Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 10th, 2011

Group loyalty

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I responded to this comment (to an article about Mike McQueary) by one “LadyD”:

I don’t know any of these men, but what I do know is that history has shown that White men stick together right, wrong or indifferent…..White men have been abusing other men, women and children in abundance and always find a way to justify their actions or their friends action. This is only news to those who turn a blind eye to the truth.

My response:

It’s not just white men that stick together: any tightly knit group is at risk of viewing those not in the group as “outsiders” and defining “loyalty” as protecting the group at all costs, rather than (say) as adhering to a code of ethics, morality, law, or whatever principles ostensibly govern our behavior. A person who is seen as acting against a member of the group because of ethics/morals/laws is generally ostracized as an “outsider” and may well suffer physically, financially, or in other ways. The group can consist of men or women of any race or any mix of races. Look, for example, at how police officers cover up for other police officers and generally refuse to cooperate in investigations (e.g., by Internal Affairs). Or how physicians cover up for other physicians in the case of malpractice.

Seeing this as a problem restricted to white males may be reassuring to those who don’t belong to that group, but those should look at the groups to which they do belong. Group loyalty is a deep force. Primates first began to forage in groups 52 million years ago and 16 million years ago began living in stable social groups. By now the group thing is deeply embedded—ethics is quite recent in comparison.

As I wrote I kept racking my brain for an article that I had recently read on how for some the only “group” to which they give loyalty consists of their immediate family and perhaps some close relations. I finally remembered: it was the article to which Paul Krugman links in this blog post:

OK, let me start by talking about Mel Gibson for a minute. Bear with me, this is actually relevant.

Back in 2000 Gibson made a movie, The Patriot, about the Revolutionary War. (I think I saw it on an airplane). And when the movie came out, Michael Lind wrote an essay that has stuck with me, pointing out that nobody involved in the picture seemed to know what patriotism means. The Gibson character was presented as a man who refused to get involved until his own family was hurt — then, he went to war for personal revenge. And this was supposed to show his patriotism.

As Lind said, the truth is that that’s more or less the opposite of patriotism, which is about making sacrifices for the national good, not serving your personal motives or interests.

Which brings me to the subject of this post, the apparently equally misunderstood concept of hypocrisy. I’ve been getting some personal attacks on this front, but it’s a bigger issue than that. Here’s the personal version: suppose that you’re a professor/columnist who advocates higher taxes on high incomes and a stronger social safety net — but you yourself earn enough from various sources that you will pay some of those higher taxes and are unlikely to rely on that stronger safety net. A remarkable number of people look at that combination of personal and political positions and cry “Hypocrisy!”

Wait — it’s not just about me and the wingnuts. If you remember the 2004 election, which unfortunately I do, there were quite a few journalists who basically accused John Kerry of being “inauthentic” because he was a rich man advocating policies that would help the poor and the middle class. Apparently you can only be authentic if your politics reflect pure personal self-interest — Mitt Romney is Mr. Natural.

So to say what should be obvious but apparently isn’t: supporting policies that are to your personal financial disadvantage isn’t hypocrisy — it’s civic virtue!

But, say the wingnuts, you say that rich people are evil. Actually, no — that’s a right-wing fantasy about what liberals believe. I don’t want to punish the rich, I just want them to pay more taxes. You can favor redistribution without indulging in class hatred; it’s only the defenders of privilege who try to claim otherwise.

Lind’s essay about Mel Gibson ended with concerns that we may have lost the sense of what citizenship and its duties mean. Indeed. If people can’t comprehend what it means to work for larger goals than their own interest, if they actually consider any deviation from self-service somehow a sign of phoniness, we, as a nation, are lost.

The Lind review of The Patriot is quite interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2011 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies

Famous fumbles, on tape

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James Fallows has collected the most agonizing and well-known political stumbles in presidential (and vice-presidential) campaigns. Here’s one well-known example:

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2011 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Election, Politics

Plastic bottle ban at Grand Canyon stopped after Park Chief talks with Coca-Cola

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Interesting report by Felicity Barringer in the NY Times:

Weary of plastic litter, Grand Canyon National Park officials were in the final stages of imposing a ban on the sale of disposable water bottles in the Grand Canyon late last year when the nation’s parks chief abruptly blocked the plan after conversations with Coca-Cola, a major donor to the National Park Foundation.

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled. His account was confirmed by park, foundation and company officials.

A spokesman for the National Park Service, David Barna, said it was Jon Jarvis, the top federal parks official, who made the “decision to put it on hold until we can get more information.” He added that “reducing and eliminating disposable plastic bottles is one element of our green plan. This is a process, and we are at the beginning of it.”

Mr. Martin, a 35-year veteran of the park service who had risen to the No. 2 post in 2003, was disheartened by the outcome. “That was upsetting news because of what I felt were ethical issues surrounding the idea of being influenced unduly by business,” Mr. Martin said in an interview. “It was even more of a concern because we had worked with all the people who would be truly affected in their sales and bottom line, and they accepted it.” . . .

Continue reading. Once again we have clear evidence that the US government has to a great extent come under corporate control, and that the controlling factor is money.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2011 at 3:26 pm

Good info for preventing/fighting colds

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Good comprehensive list, with explanations.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2011 at 3:18 pm

How to disassemble a Fat Boy

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Extremely clear and thorough step-by-step instructions, with photo. If you don’t want to attempt it, RazorEmporium.com does offer razor restoration services, but if it’s just a razor you picked up on eBay, you might well want to try it yourself.

Found via this post at Wicked Edge.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2011 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

EPA Finds Compound Used in Fracking in Wyoming Aquifer

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Amazing. The companies who are desperate to do fracking have repeatedly told us that there is NO WAY the process could contaminate our (shrinking) groundwater aquifers with their poisonous chemicals. Could they …. have lied? An American company, lying simply to increase profits? It does seem unlikely, and yet…

Abraham Lustgarten reports for ProPublica:

As the country awaits results from a nationwide safety study on the natural gas drilling process of fracking, a separate government investigation into contamination in a place where residentshave long complained that drilling fouled their water has turned up alarming levels of underground pollution.

A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The findings are consistent with water samples the EPA has collected from at least 42 homes in the area since 2008, when ProPublica began reporting on foul water and health concerns in Pavillion and the agency started investigating reports of contamination there.

Last year — after warning residents not to drink or cook with the water and to ventilate their homes when they showered — the EPA drilled the monitoring wells to get a more precise picture of the extent of the contamination.

The Pavillion area has been drilled extensively for natural gas over the last two decades and is home to hundreds of gas wells. Residents have alleged for nearly a decade that the drilling — and hydraulic fracturing in particular — has caused their water to turn black and smell like gasoline. Some residents say they suffer neurological impairment, loss of smell, and nerve pain they associate with exposure to pollutants.

The gas industry — led by the Canadian company EnCana, which owns the wells in Pavillion — has denied that its activities are responsible for the contamination. EnCana has, however, supplied drinking water to residents.

The information released yesterday by the EPA was limited to raw sampling data: The agency did not interpret the findings or make any attempt to identify the source of the pollution. From the start of its investigation, the EPA has been careful to consider all possible causes of the contamination and to distance its inquiry from the controversy around hydraulic fracturing. . .

Continue reading. Helpful graphic at the link.

One can certainly see why businesses (and thus the GOP) are so eager to shut down the EPA: the EPA spoils profits, and merely for reasons of public health and protecting national water supplies.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2011 at 1:32 pm

Fighting medical malpractice reporting

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I mentioned in posts earlier today how I had difficulty understanding group reactions, and yet how deeply group behavior is embedded in our makeup: humans are social animals, and group identity is basic.

Thus we get the football hierarchy at Penn State closing ranks to protect a pedophile, because he’s a group member and the victims were not—just as the Catholic church continues its practice of covering up for pedophile priests; just as the police routinely protect fellow officers who clearly are doing wrong. And why? Because the miscreants are members of the group (whether football organization, church, or police) and the victims are not.

I watched a pretty good yakuza movie the other night (Street Mobster) and started looking at it in terms of group-oriented behavior. The protagonist, for example, in an argument before others chooses not to back down: very important choice, and very much made with an eye to group reaction. Indeed, sometimes it seems that most of our behavior is governed by group membership: we act to be within the group, we disdain those who are not in the group. It’s evident everywhere.

In the case of medical malpractice, the actions of physicians to protect their malpracticing members are obvious and frequent. Doctors will not discipline other doctors (except rarely) because those doctors are members of their group, and the injured patients are not. “Loyalty” is never to ethics, principles, or the law—“loyalty” is always to a person or a group, and the immediate test of loyalty is for the boss or group to order one to do something wrong to prove that s/he is loyal. A person who goes against the group for reasons of the law, or ethics, or morals, or conviction proves that s/he is “disloyal” and fair game. So doctors will not testify against one of their fellows, regardless of the harm caused.

This suggests to me that all surgical procedures should be videotaped and recorded, using multiple cameras. First, keeping a good record should help advance medical science. Also, detailed records can determine causes of things that went right or wrong. And finally, an objective recording of what actually transpired can keep doctors from having to testify against a fellow: they can just roll the tape. (This is similar to laws in many states that require videotaping police interrogations—a side benefit is that this procedure totally stops false claims of police abuse, just as videotapes of surgical procedures should end spurious accusations of malpractice.)

So physicians who fight malpractice generally fight to keep malpractice suits out of the courts—those physicians are not truly interested in ending malpractice, simply in protecting members of their group. What physicians generally do not address is how to reduce the incidences of malpractice.

Here’s an amazing story. Note the role of the American Medical Association in protecting the malpracticing physician. Marian Wang writes in ProPublica:

An agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that maintains a discipline and medical-malpractice database reopened it for public access yesterday, two months after the agency had first taken the database offline.

The National Practitioner Data Bank contains information used by hospitals, insurers, and licensing boards to track doctors’ records, check prospective hires, and make other decisions. A publicly available version of the database — which removed confidential identifiers such as doctors’ names and addresses — had long been used by reporters and others interested in patient safety. In the years it was online, journalists could reference the database and, with additional reporting, could at times identify doctors with uniquely long histories of being sued or disciplined for medical malpractice.

Then, two months ago, the government cut off public access — a decision that was sharply criticized by a number of researchers and journalism organizations.

What was behind that decision? Apparently, one Kansas doctor with a trail of malpractice suits.

A public records request by Sen. Charles Grassley and the New York Times turned up documents about the decision that shows that the agency closed the database days after the doctor, Robert Tenny, complained to the government. Thanks to the database, he told the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, he was about to get unwanted attention in his local paper.

We culled through the documents and pulled out some interesting snippets that give a glimpse into the backstory behind why the public database was temporarily shut down and why — even now — the restored database has some new restrictions.

A brief timeline:

Aug. 16 – A local newspaper reporter requested a comment from a neurosurgeon, Robert Tenny, through Tenny’s attorney. The reporter, Alan Bavley of the Kansas City Star, was working on a story about doctors who have went undisciplined despite histories of malpractice allegations. He had used both the public database coupled with publicly available court records to do his reporting. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2011 at 1:21 pm

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