Steve Chapman explains how tobacco companies core business remains cigarettes. From there, he gets here:

There is now a small group of experts in public health who are now openly or covertly collaborating with the tobacco industry over e-cigarettes. They are being comprehensively played. In mouthing its newfound concern for tobacco’s harms, the industry’s harm-reduction division personnel can now cosy up to a suite of naïve or historically amnesic public heath urgers who lend Big Tobacco a credibility it craves.

Meanwhile, down the Big Tobacco corridor in the cigarette divisions, the harm-reduction staff’s colleagues continue promoting smoking and attempting to thwart effective tobacco control as usual.

Notably, the link goes to the Times article that has launched lawsuits and has resulted in at least one apology from the Times:

A group of scientists and public health experts are to take legal action against the Times newspaper after it reported claims from a leading charity that they were in the pay of the tobacco industry.

The experts, who work in fields that aim to limit deaths and health complications caused by smoking, are looking to sue the Times for defamation following a story that termed them “experts making a packet”.

The Times has published an apology to one of the scientists cited, Clive Bates, the former head of Action on Smoking and Health. The correction stated that he had funded his own travel and accommodation costs at an industry-sponsored tobacco forum in Brussels and had not received any funding from tobacco or nicotine companies.

But other scientists say that the same apology was not extended to them and they claim they have been falsely accused of accepting “tens of thousands of pounds from tobacco companies to carry out research into e-cigarettes”.

Lewis Silkin, a legal firm specialising in libel, will be acting on behalf of five scientists, including professor Karl Fagerström, an expert in addiction science. “My life’s work has been built on helping reduce the death toll from tobacco smoking. Yet The Times has portrayed me and my colleagues as hirelings of big tobacco,” he said. “The Times has chosen to traduce our reputations. Now it is time for the paper to profusely apologise or face a battle it will not win.”

The irony here, of course, is that Chapman and “Big Tobacco” are on the same side here, more or less. Both see ecigarettes as a threat to their respective interests. It’s probably that one of them is wrong, however. Most likely it’s Chapman. Chapman, as do many anti-vaping advocates, frames ecigarettes as the latest attempt by Big Tobacco to sell a not-safer product (like low tar cigarettes). This leaves aside some important things, such as that ecigarettes were largely started by third-parties and coopted by ecigarette companies.

What Chapman fails to investigate is why Big Tobacco doesn’t view vaping as its future. There are multiple answers, most of which don’t really correspond with what he’s saying. For example, ecigarettes may not be as addictive as cigarettes, therefore the customer base is less captured. There is also the fact that, contra the picture he paints, many big market participants aren’t tobacco companies and so the competition is more stiff., which would indicate that Big Tobacco’s cigarette margins remain as high as they are because tobacco controllers have placed enormous barriers to competition.

I do actually share Chapman’s concerns that Big Tobacco want ecigarettes to function primarily as a dual-use bridge. A future in which Big Tobacco controls the industry is one in which ecigarettes likely remain weak and comparatively ineffectual as quitting aides. It’s just a shame that the FDA has so recently made their job a lot easier. With innovation stifled, it may become harder to have a real cigarette replacement.

Both Chapman and Big Tobacco are fine with that.

Category: Newsroom

Saturday Night Live hit a home run with this one:

The initial response was along the lines of The Hill, wherein it say that Hanks was “mocking” Trump supporters. But the portrayal is clearly affectionate to at least some degree and it really took some blinders not to see that. Or, it takes the assumption of a blue collar cadence as inherent mockery.

Then there was a round of people saying that it was about unity. Which goes off a bit too far in the other direction, because it ends on a bit of a dour note. After forming passerby-relationships with the host and other contestants, the subject of Black Lives Matter (implicitly) came up. Before we can see what happens, the skit ends. Jamelle Bouie describes the importance of the ending well:

Because the bulk of the sketch is this humanizing back-and-forth between Doug, the black host, the black contestants, and the black audience, it’s easy to read the message as a plea for tolerance and understanding. There’s more that unites us than there is that divides us. You can even add a class analysis: Black Americans share more than just common culture with some Trump supporters; they share common interests. There are important limits to this, beyond the universe of SNL: Because of its roots in the South, black culture shares an affinity with the rural white life that Doug represents. It’s not clear this would exist between, say, a black audience and a Trump-supporting professional from outside Milwaukee. But at this point, the sketch’s argument seems barely implicit: We need to work together instead of pitting ourselves against each other.

Then comes the final punchline, “Lives That Matter.” Obviously, the answer to the question is “black.” But Doug has “a lot to say about this.” Which suggests that he doesn’t think the answer is that simple. Perhaps he thinks “all lives matter,” or that “blue lives matter,” the phrasing used by those who defend the status quo of policing and criminal justice.

The only real disagreement I have (except with some slightly different priors) is that I don’t know that they really went into it wanting to make much of a point at all. It was funny because it was intended to be, as opposed to en route to an explanation of the human condition. We assign meaning to it because (for some of us, at least) it rang true. The humor required elements of truth, and it delivered. But beyond that, I think it was mostly a humorous portrayal of the commonality as well as, as Bouie says, the divisions.

Category: Theater

Some recent comments by you-know-who have lead us to relitigate past accusations of unfair elections, specifically 2000 and 2004. Up until now, I had forgotten that my one tangible contribution to a successful political campaign involved allegations of election fraud. I was only reminded when I read this article:

The US has rejected a Russian proposal to send diplomats to monitor the upcoming presidential elections and some states have even threatened to bring criminal charges against any that appear at ballot stations, Russian election officials report.

Sources in the Central Elections Commission have told Izvestia daily that its representatives held a series of talks with the US State Department to discuss sending a delegation of monitors to US polling stations on November 8. US officials categorically rejected even the possibility of such a mission, however, instead recommending that Russia join the international mission of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

The request was also rejected on a state level, and in three states – Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas – officials used “very harsh formulas” to do so, the sources said. “In violation of all principles of democracy and international monitoring, in Texas they even threatened to hold monitors who appear at ballot stations criminally responsible,” they added.

Once upon a time, I sort of worked on a gubernatorial campaign. I didn’t actually work for the campaign, but a group I belonged to was contracted out to float ideas for attack ads. When all was said and done, we got a check for $214 a piece.

One of my ideas made it through into what turned out to be a devastating ad. (The genius of which was not my doing, however.)

The two candidates were Governor Mark Blankenship (R) and Former Congressman Jason Valle (D). The funny thing is that we were lukewarm on Blankenship and had, once upon a time, thought highly of Valle. In fact, Valle had earlier wanted us to be a part of his team. As a politician at the city level, he was a Democrat but a part of the conservative faction of City Council. When he ran for mayor, some of us were rooting for him. He ended up in congress, where he became a standard-issue Democrat. Running for governor was a bad idea. So, too, would have been burning our bridge to work for him. I might have been willing to, but others were more invested in the whole thing and I could understand where they were coming from.

Since we were in Colosse and he was a Colossean politician, we were a part of oppo research. Which was pretty easy, since we’d been following Valle for a while. My primary contribution was his speaking out in favor of (and voting for) opening US elections up to UN observers because our system couldn’t be trusted. Disliking France was all the rage, so my basic suggestion was something to do with putting Valle in a beret or something.

Very intellectual, I know. But it made it into an ad that was so successful that campaigns in other states copied it. While the UN thing was a central piece of the ad, it was the angle that got all of the attention. It was the ad agency that did that. (Not going to share it with you, anonymity and all that, but I can give you a link to the ad if you email me.)

It was kind of neat working for a gubernatorial campaign. I even got to meet the governor, albeit very briefly. It would have been cooler if it had been a governor that I supported. I voted for Valle.

Category: Statehouse





Category: Home

Tod has a post Over There taking some conservatives to task on their complaints about the media allegedly unleashing a bunch of October surprises they should have approached more diligently at an earlier point in the cycle. I agree in parts, and disagree in others. I’m using these two terms somewhat loosely. But let’s review:

Conservative media critics really do need to let this go, for a variety of reasons. First, because it was first and foremost the job of the other candidates to get this out there. Second, because what happened with regard to the media was not only predictable, and predicted, but actually understandable in context and not remotely unique to Trump (except to the extent that Trump himself is unique). Third, the notion that the media sat on stories of this sort for this long to unleash it all in October is absurd. Fourth, and most importantly, the media presented more than enough information for the primary voters to discard him, and they didn’t.

That said, I really hope the media does take a step back and look at how it contributed to the situation. It did. While it’s very much not helpful for conservatives to complain about it because it’s deflecting. The truth is that everybody needs to be looking at their own behavior. That includes boosters and Republicans and conservatives first and foremost, but also the media. People who harbor less responsibility are too fond of simply pointing the finger at those who harbor more. The media got played. Its poor attention span, its attraction to the immediate, and its inability to figure out how to handle such a different candidate are things that they will hopefully do better next time. (Not optimistic about the first two, but think they may have figured out the third.)

It’s also worth noting that “the media” covers a lot of ground here. I was saying last week that print and (some) web did a much better job than television and television punditry. Most of my criticism is reserved for the latter. And to some extent the interaction between them.

Ultimately, though, the media coverage has changed. Partially because it flows from having an actual recording. While stories of this kind aren’t new, but the way that they’re being covered is. Where I really disagree with my #NeverTrump brethren is that I don’t think it’s anything strategic on the part of the media, or that it’s related to the fact that Trump ran as a Republican. Covering a primary race with a half dozen candidates is simply different than a two-person race. Coverage in the home stretch is different from coverage earlier on. The only substantive change is that at least a part of this may be a response to the media responding to criticisms from the left over the last month about how they were covering the race, which caused a re-evaluation. Sure, similar complaints from the #NeverTrump right went unheeded, but that really wasn’t the problem.

As Tod points out, the stories were out there but they were lost in a sea of other things going on. Including by us. Tod points out a number of stories that I was aware of but that never really penetrated. There was a lot happening. In a weird way, things actually sort of needed to get boring for things to heat up. The news cycle needed to give way for impossible-to-avoid wall-to-wall coverage that had before been muddled with horse race coverage that (since he was leading) almost necessarily put Trump in a positive light. And the Clinton scandals needed to die down (or focus had to be moved away from them).

And it’s not impossible in a couple of weeks this will all trail off and it’ll be an “oh, yeah” thing. We’re running out of time for that, though. And that was the case for anything breaking in October. The spinning bottle has to stop somewhere.

The theory that the press actually withheld these stories, though, has very little going for it. That’s just not what the press does. You run with a story before anyone else finds it, which means as soon as you get it and (hopefuly) do due diligence. There are isolated counterexamples, but the most famous (Bush+TANG) didn’t work out very well (the “due diligence” thing matters). Most of the time, October Surprises aren’t October Surprises because the media held on to it, but because the opposing candidate did. (I believe it’s entirely possible the Octoberness of this story is because the Clinton campaign competently worked it this way.)

Yes, Liz Mair and Rick Wilson have both said they were approaching the media with blockbuster stories while the primary was ongoing, but you have to think that through. If the media turned it down, it was almost certainly light on details. And, to be honest, a desperate appeal to the media to do the candidates’/consultants’ jobs. If they had a story on a silver platter, of course the media would run with it. And even in a world where they somehow decided not to, a Trump-skeptical conservative outlet would have. With enough work, the media would have had to cover the coverage, if nothing else. That was what happened with some of the Clinton archives unearthed by the Washington Free Beacon.

Given that most of the people complaining now are doing so in an “I Told You So” fashion, they ought to consider that they’re seeing what they’re seeing precisely because they predicted it. Dots connected in a particular way precisely because they correspond with predictions. It is true that we did warn them that coverage would turn sharply negative in the general election. It is true that coverage turned sharply negative in the general election. But that has as much to do with the weeds around it getting cut as it does a change in the thing that the weeds were surrounding. That was always visible, to those that wanted to see it.

Category: Newsroom

Some of you may have heard about Donald Trump talking about vagina-groping ladies. It’s been in the news.

One of the offshoots of this conversation has been whether it’s appropriate for men to relate their impression of it with the women in their lives. As some Republicans have backed away from Trump, they’ve cited that they were horrified because of their wives and daughters. This lead to a degree of backlash about how women are people apart from their relationship with men.

I can understand the frustration. Society has often juxtaposed women in relation to the nearest man. Formal letters are often addressed to Mr and Mrs John Smith, for example. Books about women are often titled about their relation to men (Preacher’s Wife, Coal-Miner’s Daughter). And beyond that, there is perhaps something infantizing about it and how it’s deployed.

That being said, the objections in cases like this tend to be misguided.

I don’t consider myself especially sexist of misogynistic. I’ve always believed that women should get equal pay for equal work. I entered into a marriage of non-traditional arrangement with a female breadwinner and a stay-at-home dad, and felt no special compunction about doing so. And of course, rape is bad and sexual harassment is bad and have always been bad.

Even so, it’s one thing to believe things abstractly and another to have a specific reference. While I did believe that sexism in the workplace existed, things changed entirely when my livelihood depended on my wife being treated fairly in the workplace. That was when I started seeing unfairness everywhere. Not just as it pertained to her, but I started seeing it more around me generally. Things I had before found other explanations for became “Well, Other Explanation maybe, but I suspect there is sexism involved as well.”

If we so choose, we can attribute this to Trumwill’s Failure of Creative Empathy. It is not to my credit that I was as dismissive as I was before my own welfare was on the line, for sure. But even if we grant this, my wife became a conduit through which I saw – and saw the importance of – sexism more than I had before. Likewise, having a daughter has made me more keenly aware of the importance of female strength and independence. Strength and independence from the need of a man. This may not be ideal, but it is what it is.

All of which is to say, encouraging men to look at issues of sexism with the women and girls in their lives as a conduit is a good thing. Because it’s likely to be effective. The tangible always trumps the abstract. And this does apply both ways.

Toe above tweet is supposed to illustrate the absurdity of this, but it really doesn’t. The key here is whether the bad thing that happens is male-centric or not. If it’s something that is as likely or not to happen to anyone regardless of gender, then it is silly. But that’s not really what we’re talking about when we’re talking about sexual harassment or assault. We’re talking about something I am very unlikely to ever have to deal with, or if I do it’s in a trivial or infrequent manner (like when I was a substitute teacher and rather uncomfortable with a bunch of women talking about the hotness of the CSI detectives). So it becomes easy for me to disagree with the likelihood or severity of the imposition.

Men may generally have less creative empathy than women, but it’s certainly something I’ve seen with issues that they are rarely likely to be on the wrong side of. False paternity is a historic example. Perhaps the most contemporary example of a male-centric problem is due process for college students accused of sexual assaults come to mind. I want women thinking about their brothers and sons when it comes to giving men adequate room to defend themselves against a change. When we talk about kids getting kicked out of college, I think they are less likely to think of it as “no big deal” if they’re thinking of their sons. And sure enough, women who talk about this (from a pro-process perspective) do talk about their sons.

Notably, they almost all have sons.

I am going to keep an eye on things, and if these arguments do really offend women (outside opinion-on-everything Twitter and the like) then I will stop using it. I may lack the creative empathy to see why exactly its effectiveness is insufficient to undermine its offensiveness. It would be a shame if that were the case.

Category: Coffeehouse

UPDATE: Please see my version of this post Over There. The short story is, I was wrong and I retract my argument.

My wife got a piece of mail yesterday addressed to “[her name] or current resident” and the return address said, “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon.” The bottom of the envelope had a note that said “From the desk of [Joe Schmoe],” who is Sangamon’s secretary of state. Inside the envelope were a vote-by-mail application, a postage-paid envelope in which to send the application, and a form letter from the Sangamon secretary of state explaining the vote by mail process. At the end of the letter is a postscript:

P.S. No matter who you vote for, voting matters. It’s the backbone of our democracy. Fill out your Vote By Mail application and send it back TODAY! You can apply online or find your early voting site at [Sangamaon][Sangamon]

While I have mixed feelings about vote by mail, it’s an option open to people in Sangamon and I offer no complaint about it here. And because, as I understand, the state’s secretary of state is charged with voter registration and running the vote by mail service, I find it entirely appropriate that his office sends letters and applications to citizens.

But it’s unseemly, in my opinion, to have this thing paid for by the Democratic party. It’s also unseemly that she was the only one to get the application. While my wife is registered to vote, I don’t know if she’s registered as a Democrat. (If I understand right, in Sangamon, you don’t have to declare an affiliation when you register, but you may if you wish.)

I’m not a registered Democrat. I’m also not particularly friendly to the local Democratic party. Several months ago, a precinct captain was in the neighborhood asking for my signature on a petition for someone to run for Democratic the ward committeeman. I politely explained that I was uncomfortable with the quasi-official “party committeeman” form of governance. Equally politely, he didn’t pursue the matter or harangue me.

It’s possible I was put on the list of “not likely to vote for our person and therefore shouldn’t waste campaign resources on him.” When it comes to things like voter canvassing or who to hit up for donations, that’s a perfectly acceptable way to designate people. But if, as may be the case here, it might determine who receives vote by mail applications “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon.”

Or not. There may be other, mostly innocent or innocuous, things going on. Our landline is registered under my wife’s name, so it’s listed in the phone book under her name. So if that kind of record is gotten by the same pool of information as the phone book, then I can see why the default would be to send the application to her. I also understand that in Big City, the Democratic Party is the main organization and its quasi-official role in governing the city gives it certain responsibilities. So it’s not completely bad that it helps meet operating expenses for public services like vote by mail applications. And Sangamon’s budget is pretty strapped, although I seem to recall similar notices sent to my wife years ago when the budget troubles weren’t quite as bad.

And the envelope was addressed to her “or current resident.” Presumably, I or anyone residing at that address could comfortably open the envelope and get the benefit of access to the application.

But I have a problem with that. I usually won’t open a piece of mail addressed to someone “or current resident” if that someone is not me. I opened this particular piece of mail only because my wife gave me permission. Even if the envelope had been addressed to me, the label “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon” might lead someone to believe it’s just a political flyer or request for a donation. In that case, I’d be disinclined to open such an envelope. Some of that is counterbalanced by the “from the desk of Joe Schmoe” note I mentioned above. And of course, I was curious enough to open the envelope, so I wasn’t deceived.

But if a state service “from the desk of” the state’s secretary of state is being sent out “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon,” that implies something like an official advertisement the party bought from the state, suggesting that for the benefit of paying for this outreach, it receives quasi-official status as the main game in town. This isn’t the most horrible thing ever, but it’s not entirely benign either.

Category: Statehouse


-{This post assumes that you have not watched the Amazon series Alpha House and either have no intention to or don’t mind spoilers.}-

There will, evidently, be no Season 3 of Alpha House. This is not a huge surprise. Real life rendered the show redundant.

A brief explanation of what the show is about. It follows four Republican senators through their personal and professional lives. Keeping the character descriptions as short as I can, they go:

Senator Gil John Biggs, played by John Goodman. He’s a former UNC basketball coach who went into politics mostly on account of his wife’s (Julie White) ambitions. Over the course of the series he gradually drifts towards the center on climate change, military sexual assault issues, among others I can’t recall. He’s probably the most sympathetic of the lot. Senator Robert Bettencourt, played by Clark Johnson, an African-American from Pennsylvania and stylistically doesn’t deviate much from other characters played by Clark Johnson. Senator Louis Laffer, played by Matt Malloy, an effeminate Mormon from Nevada. Most of his story is his mentally dancing around his apparent sexual attraction to men, and some jokes about Mormonism. Senator Andy Guzman, played by Mark Consuelos. He’s intended to be a parody of Marco Rubio and is really the only character who takes the place of a real senator.

On the whole, the show was surprisingly sympathetic to its Republican characters given the givens. The only bad character was Guzman, and he was coming around. Even Laffer, the anti-gay gay guy, had endearing aspects. It even undercut one of its themes (Republicans are the party of Old White Men) by insisting on a diverse cast (giving us black Bettencourt, Hispanic Guzman, and a black and couple gay aides) It is what it is, of course, and I always have to grade such shows on a curve. But given the constraints of Hollywood, a failed Turing Test here and a lefty sermon there are somethings I can live with. I’ll take what I can get, and I lament that there won’t be more. I recommend the show to anyone who follows politics who is not either (a) a liberal who believes conservatives must be portrayed with horns on their heads, or (b) a conservative really sensitive about being made fun of.

The show ends with Laffer slowly realizing his homosexuality, Bettencourt waiting on the returns of a really close re-election race against real life Ed Rendell, Guzman gearing up for a presidential bid, and Biggs being urged by some to run. I was not surprise when the announcement of a third season was indefinitely delayed. The show weaved between reality (Obama is president, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul exist, Rendell and Schumer appear) and fiction (none of the principals are real, and Rubio doesn’t exist). And the entire point of the show is to ridicule Republicans. What could this show possibly do to the GOP that the GOP hasn’t been actively doing to itself?

The more I thought about it, though, I was thinking about it all wrong. There was actually a more fascinating story to tell that would have made Season 3 amazing. And very in keeping with the character, if not the original intent, of the show. One of the things I’ve constantly wondered was what it would be like to be a Republican congresscritter while all of this was going on.

There were a couple of ways that the show could have handled this. They could have inserted two of the characters into the race with Biggs as Kasich and Guzman as (of course) Rubio. They also could have inserted a new character in place of Ted Cruz and just kind of had at it. It would have been a great deal of fun if they could have pulled it off. I go back and forth on whether it would work better with the Kasich/Biggs thing or without it (if it would have made it too busy), but John Kasich’s campaign was so weird that there’s some comedy material in there somewhere. If they go this route, I would probably swap Trump out with a similarly atrocious reality TV candidate pattered off Duck Dynasty (Rip Torn may be available).

An alternative to that is simply to have any and all presidential runs fail and have them hanging out in DC while all of this is going on. This might be easier, and ultimately more fulfilling. Start the show right about the time Rubio (Guzman) drops out. Keep the three-person race as Trump/Cruz/Kasich or swap them out for Torn/somebody/somebody if you want them to appear on the show as characters or you want to avoid the characters endorsing real live politicians.

In any case, just as I believe House Slythrin would be the most interesting House to be a fly on the wall in Harry Potter, the Republican caucus would be a more fascinating (and more hilarious) venue than it was from 2012-14, the first two seasons. I can envision plots of people trying to get them on board the Trump Train (or Torn Train or whatever) and I’ll even take an eye-rolling scene where they refuse to endorse their party’s nominee (except I’ll be cheering instead of rolling my eyes).

Category: Theater

Over There, Tod writes about Theranos with some stuff that didn’t make it into an article he wrote for Marie Claire.

I have some comments on a couple of them. First, about Holmes herself:

When speaking in public, Homes has an awkward, stilted way about her. She’s monotonous and unemotional. While others on Ted Talks vibrantly emote, Holmes just kind of dully drones on. When answering tough questions in interviews, she tightens up and looks nervous, her face a mask of forced smiles.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Lot’s of people simply aren’t good on stage or interacting with people they don’t know, especially on camera. If you’re one of those people, you can sound boring, or look like you’re being disingenuous or hiding something, even if you’re not. The point simply being that when looking for a reason for how Holmes not only got away with doing what she did for as long as she did, but also for how she became a near-universal media darling, the answer “charisma” falls woefully short.

I was really taken aback when I saw my first Holmes interview. She wasn’t at all what I expected, which I guess was Melissa Mayer more or less. I’d seen pictures of her and except for the carefully staged ones, she looks… always. Pretty, in her own way, but very awkward in demeanor. Which maybe should have been an indication that she was not as polished as Mayer, but didn’t quite serve that way. Until her fall from grace, it actually made me like her more. There was a bit of phoniness about a Geek’s understanding of what a Cool Kid is, but emphasis on Geek. A kinship, of sorts.

The second is about narratives, which I think is important but have comparatively little to add:

No one who had Holmes answer their questions with that answer on national television was under any illusion that Holmes was in any way answering that question, let alone addressing a very real serious public health concern about her product. But no one cared. In every case, the person interviewing her smiles and nods, and moves on to ask her how awesome it is to be the world’s youngest female self-made-billionaire, or what it’s like to truly make the world a better place, or some other totally unserious question that fits the narrative they set out to push before they ever lined up their interview questions.

Theranos became a public health problem because it was in Theranos’s interests to push a narrative that simply and obviously was never true. But it became one too because it was in the media’s interest to do the same.

This worries me about media coverage generally. I was talking on Twitter with someone recently about globalism and how one of the criticisms may be off-base. He asked whether I actually believed what the article said, given that it’s a pro-capitalism outfit and our masters all want us to believe it. I said that I believed it, but acknowledged something important: While I believe it’s true, I believe the media would tell us its true regardless of whether it’s true. I think the media does this about a lot of things, including trade, immigration, and race and gender narratives. Even political race coverage, wherein I believe the experts who say that Trump likely won’t win, but in the event that Trump were going to win, I believe they’d be saying… pretty much what they’re saying now. Which doesn’t lead to a reflexive disbelief on my part, but a persistent skepticism I don’t always know what to do with. But narratives are exceptionally important, and deviating from high society’s favored narratives is costly, which makes it easier for everybody to go along.

The last is a bit more political:

It turns out — and I know this will come as a shock to you — that most states have laws against medically testing people without a doctor’s consent, especially by medical testing facilities using procedures not approved by the FDA. Go figure! Turns out that Arizona also once had laws like this on the books. HB2645 essentially lifted those regulations so that Theranos could begin selling its tests to Arizona citizens.

Unsurprisingly, this strikes me as a more complicated issue. Yes, the Arizona legislature dropped the ball here. And they did so in service of a bad actor. And yet… medically testing people without a doctor’s consent doesn’t strike me as an inherently bad idea. I would say something about unapproved-by-the-FDA facilities and that being a good place to hang my hat, but… well, it’s the FDA. While the FDA might keep a company like Theranos from selling faulty goods, I don’t have a whole lot of difficulty believing they’d approach a good actor the same way.

And in a statement against interest, I believe we require a doctor’s consent on too much. A commonly cited example is birth control. Eyeglasses requirements are a bug up my craw as well. Doctors are too busy, and their time both too valuable and too expensive, to be involved in everything. Which gets to the difficult, nitty-gritty aspect of regulation. My approach here isn’t “Deregulate Everything!” but that some things that sound like a transparently bad idea – such as allowing blood tests without a doctor’s consent – may not be.

So while I can easily see that this particular manifestation of such deregulation is a bad idea, it’s not super clear to me what a better model looks like.

Addendum: Make it four. He mentions former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as someone who lent Theranos credibility. I only bring this up because when there was talk of a Third Party thing with a split of the GOP, I brought up Frist on a few occasions. It was said mostly jokey, as someone underwhelming to a group of people who had their eyes on Mitt Romney or John Kasich. Someone kind of dusted off the shelf because “Hey, he’ll work.” Anyhow, one thought I did have that didn’t make me like the idea is how much he cashed in after he left office. The Theranos thing doesn’t surprise me. Notably, though, he sold out in ways that Democrats would approve by speaking positively about PPACA.

Category: Hospital, Statehouse

New York’s yellow-cab drivers no longer required to pass English test (The Guardian)

A new law that streamlines licensing requirements for different kinds of drivers has done away with the longstanding English proficiency test for taxi drivers, which supporters say will eliminate a barrier to the profession for immigrants, who make up 96% of the 144,000 cabbies in the city.

Drivers must still pass tests on such details as driving rules and where they can pick up passengers.

The end of the English test is also a recognition of how technology has transformed the business. Many drivers now rely on computer navigation programs rather than verbal directions to reach a destination. For-hire drivers for app-based services such as Uber have never had to take an English test.

Critics of the change, including some drivers, say a good command of English is a basic requirement for a job that involves communicating with passengers and reading street signs.

“If you’re going to work in this country serving the population which is majority made up of American citizens that speak English, you probably should learn how to speak English,” said Tanya Crespo, a tourist visiting Manhattan from Newport, North Carolina.

I don’t get irate about Pressing 1 for English. I am not worried that immigrants aren’t going to assimilate. I don’t get mad if I’m in line and the people in front of me are speaking a language I don’t understand. I only complain about Indian customer support when it actually makes customer support more difficult.

But on this? I agree with Crespo. I could favor getting rid of the requirement if it’s determined to be a waste of time and money. But to lower the barrier of entry? For New York Taxis? Because if they’re really interested in lowering barriers, I have some suggestions.

Back in reality, though, the taxi market is very constricted in New York. This may be right or this may be wrong, but it is what it is. We limit the number of taxis we allow on the streets for a variety of reasons, including preventing the oversaturation of the market. In other words, barriers for the sake of barriers. We only want a limited number of suppliers and, by extension, drivers. And if we’re going to limit the number of drivers, after things like bad criminal records and knows the rules of the road, language is a pretty decent requirement.

Most of the time you may not need to be able to communicate with the driver, but sometimes you do. And since the number of drivers on the road is limited anyway, it seems more than reasonable to require for that contingency. “What about markets” simply doesn’t apply here, and an argument about “Would you rather have a driver who can’t speak English or no driver at all?” doesn’t work, when we’re limiting the number of drivers anyway. (As an aside, this also raises questions about immigrants doing “jobs Americans don’t do”… but that’s pretty tangential.

Along these lines, I don’t care about Uber or Lyft. There we are talking about a tradeoff between the number of drivers and the ability to communicate with them easily. A language requirement might lead to less supply, which might be a tradeoff not worth considering. So I’d leave it to them to decide. If enough people get angry about non-English speaking Uber drivers picking them up, then they can revise. If nobody does and they will simply take the availability, then the people have spoken. (Provided, of course, that language requirements don’t transition into a legal zone of “unlawful discrimination.”)Photo by robnguyen01

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