Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Charter Schools succeed big in NYC -- politicians attack!

Big test score gains by students in NYC's charter schools are big-story news today in almost all the city's newspapers, including The News...

Charter school test scores top public school kids - again

It was a great day to celebrate for charter school supporters - and also to score political points. The results of standardized math and reading tests released Monday showed charters, on average, outperformed their public school counterparts...

"This is not a fluke," said James Merriman of the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence. "This is the fifth year in a row that charters have outperformed the district"...
and The Post...

Charters Score: Outperform Again In NYC

The latest New York state achievement exams once again give charter-school students, parents and staff reason to be proud...

The performance-gap on these exams has steadily widened over the last three years, reaching double-digit margins this year.

and The Sun

Charter Schools Outperform Districts

When compared to the overall scores for the school districts in which they are located, some charter schools — such as Bronx Preparatory in the South Bronx and the KIPP Infinity school in Harlem — had as much as double the portion of students scoring proficient in math and reading....
Only our paper of record, the NY Times, deemed the story not among "all the news that's fit to print".

Your search - charter schools - did not match any documents under All Results
How do the charter schools achieve this success? By spending less money (.pdf) than other, traditional public schools...

New York City charter schools have fewer public resources than traditional public schools. This funding disparity exists at all educational levels — elementary, middle, and high school — and for students in both general and special education...

... the difference in [per pupil] funding between charter schools and traditional public schools ranges from $500 to almost $8,000 depending on grade level and special education status. In all instances, charter schools receive fewer resources than traditional public schools ...
Hey, bettter results for less money!

So, of course, the politicians are rushing to embrace charter schools for the children, and for the taxpayers too, right? Well, not quite...

New Assault On NY Charters

With a stroke of a pen, a single judge in Albany last month cost the state's public charter schools millions of dollars. It's the latest special-interest assault on charter schools: force them to spend more money on services such as painting, cleaning and construction.

Justice Michael Lynch, a trial judge in Albany County ... ordered every charter in the state to start paying union-level wages to its janitorial and maintenance contractors .. [an] order is especially rough on charters trying to rehab or build schools - because it mandates union construction wages.

Yet the order is illegal on its face: The 1998 law that first permitted the formation of public charter schools in New York explicitly exempted them from any state mandates except those concerning health, safety and civil rights. And, at the time the law was passed, everyone concerned understood that this meant that "prevailing wage" laws didn't apply to charters.

The state's Labor Law defines "prevailing wage" as the local union scale, which is anywhere from 38 percent more to double the cost, depending on the locality. It applies to most government entities, including school districts, and is one reason New York's taxes are so high.

But New York law also provides about 30 percent less funding for charters than for traditional public schools - including virtually no money for construction. Exempting charters from rules such as prevailing-wage was a universally understood trade-off to partly make up for the funding shortfall.

Indeed, that understanding has remained ever since. That's why union-friendly lawmakers have introduced bills that would apply such laws to charters virtually ever year for the last decade.

Of course, special interests are happy to get their way any way they can. They brought suit to force the mandate in 2000, with the support of then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, but were shot down at trial in Onondaga County (Syracuse).

The next bid to end-run the law came last year - after Spitzer had become governor. His labor commissioner, Patricia Smith, ordered charters across the state to start paying "prevailing wages." Several charters and charter-supporting groups ... sued - and lost last month in Albany County court.

Bizarrely, after pages of legal sophistry, Justice Lynch didn't even explain the key aspect of his ruling -- he wrote simply that "the court declines to find" that charters' exemption from state mandates applies to labor law.

Out the window goes a decade of evenhanded, fair-market pay scales agreed to by charters and their contractors. The appeal will take months, if not years...
A story also reported in the WSJ, NYC's other remaining newspaper.
New York's Novel Way to Kill Charter Schools

... Before prevailing wages were imposed, Elmwood Village Charter School ... in the Allentown section of Buffalo, was able to renovate a long-abandoned building, helping to revitalize the neighborhood.

"There is no way we could afford this state-of-the-art building and serve our students if we were forced to pay another 25% [because of] prevailing wage," John Sheffield, the school's director, said. "There wouldn't be a charter school here, and our kids would remain in district schools at an academic disadvantage, frankly."

In Albany, the Brighter Choice Foundation built a KIPP charter middle school -- absent prevailing wage -- for less than $7 million. It took only nine months and won praise from Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings, who said, "It's a beautiful facility, one that anyone would be proud to send a child to."

By contrast, the Albany school district spent about $40 million to build a new middle school, thanks to prevailing-wage and other mandates.

The Brighter Choice Foundation wants to build other charter schools, including Albany's first public all-girls high school. That will be much more difficult if it has to adhere to prevailing-wage mandates. "If they don't fix this, artificially higher costs will guarantee that fewer students in needy urban districts will be ready for college," said Chris Bender, the foundation's director...

Prevailing wage is one way to stop the charter revolution in its tracks...
But the Times remains mute about this too.

OK, we all know the Times doesn't care about taxpayers ... but is it so indifferent to the children as well?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

News of the World

In case you missed it...

From the Austrian Alps: Mountain survival gear by Victoria's Secret.

An American hiker given up for dead was rescued from the side of a mountain when she alerted rescuers of her whereabouts by throwing her bra into a cable car.

Jessica Brown had fallen off a ledge in the Austrian Alps and was stranded injured for 70 hours in freezing temperatures. Mountain rescuers had been looking for her but gave up because they believed she had fallen to her death.

But the 24-year-old spotted a cable car on its way up the mountain in Salzburg and managed to take off her underwear in time to fling it. Luckily, her bra landed inside the cable car...

"It certainly beats sending up a flare", said one rescue worker...

From Russia: A monument to enemas!
A monument to the enema, a procedure many people would rather not think about, has been unveiled at a spa in the southern Russian city of Zheleznovodsk. The bronze syringe bulb, which weighs 800 pounds and is held by three angels, was unveiled at the Mashuk-Akva Term spa, the spa's director said Thursday.

"There is no kitsch or obscenity, it is a successful work of art," Alexander Kharchenko told The Associated Press. "An enema is almost a symbol of our region."

From the incredible shrinking Japan:
... this is the land of disappearing children and a slow-motion demographic catastrophe that is without precedent in the developed world ... Japan, now the world's second-largest economy, will lose 70 percent of its workforce by 2050...

From the World's Ugliest Dog Contest: A winner!
Gus the dog has three legs, one eye, no hair except for a white tuft on the top of his head, and also suffers from skin cancer ...

Said Jeanenne [his owner], “I’m just in shock. We came so far and are so happy that we can put the winnings towards Gus’ radiation treatment...."

From the world of artistic criticism: The movie review of the week.
"It's time to take Shyamalan out back and kick the shit out of him."

From Switzerland: Where the kids don't know history and blame it on the Internet.
A Swiss television channel has apologised after it mistakenly broadcast the Nazi lyrics to the "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" anthem during a Euro 2008 football match. Fans were invited to sing along as the subtitles appeared on Swiss screens.

Managers at the channel blamed the mistake on inexperienced researchers copying the wrong lyrics from the internet before the match began.

From Windsor Castle: Where apparently they really do have a dancing queen.
Queen Elizabeth II stunned guests at a Windsor Castle bash by getting up to boogie -- to Abba classic Dancing Queen. The 82-year-old monarch says she loves strutting her stuff to the disco hit, DJ Chris Evans revealed...

The presenter said the Queen told guests around her: "I always try to dance when this song comes on because I am the Queen and I like to dance."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Barack says: "My moneyed interests aren't special!"

Or maybe it's just that all his special money coming in isn't interesting. In any event, he's told us now that all the money he's collecting isn't special or interesting enough for his campaign claim...
I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns ... as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests.
... to have any effect on his own practice. Since when he said...
I asked the Federal Election Commission to clear any regulatory obstacles to a publicly funded general election in 2008 with real spending limits. The commission did that ... I will aggressively pursue such an agreement if I am my party's nominee ... I propose a meaningful agreement in good faith that results in real spending limits... [USA Today]
... nah, he didn't mean it.

When should you suspect a politician may be deceiving you?

When you hear sound coming from a part of his body that looks like this...

[quotes ht: Tom Maguire]

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy "Happy Day"!

Enjoy your day, everyone...
June 20 is the happiest day of the year according to a maths formula worked out by an academic.

According to the research, this has been worked out using the equation O + (N xS) + Cpm/T + He.

O stands for being outdoors and outdoor activity, N is connection with nature, which is in full bloom now, S is socialisation with neighbours and friends, Cpm stands for childhood positive memories, T is the mean temperature which is now usually warm, and He is holiday expected.

The formula was compiled by Cliff Arnall, a psychologist ... at Cardiff University ...
... because this is as good as it's going to get.

Nationalized organ collection in action

"I'm not dead yet!"

A man whose heart had stopped beating woke up just as surgeons were about to remove his organs for donation, it was disclosed yesterday.

Doctors in Paris called in transplant surgeons after failing to resuscitate a 45-year old man believed to have suffered a massive heart attack...

When the surgeons began operating on the man to remove his organs, he began to breathe... "After a few weeks chequered with serious complications, the patient is now walking and talking," said the report...

... the case is likely to ignite public debate over ... retrieving organs when the heart stops, which has only been legal in France since last year. Before then a patient had to be declared brain dead before transplant could occur.

France has a so-called opt-out [organ donation] system. This means everyone gives their "presumed consent" to having their organs removed after death unless they have refused permission...

Monty Python skits of 30 years ago become French medicine today.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Progress for the public schools in New York

If from a rather low base...


Gov. Paterson yesterday announced agreement on a new law to automatically boot tenured teachers from their jobs if they're convicted of sexual assaults or other felonies that put them on the state's sex-offender registry...

The new law is aimed at eliminating situations such as one recent New York City case in which officials waged a costly, six-month battle to fire a teacher who had sodomized a 13-year-old student...

Well, one supposes this is a good thing.

But as to the fact that schools are run so that a political "deal" with the teachers union must be run through the state legislature to be able to get rid of teachers who sodomize students...

Former Supreme Court Justice on the "Intergenerational Compact"

Sandra Day O'Connor considers that it takes two informed parties to voluntarily agree to make a valid contract -- even a "social contract"...

How our next president represents the interests of young Americans will define not only his legacy but that of an entire generation of political leaders...

The Government Accountability Office and many, many others have documented the magnitude of the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid bills that will come due over the next several decades.

Even if every dollar of wealth of every millionaire in the United States were magically diverted to pay these costs, 80 percent of the unfunded liabilities forecast for these three programs would remain on the books.

Social Security Advisory Board Chairman Sylvester J. Schieber has found that honoring today's promises to tomorrow's retirees could put the living standards of working households on a path of decline by the mid-2020s .... Under this scenario, today's high school students might never experience a year in the workforce when their tax rates would not rise...

Our government was founded on the principle that the legitimacy of law derives from the consent of the governed. Today's youths and future generations have not been consulted in the writing of our current social contract. Yet they soon may face financial burdens that most voters would find intolerable.

As we approach this vast expansion of spending, precipitated by a combination of aging baby boomers and abnormally high health costs, it is time to consult our young.... [ht: Andrew Biggs]

Both generations should be consulted about the terms of the "intergenerational compact"? There's a new idea.

An interesting "what if" question is what form Medicare and Social Security would take today if the politicians who enacted them had fully informed the voting public about not only the benefits the programs would provide, but also their cost...

"Now... to fund these fine programs on an actuarially sound basis we will in 2007 more than double everybody's income taxes, increase them by 130%, to collect the $2 trillion needed to cover the annually accruing liability for them. And you all surely consider these benefits valuable enough to vote for that. Well worth that cost, in fact... Right?"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The "fat tax" was just a joke, eh?

You thought the idea of having to take "a short trip to the official Government Weighing Center" each year for the purposes of the fat tax and/or fat-rated gas tax was just an attempted humorous put-on.

Well, the NY Times reports...

Japan, Seeking Trim Waists, Measures Millions

Summoned by the city of Amagasaki one recent morning, Minoru Nogiri, 45, a flower shop owner, found himself lining up to have his waistline measured. With no visible paunch, he seemed to run little risk of being classified as overweight, or metabo, the preferred word in Japan these days.

But because the new state-prescribed limit for male waistlines is a strict 33.5 inches, he had anxiously measured himself at home a couple of days earlier. “I’m on the border,” he said.

Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 ...

Those exceeding government limits — 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women ... — and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.

To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years and 25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets....

We're almost there!

Keep reading this blog for more of today's absurdities on the way to becoming tomorrow's news.

How getting fired is like being part of This Old House.

Mets now ex-pitching coach Rick Peterson waxes philosophic about getting fired in yesterday's midnight massacre of the team's coaching staff orchestrated by GM Omar "Machine Gun" Minaya...
"Homes go through renovations, and sometimes you have to make changes when things don’t go that well, and I’m part of that change. I totally understand that ... I’m the hardwood floor that’s getting ripped out, and they’re going to bring in the Tuscany tile. It’ll be great."
Peterson's contract runs through 2009. It's easier to wax philosophic when you have a year-and-a-half of paid vacation in your pocket.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Krugman laments: "Starve the Beast" really works. Friedman was right again.

The 90% income tax increase Krugman wants isn't coming from Obama, and here's why...
A poison pill, in corporate jargon, is a financial arrangement designed to protect current management by crippling the company if someone else takes over ... the tax cuts enacted by the Bush administration are, in effect, a fiscal poison pill aimed at future administrations...

Barack Obama’s tax plan would raise revenue by $700 billion over the next decade ... But while $700 billion may sound like a lot of money, it’s probably not enough to pay for universal health care, which was supposed to be the overriding progressive priority in this election. Why doesn’t Mr. Obama propose raising more money? Blame the Bush poison pill.

First of all, Mr. Obama ... isn’t willing to challenge the Bush tax cuts as a whole. He only proposes rolling back tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year. Second, Mr. Obama proposes giving back a substantial part of the revenue raised by this partial tax-cut rollback in the form of new tax cuts...

But the big question is, are these tax cuts, however appealing, a top priority? ... it’s remarkable and disheartening to see how effective President Bush’s fiscal poison pill has been in restricting the terms of debate.
Well, we know for sure that tax cuts aren't Krugman's priority.

Very much to the contrary, during an interview given to the Asia Times a little while back, one of the reasons he gave for calling the US "a banana republic" was...
"We should be getting 28% of GDP in revenue. We are only collecting 17%."
Since then, US government revenue has increased to 18% of GDP, still a good 10 percentage points less than he'd like. Total US income taxes were 11.2% of GDP in 2007.

So Krugman would like to see US income taxes increase by ... um, 11.2 / 10, uh, no, ah 10/11.2 = 89.3% ... for dramatic effect let's call it a round 90% ... right now! (Or perhaps he'd be happy with a revenue-raising equivalent, such as a new national sales tax.)

The funny thing is he said this out loud to an Asian newspaper, but in eight years he's never said anything of the sort in his own column in the New York Times.

Why isn't he advising Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid out loud, urging the Times' editorial board, or at least his own readers, to embrace his belief in the need for a 90% across-the-board income tax increase right now?

Is Bush's poison pill choking him personally?

The anti-Krugman on taxes of course was Milton Friedman, who was "in favor of any tax cut, under any circumstances, in any way, in any form whatsoever."

During an interview conducted while the surplus was still coming in during 2001, he advised Bush to eliminate the surplus with tax cuts, and explained why.

In a nutshell: "because that’s the only way to keep down government spending" -- which was what Friedman viewed as the true evil ill of government, too much spending, not taxes. ("History shows that over a long period of time government will spend whatever the tax system raises plus as much more as it can get away with. That’s why we’ve had universal deficits.")

In other words: Starve the Beast!

And it's worked, Krugman agrees. Friedman was on the money again.

(Bonus interview excerpt:

Q. The economist Paul Krugman wrote in an article in the New York Times ... "If Milton Friedman weren’t still alive, he’d be spinning in his grave."

Friedman: He’s right.
They agreed on something else!)

A dog's life gets that much ruffer harder.

Celebrity pooch down to its last $2 million.

Leona Helmsley's pet pooch, Trouble, is going from rich bitch to good dog by throwing a $10 million bone to charity.

A Manhattan judge quietly reduced the notoriously ill-tempered canine's $12 million trust fund ... Trouble now will have to get by for the rest of her life on a measly $2 million.

Trouble is living in Florida with Carl Lekic, the general manager of the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel. In an affidavit, Lekic says ... "Two million dollars ... would be enough money to pay for Trouble's maintenance and welfare at the highest standards of care for more than 10 years, which is more that twice her reasonably anticipated life expectancy," he said.

Lekic put her annual expenses at $190,000, which includes his $60,000 guardian fee, $100,000 for 'round-the-clock security, $8,000 for grooming, $3,000 for miscellaneous expenses, $1,200 for food and anywhere from $2,500 to $18,000 for medical care.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Who said Social Security is a Ponzi game?" 

"No real economist ever called Social Security a Ponzi game", I heard in a discussion over the weekend. I remembered seeing the same claim made in the sci.econ usenet newsgroup years ago (back when economics actually was discussed there), Googled it up and yup, there it was.

Some arguments just run on and on. But as old and predictable as this one is, nobody ever seems to have an answer for it. Has any "real economist" ever called Social Security a Ponzi game? Hmmm, well, for the record...

Paul Samuelson, Nobel winner, back in 1967, the early glory days of Social Security, famously actually praised it as such in his Newsweek article, "Social Security, A Ponzi Scheme That Works" ...
"The beauty of social insurance is that it is actuarially unsound. Everyone who reaches retirement age is given benefit privileges that far exceed anything he has paid in -- exceed his payments by more than ten times...!

"Social Security is squarely based on what has been called the eight wonder of the world -- compound interest. A growing nation is the greatest Ponzi game ever contrived."
Paul Krugman, Clark Medal winner, thirty years later -- after the 1983 reform had preserved Social Security benefits for then-seniors at the cost of the then-young -- expressed some concerns about that Ponzi game aspect...
Social Security ... has turned out to be strongly redistributionist, but only because of its Ponzi game aspect, in which each generation takes more out than it put in. Well, the Ponzi game will soon be over, thanks to changing demographics, so that the typical recipient henceforth will get only about as much as he or she put in (and today's young may well get less)..."
And Milton Friedman, Nobelist, when considering the future of Social Security had no problem at all calling it "The Greatest Ponzi Game on Earth" -- only he didn't mean it as a compliment like Samuelson did.

So has any "real economist" ever called Social Security a Ponzi game? Yup, there are three for starters.

Samuelson writing in the early days of the Ponzi game when it was providing participants with $13.6 trillion more in benefits than they paid in through contributions.

Krugman considering the middle part of the game when participants would about break even.

Friedman looking forward to the end of the game when participants must receive -- by the iron laws of arithmetic that apply equally to paygo benefit schemes and Ponzi games -- $13.6 trillion less from Social Security than they pay into it through taxes.

And note that this end is not in a distant future -- it is our future, that of today's living payors of Social Security tax. To quote the U.S. Treasury on this...
The Trustees Report indicates that Social Security’s unfunded obligation for only past and current workers equals $14.4 trillion, which is actually slightly greater than the infinite-horizon shortfall [of $13.6 trillion -- emphasis in original].
So there you have it. And personally, when three such great economists coming from such different points of view all use the words "Ponzi game" to describe Social Security, I think, who am I to argue?

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Celebrating the little mistakes we all make in life.

Man nails hat to head.

George Chandler’s not sure how it happened ... one minute he was installing lattice for his wife’s trailing wisteria, and the next minute he had a two-inch nail from a nail gun embedded in his skull...

Chandler, 60, went to a hospital with his hat nailed lopsided to his head.

That had to hurt, right? Not really, Chandler said, not even when the doctor removed the nail with a claw hammer.

"That’s what they tell me — the brain has no feeling," Chandler said...

George, say hello to Patrick ... and Lenny.

Some things you can't get back.

Property tycoon Charles Kane is, by any standards, a very successful man, again...

Charles is believed to be the only person in the UK to have undergone two sex change operations; the first to turn him into a woman and the second to turn him back into a man after he realised he'd made a horrible mistake....

"The trouble is, I would much rather be the man I was before all this," he says....

Have her say "Yes" and get the stomach pump.
A Chinese woman passed out after accidentally swallowing an engagement ring her boyfriend had hidden in a cake.

Mr Chen, of Xinyan Town, Fuqing City, said he was inspired by romantic movies in which leading men hid rings in cakes and gave them to their girlfriends.

"I imagined the surprise on her face, mixed with happiness," he regretfully told the Southeast Morning Post. Instead, his girlfriend Wen fainted when she saw Chen get down on one knee.

"I realised I had just swallowed the ring with a full mouth of cake," she said...

Doctors used a catheter to retrieve the ring from her stomach.

Photoshop Disasters

From professional sources only...

That one is from the Washington Post. See how many you can find with the wrong number of limbs, hands, fingers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Trabant love 

Was I unduly harsh about a week ago referring to the former Eastern Germany's famous "people's car" the Trabant?...

People say a million of them were junked The Day The Wall Came Down. ( "Designed as a three-wheeled motorcycle, the decision to build a four-wheeled car came late in the planning process"*)
... Well, that was then. Today the Trabant, Time Magazine's #27 all-time car, is beloved in Germany by the masses (who no longer have to drive it) for all its unique qualities.

Indeed, the Trabant proves that darn near anything can be beloved when it is not forced on people -- and that for whatever is beloved by somebody, there is a market and a profit-making opportunity for somebody else, as the BBC tells us:
Due to the engine being of a two-stroke variety, exhaust emissions were high in pollutants and also had a very distinct smell. Instead of the normal petrol smell common to four-stroke engines, the Trabant's exhaust gave out a burnt oil smell as well as emitting blue smoke....

One Thorsten Jahn decided to 'can' the smell of a Trabant exhaust and sells it on his website. In a news report to the BBC he says, "The smell is something very special and scarce nowadays"... Price: 3.98 euros.
Cans of "Trabant smell", priced via the economics of diamonds: Nobody has to have them, but if they are scarce and some people want them then there will be a price for them.

That smell is so beloved today that the Trabant has been exempted from Germany's tough anti-pollution laws. And it is not so scarce. Seventeen years after the last one was built, more than 50,000 are still on the road.

Trabants today cost from 1,000 to 10,000 euros depending on condition, these reports say. That's up to about $15,000 for a car somewhere between 17 years and 51 years old with a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine.

For the old their lure is nostalgia, remembering the days of youth. For the young, it's a whole new thing, "cheap-chic hot rod culture"....

When windmill repairman Martin Teucher drives to work before dawn, it's the thumping bass in his Trabant's backseat that keeps him awake, not coffee.

The 24-year-old from the eastern village of Bruchmuehle has tuned his 1980 "Trabi", the smelly two-cylinder symbol of communist East Germany, into the hip-hop generation with a booming sound system and lowered suspension. Stuck to the plastic bumper is a placard reading "DDR".

Fifty years after the first Trabant rolled off an assembly line on November 7, 1957, the boxy vehicle has become the focus of a cheap-chic hot rod culture. "It's gone from hobby to cult to insanity," Mr Teucher said...

"If we put my car on the Alexanderplatz with a Porsche next to it everyone would ignore the Porsche"... [Reuters].

I believe they would!

Trabant stretch limousine.

Industrial Trabant

Trabant with optional full-horse power motor.
[Pix via BBC]

Trabant of the future? By 2011?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nationalized health care in action.

A fundamental question about a nationalized health care system is whether its purpose is to provide a minimum basic acceptable level of health care for everyone, so nobody is deemed left without adequate basic care, or whether it provides the total of all health care provided, so nobody can use their own resources to obtain more.

The issue is coming to a legal head in Britain:
NHS scandal: dying cancer victim was forced to pay

A woman dying of cancer was denied free National Health Service treatment in her final months because she had paid privately for a drug to try to prolong her life. Linda O’Boyle was told that as she had paid for private treatment she was banned from free NHS care.

She is believed to have been the first patient to die after fighting for the right to top up NHS treatment with a privately purchased cancer medicine that the health service refused to provide.

News of her death at the age of 64 has emerged as six other patients launch a legal action to trigger a test case that they hope would force the NHS to allow them to top up their care with private drugs.

Some cancer drugs not yet available on the NHS can markedly increase the chance of survival. But Alan Johnson, the health secretary, claims that co-payment would create a two-tier NHS, with preferential treatment for patients who could afford the extra drugs. Last year he issued guidance to NHS trusts ordering them not to permit patients to pay for additional medicines...

After [Ms. O'Boyle] developed bowel cancer and began having chemotherapy, doctors told her she should boost her chances of fighting the disease by adding another drug, cetuximab. It is not routinely funded by the NHS.

When she decided to use her savings to pay for it, Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust withdrew her free treatment, including the chemotherapy drug she was receiving... [ht: Tim Worstall]
A related story...
Doctors for Reform fight NHS order to halt cancer care

A group representing nearly 1,000 doctors is preparing to mount a legal action against the health service to stop care being withdrawn from patients who want to pay for their own cancer medicines ...

Last December we reported the case of Colette Mills, a breast cancer sufferer from Stokesley in North Yorkshire, who was told that if she topped up her medication with privately bought drugs she would have to pay for her entire treatment – about £10,000a month....

Doctors for Reform has teamed up with Halliwells, the law firm, to challenge the ruling. Halliwells is offering its services free as the doctors are trying to raise £35,000 in donations towards government legal fees if they lose....

Dr Christoph Lees, a steering group member, said: “Doctors are caught in a terrible dilemma: do you tell a patient about a drug that could improve their quality of life, or do you pretend it doesn’t exist?”
What say ye, Democrats? But don't answer too quickly.

The Canadian national health system that so many in the US take as their model strictly banned private health insurance until 2005, when Canada's Supreme Court struck down the ban due to deaths and other damage to health caused by long delays in the system.

Here in the US, Medicare was enacted on the promise that participants would retain "free choice", but it wasn't long before privately paid for medical services for seniors were banned. In 1997, when the Republican Congress restored some options for obtaining privately paid for service, Democrats objected that this "would start to unravel Medicare's social safety net" to benefit "the privileged few". This battle isn't over, private care options remain limited.

So if you are a proponent of national health care in the US, answer this simple question: would your program provide minimum care or maximum care? (If maximum, and one day you find yourself denied the medicine you want or at the back end of a long wait list, will you have reserved the right to go to Quebec and pay out-of-pocket there to get the treatment you desire?)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Obama to primary voters: "Fooled you. Had my fingers crossed."

The NY Sun reports ...
Mr. Obama claimed in his speech that "free-trade" is "a cause I believe in," and he said, "we can't or shouldn't put up walls around our economy." It's just breathtaking for Mr. Obama to say this now, after campaigning in the primaries as a protectionist vowing to pull out of Nafta unless it is renegotiated.... [ht: Roland Patrick]
Which leaves the question, who was driving the bus that hit Austan Goolsbee as he was leaving the Canadian embassy?

Your government is working efficiently on your behalf when...

The legislature passes a law enabling property owners to post "do not litter" signs prohibiting the deposit of "menus, leaflets, handbills and circulars on their doorsteps and lawns", with offenders punishable by a $250 fine.

The Sanitation Department then follows up with enforcement rules that require you, the leaflet-loathing property owner, to...
* Post a sign no less than 5 by 7 inches with lettering at least 1 inch high that states: "Do Not Place Unsolicited Advertising Materials on This Property."

* Obtain a complaint form through 311 or the Sanitation Department Web site for each offense.

* Fill out the form, have it notarized, and mail it with a sample of the offending lawn litter to the Sanitation Department enforcement unit in Brooklyn.

* Be available to come in to testify before the Environmental Control Board.
Hey, that's my government!

Do I get the feeling that the people at a certain local government agency would rather be using those Chinese menus than cleaning them up?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Senate Democrats: "Privatization for we, but not for thee".

The Washington Post reports....

Senate Votes To Privatize Its Failing Restaurants

Year after year, decade upon decade, the U.S. Senate's network of restaurants has lost staggering amounts of money -- more than $18 million since 1993, according to one report, and an estimated $2 million this year alone, according to another ... without a $250,000 subsidy from taxpayers, the Senate won't make payroll next month....

In a masterful bit of understatement, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Rules and Administrations Committee, which oversees the operation of the Senate, blamed "noticeably subpar" food and service.

Foot traffic bears that out. Come lunchtime, many Senate staffers trudge across the Capitol and down into the basement cafeteria on the House side. On Wednesdays, the lines can be 30 or 40 people long. House staffers almost never cross the Capitol to eat in the Senate cafeterias...

Last week, in a late-night voice vote, the Senate agreed to privatize the operation of its food service, a decision that would, for the first time, put it under the control of a contractor and all but guarantee lower wages and benefits for the outfit's new hires.

Sen. Feinstein ... said she had no choice. "It's cratering," she said of the restaurant system. "Candidly, I don't think the taxpayers should be subsidizing something that doesn't need to be. There are parts of government that can be run like a business and should be run like businesses."

But Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), speaking for the group of senators who opposed privatizing the restaurants, said that "you cannot stand on the Senate floor and condemn the privatization of workers, and then turn around and privatize the workers here in the Senate and leave them out on their own."

Apparently he's wrong, they can!
Operation of the House cafeterias was privatized in the 1980s by a Democratic-controlled Congress. Restaurant Associates of New York, the current House contractor, would take over the Senate facilities this fall. The company wins high praise from most staffers and lawmakers, who say they are pleased with the wide variety of new items offered every few months.

Most important to Feinstein, Restaurant Associates turns a substantial profit -- paying $1.2 million in commissions to the House since 2003...

When Democrats took power last year, Feinstein ordered several studies, including hiring a consultant to examine management practices, before deciding privatization was the only possibility. In a closed-door meeting with Democrats in November, she was practically heckled by her peers for suggesting it, senators and aides said.

Feinstein made another presentation May 7, warning senators that if they did not agree to turn over the operation to a private contractor, prices would be increased 25 percent across the board...

In the final days of negotiations, Feinstein rolled her eyes and took a deep breath before explaining the ordeal that the Senate Restaurants had become for her.

"It's clearly not the sort of thing that I ran for the Senate to do," she said. "But somebody has to do it."
Exactly what they'll be saying about Medicare and Social Security in, oh, about 20 years.

In the meantime, these same Senators who can't manage a cafeteria are planning to put nationalized health care on our menu. Let's wait until we get a taste of that!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

News of the World. In case you missed it ...

From Harvard: The university president feels the heat (ours?) and responds....

"Harvard's $35-billion endowment has become something of a target — publicly both envied and maligned," said Ms. Faust in her speech. "But it is poorly understood. It represents a concrete embodiment of our accountability..."
Much like Paris Hilton's trust fund.

From St. Paul, Minnesota: Deconstructing Obama's speechwriters...
I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless...
I certainly hope he's right and that generations from now I will be able to look back and tell my children anything, even my own name.

From Cannes: Deconstructing Sean Penn's brain...
[Penn explained] ”I don’t have a candidate I’m supporting and I’m certainly interested and excited by the hope that Barack Obama is inspiring,” but went on to accuse Obama of a “phenomenally inhuman and unconstitutional” voting record. "I hope that he will understand, if he is the nominee, the degree of disillusionment that will happen if he doesn’t become a greater man than he will ever be,” Penn said.

From Paris: What seduces beautiful European women?
Italian bombshell Carla Bruni tells how French President Nicolas Sarkozy seduced her in a new book, "Carla and Nicolas, The True Story." Bruni told authors Valerie Benaim and Yves Azeroual: "It all happened suddenly. I wasn't expecting someone so funny, so full of life . . . I was seduced by his physique and his intelligence. He has five or six brains which are remarkably irrigated."

From Cannes: Angelina Jolie is not the typcial bubblehead Hollywood actress -- and if you think she is, you'd better not tell her to her face because (in addition to wanting to win the war in Iraq) she likes guns....
"If anybody comes into my home and tries to hurt my kids, I've no problem shooting them," she says with a dry candour. "I bought original, real guns of the type we used in Tomb Raider for security. Brad and I are not against having a gun in the house, and we have one. And yes, I'd be able to use it ..."

From China: Sex secrets of the Giant Panda, revealed. Video! (Panda porn?)

From Washington State: Sex secrets of people who really love their cars, revealed. (Though maybe you don't really want to know.)

From Bath University, UK: Asexual reproduction secrets of the first ancestors of our future Robot Overlords of the 22nd Century, revealed. Meet their Adam and, er, Adam II.

From New Zealand: Progress in the vital fight against Global Warming:
New Zealand scientists claim to have developed a "flatulence inoculation" aimed at cutting down on the massive amount of methane produced by its sheep and cows. Such animals are believed to be responsible for more than half of the country's greenhouse gases, causing huge environmental problems. ... The 45 million sheep and 10 million cattle in New Zealand burped and farted about 90 percent of that country's methane emissions....
Forget Global Warming, I'll take a shot the next time I'm heading out to drink Guiness at the White Horse.

From Taiwan: "Uh... how am I supposed to start the motor with these things?"
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates ousted the Air Force's top military and civilian leaders yesterday, holding them to account in a Pentagon shake-up...

Gates cited two embarrassing incidents in the past year. In one, a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown across the country without anyone realizing nukes were aboard.

In the other, four electrical fuses for ballistic missile warheads were mistakenly sent to Taiwan in the place of helicopter batteries.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The commissars at the NY Times lament loss of "most productive" auto plants. (And the Trabant too?)

The New York Times reports...
Highly Rated Auto Plants Set to Close

Some of the most productive automobile factories, as rated by an influential study released Thursday, are closing down or losing large numbers of jobs in the motor industry’s upheaval.

Among the factories scheduled to close are a General Motors minivan plant in Doraville, Ga., and the Ford Motor Company’s midsize pickup truck plant in St. Paul, both of which ranked first in their segments in this year’s Harbour Report on automotive productivity.
It seems these "highest productivity" plants are being closed merely because people don't want to buy the cars they make -- and they can't be converted to make products people do want to buy.

“Those decisions were made not lightly, but based upon market demand,” said a G.M. spokeswoman, Pam Reese...

... the Detroit automakers’ roster of closings shows that a plant’s efficiency “is not a big enough differentiator anymore” when companies need to decrease production, said Ron Harbour, a partner in the North American automotive practice of Oliver Wyman, which publishes the study.
How horribly wrong is the economy going when efficiency doesn't matter any more?

Well, here's the thing: Western world developed-nation economic statistics measure bottom-line productivity in terms of "value added". That is, the value of a product as measured by what buyers will pay for it, minus the value of the inputs that the seller has to pay for. GDP is the national economy's net value added.

There are other measures for productivity, such as "hours of labor to make X" or "amount of stuff used to make X", and they have their uses -- but not on the bottom line. If you are a business that runs a loss on value added to maximize "hours of labor" or "stuff used to make stuff" productivity measures, then you are going bankrupt. If you are an economic system that does so you are, oh, the former Soviet Eastern Block.

And the Soviet Eastern Block did very effectively produce a lot of products using few hours and little stuff -- even automobiles, such as the famous Trabant, still fondly remembered over there. (I had the fun of riding in one once, and I sure remember!) People say a million of them were junked The Day The Wall Came Down (" Designed as a three-wheeled motorcycle, the decision to build a four-wheeled car came late in the planning process" *) but I wouldn't know about that.

So the bottom-line message is: if a manufacturing plant can't make a product that consumers want to purchase on a positive value added basis, and it can't be converted to do so, it is not highly productive, it is unproductive, and it's loss is not to be lamented. No matter what "industry studies" and NY Times writers and editors say.

The top-rated full-size pickup plant, a Ford factory in Norfolk, Va., closed a year ago, showing that even the best-run plants are not immune to cuts. Two of the top three large S.U.V. plants are closing, as is the second-ranked midsize S.U.V. plant.
And the Times' editors surely want to see more SUVs and full-sized pickup trucks on the road, right? Just ask Tom Friedman. Maybe some Trabants too?

Friday, June 06, 2008

"What if" counterfactuals for the day after Obama clinched

I.) Remembering (or Googling) way, way back to early 2000 ... when oil was $33 a barrel ... one may recall a lot of public speculation about what lame-duck First Lady Hillary Clinton was planning to do.

Would she rush in unseemly haste out of the White House even before her term husband's term was up to declare herself a lifelong Yankees fan and seek to win the opening-up Senate seat in New York, in an expected tough race against the seemingly healthy Rudy Guilianni? Or would she finish the year with her husband in Washington, then return to her real home state of Illinois, decide between being a lifelong Cubs or White Sox fan, and wait a bit to run for its Senate seat, then held by a politically crippled Republican (who in fact wouldn't even run again)?

I suppose waiting was never in her nature. But if she'd been true to her real home, who'd be holding that Senate seat from Illinois today?

II.) Brannon Braga, the TV producer popularly credited by countless Trekkies with destroying the Star Trek franchise, in the course of doing so had "a relationship" with actress Jeri Ryan. This, um, entroubled her marriage to Jack Ryan, then a fully credible and deep-pocketed Republican candidate for that same Illinois Senate seat. There ensued nasty divorce filings, leaked stories about "sex clubs", and Jack dropping out of the race. The Democratic candidate ended up running against Alan Keyes.

Can we say Braga (with his art and lust) ended the impressive runs not only of Star Trek but of Hillary? If Obama wins it all, then proves a diplomatic/political naif, mishandles a crisis and drops his elbow on "the button", will we be able to say Braga destroyed both Star Trek and the world?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Why public schools don't work, continued...

Subheading: Accountability to taxpayers

[Newsday] ...[A]ttempts to cap school spending have largely failed on Long Island so far -- a point underscored in local districts that have scheduled budget revotes on June 17.

Five of seven districts whose budgets were rejected last month have decided next year's spending will exceed the state's austerity cap of 3.36 percent, even if local voters say "no" a second time. Another district, East Moriches, which has decided against a revote, plans to exceed the cap as well.

District officials note that the extra spending is perfectly legal under an expanding list of exempted expenses approved by state lawmakers at the urging of teacher unions and other education groups...

Taxpayer groups contend that exemption overuse has made spending caps a sham. An advisory commission backed by Gov. David A. Paterson proposed earlier this week reforming the system by adopting new tax caps with no such exemptions.

"The system is broken," said commission chairman Nassau Executive Thomas Suozzi. "There are so many exceptions that even if you vote a budget down, your property taxes still go up, in some cases by more than if you voted for the budget",,,

"They can do what they want - it's off the wall," said Barbara Grosswald, a retired CPA.

Senator Obama modestly assesses what his nomination means to the nation.

"... If we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth." [victory speech]
So looking back from the future, the magic moment in U.S. history when we began to provide care to the sick and jobs to the jobless and all will not have been back in the New Deal when FDR actually enacted Social Security for the nation, nor when Lyndon Johnson actually enacted the Civil Rights acts and Great Society, nor when Ted Kennedy actually enacted Medicare for the nation ... it will be when Senator Obama obtained a party nomination for himself.

As for his planning to make the U.S "the last, best hope on Earth", that sounds like something from an Armageddon-themed science fiction novel. I'm not looking forward to that.

The new tax that can save America

You've heard about the fat tax and the gas tax. Now brace yourself to hear about ... the Fat-Rated Gas Tax!

Inspired by the latest social science research...

"The Economic Impact of Obesity on Automobile Fuel Consumption"

...the Fat-Gas Tax is a variable rate gasoline tax determined by Body Mass Index on an individual basis. You pay for your gasoline purchase by debit or credit card and the tax is added automatically.

Imagine a simple, single tax that can help avert global warming, de-fund Arab terrorists, save scarce natural resources, reduce pollution AND remedy the government's approaching funding crisis for Medicare (by heading off the coming diabetes epidemic, etc.) ... save private individuals billions of dollars of medical costs from avoided heart attacks and strokes and blood pressure medication prescriptions ... make the general population lean and good looking ... and improve your sex life too! That's the Fat-Gas Tax.

Why you want it:

[] A gas tax is far more effective at promoting fuel savings than are CAFE auto miles-per-gallon standards -- which drive up the price of new cars, deprive people of cars they want to drive (good-bye, station wagons!) arguably only minimally reduce total gas consumption (increasing miles-per gallon isn't the same thing, as it reduces the cost of driving per mile and so can encourage more driving) and at any rate take years to become effective as the car fleet slowly turns over.

[] A fat tax is both far more effective and fair at reducing obesity than are other taxes enacted for the purpose on everything but body fat. (Why should a lean long-distance runner pay a penalty tax when enjoying the occasional Monster Thickburger -- and why should honest, hard-working Hardees' employees be penalized for selling Thickburgers to the lean-and-fit -- just because other people are too lazy to put down the box of Oreos, get up off the couch and take a walk to the gym?)

The Fat-Gas Tax combines, compounds, the superiority of both taxes.

Even better, the Fat-Gas Tax doesn't have to cost taxpayers a penny on net! To buy votes keep the tax "revenue neutral" it can be refunded to taxpayers by reducing other taxes.

[] McCain can use it to pay for his cutting corporate taxes (and even to keep the Bush tax cuts).

[] Obama can use to pay for his cutting tax on Social Security benefits (and even to fund Social Security for 75-years).

Hey, do both, make everyone in Congress happy!

Because the Fat-Gas Tax, in taxing the dreadful externalities of both oil consumption and obesity, is the first Pigovian tax squared. Can its rate possibly be too high?

Implementation? Figure the fine details later. But in principle it can't be difficult. Near everybody who has cash to buy gasoline is already part of "the system" -- paying payroll tax or income tax, collecting Social Security benefits or Medicare or the earned income credit, having government-required auto insurance, etc. To stay part of the system one simply will take a short trip to the official Government Weighing Center every so often (accompanied by one's dependent family members as shown on one's tax return) have one's (their) BMI measured, then have the appropriate tax rate entered into the commercial debit/credit card system.

That's certainly a lot simpler than Democratic proposals to have national health care with IRS enforcement, and is simplicity itself compared to the much loved earned income credit. And look at all the benefits it will provide!

Bottom line...

Democrats will love the Fat-Gas Tax because, well, it's a tax ... and for a change, they can honestly say a good one.

Republicans will love the Fat-Gas Tax because both obesity and the cost of gasoline as a percentage of income are concentrated disproportionately among low-income folk, so that's who'll be paying most of it. (As long as half the tax is rebated through though the likes of corporate tax cuts ... ahem, cough, *wink*. )

Academic economists of all stripes will love the Fat-Gas Tax because it is Pigovian -- and they can't help but love Pigovian taxes!

What's not to love? And remember, you read about it here first! (Unless you read about it first in the comments at McArdle's.)

Somebody tell Mankiw. But I'm keeping the IP rights.

UPDATE: You thought this was just a joke, right?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

From the Journal of Advanced Academic Research

My mother always told me, "You should be a professor." If I'd listened I could have used my grant money to make these discoveries....

Muscular Young Men Get More Sex

Men who are more muscular than average are much more likely to have short-term affairs and multiple sex partners than their scrawnier peers, according to new UCLA research ... This shows women are putting a premium on attractiveness ... Frederick and Haselton asked 120 undergraduate males to rate their own physiques on the same scale and then asked them about their sexual histories. The self-identified muscular men had not only had more sexual partners...
"Self identified"? Heck, I self identify as Schwarzenegger with a harem, when the wife isn't within listening distance.

Tired Basketball Players Throw Less Accurate Passes

Researchers ... had 20 players (10 recreational, 10 expert) throw chest passes at targets when rested, then when 70 percent fatigued, and finally when 90 percent fatigued ... accuracy dropped as they tired, with the recreational players faltering earlier than the expert players...
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2006) 5, 215 - 227


Sick People Have More Health Problems Than Healthy People

(Reuters Health) - Elderly people with diabetes may be at heightened risk of physical limitations ... British researchers found that among more than 800 adults age 65 or older, those with diabetes were more likely to have problems with walking and performing daily tasks ... Diabetes-related nerve damage and impaired blood flow to the legs likely play a role in the higher rate of walking problems, according to the research ... published in the journal Diabetes Care


Waitresses with Bigger [Ahem]s Get Bigger Tips

...waitresses’ tips varied with age in a negative, quadratic relationship, increased with breast size, increased with having blond hair, and decreased with body size. These findings, which are discussed from an evolutionary perspective, make several contributions to the literature on female physical attractiveness.

First, they replicate some previous findings ... Finally, they highlight the need for more ecologically valid tests of evolutionary theories about the determinants and consequences of female beauty...
The Determinants and Consequences of Female Attractiveness and Sexiness: Realistic Tests with Restaurant Waitresses [pdf], Michael Lynn, Ph.D., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.


My mother is still telling me I should be a professor. It's never too late for a second career. Hmmm ... If I could get a grant for extended field work conducting a scientific comparison of the waitresses at Hooters and TGIF's ...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Could the US have bought its way out of the Civil War? ... Revisited for today's world.

A couple years ago, when I was blogging the first time around, there was a flurry of discussion across the web about whether the US could and should have avoided the Civil War by having the federal government simply buy the freedom of all the slaves.

The gist of the detailed argument runs that since the total cost of the Civil War exceeded the average market price of a slave times the number of slaves existing in 1860, it would have been advisable and possible (at least in hindsight) for the government to have followed the course of buying the slaves on the free market, thus averting the coming fight over them. (Even Brad Delong and Alex Tabarrok presented this case.)

My own two bits thrown in the pool was that even in hindsight an action has to be possible to be plausible, and the "buy the slaves" strategy was simply impossible for reasons both political and economic....

1) Nobody at the time imagined that any coming conflict would be anywhere near as costly as it would prove to be, so nobody would have ever considered paying any comparable price to avoid it. (As in fact nobody did.)

2) In making southern slave-owners whole upon the sale of their slaves (else they wouldn't voluntarily sell in the market) the entire net cost of avoiding the war, comparable to that of the war itself, would have fallen on the North. It's, well, unlikely that northerners would have happily taken that immense cost upon themselves to keep southerners whole as a reward for their vice.

3) The cost of buying all the slaves would have been far higher than the amount estimated by multiplying the average market price of a slave by their number. Market price is that of the marginal item for sale on the market. Owners would sell their least valuable slaves first then retain their more valuable slaves waiting for higher prices. That is, as per the law of supply and demand, as the number of slaves declined their market price would shoot up -- making the total cost of buying them all impossibly high.

4) The government's program of buying all slaves would make it very profitable for southerners to buy and import slaves from nearby Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean areas, for resale northward at a gain, creating a whole new profitable slaving industry. That would be illegal, of course, but how could the government stop it?

Why am I repeating all this arcana from years gone bye now?

Because slavery still exists today, and well-intended "slave redemption programs" are seeking to buy the freedom of slaves today, and are running exactly into problems #3 & #4.
"We've made slavery more profitable than narcotics," Jacobson [former slave redeemer] says. Recently I asked Manase Lomole Waya, who runs Humanitarian Assistance for South Sudan, a group based in Nairobi, what he thought about slave-redemption efforts. "We welcome them for exposing the agony of our people to the world," he said. "That part is good. But giving the money to the slave traders only encourages the trade. It is wrong and must stop. Where does the money go? It goes to the raiders to buy more guns, raid more villages, put more shillings in their pockets. It is a vicious circle." Slave redeemers enrich every element of the trade: raiders, owners, and traders... [Atlantic]
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, early trips of slave redemption, where charities bought the freedom of slaves, were successful in freeing thousands of slaves. [But] later a man came to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army and confessed to having a part in defrauding these organizations. According to CSW, Dr. Samson Kwaje says he doubts that even 5% of the supposedly freed people were in fact slaves, and that many were instructed in how to act and what stories to tell...'
Buying people out of slavery at market prices doesn't work today, and it wouldn't have worked in 1860. Some problems you just have to fix the hard way.

Headlines such as we haven't seen many of lately

"Don't look now, but the U.S.-backed government and army may be winning the war."
-- Washington Post

"Afghan insurgents 'on brink of defeat'"
May it be so.

Monday, June 02, 2008

$15 million of taxpayer money bet on the whim of a sparrow.

Life in Gotham continues...
Taxpayers are being forced to shell out $15 million on the off chance that a rare sparrow will come back to roost at a former city landfill overlooking Brooklyn's Marine Park.

Trash-strewn White Island is quietly being converted into a habitat for the little bird called Henslow's sparrow, which hasn't been spotted in the Big Apple in more than a decade, The Post has learned.

The effort to turn the weed-choked spot into beautiful grasslands came in response to promises officials made in the mid-1990s when allowing a developer to wipe out the sparrow's habitat to build a massive shopping center near Starrett City in 2002... officials felt it was in the city's best interest to have the hundreds of new jobs the shopping center brought, and the plan was to replace the 56 acres four miles away at the former garbage dump.

Now, more than 10 years later, the city Parks Department has finally begun recreating the sparrow's habitat. Workers last month began spraying herbicides to kill weeds that will be replaced by beautiful grasslands.

"I guess we are following the lead of the movie 'Field of Dreams,' in that if we build it, they will come. But I wouldn't bet on it," admitted Mike Fellar, the city Parks Department's chief naturalist.
Though that's exactly what he is doing, of course, with other peoples' money.

Ida Sanoff, chairwoman of the environmental group Natural Resources Protective Association, said ..."What are they going to do? Put up a sign saying: 'Hello, sparrows. Beautiful nesting places here!'?"

Geoffrey Croft, who heads the watchdog group New York City Park Advocates, blasted the city for killing off not just weeds, but some endangered plant life, while spraying the herbicides...
Aw, you can't win.
Fellar said it's unlikely that the public will have access to White Island once it's cleaned up -- despite it being classified as parkland -- because officials want the habitat kept pristine for the wildlife.
Of course. Why would eight million citizens of a city, paying the highest taxes in the nation, want access to parkland they pay to create when a sparrow might, or might not, light on it?

We New York City taxpayers would have a higher expected return from that $15 million if Bloomberg took it to Atlantic City, went to a roulette wheel and bet it all on Black-13.

You think the U.S. has a housing bubble?

The "price gap" representing the portion of home values not supported by fundamental factors such as rental value and interest rate changes...

[The Economist]

If Alan Greenspan really is responsible for all this from the Netherlands to Australia, he truly is an Evil Merlin.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sunday miscellany

Sharon Stone exercises her intellect on TV, becomes "public enemy of all mankind", says she's sorry to keep her Dior dresses.

Sidney Pollack remembered by those who worked on Tootsie. ("Never work with an Oscar winner who is shorter than the statue," Larry Gelbart on Dustin Hoffman.)

You are a high-priced doctor. You sign up your medical practice up with a web advertising service that puts up your name whenever somebody types in a sort-of-related web address. You get this result.

Speaking of which, here's how American Idol made Clay Aiken the man he his today, literally.

And the controversial young children's book of the moment:
Heather has Two Mommies
Mommy has New Boobies

In the glory days of the British Empire its "fearless thrill seekers" charted oceans, explored continents, and climbed the highest mountains, while on its sporting fields its young men developed the character they'd show in defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. Today ... the sun has finally set.