Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

February 28, 2006

Intel in Vietnam

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:35 pm

When Intel was founded by Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove in 1968 — that is, during the height of the Vietnam War — I’m sure they did not imagine that this would happen:

Intel Invests $300M in Vietnam Facility

Online staff — Electronic News, 2/28/2006

Intel Corp. today confirmed plans for a semiconductor assembly and test facility in Vietnam, saying it will invest $300 million for the plant in the city of Ho Chi Minh.

That would be the city formerly known as Saigon.

While the $300 million was less than expected, it is significant and the move by Intel represents the first such investment by the semiconductor industry in Vietnam, according to the company.

“Less than expected” two months ago maybe — but not less than expected two decades ago. It’s a different world.

Synagogue Destroyed; No Riots; No One Cares

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:40 pm

On February 22 — the same day the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq was bombed — the only synagogue in Tajikistan was destroyed by the Tajik government.

There have been no Jewish riots. There has been no international condemnation. In fact, it seems that nobody cares except the few Jews who know about it, which is a very small number of people since it has not been reported in the mainstream media. As Shelomo Alfassa writes:

According to “Google News,” 2,930 news articles appear for the mosque destruction, while only six exist on the synagogue destruction — and those six are really just one brief mention that has been repeated through syndication in American newspapers.

Here’s what happenned, according to a press release from the International Sephardic Leadership Council:

Destruction of the synagogue has started. (ISLC)

[T]he city of Dushanbe in Tajikistan has started to destroy an active and functioning synagogue-the only synagogue in the entire country. The 150 members of the Jewish community, mainly made up of Bukharian Jews, is elderly and poor and cannot afford to build a new synagogue.

The synagogue was built by the Jewish community a century ago. It was earmarked for demolition under plans for construction of a “Palace of Nations” (the Tajik president’s new residence). Between February 7-20, 2006 the city authorities demolished the mikva (ritual bathhouse), classroom and kosher butchery of the synagogue.

While the government claims the synagogue technically belongs to the state, Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmanov of Dushanbe told a human rights group, “By rights the synagogue ought to belong to the Jews who paid for its construction about 100 years ago.” He reported then that the authorities had offered a plot of land some distance from central Dushanbe, where the community could build a new synagogue. Yet, there was no way the mainly elderly congregation could afford to build a new synagogue.

Forum18 News reported Shamsuddin Nuriddinov, head of the Dushanbe Religious Affairs Department indicated the governement had no intention of offering financial compensation for the demolition of the synagogue. “Religion is separate from the state here in Tajikistan…If the Jews want to have a synagogue, let them pay for it out of their own funds.”

Never mind that they paid to build it in the first place. So the Jews pay to build a synagogue, the state declares it state property (without giving compensation), then the state destroys it and says that since it’s state property, they can’t compensate the community.

And by the way, if “Religion is separate from the state here in Tajikistan” why do they even have a “Religious Affairs Department” in the government?

Not that by destroying the mikvah, the school, and the kosher butchery, in addition to the synagogue, they are basically saying that they want there to be no Jewish life whatsoever. (For those of you who know what a mikvah is, you’ll realize that by destroying it, they are basically prohibiting Jews from reproducing, as well as from accepting converts.) Without those institutions, Jews not only can’t pray — they also can’t have children, can’t educate them, and can’t eat meat. The community is mainly “elderly and poor” and the government wants to make them more elderly, if not dead, and more poor.

And they are also trying — nearly successfully — from allowing the word to get out:

A local citizen reported that when a Jewish member of the synagogue filmed the destruction, officials threatened to break his video-camera. Reports have circulated that members of the community indicate that they have been threatened by government officials for raising their voices.

Shelomo Alfassa further writes:

Decent people of the world were horrified by the destruction of the gold-domed mosque last week, but on the same day, the destruction of an active synagogue — by a progressive government, supposedly based on civil law — was hardly even noted.

On February 22, 2006, an active synagogue, much beloved by its Jewish congregation, was destroyed after heavy construction equipment tore off the roof, crushed its concrete walls and drove through its sanctuary. This was the only active synagogue in the country of Tajikistan, a country north of Afghanistan and south of Russia. The synagogue was destroyed so the government can build a grand palace for its president. “If the Jews want to have [rebuild] a synagogue, let them pay for it out of their own funds,” said Shamsuddin Nuriddinov, head of the City of Dushanbe, Religious Affairs Department.

In regard to the mosque destruction, statements were issued from leaders around the world. President Bush stated, “I extend my deepest condolences to the people of Iraq for the brutal bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra…. The American people pledge to work with the people of Iraq to rebuild and restore the Golden Mosque of Samarra to its former glory.” He added: “The United States stands ready to do all in its power to assist the Government of Iraq to identify and bring to justice those responsible for this terrible act.”

There are some 150 Jews in Tajikistan, mostly elderly Bukharian Jews. When news of the destruction of the Tajikistan synagogue reached the Bukharian community in the United States, the news was met with shock; people whose children were brought up in that synagogue reacted in tears. Members of the Bukharian community in Atlanta, Georgia stated they worry about the Jewish cemeteries that are near the synagogue, what will happen to them?

In regard to the synagogue destruction, not one statement was made by any government of any country around the world. The only Jewish organization to speak up on this was the International Sephardic Leadership Council, of which this writer is executive director of. While the media covered some 1,000 Israeli fans of a Tel Aviv basketball team demonstrating on Saturday night against the destruction of the team’s historic arena, not one person in the main stream media has come out to address the destruction of the center of Jewish life in Tajikistan. First the government destroyed the mikvah (ritual bath), then the kosher butcher shop, now the entire synagogue.

While Iraq is 97% Islamic, Tajikistan comes in at 85% Islamic and growing. And while the Iraqi Muslims claim say the community near the gold domed mosque was there for 1000 years, the Jewish community has been in the area surrounding Tajikistan for 2000 years. And while the gold domed mosque in Iraq was built in 1905 — a little over 100 years ago — the synagogue in Tajikistan was built 100 years ago as well. Yet, everyone is quiet about this. Including Jewish organizations — this must change.

The destruction of the Tajikistan synagogue is the most disgraceful act committed by a sovereign state toward its Jewish population since the end of WWII. The Soviet Union and its successor states may have oppressed and harassed their Jewish communities, but even at the height of Stalin’s anti-Semitic purges they did not seek to wipe every element of Jewish existence like the Tajikistan government.

It is an ominous message for a Jewish community, that while living under a government that is attempting to rebuild its economic, political and social image — it starts by wiping out the only synagogue in its country.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Jews don’t riot.

February 27, 2006

Clinton Looking for More Interns

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:17 pm

It had to happen. Bill Clinton is looking for more interns. The William J. Clinton Foundation, which is former President Clinton’s vehicle for, in their words, “continuing the work of his presidency,” is advertising on its website for interns.

The announcement says that interns will get “hands-on experience.” Hands on what, they don’t say. But they do say that interns will “have the responsibility of interacting directly with staff.” Whose “staff,” they don’t say. What sort of “interacting directly” they don’t say.

They do say the internships are “unpaid.” I will not speculate on what this says about the wealth and party affiliation of those they expect to apply, but I will note that they have “three locations: New York City, Little Rock, Arkansas and Quincy, Massachusetts” and that it is illegal to pay for certain, um, “jobs” in states other than Nevada.

(Hat tip: Scott Sala via Michelle Malkin.)

February 22, 2006

Indiana Time

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:00 am

For those of you who have ever either (a) travelled to (or from) Indiana and gotten confused about what time it is, or (b) found Indiana’s interesting combination of multiple time zones and multiple daylight-savings-time rules to be fascinating trivia, then either (a) your troubles, or (b) the party, might be over, according to the “What time is it in Indiana?” web page:

On October 30, 2005, at 02:00 DST, all areas currently operating on Daylight Saving Time adjusted clocks to 01:00. In Indiana, 77 counties were already operating at 01:00 EST and made no adjustment. However, five Indiana counties near Cincinnati, OH, and Louisville, KY, adjust from EDT to EST and five near Chicago, IL, and five surrounding Evansville, IN, adjust from CDT to CST.

If the April 28, 2005, Indiana state legislation stands up, on April 2, 2006, Indiana will no longer be counted as one of three states which do not Spring ahead from “standard” to “daylight saving” time or Fall back from daylight to standard six months later. The Indiana Legislature voted to approve Daylight Saving Time for Indiana and to petition the US Department of Transporation to hold hearings to determine the location of the dividing line between the Eastern and Central time zones, relative to Indiana.

Yes, the US Department of Transporation is supposed to hold hearings about this. Your tax dollars at work! ;-)

Of course, those of us who are trivia hounds still have Arizona. Arizona is in the Mountain Time Zone but does not observe daylight savings time, which means has the same time as Utah and (most of) New Mexico in the winter, but the same time as California and Nevada in the summer. But that’s not exactly true, either:

The Arizona portion of the Navajo reservation, which consists of most the northeastern corner of the state, DOES observe DST. And to further complicate matters, the Hopi Partitioned Land, which lies in the midst of the Navajo reservation, follows the the Arizona standard, remaining on Mountain Standard Time year round.

This means that when driving through Arizona during the summer, you might have to reset your watch five times, depending on what route you take. The Hopi reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo reservation. So you’d go from northwest to southeast: into Arizona from Utah (-1), into Navajo reservation (+1), into Hopi reservation (-1), out the other side of the Hopi reservation back into the Navajo reservation (+1), out of the Navajo reservation, but still in Arizona (-1), and into New Mexico (+1). Of course, you could skip one of these by entering from California, and another by exiting Arizona at a point within the Navajo reservation.

Within the Navajo reservation, there is a place called “Four Corners” — the only place in the U.S. where four states meet (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado). I have no idea what time it is on that dot….

February 21, 2006

People for the Ethical Rights of Vegetables (PERV)

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:03 pm

Hilarious. Just read it.

Antisemites and the Danish Cartoons

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:51 pm

The antisemites are now claiming that the Danish “Mohammed” cartoons are the result of a “Jewish NeoCon conspiracy” involving Daniel Pipes. These are the same people who think the World Trade Center towers were brought down not by the airplane crashes we all saw on TV, but by an “Israeli-American laser beam weapon” or “massive underground explosions.” (I provide those links with some trepidation; I don’t want to give them any publicity, but I want people to know we’re not exaggerating the extent of their lunacy.)

It’s quite literally unbelievable, of course — but in retrospect, it’s surprising it took them this long.

F-14 Retired

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:47 pm

Donald Sensing notes a historic day in naval aviation. The F-14 fighter has been retired after 32 years in service.

James Joyner has some more thoughts.

So is Osama for or against dying for the cause?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:42 pm

Donald Sensing catches Bin Ladin in a moment of utter hypocrisy:

“I have sworn to only live free. Even if I find bitter the taste of death, I don’t want to die humiliated or deceived,” bin Laden said, in the 11-minute, 26-second tape.

“[B]itter the taste of death”? You lying jackal, you’ve been telling your recuits how glorious death is and how exalted it is to die as a martyr for Islam! “Bitter?” What about the 72 virgins awaiting every shahid [suicide martyr] in paradise? (Oh, yeah, I forgot!)

February 20, 2006

Marie Claire Endorses the Iraqi Insurgency

And they even call it “feminist”! Debbie Schlussel has details.

Marie Claire coverFemale Iraqi Insurgent

The insurgent is quoted, without apparent irony, as saying, “freedom is handcuffs, democracy is prisoner hoods.” Does this remind anyone of George Orwell?

I think the folks at Marie Claire must live in a world in which “feminist” means “opposed to the United States.”

Reporter Pulls a “Bushism”

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:59 pm

Remember a few years ago how reporters were making fun of President Bush for the way he pronounced the word “nuclear”? Well, at least he didn’t say a word that meant something completely different, like this reporter covering President Bush’s visit to a battery factory:

During his visit to Johnson Controls’ new hybrid battery laboratory, Bush checked out two Ford Escapes – one with a nickel-metal-hybrid battery, the kind that powers most hybrid-electric vehicles, and one with a lithium-ion battery, which Johnson Controls believes are the wave of the future.

Umm….. folks, there’s no such thing as a “nickel-metal-hybrid” battery. I’m pretty sure he meant “nickel metal-hydride,” which is the kind of battery used in today’s hybrid cars.

Unlike “nuclear” and “nuculear” which are different pronunciations of the same word even though one is arguably incorrect, “hybrid” and “hydride” are completely different words.

“Hybrid” means “something having two kinds of components that produce the same or similar results.” A “Hydride” is a type of ligand with a metal-hydrogen bond. A “hybrid” has as much to do with a “hydride” as a camel has to do with a toenail.

Of course, don’t expect the so-called “Bushism” ridicule to stop, and don’t expect anybody to start making fun of this reporter for his malapropism. Stupid mistakes only count if they’re made by a Republican.

February 17, 2006

Special Forces Llamas

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up:

New special forces vehicle kicks ass — the llama

Friday, February 17, 2006

TEL AVIV — Israel’s military has found the perfect vehicle for special operations forces — the llama.

After extensive tests, the uncomplaining work-horse animals were found to easily out-perform donkeys. What’s more, they need refuelling [sic] only every other day.

Military sources said the Israel Army plans to use llamas for reconnaissance and combat missions in enemy territory, Middle East Newsline reported. They described the llama as ideal for special operations missions in Lebanon against the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah.

“The llama is a quiet and disciplined animal that can carry huge loads,” a military source said. “Vehicles make noise and need roads and fuel. We’ve tried donkeys and they are not suitable for such missions.”

I’m sure the anti-Israel folks over at PETA will condemn the “conscription” of llamas.

Why do I call PETA “anti-Israel”? Because, three years ago, the Palestinians used loaded up a donkey with explosives, left the donkey by the side of a road, and detonated the explosives by remote control when a bus passed by. One bus passenger was injured, but the donkey was of course killed. And this, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk found worthy of a protest letter — in the form of a fawning, obsequious plea to Yasser Arafat to “please add to your burdens my request that you appeal to all those who listen to you to leave the animals out of this conflict?”

They didn’t have any objection, apparently, to the use of human beings — even mentally retarded boys — as suicide bombers. Nor do they object to the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians, tourists, and other visitors. As Kerry Dougherty put it in the Richmond Virginian-Pilot:

Perhaps Ms. Newkirk would prefer that the Palestinians used suicide bombers instead of burros. Oh, that’s right, they usually do.

Lisa Lange, PETA’s vice president of communications, told me yesterday that Newkirk’s letter was written after their offices had been bombarded with calls from PETA members who had learned of the donkey bomb.

Lange said it’s PETA’s philosophy that human cruelty often begins with animal cruelty.

The Washington Post this week [of Feb. 6, 2003 --DR] asked Ms. Newkirk if she had “considered asking Arafat to persuade those who listen to him to stop blowing up people as well” as animals.

Her response should be required reading for all would-be members of PETA:

“It’s not my business to inject myself into human wars,” Newkirk told the Post.

How does one respond to such moral ambiguity?

How about a body count of human bodies?

In January 2003 — the month in which the donkey died — 21 Israelis and eight foreign nationals were killed by terrorists in Israel, and 127 others were injured.

Yet PETA weeps for the a$$ .

February 16, 2006

Technical Problems

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:59 pm

You may have noticed over the last few weeks that I’ve been blogging a lot less. Part of that is due to a heavier load at work, but part of it is due to the fact that about a third of my posts disappear into never-never-land after I click the “save” or “publish” button. So far I’ve lost a post about the Hamas election win, the Democrats’ reaction to the Cheney hunting accident, an FDA ruling, and a few others.

I don’t know what the problem is, but typing the post outside the WordPress web interface and pasting it in doesn’t always solve it. Sometimes words get deleted (say, three words in the middle of a sentence, or a couple of sentences in the middle of a post), and sometimes the whole post disappears, never to return.

And since I usually type up longer posts at the end of the day, I rarely have the energy to do them over, especially when I did a lot of “keyboard thinking” and I know I’ll forget some major points.

Also, I could have sworn I checked and saw yesterday’s post on the hunting accident on the actual blog last night — am I dreaming? Did any of you see it before it disappeared?

Sorry for the inconvenience. But it’s mostly to me, so I don’t know who I’m apologizing too. Suggested solutions welcome.

(Hmmm, I’m about to click “publish” … I wonder if this post will make it!)

(UPDATE — it made it the first time — will it still be here tomorrow?)


February 14, 2006

Cartoon Nonsense

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:30 pm

More from the “Religion of Peace”:

Thousands rampaged through two cities Tuesday in Pakistan’s worst violence against Prophet Muhammad caricatures, burning buildings housing a hotel, banks and a KFC, vandalizing a Citibank and breaking windows at a Holiday Inn and a Pizza Hut.

At least two people were killed in Lahore, where intelligence officials suspected outlawed Islamic militant groups incited the violence to undermine President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s U.S.-allied government.

An Associated Press reporter in Lahore saw crowd members who appeared to be orchestrating the attacks, directing protesters — some of whom were carrying containers of kerosene — toward particular targets. The demonstrators also set the provincial government assembly building on fire.

Folks, this doesn’t even make sense. Even if you accept the notion that pictures of Mohammed justify violence, their violence is not against any target even remotely connected to the Danish newspaper that published the pictures. Pizza Hut? The provincial assembly building?

Meanwhile, some American organizations are asceeding to self-censorship. Michelle Malkin quotes CNN:

CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons in respect for Islam.

CNN is not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of Prophet Mohammed because the network believes its role is to cover the events surrounding the publication of the cartoons while not unnecessarily adding fuel to the controversy itself.

However, she also notes that:

[T]hree of the Danish cartoons were positive, neutral, completely innocuous caricatures.

(Click here for the innocuous pictures.)

Varifrank provides “the following translation of global-newscorp-speak”:

“CNN, which is a company with worldwide assets, many of which are in countries controlled by tyrannical despotic regimes, do not wish to imperil our investments in Real Estate in these countries by exposing them to extortion by Islamic thugs. We also do not wish to lose our investments in graft and blackmail payments that has been paid annually to these same despotic regimes, who control these roving band of thugs. However, so long as CNN is given exclusive access to these regimes, CNN will continue to prop up these regimes by not doing anything to upset the governments of these countries. CNN is the worlds foremost news gathering organization. ”

“Next up on CNN, its Larry King Live and the first half hour is with Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, followed by a full half hour with Shari Lewis and Lambchop…”

By the way — does anyone even remember the Jewish response to this bona fide antisemitic cartoon in the Los Angeles Times in 2000?

I’m guessing not, since we didn’t riot. Jewish organizations send a bunch of letters of protest, the paper apologized, and the cartoonist went back to dealing with other issues, usually in a sensible way. To this day, I don’t know if he’s really antisemitic, or if he was just on a bender.

Valentine’s Day in the “Religion of Peace”

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:55 pm

Note that this story is not from a Muslim country — it’s from England.

DERBY, England — Lina, a wide-eyed 18-year-old, is still trying to get the hang of freedom in three-inch heels.

Until a month ago, Lina had never worn Western clothing. Her parents, immigrants from Pakistan, insisted she wear the jilbab, the head-to-toe covering favored by conservative Muslims.

When she turned 16, her parents informed her that she was “engaged” to her first cousin, a 21-year-old man she detested. When she balked, she said, her parents withdrew her from school and locked her in her room, where they told her she would remain until she consented.

“They put two padlocks on the door and they locked the windows,” she said. They also installed spikes along the top of the backyard fence so she couldn’t climb over.

Lina’s imprisonment lasted nearly two years. The only time she was allowed out of her room was to do housework. There were frequent beatings, she said, and endless mental cruelties.

“My mom threatened me with a knife. They also cut my hair off.”

Read the whole thing.

February 8, 2006

Which Side is Chirac on?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:44 pm

At the Drudge Report, Matt Drudge has a list of links to news stories on the cartoon riots. One of them says, simply:


My first thought was, “Chirac condemns … whom? The rioters, or the newspapers?” Click on the link — according to theBBC, it’s as I feared:

French President Jacques Chirac has condemned as “overt provocation” decisions to reprint cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad.

As another French publication printed the cartoons, Mr Chirac said any subject matter that could hurt other people’s convictions should be avoided.

Now I’m all for being polite, but “hurt other people’s convictions”? (A “conviction” can hurt?) That could mean anything. It could mean they shouldn’t make globes to avoid hurting the “convictions” of flat-earthers.

Again, I’m all for being polite — and for avoiding disrespect to people’s religions — but does it occur to anyone that perhaps burning down buildings and killing people might be, um, a bit worse than merely drawing a cartoon that people find offensive? I mean really — would you rather someone draw a cartoon mocking you, or burn your house down?

The Danish cartoonists are, like King Lear, “more sinned against than sinning.” Why can’t Chirac see that? Does he really believe that rioting, burning down embassies, and killing people is not really so bad compared to the greater sin of printing an offensive cartoon?

I know they don’t have a “First Amendment” in Europe, but this is ridiculous….

Is Fat OK?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:03 pm

Could it really be that fat doesn’t increase the risk of cancer — or even of heart disease? The answer seems to be Yes — according to a large-scale study reported in three articles in the current Journal of the American Medical Assocation. The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial studied 48,835 (!) post-menopausal women — that’s a huge number of people for a medical study — with 40% on a low-fat diet and 60% eating whatever they wanted — and found no significant effect of the low-fat diet on heart disease (!), breast cancer, or colorectal cancer. JAMA has the full text of the breast cancer article free on its web site; for the others you need a subscription for the full text, but the abstracts of the colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease are free.

  1. For cardiovascular disease, there is basically no effect whatsoever from the low-fat diet. LDL cholesterol drops a tiny bit (3 mg/dL) — but there is no effect on heart attacks, strokes, or mortality. And of course, the usual goal of reducing LDL cholesterol is to reduce the change of heart attacks, strokes, and mortality, and this doesn’t accomplish that.
  2. For breast cancer, there are small reductions in the incidence of cancer (too small to be statistically significant by the usual criterion), but there basically no reduction in mortality. There was, however, a significant reduction in two specific types of tumors, which indicates that fat consumption may have some role in breast cancer even if it doesn’t really affect mortality. Then again, they were measuring so many things it’s likely that something would come out “significant” just by change — kind of like how if you get 100 people to flip 5 coins, there’s a 96% somebody is going to get 5 heads in a row.
  3. For colorectal cancer, there is basically no effect whatsoever from the low-fat diet. In the low-fat diet group, some kinds of colorectal cancers occurred at higher rates, and some at lower rates. In fact, the overall rate of death due to colorectal cancer was higher in the low-fat diet group — though not high enough to be statistically significant.

The only real caveat is that this study was only of postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79, it might not be the same for men, or for younger women. But it was a study of 48,835 of them, so it’s quite likely the results are valid for at least that group. (Of course, the rates of breast cancer for men are vanishingly small compared to those for women!)

Note also that while this implies it is OK to eat fat — it does not imply that it is OK to be fat. What it basically means is that if you eat the same number of calories but switch some of the calories from fat to other things (protein, carbohydrates) you don’t get any reductions in cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer. However, it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from reducing fat and not replacing it with something else; that is, reducing your total caloric intake. To put it another way, the study shows that the composition of your calories doesn’t matter, but the total number of calories still might.

For an interesting article on the impact of the study, and for a more non-technical explanation of the results, see this article by Gina Kolata in the New York Times.

I normally don’t find science articles in the general media to be very good, or even true, but Gina Kolata has always seemed to me to be one of the few science reporters who actually knows some science. (Her book on the 1918 flu pandemic is excellent, and is a great read for someone who wants to understand what’s going on with the avian flu that might or might not break out.)

Having read both her article, and the JAMA articles, for once I think the newspaper got a science story basically right.

The lead authors of two of the three articles were originally trained in mathematics and statistics, not medicine. Remember when you were sitting in some math class wondering what that stuff was good for? Well, now you know! ;-)

February 6, 2006

Proving Humanity

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:46 pm

So, Muslims have been rioting and burning Scandanavian embassies because of a cartoons in a Danish newspaper that depicted Muhammed.

Now, an Iranian newspaper is running a Holocaust cartoon contest. You might think this is a rather childish attempt to “show them how it feels.” And you would be right. As the editor said:

“The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons,”

I’ll bet he expects Jews the world over to riot when they print these cartoons — thus showing that Jews are no better than Muslims, and that there is some sort of double standard.

He will be proven wrong — Jews will not riot. And the double standard is there, but it’s not in the direction he thinks: everyone sort of expects Muslims to riot, but expects Jews to just sit there and take it.

After all, the President of Iran recently called for the destruction of Israel, and except for some tut-tutting at the UN, nobody really did anything about it. There was certainly no rioting, and no torching of Iran’s embassies anywhere. Meanwhile, Israeli political leaders get indicted for “crimes against humanity” whenever they try to do anything to stop those who want to destroy Israel from doing so. And, of course, the “international community” seems hell-bent on making sure Israel doesn’t do anything to prevent Iran from developing the capability to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons.

Of course, no one seems to notice the real double standard here: Depicting Mohammed in a picture is against Islamic Law. The rioters are in effect demanding that everyone in the world, including non-Muslims, be subject to Islamic Law. This is not the first time this has happened — Muslims have prevailed on French authorities to close down soup kitchens serving pork, under the theory that this is offensive to Muslims and excludes them from eating at soup kitchens. I guess they figure they can get European newspapers to self-censor also. They may turn out to be right.

For what it’s worth, Jews do not demand that non-Jews observe Jewish Law. I don’t eat pork, but if you’re not Jewish and you do, that’s fine with me.

February 3, 2006

Paul Krugman and VA Health Care

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:46 pm

Several blogging economists seem to have made a cottage industry debunking the New York Times columns of (formerly-respected?) economist Paul Krugman. Now, I guess it’s my turn. Krugman writes:

I know about a health care system that has been highly successful in containing costs, yet provides excellent care. And the story of this system’s success provides a helpful corrective to anti-government ideology. For the government doesn’t just pay the bills in this system — it runs the hospitals and clinics… our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate. … This high level of quality (which is also verified by objective measures of performance) was achieved without big budget increases. In fact, the veterans’ system has managed to avoid much of the huge cost surge that has plagued the rest of U.S. medicine.

The secret of its success is the fact that it’s a universal, integrated system.

Now the first paragraph has a grain of truth to it, but that last sentence is pure grandstanding. And what comes next is completely false:

Because it covers all veterans, the system doesn’t need to employ legions of administrative staff to check patients’ coverage and demand payment from their insurance companies.

This is completely false. It does not cover all veterans, and it does have “legions [pun intended?] of administrative staff to check patients’ coverage.” They have an entire web site devoted just to eligibility which states, in part “All Veterans are Potentially Eligible” (emphasis mine). There is an eight-level system of “priority” detailed here. It has categories like, “Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 30% or 40% disabling” (priority 2) and “Veterans who agree to pay specified copay with income and/or net worth above VA Income Threshold and income below the Geographic Means Test Threshold” (priority 7 — which has FOUR “subpriorities,” only two of which are
currently in use).

Does Paul Krugman really believe they can determine eligibility under such complete rules with fewer administrative staff than it takes another health system just to look at someone’s ID card and take down their policy number?

In fact, the real “secret of its success” is the fact that, unlike other government health care systems, they get to pick their patients, and can limit the number of patients based on their budget. Contrary to popular belief — and Krugman’s statment — not every military veteran is in the VA system — the VA sets those eligibility requirements in order to make sure that the number of patients they have is limited to what thay can fit within their budget. In fact, only a minority of former military personnel are in the VA system.

Now, to be fair, Krugman does say one thing that is true and perhaps not so well-known:

Because it’s integrated, providing all forms of medical care, it has been able to take the lead in electronic record-keeping and other innovations that reduce costs, ensure effective treatment and help prevent medical errors.

They really do have a truly state-of-the art record-keeping system, and they actually do use it to save money. For example, if they get a deal on some drug (say, Nexium), they can switch nearly everyone on therapeutic equivalents (say, Protonix) within 90 days. All they do is send a message to every doctor who prescribed Protonix, given them a list of patients to whom they’ve prescribed it, and ask for approval to switch them to Nexium. It’s not mandatory, since everyone knows that two “therapeutic equivalents” are not really equivalent for ALL patients — but they say that about 95% of the patients switch.

Krugman also quotes someone who knows something true:

Moreover, the V.H.A., as Phillip Longman put it in The Washington Monthly, “has nearly a lifetime relationship with its patients.” As a result, it “actually has an incentive to invest in prevention and more effective disease management. When it does so, it isn’t just saving money for somebody else. It’s maximizing its own resources. … In short, it can do what the rest of the health care sector can’t seem to, which is to pursue quality systematically without threatening its own financial viability.”

In the private sector, the “churn” of people in and out of health insurance companies
makes it so that if an insurance company spends on preventative care, by the time the patient is around long enough to avoid a disease as a result, they are quite likely to be insured with another company. So you have a muted version of the classic “tragedy of the
commons” — you pay for preventative care, and some other company benefits from lower costs.

Think about it: If it weren’t for the “churn,” health insurance companies wouldn’t just cover preventative care — they’d require it. And they’d probably even require (say) blood tests to make sure you’re taking your preventive drugs (like blood pressure medicine). (Assuming preventative care is actually cost-effective, of course.)

(Hat tip: Tyler Cowen and Brad DeLong and Arnold Kling.)

February 2, 2006

Happy Groundhog Day!

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:49 pm

Here is the prediction from the official groundhog web site. (I didn’t know groundhogs could do HTML programming!)

Very Strange

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:52 am

Their rule seems to be “display them, don’t use them.”

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