" /> Glorfindel of Gondolin: October 2003 Archives

« September 2003 | Main | November 2003 »

October 31, 2003

Gloating

No, no. G-l-o-a-t-i-n-g, not "goating." Sheesh.

I won my bet with Heidi. The bet was that the pilot episode of David Lynch's Twin Peaks isn't available on a DVD that hasn't been copied from analog format.

If anyone out there can prove that I did in fact lose this bet, I'd be grateful. Really.

Neocon link fixed

In the post below, I've now linked to the neocon article.

Blame the neocons

We keep working more, for less.

Why?

For too long now, we've mistakenly placed our faith in the policies and the vision of neoconservatism: "... it was not the particularities of tax cuts that interested them, but rather the steady focus on economic growth."

It's time to put a hand on their collective shoulder, thank them for their efforts, and lead them off the bridge. Back from the helm. Out of the cockpit.

It doesn't take a genius to...

In an otherwise excellent article criticizing the Bush Administration's fuzzy language, the author comes out with this:

"Bush can insist all day long that America isn't at war with Islam. But that misses the point. In varying degrees, the Islamic world is at war with the U.S., its interests and purposes."

Is this meant to be a counterexample? "Here, let me demonstrate how it's done. Unlike Bush, I'll use language that's precise, concrete, and specific. Instead of saying we're 'at war with terrorism,' we should be saying we're at war with the 'Islamic world.'"

Ideologues are always good for a few belly laughs.

Whining Congressional leaders

Yeah, guys; keep giving Bush everything he wants: his tax cuts, his no-strings-attached $87 billion, his "blank check" warmaking support. That'll make him respect you.

October 30, 2003

"The Socratic Method" vs. "Pimping"

On Brian Leiter's blog, there are some links to some good discussions of the "Socratic method" of law school teaching.

All of which made me think of the pimping that goes on in medical school.

Both techniques are controversial in the same way: are they effective teaching tools, or merely an effective means of selective humiliation? Both have their critics and defenders, and neither seems likely to be resolved within my lifetime.

That essentially the same debate about the same technique takes place in both law and medicine leads me to ask if there's anything common to the two professions that could explain why these debates matter. Remember that an outsider might well wonder what's the big deal; you're in school, a teacher asks you questions, so what? Why are law students and medical students so obsessed with this?

Law students share with medical students one characteristic that is virtually guaranteed to make the public, interrogative teaching techniques of both professions controversial: they both are gripped with the desire to "know the right answer." Much of their self-esteem is built on their long track records of succeeding in school, of answering the teacher's questions correctly. Whatever their other insecurities or failings, most law or medical students can at least be proud of their high grades, their high test scores, and their hard-earned knowledge.

When a medical student on rounds is barraged with obscure and seemingly random questions to which he doesn't know the answer, he often feels humiliated, regardless of the conscious intention of the attending or resident asking the questions. Why? "Because I didn't know the answers!" The mere proof of ignorance, displayed in front of others, is enough to make him feel humiliated. "What am I if I don't know? A loser!"

Same thing with law students. If they can't give the "right" responses in class in front of everyone, they feel like failures at the one thing they've always been good at: pleasing the teacher and mastering the material. Even without any intention on the part of the professor to humiliate anyone, these law students will feel humiliated.

So the "controversy" surrounding the Socratic method is a lot like that surrounding "pimping." And no matter how respectful the attending is, no matter how encouraging the professor is, there will be many medical students and law students who feel humiliated every time they're publicly asked a question to which they don't immediately know the answer.

October 29, 2003

law school vs. medical school

People often ask "what's the difference?" between law school and medical school.

Well, I can only answer based on my own experiences and interpretations, but here's one difference:

A few months into my first year of medical school, I began to realize that I wasn't getting very much out of the classes. I felt in virtually every case that if I had skipped class and spent that hour reading my notes or reading a textbook, I could have learned more than I did by listening to the lecture in class. (Of course, this doesn't apply to anatomy lab, which doesn't count as a "class" or a "lecture" in my opinion. Anatomy lab is a whole different kind of fish.)

In law school, I'm often tempted to skip class. But unlike in medical school, I'm finding it difficult to justify skipping class in favor of just doing more reading on my own.

Law school classes, so far, seem more valuable than the preclinical medical school classes.

Why? My law school classes seem to offer something "beyond the textbook" in a way that medical school lectures never did. Take today's torts lecture, for example. We were discussing the doctrine of respondeat superior and vicarious liability, under which an employer is liable for the negligent actions of an employee even if the employer itself did nothing wrong. We'd seen the doctrine applied in a few cases from the casebook, and the casebook editor had discussed a few wrinkles, such as what happens when the negligent party isn't an employee but instead is an independent contractor? All that was fine and good. But in class, we didn't just rehash the discussion in the textbook. Instead, we asked "Why?" Why does this doctrine make sense? Should we keep it, or get rid of it? Using the cases in the book as weapons for our arguments, we advanced our understanding of the legal doctrine in a way that would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, if we had just stayed home and reread the casebook.

I don't want to glorify my law classes (God forbid). Very often the rhythm of the professor's voice starts to put me to sleep, and my eyes glaze over when we stop to discuss a point I don't find very interesting. I get tired of straining to hear a student who's been called on and is giving a cautious, timid answer that doesn't move the discussion forward but just bogs it down and slows it up.

But it is true that if I try to stay alert, I'll almost always find a way to make the hour irreplaceable in a way my medical school lectures never were.

There could be many reasons for this. Medical textbooks could just be superior to law casebooks. Medical lecturers could be inferior to law lecturers. The Socratic method may make the law classroom a much more active place than the medical classroom ever was. All these could explain the difference, but I don't think they do.

Here's the difference, in my opinion: in medical school the most significant goal by far was memorization. The lectures didn't help me to memorize anything, so they were, to put it bluntly, superfluous.

In law school, although we need to memorize things, the real goal is making cogent arguments. And I find that attending class, listening to the professor, responding to the questions, and listening to classmates helps me to form and use arguments to a greater extent than it would help me to skip class in favor of rereading the casebook.

I'm sure I'll start to notice some other differences between law school and medical school, and when I do, you can rest assured that I'll point them out on this blog...

October 27, 2003

"Office Space" quotes

I said that "Office Space" quotes were actively solicited on this blog. I'm going to prove it. After digging around on the web to refresh my memory, I found this gem:

Michael: We get caught laundering money, we're not going to white collar resort prison. No, no, no. We're going to Federal 'Pound me in the Ass' prison!

The great Agrarian Internet Tour

No one really knows what an agrarian is. And I can't blame them.

If you search for "agrarianism" on google, the first thing that comes up is this:

"...the English words, agrarianism, and agrarian generally, imply theories and movements intended to benefit the poorer classes of society by dealing in some way with the ownership of land or the legal obligations of the cultivators."

Well... "benefitting the poorer classes" might be a consequence of agrarianism, but I don't think that's the intention. Let's try again.

A Wikipedia search yields, among other things, "Agrarianism is a social and political philosophy." Way to play it safe, guys. Later on in the entry one finds:

"The agrarian philosophy is not to get people to reject progress, but rather to concentrate on the fundamental goods of the earth, communities of limited economic and political scale, and simple living--even when this involves questioning the 'progressive' character of some recent social and economic developments."

That sounds better. But let's leave the neutral sources behind for a while, and go to a website from a self-styled agrarian called, unsurprisingly, The New Agrarian. Here, you'll find the assertion that agrarians are often conservative:

"A liberal, in other words, believes that people are basically good; a conservative believes they are basically rotten, or at least highly corruptible."

When placed in proper context, that's essentially correct. But the interesting thing is not what an agrarian believes about people per se, but what those beliefs often lead to:

"Agrarians abhor concentrations of power. This is nearly universal, whether it makes them politically conservative or liberal; some find concentration of political power more abhorrent, some concentration of economic power. But power corrupts, and New Agrarians detest all its forms equally. Concentration of political power withers free thought and voluntarism; concentration of economic power stifles initiative and innovation; concentration of military power enforces tyranny and breeds barbarism."

Ahh, now we're getting somewhere. But let's not forget why we went on this tour. Just when we seem to have agrarianism pinned down, we get what seems to be a variant calling itself Christian agrarianism. Is this an isolated spinoff, or is agrarianism inextricably tied up with Christianity? Rummage around some more and you'll find that virtually everyone claiming to be an agrarian finds a way to bring in God--usually in the Christian sense. Do you need to be a Christian to be an agrarian? I think not.

You'll also find that there's a frequent association with the Old South, starting with the "Twelve Southerners" of I'll Take My Stand, and continuing through a randomly selected list on Amazon.com.

Do you need to be a Southerner, or at least a Southern sympathizer, to be an agrarian? I think not.

Which brings me to the several points of our tour. Agrarianism isn't well-defined. Agrarianism has many versions. I can understand that when I claim to be an agrarian, you might plausibly want more information. (You might make an FRCP Rule 12e motion for a more definite statement, if the civil-procedural view of life floats your boat...)

So over the next few months I'll try to address the issue on this blog, and maybe I'll have the time to get a good agrarian website up and running. Until then, please feel free to take some self-guided tours of your own.

October 25, 2003

Insurance industry disgorging ill-gotten profits

Health insurer Aetna has agreed to pay $120 million, among other things, to settle a class-action lawsuit on behalf of doctors who charge it with interfering with treatment decisions and shortchanging them on reimbursement. It looks like mega-insurer Cigna might also settle soon. Since virtually all the other large health insurers in this country are also named in the suit, we can expect a lot more money to be disgorged by the insurance industry in the near future.

So much for relying on HMOs and the private insurance market to bring down medical costs. Apparently the solution to the old fee-for-service system's tendency to overtest and overtreat was not to undertest and undertreat. The aggressive second-guessing of doctors by the HMOs has resulted in bad patient care without reducing costs. The money was simply diverted from doctors to insurance companies. And the patients are still getting fleeced.

So what next? Is it too much to hope that the HMO model's failure will prompt us to reconsider the idea of national health insurance? Or will our irrational fear of common, cooperative solutions lead us to shut our eyes to the obvious and repeated failures of the for-profit "free" market to provide a sustainable, effective, accessible and equitable health care system?

If so, the problems of unavailability and high costs will continue to plague us until we open our eyes and take our ideological blinders off.

October 24, 2003

Help Dean Win

Letters for America is up and running at last.

If you don't have much money, but would like to contribute to a better America, this is a great way to do it.

Thanks to Heidi for the link.

October 23, 2003

Cultural Divide Revealed!

Read this about the Boykin affair, and then tell me with a straight face that we don't face a HUGE cultural divide.

You know, dear readers, on which side of the divide Glorfindel resides. So I won't bore you with explanatory diatribes, or limp, weak rhymes...

(oops!)

October 21, 2003

Ideology and "facts"

I read this comment on the General Boykin affair and got angry.

But then I read Cal Thomas' take on the situation and got curious.

Has Boykin been "silenced" by the Bush Administration or not? The Washington Post thinks not; Cal Thomas thinks so.

This may be just a minor factual dispute, but it may be a revealing instance of how ideology can sometimes be determinative of the "facts." Six months from now, the "fact" that Boykin was "silenced" will probably be unquestioned by the religious Right. Meanwhile, others will take as established historical fact that Boykin was "not even reprimanded" by the President.

Both sides will wonder what kind of crack the other side has been smoking. The disagreement will probably seem to each side as evidence that the other is willing to willfully lie, or at least to bury its head in the sand in the face of uncomfortable "truth." But the truth will be buried so deeply under the manure pile of ideological commitments that even if it were dug up, it wouldn't command anyone's allegiance. And so an event will cease to be a historical reference point at all. Instead, it will become entirely a narrative and a bedtime story which serves the ideological interests of the people who tell it to their children at night. On one side: the story of Big Bad Boykin, the Lapdog of the Wacko Religious President. On the other: Muzzling our Patriotic Soldiers for the Sake of our Politically Correct Capitulation to Murderous Islamic Fanatics.

Both stories will make the people who tell them feel good about themselves. It will make them feel superior to their opponents. That's what it's all about.

October 19, 2003

the Wal-Mart effect

Every thoughtful citizen ought to ask themselves: Is it OK for me to shop at Wal-Mart?

The decision to shop or not to shop at Wal-Mart carries so many consequences for ourselves and for our society that the decision should not be made lightly or unconsciously.

Why should we care about Wal-Mart? Consider the recent California grocery strikes, which were apparently spurred by Wal-Mart's decision to enter the Golden State's grocery market. On one hand, it seems clear that consumers will benefit from prices that are 14 percent lower than at Wal-Mart's competitors. But on the other hand, employees will be hurt by wages and benefits that when taken together are 50% less than the current average of unionized grocery workers.

It may seem at first glance to be a no-brainer. Wal-Mart is cheapest! As consumers, we want the best prices we can get. Wal-Mart has earned our business by selling us the things we want for less.

But that's not the whole story. Wal-Mart's low prices are bought at a high cost. As the world's largest retailer, its business decisions affect the entire economy. Not only do its low wages tend to pull down wages for other retail workers, its clout with suppliers tends to force down their suppliers' wages too. This downward drag on employee compensation eventually involves all of us.

Of course, Wal-Mart isn't some external force acting on our society, even though it's often described this way. Wal-Mart only succeeds because we choose to shop there. Their "clout" and "weight" is our clout and weight, collectively.

So we have a decision to make. Do we want the kind of society where wages and benefits are so low that our only real choice is to shop in low-end retailers like Wal-Mart? Or will we say: "Wal-Mart, I've heard about you. I know your low prices are at the expense of worker salaries and benefits. And I've decided that I don't want to buy things from people whose hard work is rewarded with bare-bones wages and virtually non-existent benefits."

And remember: Wal-Mart includes Sam's Club, too...

October 18, 2003

64th-best novel ever

The Observer says that the Lord of the Rings is the 64th best novel of all time.

Is Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love any better, at 57th place? I didn't think so.

Thanks to Crescat Sententia for the link.

October 17, 2003

Religious war

Apparently some of our generals believe that we're really fighting Satan.

...yet top Pentagon leaders yesterday refused to criticize Boykin and cited his "outstanding" 30-year military record.

"At first blush, it doesn't look like any rules were broken," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So ironic that Bush, who likes to run a tight ship and "stay on message," wouldn't object more strenuously to Gen. Boykin's straying from the REAL reason we're invading countries in the Middle East.

Unless, of course, there's enough sympathy for Boykin's views in the White House that criticism isn't needed...

worthless World Series

The world series will not be worth much this year. I don't care how competitive the games are. It just doesn't matter whether the Yankees or the Marlins win.

There were four teams in the league championship series. The Cubs and the Red Sox were both there. This meant that there was a 75% chance that the World Series would feature either the Cubs or the Sox, and would therefore be somewhat interesting.

But no. We got the most worthless, most uninteresting matchup possible. There was only a one-in-four chance of that, but that's what we've got.

Well, for me the season's over. If you want to waste your time watching the Yankees and Marlins, no one's stopping you. It's a free country.

October 15, 2003

Iraqi privatization schemes

Here's a great article describing the latest US moves in their efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Chief US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer announced that all Iraqi state- owned companies will be sold to private investors, including foreigners, in efforts to accelerate the recovery of Iraq's decayed economy and promote stability.

I think the argument that selling off state assets might spur the "recovery" of the Iraqi economy is plausible. But I don't see how it would "promote stability." In fact, you might argue that instability is the inevitable price Iraq must pay for its economy to have any chance of recovery.

Let's not make the common mistake of holding up privatisation as a panacea that is sure to solve ALL problems everywhere.

The United Nations was not consulted by Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) on the matter, despite the CPA's interest in UN resources for rebuilding Iraq. The World Bank, however, praised the new policy.

The UN's approval would be nice. The World Bank's is nicer.

But the new policies could prove controversial among the many Iraqis who have not aligned themselves with the US. Some Iraqi businessmen expressed concern that well- capitalised foreign firms will enjoy an unfair advantage and siphon profits out of the country. Most disquieting is the fact that the reforms read like a free-market manifesto devised by Washington to sign off more than 30 years of a socialist-oriented economy that provided millions of Iraqis with subsidised food and services, even through Saddam's costly wars and blunders.

Are we failing to distinguish the evils of Saddam from the "evils" of failing to toe the neoconservative IMF/World Bank line? Sounds like we are.

October 13, 2003

Hey, hey, ho, ho, identity politics have got to go!

This article about the political divide on college campuses got me thinking.

About 13 years ago I arrived at the University of Chicago and promptly got involved with a neo-fascist Catholic triumphalist rag called the Chicago Crucible.

Just that spring I had given a pro-environmentalist speech at my high school graduation ceremony that any tree-hugger could be proud of.

What happened?

Intellectual curiosity is, unfortunately, only a small part of the explanation. A far larger part is that the Crucible looked so much more professional than any of its liberal counterparts, thanks in part to outside funding by conservative groups like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

Another reason was that the liberal magazines on campus turned me off. I couldn't articulate it very well back then, but now I think I know why: identity politics. The reason I don't like college-level leftist activism is its obsession with identity politics. I think this obsession weakens the Left by fracturing it into a million little camps whose only reason for cohesion seems to be the politically-correct requirement that membership in any of them means you can't criticize any of the others.

Contrast this with the college Right, who (for good reason) feel incapable of dissipating their energy in identity politics. The Right doesn't seem eager to form White Men's groups, or Wealthy Trust Fund Kids groups, or Insensitive Sexist Frat Boys Who Think Rape is Acceptable groups.

My opinion is that the success of the college Right--and they have been successful, elevating many of their leaders into national prominence after graduation--is in part because of their inability or refusal to waste their time with the identity politics so beloved of the Left.

Please answer this question, if you can: Why do we need a black women's group on campus, as distinct from a College Progressive group that advances the cause of mutual respect for all human beings?

I'll tell you: because these groups are really about helping their members to feel more comfortable in an environment where there aren't many of them. They're probably very good at this. But they aren't very good at anything else. Specifically, they aren't good at matching the success of the right-wing groups on campus when success is measured by their impact upon real policies, both on campus and nationally.

This country is being run by neoconservatives. I'd like to see that change. One way to do it is to study what they've been doing, and ask ourselves if there's anything we can learn from it. That's not an admission of weakness; it's a winning strategy.

A good place to start would be with a re-examination of the Left's infatuation with identity politics.

Public Service Announcement

A friend of mine has informed me that, unbeknownst to most self-respecting dorks like me, Sean Astin (who plays Sam Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings movies) directed an episode of Angel last year.

It remains mysterious why the WB didn't publicize this more aggressively. Speculation about the reasons for their soft-peddling might ultimately rise to the hights of the infamous Tom Bombadil controversy.

October 09, 2003

New heart failure drug. Whoopee.

The FDA has just approved Pfizer's aldosterone antagonist Inspra (eplerenone) for the treatment of heart failure. It had already been approved for treating hypertension.

Please forgive me if I don't get up and dance for joy.

I'm not saying it isn't a good thing to have a new, more effective drug on the market if you're suffering from congestive heart failure. I'm also glad Pfizer is continuing to introduce new drugs for the treatment of life-threatening conditions, rather than limit itself to lucrative "lifestyle" drugs like Viagra.

But I am reminded that our country's approach to medicine, drug development, and public health succeeds in some ways by failing in others.

Inspra isn't going to be cheap. For the well-heeled and well-insured suffering from congestive heart failure, the drug will be a good thing because it will be available. But for the rest of us, Inspra may not only be unavailable, but may also contribute to rising health-insurance premiums and force more of us to drop our health insurance altogether.

Insurance companies offering policies that include new drugs like Inspra in their formularies have to recoup the costs somehow. Since new brand-name drugs tend to cost more than the average drug in a formulary (which includes many inexpensive generics), offering the new drug increases the average cost of all medications. All else being equal, premiums have to go up. As premiums go up, more people find themselves unable to afford the coverage. The ranks of the uninsured grow.

And as more people become uninsured, more people do not receive any treatment at all for their heart failure, let alone the newest and best wonder-drugs. The cost of treating some people with Inspra, in our current system, is undertreating others with the same condition, or not treating them at all.

Here is where the public policy arguments begin. Some argue that this result isn't a bad thing. Over time, the overall sophistication of the treatment available to everyone increases because we encourage private pharmaceutical firms to innovate and to reap the financial rewards. In this sense, American medicine is the "best" in the world.

I don't buy it.

First, I don't agree that it's any better to sacrifice the basic health care available to some people for a marginal improvement in the advanced treatment available to others.

Second, I don't accept that we face an all-or-nothing choice between developing new drugs under our current system, and halting the advancement of medicine by altering that system to make it more equitable. But that's exactly what the pharmaceutical companies argue when anyone suggests policies aimed at reducing drug costs.

Given the pharmaceutical industry's profitability, it would seem that there is plenty of room to reign in drug prices while preserving the incentives the drug companies need to develop new drugs. That's just common sense.

In the meantime, we can celebrate the introduction of Inspra and other marginal improvements in the treatment of heart failure and other ailments. We can also cross our fingers and hope that we'll continue to be able to afford our insurance premiums, and that we'll be able to see a doctor and buy some basic medicines if we get sick.

October 08, 2003

Childish diddling in California

Let's start with Governor Schwarzenegger. While some have characterized the California recall election as a referendum on the Democrats, or as a principled rejection by the voters of politicians-as-usual, I incline to an interpretation of the recall election as a sign of the decadence and desperation, not to mention flippancy and triviality, into which our democracy has sunk.

The voters of California certainly have a lot to be "angry" about. But what does it say about their maturity and wisdom that they so recently re-elected the guy that they decided to recall yesterday? If they had been paying attention, nothing about Gov. Davis' second aborted term should have come as a surprise to them. Gov. Davis didn't change overnight. The state of the California economy did not change overnight. I suspect instead that the California electorate has simply not been paying attention for years. They've been diddling away their time on the stream of corporate-produced "entertainment" while Enron was rigging their electricity markets and the stock market bubble was doing what all bubbles eventually do.

So the voters were angry. Angry like spoiled children, who don't understand that they bear some responsiblity for the mess California is in. And how have they reacted? Like naiive children. Ahnold avoided debates and refused to say anything substantive about his policy ideas (if any), and the voters have rewarded him with the Governorship, probably because, like small children, they remember that the big man with muscles has entertained them in the past with all the neat-o movies and cool explosions. Like children, the voters of California try to soothe their troubles with more entertainment.

Democracy, we forget, burdens us with responsibilities. We seem not to want them. And so, we deserve what we get. Let the Ahnold regime begin...

October 02, 2003

The case for hating Bush?

Have a look at this

More will follow later...

October 01, 2003

anti-piracy efforts continue to cost us

While it doesn't necessarily mean that combatting the "piracy" of films is a bad idea, the Motion Picture Association of America's recent efforts demonstrate that we ought to weigh the value of stopping piracy against the costs.

And there are costs. For example, independent films could be locked out of contention for Academy Awards, and for the crucial post-awards publicity that follows. Given that the major studios have shown more interest in sequels than in risky and creative new material, the film-going public ought to be wary of any proposals that would make it harder for independent films to find wide release.

The problem boils down, unsurprisingly, to this: intellectual property rights were designed to benefit the PUBLIC by encouraging the "authors" of creative works to take risks. Are they still valuable when they benefit corporate entities who are often "authors" in name only, and whose behavior may retard the creativity that the rights were designed to encourage?

Don't let the corporate schtick confuse you. This whole debate is about how to benefit artists, inventors, and the public.