On July 1st, my wife had surgery. It was not the end of the world, but they did have to knock her out and, well, it was surgery. Afterwards we stopped by the pharmacy to pick up medication and almost everything was denied. Not “pending decision” denied but “Nopenopenope” denied. It turned out the issue was that our health insurance had, at the end of June, changed something-or-another and so we had to fill out a completely different form and had a different account number.

Our problems only started there. As it happens, the surgery itself was no longer covered at the hospital where it was performed. We live in a tri-state area where a lot of our services are provided across state lines. New policy is nothing non-emergent can occur across state lines under any circumstances. We can’t go to the hospital that’s twenty thirty minutes away, or the one that’s thirty minutes away. The nearest major hospital in the state is actually three hours away. This new policy of course took effect July 1st, the day of the surgery.

We will grant that the policy was not necessarily tailored around denying us coverage. Most people don’t live in the odd geographical nook that we do. We would even be understanding if we weren’t already sitting on about eight thousand dollars of medical bills that they are either evading or outright denying. Some of them we knew would be a long shot. For example: Not only is one of my wife’s doctor’s not covered because they’re across state lines, but they are also denying coverage for the prescription that doctor wrote. They are, in fact, doing this mid-prescription.

Every insurance company and insurance plan we’ve had seems worse than the last, but this one is really ambitiously bad, and it’s getting worse every year. We’re at the point where if we could, despite our significant medical expenses, we’d just get a high-deductible plan and pay out-of-pocket just so that we know what our outlays are. PPACA makes that difficult, unfortunately, and more expensive because I am still considered a smoker.

Category: Hospital

Last week, France lit up the Eiffel Tower in the colors of the German flag. A nice gesture, don’t you think. NOT SO FAST!!!!!

This tweet was retweeted a couple thousand times. There were actually several variations. You can also read a lot of self-congratulation in response to it.

Not only is this a load of crap, but it’s a load of crap based on a very fictitious pretension. We are one world. A life in Afghanistan ought to mean just as much as a life nearer by. Or, I guess, in this case, it’s a 10:1 ratio, but actually the point will still sort of stand. There is the implicit assumption that we should feel lives equally, whether near from afar or whether eastern or western.

That’s a lofty ideal, but has nothing to do with the real world. In practice, it’s more of a pretension than an ideal.

If a close friend dies, and I express grief that my friend died and you point out that a lot of other people also died with the suggestion that I should care equally, I would want to smack you. Nobody but the autistic reporter from The Onion does that. I feel it more directly because it’s somebody I know. Broaden the scope more widely, of course Americans are going to feel a greater sense of tragedy when other Americans die. This is true whether we’re talking about a 1:1 ratio or not. Americans are connected to Americans. We’re a part of the same social compact, whether we like one another or not. Trump’s “America First” may be a bad slogan due to its historical connotations, but if we’re saying that we think the idea is bad, we’re mostly fooling ourselves.

It’s implicit in almost everything we do. It’s why no country on the planet has completely open borders. Argentina comes to closest, but even they have screening mechanisms. But why, oh why, should someone born here have rights and privileges that someone born in Chile? Because that’s how nations work. We offer government benefits to people who are within our borders, and deny them to people outside of our borders, out of an at least theoretical sense that we are in it together. And that their loss is our loss. Restricted trade may be a good idea or a bad one, but the primary (albeit not sole) concern is going to involve the well-being of Americans.

This goes beyond our direct borders to other things. Due to history and geography, we’re going to feel Canada more than Guyana. Despite the lack of geography, we’re going to feel Britain more than we’re going to feel Belize. We might even feel Belize and Guyana more than Morocco. And on and on.

Now, in the case of Afghanistan, there is an argument to be made that France is connected Afghanistan by virtue of their participation in the Afghan War. As Americans, we ought to feel a connection on that basis that may justify more of a response than it got from us. But… I just don’t think that’s what’s going on, really. I think what’s going on is a sense that we care more about what happens to the French than what happens in the Middle East. Which, we do. France is a colleague. There is more common culture and so there is going to be more empathy. Consider that racist or occidentalist or whatever you like, but it’s a fundamental truth. Good for you if you transcend such trivial humanity, but most of us don’t and never will and it’s stupid to expect otherwise.

And beyond that, France might actually care more about Germany due to their both being members in the EU together. This is actually the sort of relationship that fans of the EU (which I would guess this guy is) should want to foster. If you’re going to demand that the French view German lives and Afghan lives with parity, not only are you fooling yourself, you’re actually destroying the European project, which depends on closer relationships between some nations (member states) and others (everybody else).

If the world is your home, you have no home. If the people of the world are your people, you have no people. And if you claim to view all citizens of the world in similar light, you’re either a phony or a robot.

Category: Coffeehouse

parkingfeeWhile conservatives tend to overestimate tenfold the degree to which political correctness gave rise to Trump, the signal to noise ratio really is a problem.

Nat Malkus argues that charter schools don’t really have a disciplining problem that make them worse than – or look better than – government schools.

We are likely to be debt-free in another year or two, thanks in (relatively small, about 30%) part to government programs like this. It’s definitely a way to get doctors to consider doing something they otherwise wouldn’t want to do, but there is an economic inefficiency about it (on our end) I don’t care for.

Tony You argues that programming doesn’t require talent or passion and the myth that it does is a real problem. I think this is true, though it should be said that it requires something an awful lot of people don’t have (and in some cases likely can’t develop).

In Trumpian fashion, Ivanka used the convention to hawk a dress from her line. Even so, I do actually think it’s kind of cool that it’s a reasonably affordable dress as far as such dresses go.

The Socialist Party is likely on its way out in France, but they imparted one final blow to try to put things back on track (or, depending on your point of view, screw their own people).

thinkbeforeyouinkAdam Gurri writes of the hegemony of the backstory. I’ve become increasingly against the notion that every introduction should be an origin story.

It’s kind of funny that Suits has such a liberal following since it’s one of few shows that show protagonist guardians for Big Corporations (including oil companies!). I’m also not sure what to make of the fact that Supernatural is higher on both sides than The Big Bang Theory.

Benjamin Wittes offers some advice on whether Justice Department lawyers should stand up to President Trump from within, or fight him from without.

The BitTorrent whack-a-mole game continues, but the feds got themselves a huge hit.

Well crap, there’s one potential electoral reform I support possibly out the window. There are a number of things we do that empower the entrenched party structure, and this is definitely one of them.

matchScott Stanley writes of motivated ambiguity and Jane Austen.

Andrew Flowers looks at the complicated relationship between Spotify, music sales, and piracy.

A new study suggests that at a certain point social admonition may adversely affect smokers. To be fair, that only matters if we consider smokers to be people rather than characters in a morality play – and it’s pretty clear where we stand on that.

Also, fat people.

Category: Newsroom


Though I found Trump’s acceptance speech underwhelming, it was nonetheless probably one of the best “serious” speeches he ever gave. So naturally, he spent the next day talking about Ted Cruz’s father and JFK. It’s almost as though he resents the teleprompter so much that he has to “get his revenge” afterwards. Which is fine for me, since I want to keep as much of the intransigents as intransigent as possible. Also, he said that he might start a SuperPAC to get revenge on Cruz and Kasich.

Some people have wondered, or at least mock-wondered, precisely why it is that despite being in a general election with an uphill climb, that he keeps going after party members whose help he actually needs. Kasich’s lack of support, for example, is tying up resources in a state that he needs. So many people predicted that once he had the nomination he would normalize and moderate, but it just hasn’t happened. They predicted he would become a more traditional Republican candidate, but that hasn’t happened, either. He knocks Cruz and tries to befriend Bernie Sanders. He and the RNC attack the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee for being too moderate.

What’s going on?

There are several interrelated issues here. But the most surprising is the continued attacks on Cruz, Kasich, and company. There have been a number of theories put forward.

  1. He’s secretly a Clinton plant out to destroy the Republican Party. “Trump as a Clinton plant” has had currency among some on the right for some time now. People still ask the question “If he was a Clinton plant, what would he do differently?” But for the most part, the key “proof” of this theory (his tendency to blow up whenever Hillary Clinton gets bad publicity) has a more credible alternative explanation: He hates anyone but him getting attention, even if it’s his rival getting negative attention.
    He’s just super-duper petty. Well, I think there is some truth to this. But this only gets us part of the way there. It’s not like Clinton is being nice to him. And yet he spends remarkably little time on her.
  2. It’s a matter of principle. He knows Hillary Clinton will go after him, but people like Cruz shouldn’t because they’re on the same team. This might make sense, except that Donald Trump isn’t a team player. You get what you give. I’m sure he sees it this way, but it is not an argument that especially works.
  3. It’s tactical: Before he can charge forward, he needs a secure flank. There was an argument for this up until recently, but it’s become sort of clear that he’s not going to have a secure flank. So if he’s committing to getting everyone in line behind him, he’ll be doing that until November.
  4. It’s tactical: Everyone hates Republicans and so he’s coming out of this looking good. Here, too, there was an argument for it once upon a time but its time has passed. By any reasonable measure, John Kasich and Mitt Romney are more popular or at least less unpopular than he is among the general population. At some point, the perceived lack of unity actually has a cascading effect, making it harder for people outside to support a guy whose party is so reluctant to. There’s a reason Hillary Clinton is hammering on this. It’s not to Trump’s benefit.
  5. He’s really a liberal who hates Republicans more than Democrats. I think there actually is some truth to this one, if you squint your eyes and cock your head. It’s not that he has strong feelings about Republicans and Democrats in the ideological sense, but there are people he considers “his people” and people he doesn’t. The people he likes and who he thinks should like him lean to the left. I can actually sort of relate to this, in a way. My friendships have always drawn disproportionately to the left. I suspect this is true of a lot of Republicans, but most manage to compartmentalize their personal selves and professional selves. Trump has no need. His professional self is his personal brand. I do think this explains another political idiosyncraticity, which is Trump’s illusions of flipping deep blue states. He thinks he can win states like California and New York because he likes them and they should like him. He’ll go to Ohio and Indiana, but only grudgingly. He couldn’t even stay in Ohio for his own nomination convention.

My own theory has not gotten as much play, and it is this: He’s the auto mechanic who won’t stop talking about what a star he was on the high school football team.

He likes talking about the Republicans he has defeated because he won. He is bored going after Hillary Clinton because he is losing. This ends when and if he cracks open a durable lead against Hillary Clinton. But right now there are few polls he can cite where he is ahead. He has gone from the guy who never stops citing polls to the guy who talks about the polls and election results of battles already won. He likes criticizing Cruz because, at the end of the day, he can say that he beat him. He knows that he will never lose to him. Cruz is the ultimate safe target, as is Kasich. (Which aside from thriftiness is, by the way, why he will not actually start a PAC to defeat them in 2020). He loves talking about his victories, which is a part of why he kept talking about Jeb Bush since long after he dropped out of the race.

It’s not just Trump, though. His staunchest supporters really like it. For some of the same reasons. (And for some of the same reasons that a lot of High Republicans follow British politics more closely. Hey, we’re winning over there!). Quite a bit of it is personal, though. They all took a lot of crap in the primaries by being told they were going to lose and they won. Their loudest denigrations were from opposing Republican supporters while a lot of Democrats liked him like Donald Trump likes funny fat people. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to lord it over on us.

Also, we’re the more proximate enemy and they really don’t like us. This goes beyond the frustrations of a lack of cooperation. They dislike us almost as much as they dislike mainstream Democrats, which is quite a bit. It veers from the personal to the professional, though. They’ve come to the determination that they have no particular reason to be mend bridges at this juncture. Those that are going to get on board have, and the rest are going to be quarantined. They’re better off without us. Besides, we’re actually getting in the way of the voters they really want, and need both to replace us and go on to victory. In the same way that we sought to replace some of them with theoretical voters they were repelling, they see the same addition-by-subtraction by replacing us with voters we theoretically repel.

Their affection for Bernie Sanders supporters has mostly been genuine (as genuine as any such thing can be, involving Trump). On the Kaine announcement, the RNC pointing out Kaine’s relative moderation as a betrayal of their base wasn’t just spit-stirring, but actually a part of a novel strategy. They think they can win them over. They are viewed as natural allies. A Trumper recently described to me his support for Donald Trump as “trade, immigration, and fewer wars.” Bernie Sanders represents two out of the three. It’s not terribly unlike how Republicans have traditionally looked at the Jewish as natural allies despite all available evidence. It’s also likely to be about as unsuccessful. But it’s one of the few plays they have, and one that would solve multiple issues (replacing us, getting to 51%, and the Trump coalition’s age problems).

For all of the bad moves it seems to me like they’re making, though, I can’t think of very many good ones that they aren’t making. I worry about the future but I look at the numbers and the challenges, and I don’t see how they win this time around. On the other hand, I don’t see how Hillary Clinton is polling at only 45%.


As I wrote this, of course, Trump turned on Bernie:

So on to Plan W?

Category: Newsroom

A little while ago, I wrote a post about bias in science. I started with the story of a recent retraction of a paper that attributed certain negatively-framed characteristics to conservatives when they actually applied to liberals. How did this mistake happen? I said that it was likely related to the fact that the wrong data was in line with the researchers expectations.

Jesse Singal wrote a long piece on the conflict. He starts off dismissive of the political angle, pointing out repeatedly that the wrong results actually ran contrary to most scientific work done in this area. Which is to say that the news is no news at all, scientifically. It was only the wrong news that was news, because it was new, because it was wrong. So why in the world did the researchers so matter-of-factly expect the data to run the other direction (and why did they believe the prevailing science already stated as much)? Well, here we go:

Ludeke [the young researcher challenging the wrong findings] was right: This is exactly what Hatemi and Verhulst got wrong — highlighted by DeYoung, writing on his grad student’s behalf, in his very first email to Hatemi.

The first of many emails, it would turn out. Hatemi responded in a friendly enough manner the following morning, but sounded surprised by what DeYoung and Ludeke were claiming. “[Y]ou have a [data] set where P tracks with being more liberal? Weird. The scale is pro authoritarian and militarism – that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.” (This is a clear misreading of the P scale.) A few emails later, after Hatemi noted he was on vacation but assured DeYoung that “the directions of the relationships… [were] right” when he looked at the raw data, DeYoung responded, “Thanks Pete. Didn’t mean to bug you on your vacation. Maybe we can talk about this further when you’re back at work. We’d love to take a look at your data to see if we can understand why your results are opposite to ours.”

So we have two things of note. The first is that as I previously supposed they were satisfied with the answers because that’s what they were expecting. But secondly, their approach to the entire enterprise seemed to carry the really heavy assumptions. They (incorrectly) looked for “negative” attributes, assumed that conservatives would be assigned to them, and proceeded without really understanding what they were doing but with an implicit understanding of which side of the right/wrong line that conservatives would fall on.

Good to know.

Anyway, the whole article is worth reading even apart from this particular aspect. It deals with hierarchies, among other things. Essentially how a little fish caught a big fish in error, had a lot of difficulty correcting the record, and by the time all was said and done was left regretting that he ever had.

That is not a good recipe.

Category: School
In which a human Molotov Cocktail flings himself in the right direction.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS) 1187512 (more…)

Category: Newsroom

okayfinehillaryiguessWe’re going to need more sanitaria.

Most sheriffs and police chiefs are on board with concealed carry. Granted, most serve over rural areas (Los Angeles County and Beaverhead County each get one sheriff) and that skews the numbers.

Maybe WASP values had their place, and we’re less than we could be without them.

We’ll have to pass the bill before we know what’s in it, of course, but some are concerned that Hillary Clinton’s tuition plan may backfire.

Are video games taking young men out of the workforce? Well, that’s better than turning them into psycho-murderers I guess? Anyway, some serious reflection on the voluntarily unemployed.

Branko Milanovic looks at populism in the international context, from Trump to Putin. And China!

The people of Windsor, Canada, are living with an unpleasant sound possibly coming from an industrial island, but no one is sure what to do about it.

Brutalism for architecture yes, but for websites no please.

Things like this aren’t really helping the pro-immigration cause. Or maybe they are, if they do successfully convince people reoffend rates are lower than they evidently are.

wizardbenfranklinEconomists investigated the notion that sex tends to make people happy by trying to encourage some couples to have more sex, and it did not make them happier.

Pork rectums, it turns out, need to be deboned and inverted before they can be sold.

Given that a lot of sign language is spoken-language related, and that some of the affectations used in sign language relate to culture, it’s not surprising that sign language isn’t global.

It doesn’t take much to impact people’s beliefs towards the non-existence of climate change. Also, how repeated falsehoods become truths.

So… what exactly is Mountain Dew?


Category: Newsroom
And a year later, we mourn again the loss of Marvin.


Electricity roared but you looked so bored on the line
Nobody knows how it felt to see that candy bar melt in your mind
Calling all cars, one less dog behind bars, one less man in pain
It hurts to see you go but darling don’t you know we’re so glad you came

And you’ll stay gone a long, long time
Day by day you’ll fly across our minds
Only a fool would want to stick around
When you’re heaven bound

Category: Nowhere

Indiana Governor Mike Pence accepted the Vice Presidential spot on the now Trump/Pence ticket. Then he did something that bread controversy:

This opened up a dialogue. Allegedly, this began when some people mocked Pence for eating at Chili’s in New York City. I caught the second phase, which was people defending the choice. Then came the third phase, which accused everybody in Phase Two of being faux-populist because Chili’s is trash and everybody knows it.

It was an endless plate of meta.

But it brought to light several questions:

  1. Is it acceptable to eat at Chili’s in New York City when there are other options available?
  2. Why, precisely, was Mike Pence eating at Chili’s in New York City? Was he trying to flash some working class cred and engage in some culture wars, or is he a tasteless dweeb without sufficient taste and sophistication?
  3. Is it acceptable to criticize him for doing so, and suggest that it is indicative of said lack of taste and sophistication? Or does that make you an elitist?
  4. Is it acceptable to defend eating at Chili’s in New York? Or does that make you a phony populist?

One of the more interesting aspects of this discussion is the notion that Chili’s represents “working class” to begin with. It doesn’t, especially, in my view. I associate it more with middle class, in suburbia, small cities, and large towns. For those on the left talking up phony populism, and those on the right trying to demonstrate populism, Chili’s is an odd hill on which to do battle. It’s not especially inexpensive. Apart from Denny’s, none of them carry a blue class vibe. Outside of the bar, they cater as much as anything to families on their night out as anything, and groups of people who all want to grab a bite to eat and want something they can agree on. Places of this sort tend to have wide and varied menus that can cater to different people at once.

Due to my biography, the place I most recognized this dynamic was small city and big town America. In suburbia you sort of take these places for granted, but in Deseret it was a big deal to get one of these restaurants. That’s not because there’s no good local cuisine, exactly. In fact, in Deseret, you have an unusually high assortment of restaurants with dishes from all across the world. (Think Mormons, who like to open businesses and many of whom spend two years overseas in foreign cultures.) But you grow up and you see these ads for places on TV and then you find out they’re opening one here! Wow! You can finally get those dishes that you keep hearing about!

And they’re not bad. They’re median food, almost definitionally. They’ve been field tested extensively by corporations with a lot of resources and a strong motivation to figure out what median people like. You don’t have to like it, but if you think it’s trash then… yes… you run the risk of snobbery or elitism. Even if you aren’t, you are in the company of a lot of people that are.

On the other hand, if you think they are unremarkable and you’re puzzled as to why someone would go all Michael Scott and eat at Chili’s in New York City, I get that. As with a lot of things snobbery-related, a lot of it depends on the delivery. If you feel the need to denigrate Chili’s, though, well that came come across poorly. If you’re of the mind that Pence wanted that reaction, well maybe he did. But if people took the bait, they took the bait. If you don’t want to get caught up in the “dining wars” of casual dining chains, then don’t. And if you’re a snob, then own it. (I’m not a snob about food, but I can be a snob about other things.)

I don’t know Pence’s motivations and don’t much care. I could see him thinking that he could get a rise out of people by eating at Chili’s. Or that this could be a homespun appeal to Regular Folk. On the other hand, the guy had a really big weekend and there was a lot going on. When we last moved across the country, we passed through a lot of good food towns and ate chains. Why? Because food wasn’t really the point. We just wanted something reliably good (to us) and get on our way. Mike Pence was just tapped to be a Vice Presidential nominee and had gone to New York on the equivalent of a last-minute business trip. I can certainly imagining myself finding comfort in Chili’s under those circumstances.

Truth be told, though, I didn’t actually see as much original outcry as I saw outcry against the outcry. Which is to say, by the time I caught wind of the conversation, it was people saying “Actually, Chili’s is okay” and “Chili’s is awesome” and “Screw the snobs!” This is not uncommon. Either I miss the first round, or as often as not the blowback to the thing is bigger than the thing. But even if we accept that some people did go ahead and mock Pence for his pedestrian ways, and we figure on the blowback, the third round was people telling people in the second round that they can’t possibly like Chili’s (or can’t not have a problem with Pence eating there).

That’s actually a more severe statement than “I don’t like Chili’s” and even “Chili’s is crap.” The first is a statement of personal taste, but even the second allows for some disagreement in the “Okay, you like crap.” This, though, is to suggest that Chili’s is so bad that anyone above a certain who claims to like it is a liar.

This lead to the anti-Chili’s populist argument that it’s actually more insulting to the normals to “pretend” you like Chili’s than to insult it. That was kind of a new one on me. I can sort of get the argument that “Actually, Chili’s isn’t that cheap so there’s nothing working class about it.” As mentioned, Chili’s isn’t exactly a working class haven and so it’s not a working class populist deal. Or more precisely, the “class” argument with regard to Chili’s works both ways. But this takes us into a weird space where it’s practically suggesting that liking Chili’s is, in itself, putting a bone in your nose to fit in with the locals. Not anything a sensible person would ever do.

So yeah, let’s chill out about Chili’s. Try their southwestern eggrolls. Good stuff. Or don’t, because it’s not your thing. But let someone else try it, and like it, even if it doesn’t seem like it should. Don’t rise to the bait of politicians baiting you, if that’s what they’re doing. And if that’s not what they’re doing, Chili’s really isn’t such a bad place if you’re a politician crunched for time, want something reliably good, and need to be asking yourself serious questions about your life choices.

Category: Kitchen

I was tweeting last night that I thought people were overestimating the impact. Plagiarism is something that people like journalists care a lot about, but normals don’t.

This morning, I’m not so sure. It could have a modest impact. I expect Trump to get the traditional convention bounce for two reasons: First, because he has a family that’s a lot more likeable than he is, and this will be a chance to showcase them. Holdouts will be asking themselves “Is he really so detestable if these people love him so much?” and it’ll give them the excuse they need to jump the creek. The other is that I expect he will really go after Hillary in a way he hasn’t, and Republicans will like that.

This kind of hurts both of these things. In the first case, his wife is at the center of this in an unflattering way. In the second case, he’ll only be able to take it to Hillary with a marginally competent campaign, and this bolsters the narrative that he’s really just not that competent.

And while plagiarism may be of special interest to journalists, college graduates are aware of the significance, and I think those are exactly the people he needs to sell. On the other hand, maybe some of them also lifted passages in colleges. So there’s that.

Josh Barro argues that the plagiarism actually is relevant, along the lines that it demonstrates the incompetence and dishonesty. On a practical level, he is almost certainly right. Maybe he is politically as well. Where it gets hard for me to say is that I’m not looking to jump the creek and I’m not a swing voter. So I don’t know how they feel.

In the end… probably no difference because nothing ever makes a difference. Those who were going to jump the creek will do so anyway, and those that were not will not. Its that kind of election.

Category: Newsroom

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