorial hypocrisy: priceless.
3:19 PM Feb 8th from TweetDeck

The hypocrisy was The New York Times' rejection of the privatization of Social Security and approval of health insurance reform. See, if the Times rejected unpopular changes in SS, it should have rejected unpopular changes in health insurance reform. Except the latter isn't unpopular. McArdle simply dismissed any poll numbers she didn't agree with.

Prep school education: $252,000 (including junior high--$144,000 for high school only). University education: $100,000. Being unable to think her way out of a wet paper bag: priceless.

Memo to bloggers/blog commenters . . . "fails to agree with me" is not the actual definition of any of these: stupid, ignorant, confused
6:50 PM Feb 8th from TweetDeck

Memo to blogger: Jonah Goldberg called. He wants his schtick of redefining words to make himself feel better about criticism back.

Dad informs me that third snowstorm may be coming towards DC. Organizing house-to-house search. Al Gore must be hiding somewhere in city.

4:10 PM Feb 8th from TweetDeck Okay, Democrats: you promised me global warming. If I don't get it soon, I'm voting GOP in November. #brokencampaignpromises
3:20 PM Feb 8th from TweetDeck

Her sweetie pie is being paid by climate change deniers, you know. Two of Reason Foundation's donors are/have been oil billionaire David H. Koch and Exxon. Reason Foundation's current president worked for Shell.

Wired published an interesting interview with sociologist Kari Marie Norgaard about the psychology of climate change denial. talked to Norgaard about the divide between science and public opinion. Why don’t people seem to care?

Kari Norgaard: On the one hand, there have been extremely well-organized, well-funded climate-skeptic campaigns. Those are backed by Exxon Mobil in particular, and the same PR firms who helped the tobacco industry (.pdf) deny the link between cancer and smoking are involved with magnifying doubt around climate change.

That’s extremely important, but my work has been in a different area. It’s been about people who believe in science, who aren’t out to question whether science has a place in society. People who are coming at the issue in good faith, you mean. What’s their response?

Norgaard: Climate change is disturbing. It’s something we don’t want to think about. So what we do in our everyday lives is create a world where it’s not there, and keep it distant.

For relatively privileged people like myself, we don’t have to see the impact in everyday life. I can read about different flood regimes in Bangladesh, or people in the Maldives losing their islands to sea level rise, or highways in Alaska that are altered as permafrost changes. But that’s not my life. We have a vast capacity for this. How is this bubble maintained?

Norgaard: In order to have a positive sense of self-identity and get through the day, we’re constantly being selective of what we think about and pay attention to. To create a sense of a good, safe world for ourselves, we screen out all kinds of information, from where food comes from to how our clothes our made. When we talk with our friends, we talk about something pleasant. How does this translate into skepticism about climate change?

Norgaard: It’s a paradox. Awareness has increased. There’s been a lot more information available. This is much more in our face. And this is where the psychological defense mechanisms are relevant, especially when coupled with the fact that other people, as we’ve lately seen with the e-mail attacks, are systematically trying to create the sense that there’s doubt.

If I don’t want to believe that climate change is true, that my lifestyle and high carbon emissions are causing devastation, then it’s convenient to say that it doesn’t. Is that what this comes down to — not wanting to confront our own roles?

Norgaard: I think so. And the reason is that we don’t have a clear sense of what we can do. Any community organizer knows that if you want people to respond to something, you need to tell them what to do, and make it seem do-able. Stanford University psychologist Jon Krosnick has studied this, and showed that people stop paying attention to climate change when they realize there’s no easy solution. People judge as serious only those problems for which actions can be taken.

Another factor is that we no longer have a sense of permanence. Another psychologist, Robert Lifton, wrote about what the existence of atomic bombs did to our psyche. There was a sense that the world could end at any moment.

Global warming is the same in that it threatens the survival of our species. Psychologists tell us that it’s very important to have a sense of the continuity of life. That’s why we invest in big monuments and want our work to stand after we die and have our family name go on.

That sense of continuity is being ruptured. But climate change has an added aspect that is very important. The scientists who built nuclear bombs felt guilt about what they did. Now the guilt is real for the broader public. So we don’t want to believe climate change is happening, feel guilty that it is, and don’t know what to do about it? So we pretend it’s not a problem?

Norgaard: Yes, but I don’t want to make it seem crass. Sometimes people who are very empathetic are less likely to help in certain situations, because they’re so disturbed by it. The human capacity of empathy is really profound, and that’s part of our weakness. If we were more callous, then we’d approach it in a more straightforward way. It may be a weakness of our capacity as sentient beings to cope with this problem.

Not to mention all that lovely money given out to hacks who will prostitute themselves for the mega corporations.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Libertarian Crises Management

Heh. Megan McArdle tells us why she posted late.
You will probably have noticed that I did not post this morning.

I did indeed. Snowed in, nothing to do outside the house--a perfect time to rattle off a few fact-free, logic-free posts and then amuse yourself with games, blogs, and tv the rest of the day.
That's because sometime before 8 am, I decided that I should get to the grocery store and pick up my lung medicine in the hiatus between snows.

What? You have allergy attacks that have sent you to the emergency room but you don't pick up medicine before a blizzard? And you've read the Little House books, which are filled with harrowing accounts of blizzards that usually last three days?
Four hours later, I returned with a trunk full of whatever could be scavenged from the grocery store shelves.

You knew there was a blizzard coming and you did not prepare? You must really be kicking yourself now.
You have never seen a city as completely incompetent at dealing with snow as Washington DC.

Oh yeah, blame the city.
I mean, two feet of snow is inconvenient anywhere. But in DC, only the main streets have been plowed. And by "plowed", I mean that one meager lane has been cleared, so that even major arteries like New York Avenue frequently narrow to one lane. The side streets have been turned into defacto one-way streets--except that no one knows which way. The result is a lot like driving on a country road in Ireland, where you are apt to come upon someone going the other way, and then spend precious moments staring at each other until one party reluctantly backs up to a wider spot.

This is just an uneducated guess, but you probably aren't supposed to be driving around looking for food right now, instead of leaving the way clear for emergency vehicles on the one-lane road.
The difference is that Irish drivers are somewhat familiar with the conditions. DC today is the province of taxi drivers and SUV owners who seem simultaneously confused and overconfident. As I eased down the street in our little Japanese sedan, I quickly surmised that none of the drivers in the bite-sized tanks surrounding me had ever seen snow before. Three blocks later I revised that opinion: I don't think any of them had ever seen cars before. Certainly not the ones they were operating.

You left your cute little Mini-Cooper at home and took P. Suderman's less cute little Japanese car on the icy, slippery roads instead? Smart!
By the time I finally got to the grocery store, I discovered the scene many of you have already viewed on cable television. There was virtually no meat. There were no eggs--I thought I was missing them, until I realized that the egg section comprised the rows and rows of empty shelves stretching beneath one lonely carton of egg beaters. The frozen pizzas were pretty well decimated. Oddly, all of the shredded cheese and sliced cheese was gone, but there was plenty of the stuff in blocks. And I scored the last three containers of Yoplait Light. Oh, and the last four twelve-packs of regular diet coke. Sorry, Safeway shoppers--but I'm told that Diet Dr. Pepper tastes more like regular Dr. Pepper. More than what, I couldn't say.

I also noticed what Brian Caplan has remarked upon: the store brand frozen foods were pretty much still stocked at normal levels. This, even though Safeway's store brands tend to be private label versions of top premium brands--and more than occasionally, are better than anything else on offer. I helped myself freely to their quite tasty rising crust pizza, but anyone who wanted a slab of Red Baron's tomato-flavored cardboard was out of luck.

Naturally, both the fresh and frozen vegetable sections were still stocked to overflowing. I spent quite a bit of time last night making backup lists of vegetables I might buy, since I naturally expected that the produce would be picked over pretty well by now. Silly Megan. Apparently, when DC gets snowed in, it wants to do so with diet soda, Ritz crackers, six pounds of shredded cheddar, and a lifetime supply of stew meat. Me, I'm making slow cooker spaghetti sauce tomorrow.

When I got to the store, the lines looked reasonable. But by well before 9 am, they were stretching towards the back of the store. God knows what was left for the people who put off their shopping until noon.

Silly fools, not bothering to buy groceries until it was too late. Like eggs.
I understand that it doesn't necessarily make sense for DC to maintain plentiful snow moving equipment, when these types of heavy snowfalls only occur about once every seven years. But it seems to me we could try to maintain some psychological readiness. If this is how we react to a snow storm, what are we going to do when the Russkis invade?

McArdle can speak for herself. When we were getting warnings of an approaching hurricane, I gassed up all the cars, filled the propane tanks, stocked up on groceries and medical supplies, bought wind-up flashlights and charged everything that needed charging, renewed prescriptions that needed renewing, removed or tied down anything light in the back yard, and stocked up on books to read. When the hurricane was almost on us I cooked up all the meat in the freezer and filled the coolers with ice. And I'm not especially competent--not by a long shot.

But I do understand now why our Galt-goers refuse to Go Galt. They'd have to do all the work of survival themselves, instead of complaining that someone else isn't doing it for them.

I Give Up

No posts from Megan McArdle so far; perhaps she's too busy interviewing Ben Bernanke or analyzing stockholder reports.

Or maybe she slept late or went shopping for her wedding.

Either way, our gain.

ADDED: She's finally posted. We are informed that Bush's deficit was fine but Obama's isn't, and if he doesn't do something about it he'll lead us into fiscal crises. As opposed to what we have now, I guess. She also repeats this strange bit:

Listening to [Obama's] defenders reminds me of those people who sit around whining about how their Dad was really distant and critical . . . I mean, fine, you apparently had a rotten childhood, but Dad can't get come and get you off the couch and find you a girlfriend and a better job. Girls and employers get really creeped out if they try.

No, that's not condescending at all.

Here's her first post in that vein:

This is not Bush's fault. And you know what? Even if it were Bush's fault, who cares? It's like those people in their thirties who spend the whole decade in therapy and get into long weepy conversations over bottles of wine about how they can never have a healthy relationship because their father was so cold and distant, and their mother was a perfectionist harpy.

I mean, hey, it sounds like your parents were terrible. But this is not actually very useful information. Dad could get down on his hands and knees and admit that he was the most horrible father in the entire world, and beg for your forgiveness, and guess what? You're still lonely and balding and drinking way too much mid-priced Chardonnay. No matter what Dad did, he can't fix it. You have to be the one to call your girlfriend and say "I love you." If Dad does it, she'll just get all creeped out.

I'm beginning to think her father was cold and distant and her mother was a perfectionist harpy.