Friday, November 30, 2007

Medical Malpractice

My college student son Ryan recently expressed some difficulty in finding sources addressing the history of medical malpractice, which brought to mind how important a factor lawsuits are in the cost of healthcare and the perception of the quality of the US healthcare system. My association with the local hospital as a long-time board member, quality committee chair, and a three-year stint as director of a few departments and internal functions provides me with some first-hand experience on med mal and its attendant problems, which I will share with you. For the record, I confess a slight bias for healthcare providers in this debate, but fully support compensating patients in cases of actual malpractice.
Here are some factors about medical malpractice that might be helpful to you:

People are sometimes injured by healthcare providers:
When people are injured or sick they go to the doctor or to a clinic or hospital in the hopes that medical professionals will be able to treat their injury or cure their illness. Most of the times these injuries and illnesses are treated successfully, but sometimes people have very serious conditions and cannot be treated successfully. It isn’t unusual for patients to be allergic to drugs or to have existing conditions that makes treating them more difficult. Sometimes patients are harmed in the process of being treated for whatever ails them.

Most doctors and healthcare personnel are competent and caring people who try to do their jobs well:
Medical professionals study for years to learn their trade, especially physicians, who attend years of medical school, internships, residencies and specialty training. Like people in other professions, they want to do their job well, to advance, and to earn a living; hurting people is something they want to avoid.

Some bad medical outcomes aren’t anyone’s fault:
Medicine is both art and science. Each of us is different in sometimes subtle ways, and sometimes in not-so-subtle ways. When we get sick or hurt, those differences play a role in how we are treated and in how we react to that treatment. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, a patient won’t recover fully, or sometimes they won’t recover at all. That doesn’t mean that they were the victim of medical malpractice; it means they had the deck stacked against them due to their general physical makeup in combination with their injury or disease. No one can guarantee any of us that we can be cured and be made whole following a serious injury or illness. Bad luck is a reality, a natural part of life that we have no control over.

Some people truly believe they are due monetary awards for their medical outcomes; sometimes they are:
There is a fairly significant portion of the U.S. population that believes that if the results of their medical treatment are less than optimum, somebody owes them money. After all, their quality of life has been affected and their ability to earn a living may have been affected, and perhaps as a result their cost of living may go up to pay for drugs or medical devices and care. It’s not their fault that they got sick or hurt, and somebody should have to make that up to them. In cases where a doctor or a hospital made a mistake, they are probably due some compensation. Otherwise, they aren’t.

Some lawyers will sue a bus if they think they can earn a fee:
Just as most medical professionals are competent and caring, most lawyers are honest, ethical and make an honest living. Some, however, will take any case that they think will generate a fee, and that means that there are cases in the court system that are frivolous, or are otherwise without true merit. More than a few of those are medical malpractice cases.

Juries frequently rule in favor of a plaintiff out of compassion for their situation because they feel the doctor/hospital/provider has plenty of money:
Whether juries are truly a panel of peers is a topic ripe for debate, however, under our system juries are (often/usually) chosen from among registered voters, and the likelihood that six or 12 people on a jury will be more likely to identify with a person who has had a bad health-related experience are much higher than that the panel will identify with a doctor or a hospital. Thus, the chances of the jury making a “there but for the grace of God go I” decision are fairly high. Consequently, even though no true negligence has been proven, juries often out of sympathy will award a plaintiff some amount of money because of the situation the plaintiff finds himself in, even if no one is to blame for that. This raises the cost of malpractice insurance and the cost of healthcare, but does nothing to right a wrong, since no wrong was committed.

Some doctors are not competent in their specialty, and finding instances of their previous medical practice problems when credentialing them is quite often impossible:
Having worked to verify physicians’ credentials I have learned the hard way that the best efforts are insufficient to learn about doctors’ past experience; it is often difficult and sometimes impossible to find out about the ones you need most to know about. Because of the possibility of legal action, hospitals are reluctant to report events of a doctor’s practice that you need to know, but which are not part of any official record. For example, a doctor who has done something wrong may never be formally disciplined for it, and therefore there is no record of what he did, and no hospital is going to report something like that to the data bank or to a hospital that is looking into the doctor’s credentials. So, the next hospital that the doc applies to for privileges will have no clue that the doc might have a problem.

The “standard of care” is a prime element in determining whether medical personnel acted appropriately in med mal cases:
The most common legal definition of standard of care is how similarly qualified practitioners would have managed the patient's care under the same or similar circumstances, but is not an absolute, which means that sometimes deviating from the standard of care does not indicate negligence or incompetence. Because each patient has the potential to present unique characteristics, it is a risky proposition to attempt to blindly impose a particular method of treatment for every case of the same disease or injury. Consequently, lawsuits are frequently filed for the sole reason that the standard of care was not followed, regardless of whether there were good and justifiable reasons for deviating from the standard of care. “Let’s sue, and the jury can sort it out” is a not uncommon approach; attorneys and plaintiffs are quite willing to roll the dice. Once a jury gets a case, there are potentially a number of factors that may lead to awarding the plaintiff monetary damages, even though (as mentioned earlier) no medical provider did anything wrong.

Expert witnesses have become a staple of med mal trials, giving testimony regarding the way the case was handled:In many med mal cases, it is not clear that a patient’s bad outcome was the result of poor care, and each side will have medical experts testifying about the course of treatment from their point of view, given the particular patient and circumstances. Some—some—medical experts will testify to anything an attorney chooses for them to testify to. This factor and the standard of care factor are sometimes more than a jury of average people can adequately sort out.

Insurance companies and defendant’s attorneys often recommend settling malpractice cases for reasons totally unrelated to whether the defendant did anything wrong:
Settlements are often made because the time, inconvenience and total cost of trying the case may dwarf the amount that a plaintiff will settle for; it’s an economic decision, not an admission of delivering poor care. In the case of a sympathetic plaintiff, the bad publicity (“the big, bad hospital” or “the high and mighty doctor”) and the possibility that a jury will be sympathetic to the plaintiff sometimes pushes defendants to settle, even though they may believe they did nothing wrong, and even in cases where they can show that they did nothing wrong.
In a perfect world, malpractice awards would be made only when a patient has been injured to a significant degree by the negligence, carelessness or incompetence of healthcare providers. In the real world there are quite a few other reasons why plaintiffs receive monetary awards, and all of them are a disservice to the rest of us, because they create a skewed picture of the healthcare industry through the increased amount of negative publicity, raise the cost of healthcare through increased insurance costs and “defensive medicine” practices, and force providers’ to focus too much attention on avoiding lawsuits, among other factors.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Canterbury Tale

A post on a site I visit regularly, the Kashmiri Nomad's site, featured the lambasting of the United States by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Wilson.

Among other comments quoted on the Nomad's site, the Archbishop said the following:

"It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalizing it. Rightly or wrongly, that's what the British Empire did -- in India, for example," he was quoted as saying.

"It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put it back together -- Iraq, for example."

One wonders, after reading the Archbishop's comment, just what cave he's been living in for the last four years. He apparently hasn't noticed that the United States, as well as forces from other nations in the coalition, are still present and Iraq supporting with the lives and well-being of their military personnel the fledgling Iraqi government as it attempts to "put it back together" rather than, as the Archbishop said, "clear the decks and move on."

If Archbishop Wilson has any doubt that the United States is doing in Iraq precisely what he said the British did in India, all he needs to do is to read, watch or listen to the American media, as Americans complain regularly and loudly about the amount of money spent in Iraq after the brutal dictator Hussein was deposed.

This is yet one more example of how people who are ideologically opposed to the Iraq war automatically turn off their ability to see the reality for what it is, and replace it with what they would like it to be.

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Funny Story

The 2007 Darwin Awards: THE WINNER!!!
[Arkansas Democrat Gazette]:

Two local men were injured when their pickup truck left the road and struck a tree near Cotton Patch on State Highway 38 early Monday. Woodruff County deputy Dovey Snyder reported the accident shortly after midnight Monday. Thurston Poole, 33, of Des Arc, and Billy Ray Wallis, 38, of Little Rock, were returning to Des Arc after a frog catching trip. On an overcast Sunday night, Pooles pickup truck headlights malfunctioned.

The two men concluded that the headlight fuse on the older-model truck had burned out. As a replacement fuse was not available, Wallis noticed that the 22 caliber bullets from his pistol fit perfectly into the fuse box next to the steering-wheel column. Upon inserting the bullet the headlights again began to operate properly, and the two men proceeded on eastbound toward the White River Bridge . After traveling approximately 20 miles, and just before crossing the river, the bullet apparently overheated, discharged, and struck Poole in the testicles.

The vehicle swerved sharply right, exiting the pavement and striking a tree. Poole suffered only minor cuts and abrasions from the accident but will require extensive surgery to repair the damage to his testicles, which will never operate as intended. Wallis sustained a broken clavicle and was treated and released.

"Thank God we weren't on that bridge when Thurston shot his testicles off, or we might both be dead," stated Wallis. "I've been a trooper for 10 years in this part of the world, but this is a first for me. I can't believe that those two would admit how this accident happened," said Snyder.

Upon being notified of the wreck, Lavinia (Poole 's wife) asked how many frogs the boys had caught and did anyone get them from the truck???

(Though Poole and Wallis did not die as a result of their misadventure as normally required by Darwin Award Official Rules, it can be argued that Poole did, in fact, effectively remove himself from the gene pool.)

Comment: I have seen this one before, and have serious doubts about its authenticity and veracity. It does, however, make a good story.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Economic Worries

Pundits have been forecasting a U.S. economic "collapse" for a couple of years, and the economy has continued to confound these "experts." This continual haranguing in the press has the effect of influencing public opinion and casting a pall over attitudes, even as the economy itself pretty much ignores the doom and gloom predictions.

The difficulties in the housing market have fueled recent hysteria, primarily because journalists either don't understand how minimally important the housing problems are in the whole economic picture, or because it suits some nefarious purpose to promote existing fears of a recession.

Another area frequently cited as a sign of impending doom is that oil prices have moved close to $100 a barrel, up from near $60 at the first of 2007. This is another instance where a poor understanding of economics and the lack of historical perspective combine to create a false sense of catastrophe. Oil prices are high, yes, and oil has never cost as much per barrel as it does today. However, on an inflation-adjusted basis, the price of oil is not as high now as it was in the late 1970s. That's not to say that things aren't uncomfortable and might not get worse, of course, but we aren't there yet, and even if we get there, oil is only one of many factors that make up our economy, and many of them are still strong or at least at acceptable levels.

One writer who doesn't buy into the media's gloomy predisposition commented that while many Americans feel poorer, as home values fall and fuel costs more, positive factors also exist. For example, employment is high, the economy has continued to grow at a decent rate, productivity is up and stocks have posted significant gains for the year, despite a couple of price dips. That is a perspective you don't read often.

Some commentators put a great deal of emphasis on what happens in retail sales in December. Reflecting the negative bias of much of the American media, an Associated Press story Nov. 24 ran under the headline, "Despite economy, malls and stores jammed." The underlying assumption of the writer is that the economy is bad enough that it really should have kept people out of the stores. Scratching her head trying to figure it all out, the reporter continued, "Malls and stores were jammed for pre-dawn discounts on everything from TVs to toys on the official start of Christmas shopping as consumers shrugged off worries about rising gas prices and falling home values." "It's crucial," another writer opines, "that the Black Friday euphoria lasts throughout the season, [which is] expected to be the weakest in five years." Message: things are bad so you shouldn't spend much this Christmas, but if you don't the economy is going in the tank.

So, get off your backside and go out there and buy a lot of Christmas gifts; our economic survival depends on it!

Recessions come and recessions go; they are a fact of economic life. Depending upon whose data you use, the US has experienced as many as nine since 1950, which works out to one every 5.6 years. But, just what is a recession, anyway? One definition is: A period of general economic decline; specifically, a decline in Gross Domestic Product for two or more consecutive quarters. U.S. GDP growth has historically averaged about 2.5-3% per year, and the last several years has seen the GDP growth rate as high a 5% in 2000 to as low as 0.3% after 9-11-2001, but about 3.4% at the beginning of 2007, and 3.9% in the third quarter of 2007, well within the expected and acceptable range, and pretty strong in the face of predictions of a recession.

We'll see how the Christmas purchasing season goes, but according to most economic indicators, recession isn't on the horizon. Someone should tell the media.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Being Well Informed

We were having dinner with some friends Wednesday night, just talking and laughing, the first time we had been with these four folks at the same time in over a month. One of them began making negative comments about President Bush and the overall horrible conditions in the United States currently, particularly the economy. The third man in the group said something like, "yeah, employment is up, inflation is moderate, the economy is pretty strong: you're right, things really are horrible." The first fellow retorted that he is very disappointed in George Bush; that he had voted for him twice, but thought he was doing a pretty poor job as President. I agreed that I was pretty unhappy with his performance in some areas, too, but that he was doing just fine in others. "Like what?" he asked.

I said that things in Iraq are improving, to which he said something about a quagmire, and it was the worst thing to have happened to the US in decades. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but I feel like opinions, to be truly worthy of one's holding them, ought to be based upon something concrete where possible, and the situation in Iraq is an example where there is concrete information available. I responded that even The New York Times recently reported the obvious improvements in Iraq, at which point he bailed out of the discussion with a joke: "Well, The Times is just a conservative rag."

The silliness of that comment aside, this incident pointed up to me how many people are uninformed, poorly informed or misinformed. And just to be clear, those three conditions are different from each other: Uninformed means people don't try to know what's going on; poorly informed means they haven't tried hard enough to know what's going on, they take what's easily available, or what suits their preconceptions; misinformed means that their sources of information are sloppy and inaccurate, or deliberately slant their reporting. And, yes, there is a possible/likely connection being poorly informed or misinformed.

This isn't intended to be a "the liberal media is shirking its responsibility, and millions of Americans suffer as a result" rant, however, it is difficult to objectively look at news reporting in the US and not believe that the liberal media is shirking its responsibility, and millions of Americans suffer as a result. Poorly informed and misinformed Americans are victims of media malpractice.

My friend probably is genuinely opposed to the Iraq war, and that's just fine. However, I just wonder to what degree that opposition has been colored by or created by the dishonesty of reporting the events in Iraq by the major American media? After all, if things are better in Iraq, as The Times says, did that happen over night, or has it been a more slow, steady improvement. The latter is likely, which begs the question, "Why are we just now hearing this from The Times?"

Stipulated: Iraq is far from a perfect situation; the economy has trouble spots; the average temperatures in the northern hemisphere are rising; and George Bush has his problems.

However, answer these questions:

1. What war followed a predictable plan and did not involve serious errors in planning and execution, and take longer than expected to run its course? Does the American Revolution come to mind?

2. Why don't we hear as much about low unemployment and low inflation and the increase in income among poorer Americans as we do about gasoline prices and problems in the housing industry?

3. If humans actually cause global warming, why is there such wide-spread disagreement about that among the scientific community, and why do the humans-cause-global-warming advocates have to lie and distort data to make their case?

4. Why is the coverage of George Bush more focused on his language than his reasons for doing things the way he does, and how he thinks about things?

I just wonder how the poll results on a wide range of issues might change if there was true balance and honesty among the media?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Talk About Differences

As I sit here trying to think of something right about I'm looking through the headlines of stories in the news. And among those stories I came across one headline that read, "Saudi gang rape victim is jailed." Following is an excerpt from the story from BBC News:

An appeal court in Saudi Arabia has doubled the number of lashes and added a jail sentence as punishment for a woman who was gang-raped. The victim was initially punished for violating laws on segregation of the sexes - she was in an unrelated man's car at the time of the attack. When she appealed, the judges said she had been attempting to use the media to influence them.

Seven men from the majority Sunni community were found guilty of the rape and sentenced to prison terms ranging from just under a year to five years. The attackers' sentences - originally of up to five years - were doubled.

But the victim was also punished for violating Saudi Arabia's laws on segregation that forbid unrelated men and women from associating with each other. She was initially sentenced to 90 lashes for being in the car of a strange man.

Now, there are injustices in the United States, too, of course. And maybe in one of the more extreme cases a rape victim in the United States actually is punished. However, instances such as reported in this story are not uncommon, and in fact must be very common occurrences.

For us in the United States and in the western world, such things as this seem foreign and bizarre, even mindless and stupid. They do not fit into the Judeo-Christian culture in which we live, and which we believe is so decent and so right that everyone else ought to think the same way as we do. They are part of a culture that is so different, so alien, that we cannot conceive how such things now or ever were acceptable. And though there is a cultural element to this behavior there is also a religious element to it.

And that makes it all the more inconceivable. How, if there is a supreme being who created all of what we know, can it be acceptable to punish those who were victimized or to kill those who disagree with you?

Well, the philosophical debate aside, it turns out that the woman has vowed to challenge the ruling in the case. Good for her. And I hope she prevails.

Comments invited.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rethinking the Penal System

For all the great things the United States is and offers to those that live here, its culture has lost much of its substance, including many of its traditions of thought and behavior that served the nation well for 200 years before being abandoned starting in the late 1960s. Specifically, we Americans have allowed our embrace of self-reliance and our sense of personal responsibility to fade away.

I often defend the laws/rules of Christianity and Judaism for the simple reason that a society that follows these rules will be a healthy and stable society. America is no longer a healthy and stable society, and I maintain that to the degree we have thrown off the Judeo-Christianity morality we have lost that health and stability. Some will disagree.

One thing a stable society must have is a set of rules, formal and informal, that guide behavior so that the society as a whole will remain healthy, as ours did up until about 40 years ago when its downfall began. In trying to draw up social standards there are inevitably conflicts between personal freedom and social stability; what is desirable for the individual is often at odds with what is good for all of society. However, when we draw the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, when we identify those acts that we deem beyond debate, but inarguably unacceptable, such as murder, theft, violence against others, and so forth, we then must set forth some punishment for those who commit those prohibited acts.

We have a Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and I maintain that depending upon what someone has done the definition ought to be loose enough to allow the perpetrator of horrible acts to be punished as horribly as the act he or she committed. One may believe that by being less horrible to criminals than they were to their victims we are being "compassionate" or somehow "better" or "more human" than the criminals, but the reality is that by treating the cretins better than they deserve we are showing weakness, not compassion. The punishment for a violent crime ought to be awful enough to make the perpetrator regret his deeds and have remorse for what he did, and it ought to be bad enough to give those who have not yet committed some heinous act a reason to rethink doing so before doing it.

Given the soft-headed approach we have adopted to punishing the most loathsome individuals in our society, I have instead advocated death for the worst offenders: the killers, the rapists, those who commit violent acts against innocent victims. Those people are flawed; they are grossly imperfect; we don't need them in our midst. And we darned sure don't need to spend $20,000 or more a year keeping them alive in an atmosphere that provides them three good meals a day, a decent place to sleep, a gym to bulk up so they can attack fellow prisoners and guards, TV to entertain them and a law library where they can learn how to file lawsuits to clog up the court system and deny swift action to deserving citizens. (A recent story on the West Virginia Penitentiary, an unpleasant place to live because of its inhospitable environment, noted that it was taken out of service because it was no longer suitable for housing prisoners. It should be put back in service, and its awful environment replicated across the nation.)

Previously I said that I would abandon my preference for the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment at hard labor where the prisoner lived a bare existence with nothing more than the basic necessities of life and a day of physically difficult work. Such an approach might assuage the guilt of those who believe that taking the life of another individual is wrong, no matter how vile, disgusting and intolerable that individual's acts might be. Some of those people won't like this approach, either, however.

But we also have to reexamine the crimes that earn imprisonment for the perpetrator. Prison space must be reserved for the worst of our society, the violent criminals. White collar criminals should be made to ply their trade with society as the beneficiary of their work. A doctor who has defrauded the Medicare system shouldn't be in jail, he or she should be providing medical care for those needing medical care. A lawyer who violates his fiduciary duty should provide legal assistance to people who can't afford it and his income should go toward repaying those he defrauded, whether it is the government, or his clients. Put people with useful skills to work for society, not in a jail cell. Jail is always a mis-step away, however, and the more miserable jail time is, the harder people will work to avoid it.

To paraphrase Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona: This is jail, not a country club; if you don't like the way we do things here, don't come back.

Unless we make jail time awful enough that inmates don't want to come back a second time, they will continue doing things that will end them up in jail again and again.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Idiocy Running Rampant

My friend Steve from “A Whitesnakes Bitesent me a story from an Australian newspaper announcing that there will be no “ho, ho, ho” this Christmas because someone “might” mistake the “ho, ho, ho” as a term derogatory to women. Now this story has hit the US, where such idiocy has a long history. Australian Santas have been advised to say “ha, ha, ha” instead.

Not to be outdone in the “we’re bigger idiots than you” category, a school in the US, or perhaps bunches of them, has banned hugging because some kids were making out at school. In another school a young student was suspended for drawing a picture of a water gun, breaking a no-tolerance rule against guns in schools. So, a friendly hug between two people who have nothing more in mind than a friendly greeting has been equated with making out, and an elementary student has been branded as a potential murderer because he drew a crude picture of a pistol.

I’m sorry, Steve, but as goofy as Australians sometimes may be, we Americans make you look pretty smart. But keep trying.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Tips for Air Travelors

I don't know about you, but I have all but abandoned air travel. No, I'm not afraid of flying; I have several hours of flight training under my belt, and I've flown more than a few miles over the last 15 years. It's just that with the increased airport security and the effects they have on getting to the gate, and with the recent difficulties airlines have getting off the ground and to their destination, I just wonder if it's worth all the trouble and the potential delays to fly somewhere.

All the flying Diane and I have done since the early 90s, and there hasn't been that much of it, was uneventful. But a recent flight from Cincinnati to New Orleans was delayed long enough to cause us to miss our connection in Atlanta, and the return trip was delayed in Dallas, causing our flight to arrive an hour late in Cincinnati. Previously, a trip with our two teenagers ended with none of our bags arriving at our destination on the way home.

In short, air travel is increasingly a crap shoot; you never know what is going to happen. Here are some tips to help lessen the trauma. Go here to read the complete article.

Check in at home

A frequent flier's best friend

Never check bags!

Airplanes are flying buses; take responsibility for your comfort

Yes, it's a race; Walk fast

Jump to the front

Hands off the call button

Ever seen how bags get handled? Take a photo of you bag(s)

Someone gets stuck with the middle seat. Always reserve a specific seat when you book a flight

Airport security for beginners: Think about what you must do to pass security

Go self-service

Got a big carry-on? Be at the front of the line for your boarding group

If we learned one thing from JetBlue's recent meltdown... assume you're going to spend at least the next three hours in your seat

Airports charge a fortune for parking. Twenty bucks a day is $140 a week

Call someone who cares: "cell phone parking lots" are wonderful creations

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Congress Overrides Bush Veto

An interesting turn of events in Washington: the President vetoed a bill (which is a noteworthy event, as Mr. Bush has vetoed only a handful in his seven years in the White House), and the Congress overturned it.

The Senate voted 79-14 to overturn the veto of a bill authorizing spending on water projects, after the House of Representatives voted 361-54, well over the two-thirds majority required.

The bill includes funding for coastal restoration in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and improving the Florida Everglades and fisheries in the Great Lakes. Why would the President want to veto such seemingly worthwhile projects? Well, he wouldn't. What he objected to were billions of dollars of local projects that are important to senators and representatives, but which Mr. Bush believes are unnecessary. No doubt the President will be roundly criticized for the veto, even though it was overridden, because whatever he does or does not do will garner criticism from his enemies. But this is precisely what a president ought to do, and something that Mr. Bush should have done more of.

It is important to note that although Democrats have held a majority in both houses since the mid-term elections of November 2006, they could not have overturned the presidential veto without the support of Republicans. And it's not as simple as saying that Mr. Bush can't even depend upon his own party for support. Many of the Republicans in Congress are up for re-election in 2008, and while they saw fit to sustain his previous vetoes, they deserted him on the water bill because their political future was on the line.

Political expedience will trump principle most of the time.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Odds and Ends

Late Night TV in Reruns

Maybe I just don't understand television, but it seems to me that of all the programs that would be adversely affected by a writer's strike, the late night talk shows would be at the bottom of the list. Yet, so far the only ones affected are the late night shows. It's understandable that prime time programs and soaps would be a little ahead of the curve and would have shows and scripts in the can, and would have a lag before the effects took place. And it is equally understandable that the late night shows would be written more near the actual broadcast date, but hey, aren't the hosts of these shows experienced stand-up comics? Didn't they once write their own stuff? Aren't the late night shows only a few-minute monologue similar to a stand-up routine, only shorter, and then a series of interviews?

Seems to me the late night guys could handle this all by themselves for a few days or weeks. Or, perhaps, it's more a matter of support for the writers, with whom they likely have a close relationship and upon whom they depend heavily. But then that focuses our attention on what is likely the real problem here: unions. If late night hosts want to have a close and supportive relationship with their writers, it would seem more productive and efficient to contract directly with the writers and circumvent the writer's union. Then, if the writers want more money, they go to Leno or O'Brien or Letterman or whomever and ask for a raise. If they don't get the raise, perhaps they decide to move on. After having run a small business and dealt with employees, when a valuable employee has an issue, you address it, and make a serious effort to keep a valuable employee happy, within reason. Since there are only a few writers on most TV shows, there's no reason why TV can't do the same thing; it's not like trying to work with hundreds of employees, which would be a good case for the workers to belong to a union.

In the Dog House

Surely nobody has escaped several encounters with the media orgy (how could you?) over the racial slur-laced telephone call by Duane "Dog" Chapman. The incident has led to Chapman's show being pulled by his network. Is this a case of political correctness run amok (please excuse the redundancy)? Yes, no doubt about it.

But let's look at what happened here before you start throwing stones my way. Chapman used this language in a private phone call with his son, who recorded the conversation, not in a public setting, and not on the TV show. Yet, when his son allowed the recording to become public, the outrage was enormous. Dog has since been compared to Don Imus, whose indiscretions were made on the air, and to Michael Richards, whose unacceptable racial tirade was made on stage, and to Alec Baldwin, whose private call to his daughter also became public. At least with Baldwin's situation there is some commonality; there is nothing in common with Imus and Richards.

This isn't about using the "n" word. What Chapman did was a private conversation. It has nothing to do with whether he is qualified to have a television show that focuses on his professional life. Zip, zero, nada. Were it not for a disloyal son, we wouldn't know that Dog is fond of using the "n" word, and it would have absolutely no influence on the network that he is fond of it. But because his son betrayed his trust, Dog is out of a job, and it is entirely because of the hypersensitivity that surrounds certain cultural phenomena that have become no-nos.

This is the United States; people are free to say and think what they please, and that is especially true in private, personal communications. We allow people to openly defame the President of the United States, and often these people are held in high esteem, but when an entertainer uses the wrong word, that entertainer is fired and characterized as some less-than-human cretin. Free speech means that you can call the President an idiot, terrorist or murderer, and it also means that you can call someone a spic, chink, redneck, queer, camel jockey, wop, or nigger.

This sort of inane emphasis on how people think is one of the several things that are ruining the United States.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

“Ends of the Earth” / End of the Earth?

NBC News "Today Show" has sent people to the top, bottom and middle of the world to highlight the Earth's climate crisis. Matt Lauer was in Greenland in the Arctic Circle, Al Roker was in Equador along the Equator, Ann Curry was near the South Pole, and poor Meredith Vieira was left behind in New York as the rest of the crew was dispatched to the "Ends of the Earth" to address life-threatening situations that promise to end life as we know it, or perhaps life altogether.

On a positive note, the visuals were stunning, and the descriptions of the ecosphere in each of the locations were filled with information. But the reviews are not all positive.

Getting into the spirit of the rugged individuals who live and work in the Arctic Circle, Matt Lauer sported a two-day growth of beard, clearly emphasizing the seriousness of the problems the scientists there told him about. Or maybe he just forgot his razor.

And to cap off the day, Al Gore—Oscar winner, Nobel Peace Laureate, and defeated presidential candidate—appeared to answer a question about an op-ed piece that challenged Gore's unchallengeable thesis that man is screwing up the atmosphere with catastrophic consequences only years away was written by a person whom he equated with a flat-Earth advocate; someone not to be taken seriously, and certainly someone who did not deserve to be mentioned on a responsible television program.

However, if the Today Show is to be regarded as a responsible television program, it will have to do more than ask Al Gore about a column that expresses a contrary view, and allow his condescending dismissal of that column to stand unchallenged. It didn't.

And that wasn't the only thing the Today Show didn't do: It also didn't provide any balance to the assertions of global warming gloom. If the Today Show is your source for news and truth, you can't help but believe we are doomed.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

How Hockey Sticks Cause Warmer Temperatures

If you are an avid follower of the global warming issue you may be familiar with the "Hockey Stick" graph, a graph showing one thousand years of temperature highs and lows and averages from the years 1000 to 2000. The graph got its name from the shape of the average temperature line, which does indeed resemble a hockey stick (pictured at right). The graph shows that, after hundreds of years of relatively stable Northern Hemisphere temperatures, sometime after 1900 temperatures started rising and rose dramatically starting in 1990, leading to naming the 90s the "hottest decade ever."

The Hockey Stick graph is the product of one Michael Mann, who at the time the graph was produced in 1999 was a professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia, and has since moved to Pennsylvania State University. Without getting into minute details, Dr. Mann of necessity had to estimate temperatures for that period prior to the time thermometers were invented and before temperatures were recorded and tracked through a process known as "proxy" methods. In about 1850, scientists started recording and observing temperatures at locations around the globe, making reported average temperatures more authoritative over the last 150 years.

Dr. Mann testified before the US Senate in 2003, where he said that it is the consensus of the climate research community that the warming during the late 20th century cannot be explained by natural factors, but is due to human influences.

It takes just a little curiosity to find information that causes a normally intelligent person to question Dr. Mann's assertion, such as the fact that after he constructed his Hockey Stick graph a well-known and widely accepted Medieval Warm Period had disappeared. Even the UN International Panel on Climate Change originally acknowledged the existence of the MWP, until 1999 when Mann's Hockey Stick graph emerged and the IPCC accepted Mann's data.

However, the most egregious act committed by Mann is the convenient overlooking of a giant alteration in the data gathering process, illustrated by Ross McKitrick, an economist who examined Mann's data and in doing so discovered some interesting facts.

In 1989 there were approximately 12,000 temperature observation and recording stations reporting data for the derived "average temperature." Thousands of those recording stations were located in the USSR in 1989. But in that same year the USSR began to unravel, unleashing political and social turmoil that eclipsed the need to keep track of temperatures, and those stations ceased operating, as did others in other places. Many of those stations were located in Siberia, one of the colder places on Earth, and by 1990 the total number of measuring stations had dropped to approximately 8,000, and by 1991 to fewer than 7,000. By 2000, the number of measuring stations stood at fewer than 5,500, which is less than half the total only 11 years earlier when Mann claims the heating cycle began.

It is more than a curiosity that the average temperature increased from about 9.7 degrees Celsius in 1989 to about 11.7 degrees Celsius in 1990, and the cause is no mystery at all: with fewer measuring stations overall, and particularly with fewer of them in frigid Siberia, how could this biased data fail to show a temperature increase?

This column was written not to expose environmental hoaxes or faulty science, since the fallacies present in the conclusions contained in the Hockey Stick graph have been known for a while. It was written because virtually all weaknesses and failings in the man-causes-global-warming theory are covered up by advocates of this fallacious theory and news media that are friendly to this cause.

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