aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, July 11, 2008
Authors@Google: Dan Ariely
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
We Think Therefore We Are
For more, a UChannel podcast lecture:
In his new book, We-Think , Charlie Leadbeater explores how the web is changing our world, creating a culture in which more people than ever can participate, collaborate and share ideas and information. But participation is not always a good thing: it can just create a cacophony and as the web changes to become more collaborative it leaves users open to invasions of privacy.
Join Charlie Leadbeater at the RSA to consider one of the defining battles of our time – the struggle between people who want to freely share - music, films, ideas, information - and those who want to control this activity, either corporations who want to make money or governments who fear debate and democracy.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Fake palace boom across Germany
On Marketplace tonight:
A conference center planned for Hanover will look just like the Herrenhausen palace that was wiped out in 1943. In Potsdam, the state parliament just voted to move into a $200 million replica of a baroque palace. Frederick the Great stayed there sometimes. It was also destroyed in the war. Total cost, around $200 million. In Berlin, the government plans to rebuild the decimated former home of Prussia’s royal family. That tab, $700 million. Palace-building hasn’t advanced much in the past couple of hundred years. Stone masons, sculptors, 80 percent of the cost is labor, only now the workers are paid union wages. Why spend this much money to rebuild palaces that few Germans can even remember?
PETER SCHABE: It’s linked to an anxiety about globalization. People want a place to identify with, and they want to create cities that looked like they did a long time ago.
Peter Schabe works for the German Foundation for Historic Preservation. He says a lot of Germans are sick of modern architecture. These new-old buildings remind Germans of their proud past, while conveniently skipping the 20th century. This back-to-the-past movement started in Dresden, which was flattened by Allied firebombing. After Germany reunified in 1990, the city’s famed, domed Frauenkirche was resurrected from a pile of rubble. Today, nearly eight million tourists a year flood the city. Cities without palaces to rebuild, such as Frankfurt, don’t want to be left out. They’re building brand new “historic districts.”
A side-effect of all this? “Money spent creating fake new buildings means less money going to preserve authentic historic buildings.”
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
No honorary doctorate for anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly
Washington University announced last week that they are giving Phyllis Schlafly an honorary doctor of humane letters.
Here’s Schlafly bio from her own organizations website:
Phyllis Schlafly has been a national leader of the conservative movement since the publication of her best-selling 1964 book, A Choice Not An Echo. She has been a leader of the pro-family movement since 1972, when she started her national volunteer organization now called Eagle Forum. In a ten-year battle, Mrs. Schlafly led the pro-family movement to victory over the principal legislative goal of the radical feminists, called the Equal Rights Amendment. An articulate and successful opponent of the radical feminist movement, she appears in debate on college campuses more frequently than any other conservative.
Emphasis mine. Here’s the definition of humane:
1. characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, esp. for the suffering or distressed: humane treatment of horses.
2. of or pertaining to humanistic studies.
Not to, um, beat a dead horse, but by her own proclamation the woman is anything but! Apparently, 1,600+ students, friends, and others (including me!) on Facebook agree. They’ve set up a Facebook group:
This is the woman who lives the hypocrisy of having a career that takes her around the country lecturing “family values” groups on how women should stay home.
This is the woman who said of husband-wife rape, “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape [sic].”
This is the woman who described sex education classes as “in-home sales parties for abortions.” Do her views fit with the future the men and women of Wash U’s graduating class see for themselves and their peers? Probably not. Then why honor her with them? Wouldn’t having someone like her in the midst of Wash U’s female graduates be incongruous at best, offensive at worst?
E-mail Chancellor Wrighton and let him know what you think! .
Jane Stone, coordinator of the Board of Trustees:
Inside Higher Ed asks, Is Phyllis Schlafly Worthy of an Honorary Doctorate? And says, “Washington University released a statement Sunday in which it said that honorary degrees require a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees and are nominated by the unanimous vote of a board committee that is led by a trustee but that also includes students and faculty members.”
Oh, and making matters worse, Chris Matthews will deliver the Commencement address.
Friday, May 02, 2008
Ariely: Thoughts on gas prices
Thursday, May 01, 2008
4 Minutes live @ Roseland
More from last night…
Madonna opens Candy Shop at Roseland in NYC
Alas, I wasn’t there. Towleroad was:
Last night Madonna delivered a six-song, 32-minute high-intensity performance at the Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan, in front of an estimated crowd of 2,200. Many of those attending camped out before sunrise for a chance at the free tickets handed out that day. (The rest of the lucky attendees won entrance through Z100, Verizon, or Madonna’s online fan club.)
A few minutes after ten o’clock Madonna appeared onstage on a throne, blonde hair lightly curly and clad in black pants and top, to deafening screams from the audience. Those standing on main floor crushed forward to get closer to her Madgesty, and thus my already good spot turned into a position about twenty-feet from the Material Girl herself. [READ ON]
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Colbert on Florida’s Christian license plates
Says Stephen, “They’ll look great with your Shroud of Turin mud flaps.”
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Madonna’s 11th released today
You know, I waited tables with her sister back in the day. And once she asked me to put something of hers on the sound system. I put on the 12” of Burning Up, my own copy. She mouthed the words and danced in the booth.
Ahh, those were the days.
“Hard Candy” sculpts and buffs the renovated nymphet of “Confessions” to a brilliant sheen. It’s like one of those Yoko Ono sculptures made of a bronzed version of one of her old sculptures. If the songs seem straightforward and simple, with titles like “Dance 2 Nite,” “Beat Goes On” and “Give It 2 Me,” it’s because they are. Only a few bother with a metaphor, like “Candy Shop,” or tell a story, like “She’s Not Me.” Thematically, they are in exactly the mode of manufactured disco performers of the late ‘70s like (you might not recognize so many of these names [uh, I do]) France Joli, Rosebud, Taka Boom or Musique. In other words, she’s mining her original source material—the same songs that informed and shaped the Madonna of “Burning Up” and “Physical Attraction.” Could be blah, but Williams, Timberlake and especially Timbaland seize on these disco clichés and make them sound remarkably fresh.
For “Heartbeat,” Williams swipes the beat from Timbaland and Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous,” and adds retro-sounding Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder synthesizers, and the occasional cowbell. Over a surprisingly poignant melody, Madonna defends her ongoing, almost visceral commitment to club life: “It may feel old to you/ But it feels new to me,” she tells us. “When I dance I feel free/ Which makes me feel like the only one/ That the light shines on.” Sounds as honest as she’ll ever get. The production’s delightfully plastic, as some of her surgery might be also, but Madonna doesn’t stretch credibility by trying to sound younger. Aside from using the term “pimp your style,” she doesn’t jam any rap slang or teen-speak into these songs, nor does she try to fill them with media-ready catchphrases like two of her collaborators did on the way overquoted “Sexyback.”
The honesty is important: Madonna has managed to throw parenthood into the mix without losing too much of her edge, or seeming like a bad mother. If the idea of a 50-year-old woman inviting you to try her “raw, sticky and sweet” confections, as she does on “Candy Shop,” sounds off-putting, first check your ageism and sexism, then recognize that the song can work in terms of parenting too—especially, I’d imagine, the adoptive kind. If you came from poverty in Malawi, and Madonna made you her kid, you’d certainly find her candy-shop lifestyle irresistible. This tightrope M walks between sex, nurturing and aging on “Hard Candy” is more than most rock-star parents, let alone middle-aged ones, could manage gracefully. (Hey, Britney!)
Short on philosophy and long on groove, “Hard Candy” might be the friendliest Madonna record since her debut, not including “The Immaculate Collection.” The songs about sex and dancing simply invite you to dance and have sex, no dysfunction necessary—more important, they make you feel like you might actually want to do one or the other, maybe both. The love songs find Madonna in a position of resolute sorrow—jilted on “She’s Not Me,” the victim of multitasking on “Miles Away”—that’s all the more convincing because of its ironic understatement. “Uncomfortable silence can be so loud,” she observes. You may even learn a few phrases in a foreign language from the moderately goofy “Spanish Lesson.”
Friday, April 25, 2008
It is time for us to take back our profession!
The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study a couple weeks ago claiming that doctors often put their name on studies published in medical journals when those studies were actually written by pharmaceutical companies. JAMA’s editor-in-chief Dr. Catherine DeAngelis published what steps medical journals should take to prevent this practice.
She was interviewed for On The Media last week. A key point:
BOB GARFIELD: What do you suppose the chances are that your recommendations will be embraced?
DR. CATHERINE D. DEANGELIS: I don’t know. All I know is that if we don’t do something, patients are going to continue to get harmed. We are all going to continue to be manipulated. It is time for us to take back our profession.
We gave it away, or we allowed it to be taken from us. Now let’s take it back. None of this stuff could happen if we didn’t cooperate. It’s as simple as that.
I’m struck by how true that statement is. And it’s true not just about the pharmaceutical industry, but media, and food, and law, and politics, and government. It’s our world. Let’s take it back and make it our own.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Harvey Fierstein Times Talk
On the ride home yesterday we listened to the podcast of Harvey Fierstein’s April 1 Times Talk celebrating the 25th anniversary of New York’s LGBT Community Center and Fierstein’s latest Broadway show, A Catered Affair.
He discusses his Broadway productions in detail beginning with the background and development of Torch Song Trilogy and ending with a scene from A Catered Affair. In classic Fierstein form, he holds nothing back.
Like many gay men of my generation, Torch Song was an important marker for me. In the early eighties I was a segment producer for one of the first gay television shows on cable, OUR TIME with Vito Russo. Harvey was one of our interviews:
Friday, April 18, 2008
What’s wrong with our health care delivery
Ezra Klein quotes these three paragraphs from Shannon Brownlee’s excellent Washington Monthly article on the Gingrich Republicans emasculation of the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, a government group that had the potential to control health care costs. He says they’re as clear an example as any of what’s wrong with our health care delivery system—as distinct from insurance:
Last year, we spent more than $16 billion on back surgeries, and, in the past decade, surgeons have been performing spinal fusions at a furious rate, even though there still has never been a rigorous, independently funded clinical trial showing that going under the knife is superior to cheaper, less invasive remedies. At the same time, the nation’s total health care bill continues to skyrocket, propelled in no small measure by procedures that are equally as questionable as spinal fusion. In 2000, America spent $1.3 trillion, a figure that nearly doubled to an estimated $2.1 trillion by 2006. In the view of Peter Orzag, head of the Congressional Budget Office, this has put the U.S. on “an unsustainable fiscal path.”
Of course, some of our money is going toward new treatments and tests that help Americans live longer and healthier lives. However, as much as 30 cents on every health care dollar is spent on unnecessary care-or “overtreatment,” in medicalspeak. That may sound odd after all we’ve heard from people like Michael Moore about how everybody from your hospital to your insurer is getting rich by denying you care you need. Yet both problems exist simultaneously. All too often, patients don’t get necessary medical treatment. At the same time, we risk being given stuff that not only doesn’t improve our health but which may actually harm us. One estimate suggests that as many as 30,000 Medicare recipients die prematurely each year from unnecessary care.
This overtreatment is due in part to an excess supply of medical resources-hospital beds, intensive care units, specialists, CT scanners-in many parts of the country. But it is also the result of our national failure to fund the research that could show what works in medicine, what doesn’t, and for which patients-and then to train doctors to understand that research and use it. Our current fee-for-service payment system, which pays hospitals and doctors for each hospitalization, office visit, procedure, test, and surgery performed, simply gives providers an incentive to adopt anything that’s well reimbursed, regardless of whether it actually helps patients. Medicare pays for practically anything that physicians deem “medically necessary,” much of which, from spinal fusion to a fancy new imaging scan for Alzheimer’s, remains unproven by anything resembling good scientific evidence.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Sick Around The World
...isn’t afraid to talk about the problems in other countries. In England, the film notes, patients frequently wait for elective services; in Germany, physicians are unhappy that they don’t get paid more; in Japan, the government’s hyper-aggressive price controls have led to chronic underfunding. And yet the new film also puts these drawbacks in their rightful context. Every system the film portrays has its problems, but overall each one seems to deliver a better total package than the one in the U.S.
The most interesting case study is probably Taiwan. A few years ago, when Taiwan decided to revamp its health care system, it studied other countries to determine which system might work best. Its conclusion? A single-payer system - one in which the government insures everybody directly - made the most sense.
Virtually alone among health care commentators in the U.S. - a category that includes me - Paul Krugman has been touting Taiwan for a while. The film makes it easy to see why. Today, the people of Taiwan have guaranteed access to health care - and, according to the film, it’s very good health care. There are no chronic waiting lists, like you find in Britain, and the care is very advanced. Among other things, Taiwan is among the world leaders in establishing electronic medical records - an innovation that should significantly improve care by keeping doctors and nurses better informed about patient histories and, no less important, avoiding potentially dangerous drug interactions.
Critics of national healthcare are always able to come up with reasons why the success of systems in other countries doesn’t mean they’d work here. The Japanese are healthier than us. Belgium is smaller than us. Sweden is more homogeneous than us. Germans are more willing to pay higher taxes than us. Etc. Etc. It’s always something.
But the opposite is true too. National healthcare, it turns out, is pretty effective in big countries (Germany, Japan), diverse countries (France, Britain), tax-phobic countries (Switzerland), and countries with health profiles similar to ours (Canada, Britain). And as [the reviewer] says, even warts and all, each one seems to deliver a better total package than the jury-rigged, pseudo-private mish-mash that we have here. So tell your skeptic friends to tune in tonight [watch online] and watch the show. Maybe they’ll start to understand that we can, indeed, do better if we put our minds to it.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Health Insurance in America: Dying for Coverage
Facing South reports on a recently released report from Families USA, Dying for Coverage, finding that in all 50 states the number of uninsured and the estimated number of deaths is directly related to lack of health insurance:
A study by the Institute of Medicine, tha basis for the Family USA report, found that uninsured adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely than adults with private health insurance. Another academic study found that lack of health insurance is the third leading cause of death, following heart disease and cancer, for uninsured adults between the ages of 55 and 64.
While the percentage of uninsured, working age (25-64) people in the South reported by Families USA in 2006 (20.5%) is similar to overall U.S. percentage of uninsured in the same age group reported by the U.S. Census (19.9%), several Southern states have a significantly higher percentage of uninsured.
For example, the Families USA report found that Louisiana had the highest rate of uninsured among working people at 26.2%. Florida (25.3%), Arkansas (23.2%), and Mississippi (22.1%) also exceeded the regional and national rates. Virginia (15.1%) and West Virginia (16.5%) are well below the regional and national rates.
Other state reports from around the South on the percentage of uninsured working age people include Alabama (20.1%), Georgia (19.7%), Kentucky (19.0%), North Carolina (21.1%), South Carolina (19.7%), and Tennessee (18.3%).
The U.S. Census report shows that the South has the highest percentage of uninsured overall, 19.0%, as compared to 11.4% in the Midwest, 12.3% in the Northeast, and 17.9% in the West.
When you add it all up, there are nearly 8.5 million working age people in the South without health insurance. Even more disturbing, the Families USA report attributes nearly 52,000 premature deaths to lack of health insurance in these states between 2000 and 2006.
Meanwhile, in my ongoing war with SHPS, Ms. Quigley wrote me back summarizing my calls but said nothing about my $179 in reimbursement (not did she answer my question about making those calls available to me—like I expected she would???). It’s now 14 business days after providing the required documentation and I have not been reimbursed.
I’ll spare you the snippy email I sent in response. Flexible Spending Accounts are another Republican corporate welfare program masquerading as a healthcare tax benefit. SHPS is making money—my money! I’ve not gotten the benefit. It’s a scam!
Nudge: A Q&A with the authors
Steven Levitt has his doubts about behavioral economics, and cringed when Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein told him a year ago they were going to write an economics book about what they called “libertarian paternalism.”
Today on the Freakonomics Blog theirs a Q&A with Sunstein and Thaler:
Q: You use the term “libertarian paternalism” to describe “nudges” that agents of change (or choice architects) can use (without using force or removing options) to influence people to make better choices while still preserving their freedom to choose.
What’s the most ingenious nudge you’ve found yourself influenced by? Are you as influenced by nudges as others are? What factors can make us more immune to nudges?
CASS: My most ingenious nudge is: automatic payment of bills. I used to pay late, a lot of the time, through sheer inertia. Now I do a lot better on that count. And sure, I am influenced by nudges, especially in the form of visible chocolate things in cafeteria lines and at airports.
The best inoculation against bad nudges is to stay away from them - to find some way to tie yourself to the mast. Ulysses was a good, early behavioral economist.
RICHARD: I spent a few months visiting the new business school at the University of California in San Diego this winter. When you approach the building from the parking lot, the first thing you reach is a staircase. The elevator is another 50 feet away. I used that nudge to encourage me to walk up the stairs to my fourth floor office. I am proud to say that I never once took the elevator, even if my backpack was heavy.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Robin Morgan on “Goodbye to All That” 1 & 2
Ariel Levy talks with Robin Morgan about her “screed against sexism.” I’m an admirer of both. But then, I’m of the generation of lefties that would be.
With the first one, it took about six months for it to leach out across the country. With the Internet, it’s six minutes.” Morgan posted “Goodbye to All That (#2),” an essay about the misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton-Hillary nutcrackers, the “South Park” episode in which terrorists plant a bomb in Clinton’s vagina-on the Women’s Media Center Web site, on February 2nd, and since then it has been picked up by thousands of blogs, translated into six languages, reprinted in newspapers around the world, and, most famously, mass-forwarded by Chelsea Clinton. “For a while, I was getting eight hundred e-mails a day,” she said. She estimated that one out of every fifty is negative. “I was braced for much more opprobrium.”
After the piece in Rat, Morgan got death threats. “Because they said I was divisive-I was hurting the revolution,” she said. “There were even threats against my kid!” Her son, Blake Morgan, a musician, is now thirty-eight. His father, the poet Kenneth Pitchford, was an original member of the Gay Liberation Front and Morgan’s husband for twenty years. She was “Alice in Bloomsbury” then, living and swinging with Pitchford in a duplex over the Kiehl’s store on Third Avenue (the rent started at a hundred and fifty dollars a month), attending leftist literary parties with Susan Sontag, Allen Ginsberg, and Leonard Bernstein.
Famous people were nothing new to Morgan, who starred with Dick Van Patten on the television show “Mama” for seven years and, starting when she was four, had her own half-hour weekly radio program, “The Little Robin Morgan Show,” on WOR in the nineteen-forties. As she put it in her memoir, “Saturday’s Child” (2001), “It’s a rare little girl who gets to play with a doll of herself.” The Stork Club even named a drink for her: 7Up, grenadine, cherries, and a pineapple chunk. Once she joined the women’s movement, Morgan militantly opposed references to her child stardom. When she appeared on the “Tonight Show” in 1969 and Johnny Carson played clips from “Mama,” she walked off the stage.
These days, she is more concerned about offending people. “I always fall into the trap of thinking if I’d written it better, surely, surely they would have understood,” she said, referring to the young women who were upset by “Goodbye (#2).” ("Morgan’s essay is incredibly condescending,” one blogger wrote. “It completely fails to recognize that there are a variety of valid reasons younger women might decide to support Obama.") Morgan put a log on the fire with her good arm. “They think I’m telling them what to do, but they are investing me with an authority I never had. Why is that? Do you know why that is?”
Sunday, April 13, 2008
The 6 year-old sex offender threat
Ok, the other day I was all riled up about NBC hyping the sex offender threat in nursing homes.
Now today comes word of the six year-old sex offender:
Randy Castro is in the first grade. But, at the ripe old age of 6, he’s been declared a sex offender by Potomac View Elementary School. He’s guilty of sexual harassment, and the incident report will remain on his record for the rest of his school days - and maybe beyond.
Maybe it’ll be one of those things that just keeps turning up on background checks forever and ever: Perhaps 34-year-old Randy Castro will apply for a job, and at his prospective employer’s computer up will pop his sexual-harasser status yet again. Or maybe he’ll be able to keep it hushed up until he’s 57 and runs for governor of Virginia, and suddenly his political career self-detonates when the sordid details of his Spitzeresque sexual pathologies are revealed.
Overlawyered provides a wealth of fannyswatter links:
“Attack of the preschool perverts”, syndicated/Orange County Register, Apr. 12; Brigid Schulte, “For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels As Sexual Harassers”, Washington Post, Apr. 3). A contrary view (letter to the editor from Cynthia Terrell of Takoma Park, Md., WaPo, Apr. 5): “The Post showed appalling insensitivity to the inappropriate nature of Randy Castro’s act. ...our culture remains largely indifferent to privacy and harassment issues involving gender.”
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Choice is a false god!
I’ve long complained about the tyranny of choice. For examples from just the past few years, see here, here, here, and here. My usual complaint is that more choice brings unhappiness and it takes up too much time.
As regular readers know well, I’m reading Dan Ariely’s excellent Predictably Irrational. It has a thing or two to say about choice. Yesterday John Tierney looked at some of it in a blog post titled The Price of Dithering:
The results are in from the Shapes Experiment, featuring a game in which Lab readers repeatedly chose between two shapes and scored points proportional to the area of the shape. Most of the players hurt their scores by spending too much agonizing over decisions that didn’t make much difference — and therein lies a lesson for making decisions in the real world, according to Dan Ariely, the researcher who ran the experiment.
Dr. Ariely, a cognitive psychologist who is a professor of behavioral economics at M.I.T., reports that the game was played more than 4,000 times by Lab readers. As they played, there were two basic situations they faced. Sometimes they had to choose between two shapes that quite similar in size — a difference in area of no more than 2 percent. Other times they had to choose between shapes that differed in area by 25 percent.
Since it was a timed game and you wanted to get through as many trials as possible, speed was of the essence. If you were going to spend time making a choice, it was better to to do it when there was a bigger payoff — when the shapes were dissimilar in size. But most Lab readers did just the reverse: 94 percent of the players spent more time on the similar choices than on the dissimilar choices. On the whole, they spent 64 percent of their time deciding between similar shapes, and only 36 percent of their time choosing between dissimilar shapes, Dr. Ariely reports.
“This means,” he says, “that almost everyone could have made more points if they were able to take the opportunity cost of time into account.” In real life, he says, people are even more prone to wasting time on trivial decisions because the options and consequences aren’t nearly as clear-cut as in that game.
We worship at the altar of choice and make
bad costly decisions as a consequence. Buy this book!
RELATED: This reviewer from the San Francisco Chronicle is decidedly less enthusiastic about the book than I:
While Ariely’s stated goal is to understand the decision-making processes behind behavior ("yours, mine, and everybody else’s"), he may be overreaching in the applicability of his conclusions. “We all make the same types of mistakes over and over, because of the basic wiring of our brains,” he writes, but he presents no evidence of this causal relationship. It depends on his behavioral experiments being universal. The experiments he presents support the irrationality part of his argument, but I don’t buy the universal predictability of all their specific findings. While these experiments take place in California, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina and so on, they rarely get off campus, and the experimental subjects (at least the ones he describes) are almost always university students.
That’s a specific demographic group that marketing analysts study closely and pitch their products to in ways that don’t work with other - especially older - consumers. Several of Ariely’s conclusions (the decisive role of image among peers when choosing food at a restaurant or the “irrational impulse to chase worthless options” in a game, for instance) could be quite different according to age or even income and social class. And that’s without even attempting to assess the experiment involving young men, Playboy magazines and a Saran Wrap-covered laptop.
a BIG experiment…
...the Atlanta Ballet dances live with Big Boi. Performance end tomorrow. From the rehearsals:
AP Video. The NYTimes review:
At best, “big” has moments of fascinating intersection between the movement and the firecracker verbal delivery of Mr. Patton’s work. At worst, the dancers simply look like a rather sophisticated back-up troupe.
Alvin Ailey 2 will be in our town next week. At my age, more my speed.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
NBC on nursing home sexual predator problems
NBC’s today show had a “Consumer Alert” report this morning that had me screaming at the television set. It told the story of a Jacksonville, FL, woman who was raped by an 83-year-old man with a criminal record 20 pages long that included convictions for sexual assault and child molestation.
And so begins the sensational story of an
epidemic apparent wave of sexual predators preying on nursing home residents:
MORALES: Elder rights advocate Wes Bledsoe says this is not an isolated case. He’s tracked more than 1600 registered sex offenders living in nursing homes across the country.
Mr. BLEDSOE: We’ve uncovered over 50 murders, rapes, sexual and physical assaults committed by criminal offenders while they were residing as residents in long-term care facilities.
MORALES: In 2006, this government report also raised concern. It found registered sex offenders living in nursing homes were considerably younger than the general nursing home population, making other residents attractive targets. Despite this, it found most homes do not impose different supervision or separation requirements on residents who are offenders.
Mr. BLEDSOE: Two questions remain: who’s next and when? Because when you put predators in with the prey, somebody’s going to get bit.
Now, I just want to say that I do sincerely sympathize with anyone victimized by a predator in a nursing home. But on its face this report is problematic.
Mr. Bledsoe’s numbers do not show an
epidemic overwhelming problem. Out of 1,600 offenders in how many homes he comes up with a whopping 1 crime per state over an indeterminate period of time (the government report wasn’t tied to Bledsoe’s findings and apparently only raised “concerns"), and the assortment of crimes he sites varies widely (from murders and rapes—how many, who knows?—to physical assaults—how severe, who can say?).
For comparison purposes, how many cases of neglect do you image we might find in nursing homes? Or malnutrition? Or missed medication leading to serious, even deadly, complications? Or abuse of patients by staff? Do you want to bet it’s more than one per state???
But let’s go ahead and call the problem of sexual predators in nursing homes severe. Let’s call it heinous. What’s causing it?
Well, first we’ve got underfunded, understaffed, under-regulated nursing homes. And then I’d throw some blame at our star-spangled health-care system given that the geriatric set is not its favorite population.
Let’s move on to the sex offenders.
Our “brand-them-for-life, track-them-by-bracelet, or GPS, or any means necessary, and put in place residency restrictions that don’t allow them to live near schools, or day care centers, or bus stops, or churches, but by all means DON’T!!! TREAT!!! THEM!!!” approach means that they, of course, HAVE NO PLACE TO GO!!! So is it really, really, surprising that they are winding up in those under-funded, under-regulated, under-supervised nursing homes?
I don’t think the Iowa County Attorneys Association would find it surprising. Two years ago they put out a potent and important prosecutorial statement against sex offender residency restrictions saying that the broad sex offender residency restriction in place in Iowa then “does not provide the protection that was originally intended and that the cost of enforcing the requirement and the unintended effects on families of offenders warrant replacing the restriction with more effective protective measure.”
Even Georgia’s parole officers—not exactly the liberal elite—called for earlier parole for some sex offenses. That was quickly shot down. But these groups are seeing a problem and proposing a real fix, not just whipping up paranoia then pandering to it!
Back to the topic at hand…
The horror of stories like this is the distorting effect it has on public perception. I have no doubt that there are stories to be told here. But the one NBC is telling is so dramatically warped that I honestly had to wonder if it was an elaborate hoax. A bad joke. Of course, it wasn’t. It was a tragedy. Because the consequence of this story will be bad policy. Money spent in bad ways when there is so much real need.
For example, this is what the NBC report proposed as the solution to the nursing home predator problem:
MORALES: Now, [Wes Bledsoe has] rallied lawmakers in his home state of Oklahoma to introduce new legislation to create separate nursing home facilities for registered sex offenders.
That’s right. A whole separate system of nursing homes, just for sex offenders. And just exactly who is going to pay for that? And is that going to solve, or exacerbate, the problems described?
LATER: I have removed the word “epidemic” from my post. NBC didn’t use it, I don’t need to. Their report is incendiary; I was playing their same game. The change is intended to clean up my act.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
We believe what we want to believe
It’s always worth remembering and science backs it up:
Psychologists have long known that humans have a remarkable ability to tune out facts that don’t jibe with pre-existing beliefs. Farhad Manjoo, author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, says the natural draw toward “truthiness” has run amok in the modern media age.
Manjoo was interviewed last week for On The Media:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you show how false facts on both the right and the left make their way through partisan echo chambers, but you do suggest that conservatives have a different relationship with their media.
FARHAD MANJOO: Right. People have studied how conservative blogs, for instance, link to each other and how liberal blogs link to each other, and they found that the people on the right generally have a tighter network and are more likely to indulge in only those sources.
And this has been a longstanding pattern where psychologists have noticed that people on the right are more efficient at filtering out things that kind of don’t really support their views.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We all know it’s really easy to manipulate audio, video, and especially with Photoshop and digital images. But it was interesting â€“ you said that the biggest effect of the Photoshopification of our society is not that it’s easier to fool people but that now they have even more reason not to believe the evidence of their eyes and ears if they don’t want to.
FARHAD MANJOO: If you live in a world where everything is possibly fake, where every photo you see could have been Photoshopped, it gives you license to dismiss that photo. This is true not only of photos but of basically all kind of documentary evidence that comes at us these days. We can always assume that there’s been some digital foul play there and that it’s possibly not a truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do we have an informed society if you can disbelieve anything you aren’t likely to approve of?
FARHAD MANJOO: Well, in a number of areas I argue that we don’t have an informed society; that one of the problems of this age is that we have people disagreeing over things that in the past I don’t think they would have disagreed about â€“ over the basic science behind global warming, for example, where you have huge numbers of Americans who simply dismiss the science.
And one of the difficulties about this situation is that the whole system sort of operates unconsciously. You can’t really tell people that your truth is not true. They’re not going to believe you.
Monday, April 07, 2008
6 Quirks of Ownership: Possessions Bend Perceptions
Jeremy Dean at PsyBlog has done an absolutely terrific job of summarizing Chapter 7—“The High Price of Ownership: Why We Overvalue What We Have”—of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.
From his post 6 Quirks of Ownership: How Possessions Bend Our Perceptions:
Dan Ariely, in his book Predictably Irrational argues that ownership has 6 strange effects on us:
1. Ownership increases perceived value to us: As soon as we acquire something we start to develop an attachment to it. Just the sheer fact of ownership increases how much we value it - we seem to develop a relationship with objects.
2. We tend to focus on losses: When selling we tend to overlook the money we’ll be gaining and focus on the object we’ll be losing. Our natural aversion to feeling bad then motivates us to place a higher asking-price on the long-cherished house, car or record collection than the market will bear.
3. We assume others share our perspective: Surely potential buyers understand how strongly we feel about our dusty old vinyl records? No, they don’t care - in fact they’re far more likely to notice how badly we’ve stored them or what poor taste in music we have.
4. Effort increases perceived value: A table I have bought and struggled to build myself has more value to me than the same table I bought, for the same price, ready assembled. Expending our own effort means we’ve invested ourselves in an object, so it has more perceived value to us. Other people don’t recognise this (and there’s no reason why they should).
5. Virtual ownership: We can even start feeling we own something before we actually do. Dan Ariely argues that the prices people are prepared to pay on auction sites like EBay are often inflated by people’s imagined ownership. Once we place our first bid we start to fantasise about ownership. Consequently when other bids come in we ignore our previously stated maximum because we’re now starting to value the item more, since we’ve been thinking about owning it.
6. Partial ownership: Marketing executives know the power of ownership so they use all kinds of tricks to encourage partial ownership because it often leads on to full ownership. We don’t usually return our furniture within the 30-day money-back guarantee period because we’ve grown attached to it - it’s ours.
So the high price we tend to put on our own possessions is not just greed, we really do begin to perceive stuff in a different way once we own it. Unfortunately these biases open us up to all sorts of detrimental effects.
We might set unrealistic prices for things we’re trying to sell, resulting in us failing to sell them at all. Or, when buying, we can be suckered into virtual or partial ownership en route to full ownership of something we didn’t necessarily want in the first place.
Of course the solution to these problems is trying to think objectively about our own possessions and those that we’d like to acquire. But that’s easier said than done. It’s very difficult to be dispassionate when selling something that you treasure and it’s easy to form an imaginary relationship with something we want to own.
A Dose of Libertarian Paternalism
Shankar Vedantam has a column in the WaPo today looking at Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s important work:
In their new book, “Nudge,” [link] the authors suggest that policymakers should artfully guide people to make better decisions by designing the way choices are presented to them. The work has drawn the attention of the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and Thaler said that he and Sunstein have become informal advisers to the campaign. Several ideas related to mortgage-policy reform and the credit markets have been “adopted and adapted” by Obama, Thaler added.
Sunstein, a law professor, and Thaler, an economist, have long been students of psychology. They call themselves libertarian paternalists—because they agree with the libertarian insight that people benefit from having choices. But Thaler and Sunstein also argue that people regularly make systematically irrational choices. (Many academics divide their money equally between stocks and bonds.)
“We agree with people who want to allow the market to flourish, so we are libertarians in that sense,” Sunstein said. “On the other hand, we don’t believe you can just have markets and then declare victory. It is legitimate to be paternalistic in terms of steering people in directions that will increase the likelihood they will do well.” [...]
Setting up default choices is one of the recurring themes of “Nudge,” because a lot of research shows that people are powerfully influenced by default options. When new employees are told that retirement accounts will be started for them unless they object, for example, most sign up cheerfully. When told that the accounts will not be started unless they opt in, most employees do not sign up because not having the account is then the default choice.
It is not surprising that Thaler and Sunstein’s approach would appeal to Obama’s post-partisan views: On the meltdown in subprime mortgages, Thaler and Sunstein criticize the liberals who call for the end of such mortgages as well as the conservatives who reject any form of regulation. The problem, they argue, is not that the mortgage industry came up with a tool to offer money to people with poor credit, but that the industry got away with being deliberately opaque.
Most home buyers, including MBA students at a top school, as one study found, have trouble comparing loan offers and discerning broker fees—money that goes to middlemen—from interest, money that investors need to take on the risk of lending their cash. Consumers who get the best mortgages invariably pay the least in fees.
If all mortgage lenders were required by law to disclose the terms of their loans electronically, Thaler predicted that Web sites would immediately emerge to translate those offers into plain English so people could compare loans: “You apply for a mortgage, and you get an e-mail with a file that has all the features of your mortgage. You upload it into Mortgage-Helper.com, and it will tell you what that mortgage really means. It will say, ‘Here are your payments this year, and here is what happens next year, and here is what happens if interest rates went up, and are you aware there is a prepayment penalty of $7,000, and, by the way, here are three other loans that have the following features.’ . . . This is the way to make markets efficient.”
Here’s Sunstein and Thaler’s principal paper, Libertarian Paternalism Is Not an Oxymoron (a brief 45 pages).
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Madonna & Justin: 4 Minutes
Rich Cohen in the May Vanity Fair on Hard Candy:
Many of the songs are hybrids, traditional Madonna super-pop, workout tunes giving way to white hip-hop, Justin Timberlake showering cascades of rhyme. I was listening to the music, and it’s a record I think Madonna fans will like, because it’s filled with songs you can imagine blasting from the room where they hold spinning class, but I kept thinking about Britney Spears. I mean, here is Madonna, singing with Justin, whose very public breakup with Britney marked the moment the pop tart began her battle with the furies. And, of course, I was also thinking of those MTV Video Music Awards in which Britney, already well on her way to madness, frenched Madonna. In light of this record, and all that’s happened, I wondered if, in the course of that kiss, Madonna somehow extracted Britney’s soul from her body, or implanted the crazy chip. When I began to ask Madonna about Britney-specifically in relation to the paparazziâ€”she stopped me (before I even said Britney’s name) with a raised hand, saying, “Yes, I know. I know exactly what you’re going to say. It’s very painful. Which leads us back to our question: When you think about the way people treat each other in Africa, about witchcraft and people inflicting cruelty and pain on each other, then come back here and, you know, people taking pictures of people when they’re in their homes, being taken to hospitals, or suffering, and selling them, getting energy from them, that’s a terrible infliction of cruelty. So who’s worse off? You know what I mean?”
Here’s their Full Madonna slideshow.