Archive for November 2nd, 2007
There’s an article in Slate today speculating on why Karen Hughes left her job as Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. It begins:
And so Karen Hughes is leaving her post as “public diplomat” in much the same way she assumed it, with an air of farce and mystery.
The farcical qualities, in both phases, were up front for all to see. Her entrance two years ago, in a high-profile PR trip to the Middle East, was a jaw-dropping display of ignorance and malapropism that made her the laughing stock of the region. Her announced exit yesterday was marked by tributes to her alleged achievements that were simply surreal.
But it is the mysteries that are murkier. Why was Karen Hughes—this hard-headed but provincial Texan with no experience in foreign affairs and only a smattering of irrelevant Spanish—handed the job of repairing America’s image in the Muslim world? And, with just over a year to go in his presidency, why is this avid Bush loyalist leaving now?
This latter question is at least intriguing and perhaps ominous. Her move, I’m told, came as a complete surprise to her senior staff, some of whom had been assured only days earlier that she’d stick around till the end of the term. Her publicly stated reasons for departing are unpersuasive—a mix of the banal (she wants to spend more time with her husband) and the absurd (she’s accomplished everything she set out to do).
The article continues and comes up with a reason. I’m wondering, though, whether Karen Hughes’s travel and her willingness to listen perhaps opened her eyes somewhat, and she fell out of the spell Bush had cast and started to see him for what he is, and to begin to see clearly what he has done. Perhaps, away from the inner circle and traveling about and talking to ordinary citizens in other countries, and listening to them and their representatives, the scales fell from her eyes. And if that happened, she would naturally enough not have to stomach to continue to work for and with the current Administration and want, more than anything, to get as far away as possible.
The number of foreign visitors to the United States has plummeted since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington because foreigners don’t feel welcome, tourism professionals said Thursday.
“Since September 11, 2001, the United States has experienced a 17 percent decline in overseas travel, costing America 94 billion dollars in lost visitor spending, nearly 200,000 jobs and 16 billion dollars in lost tax revenue,” the Discover America advocacy campaign said in a statement.
Chairman Stevan Porter lamented the “extraordinary decline” in the number of overseas visitors to the United States, while the advocacy group’s executive director, Geoff Freeman, blamed the slump on the shabby welcome many foreigners feel they get in the United States.
“It’s clear what’s keeping people away in the post-9/11 environment: it is the perception around the world that travelers aren’t welcome,” Freeman told AFP.
“Travelers around the world feel the US entry experience is among the world’s worst,” Freeman said, calling on the US government to work with the private sector to make visa acquisition more efficient, the entry process traveler-friendly, and to improve communication.
Earlier this week, Rudy Giuliani released a radio ad directly engaging the health care debate. “I had prostate cancer five, six years ago,” begins the ad. “My chance of surviving prostate cancer, and thank God I was cured of it, in the United States? Eighty-two percent. My chance of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent under socialized medicine.”Unsurprisingly, Giuliani’s statistics are a straight lie resulting from a basic mathematical error. The Annenberg Fact Check Project wrote, “We tracked down the source of that number, which turns out to be the result of bad math by a Giuliani campaign adviser, who admits to us that his figure isn’t ‘technically’ a survival rate at all. Furthermore, the co-author of the study on which Giuliani’s man based his calculations tells us his work is being misused, and that the 44 percent figure is both wrong and ‘misleading.’” The Giuliani campaign, demonstrating their traditional fidelity to truth and accuracy, have said they will continue using the statistic.
But the basic question Giuliani poses should be central to the presidential campaign: How good is American health care? The developed world is full of alternative models, fully functioning structures that can be viewed as little experiments, the outcomes of which should inform our policies. If our system outperforms its competitors, than we should amplify what sets us apart and pushes us ahead. If we under-perform, we should take a hard look at whether our model really is superior. And luckily, we have the data.
Indeed, we have brand new data. The Commonwealth Fund just released a broad survey collecting health care attitudes and experiences from patients in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Here are summaries of some of the findings:
Political reporters become fascinated with little details—John Edwards’s haircut, Hillary Clinton’s laugh—and are oblivious to more revealing details, even when those are obvious. Paul Krugman explains:
“My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent,” says Rudy Giuliani in a new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. “My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine.”
It would be a stunning comparison if it were true. But it isn’t. And thereby hangs a tale — one of scare tactics, of the character of a man who would be president and, I’m sorry to say, about what’s wrong with political news coverage.
Let’s start with the facts: Mr. Giuliani’s claim is wrong on multiple levels — bogus numbers wrapped in an invalid comparison embedded in a smear.
Mr. Giuliani got his numbers from a recent article in City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute. The author gave no source for his numbers on five-year survival rates — the probability that someone diagnosed with prostate cancer would still be alive five years after the diagnosis. And they’re just wrong.
You see, the actual survival rate in Britain is 74.4 percent. That still looks a bit lower than the U.S. rate, but the difference turns out to be mainly a statistical illusion. The details are technical, but the bottom line is that a man’s chance of dying from prostate cancer is about the same in Britain as it is in America.
So Mr. Giuliani’s supposed killer statistic about the defects of “socialized medicine” is entirely false. In fact, there’s very little evidence that Americans get better health care than the British, which is amazing given the fact that Britain spends only 41 percent as much on health care per person as we do.
Anyway, comparisons with Britain have absolutely nothing to do with what the Democrats are proposing. In Britain, doctors are government employees; despite what Mr. Giuliani is suggesting, none of the Democratic candidates have proposed to make American doctors work for the government.
As a fact-check in The Washington Post put it: “The Clinton health care plan” — which is very similar to the Edwards and Obama plans — “has more in common with the Massachusetts plan signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney than the British National Health system.” Of course, this hasn’t stopped Mr. Romney from making similar smears.
I’m extremely pleased with the comments that have been posted on the “Managing Your Money” post. Apparently the Excel workbook (downloadable via a link in the post) has worked well for some. I think the key is that it surfaces the implicit spending involved in gradually wearing out possessions that must, someday, be replaced and provides for automatically saving the replacement money so that, when the day comes, no crisis erupts.
I now would suggest that you save this money via automatic transfer to ING Direct. (Last I checked, passbook savings accounts in regular banks paid 1/10th of 1% interest per year.) As the money accumulates, transfer it to one of Vanguard‘s low-fee balanced funds. (For most of their funds, “low-fee” becomes “no-fee” once you have $10,000 in the fund.)
At any rate, take a look at the post and give the workbook a try. It might prove helpful.
War and Peace is a wonderful book, and wonderfully readable, thanks to the brevity of the chapters and the pace of the story. Endlessly absorbing, it’s now available in a new translation, which sounds well worth getting. (I am, however, observing the pre-holiday moratorium on buying stuff.) If you’ve not yet read it, read it now. It’s something you will enjoy.
In sweep, grandeur and carnage, War and Peace calls to mind the greatest cinematic epics — Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago. The novel takes place against the backdrop of Napoleon’s military operations in Europe between, roughly, 1805 and 1812. Tolstoy takes us onto the field at Austerlitz, through the battle of Borodino, to the burning of Moscow and, finally, into the midst of the retreating Grande Armee, worn out by the Russian winter and increasingly picked at by commando raids. The descriptions of soldiers and battles should satisfy even the most strategic-minded student of Napoleon’s campaigns. In these pages men march toward their death with faces “fearful and merry.”
Still, the alternating scenes “back home” are even more true to the civilian experience of war: Life goes on largely unchanged — until sons, brothers and lovers begin to be wounded or killed:
Judging shaving products, judging wines, judging foods,… All such judgments are rightly deemed “subjective,” in the sense that different people may validly and truly reach different conclusions. (Notably, a razor blade that is best of class for some may be condemned as a tragic waste of metal by others.) Although we intellectually understand that other people’s judgments may not agree with ours, we are so immersed in our own experience that somewhere a small voice speaks, “They are wrong.” Thus when one person says that liver tastes terrible, another is sure to say, “You’ve just never had it cooked right.”
Here’s some illumination, along with a couple of good stories:
The rules of the wine tasting were simple. Twenty five of the best wines under twelve dollars were nominated by independent wine stores in the Boston area. The Globe then assembled a panel of wine professionals to select their top picks in the red and white category. All of the wines were tasted blind.
The result is a beguiling list of delicious plonk. But I was most interested in just how little overlap there was between the different critics. In fact, only one wine – the 2006 Willm Alsace Pinot Blanc from France – managed to make the list of every critic. Most of the wines were personal favorites, and appeared on only one of the lists.
So much for objectivity. But results like this shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s such a cool experiment that it’s worth repeating. In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.” Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.
The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning.
I generally don’t use a pre-shave. My experience has generally been: try using the pre-shave for a week, try shaving without it for a week, and see how much difference it makes. So far, the difference has been small.
But this morning I tried Crema 3P (scroll down—I can’t link directly to product, sorry), on Giovanni’s recommendation. He wrote in a comment, talking about Proraso, Prep, and Crema 3P, “After all, if Italian barbers use this stuff always and, sometimes, even between passes, there must be a reason. ” Crema 3P I chose because it has little menthol: Aqua, Stearic Acid, Paraffinum Liquidum, Camphor, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ammonium Hydroxide, Phenol, Sodium Borate, Menthol, Benzyl Alcohol, Methy Salicylate, Parfum.
I smeared it on my washed (MR GLO) and wet beard and then lathered with Tryphon Green Lime shaving soap, using the Simpsons Duke 3 Best brush. I noticed immediately that the lather seemed richer than yesterday’s, even though I was using the same soap (except for fragrance).
I used the Edwin Jagger ivory Chatsworth that carried an Astra Superior Platinum blade of a certain age. The richness of the lather was confirmed by the way it clung to the razor in crumpled strips, and the shave was very pleasant and easy.
The aftershave was TOBS Victorian Lime, whose fragrance is more of preserved than fresh limes, I would guess. And my visage was extremely smooth—a 9.4, easy. And it had the coolness from the menthol.
I don’t know whether it was the pre-shave, but you can be sure that I’ll try it again. A week with, a week without. I’m not sure that I’ll use it with my very best soaps—D.R. Harris shaving stick, for example. But I can see that it definitely has a place among my shaving stuff.