How well can we humans explain things: This one is just for usathough it has been more than 100 years now!
Reading Thursdays New York Times, our eye sped to a murky part of Dennis Overbyes science report. (The report appeared on page A17, right next to the health care reporting.) The headline gives you the basic idea of the piece: Once again, Einsteins theory has turned out to be right!
OVERBYE (10/29/09): 7.3 Billion Light-Years Later, Einstein's Theory Prevails
Astronomers said Wednesday that a race halfway across the universe had ended in a virtual tie. And so the champion is still Albert Einsteinfor now.
The race was between gamma rays of differing energies and wavelengths spit in a burst from an exploding star when the universe was half its present age. After a journey of 7.3 billion light-years, they all arrived within nine-tenths of a second of one another in a detector on NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, at 8:22 p.m., Eastern time, on May 9.
Astronomers said the gamma-ray race was one of the most stringent tests yet of a bedrock principle of modern physics: Einstein's proclamation in his 1905 theory of relativity that the speed of light is constant and independent of its color, or energy; its direction; or how you yourself are moving.
Overbye (no relation) is one of the countrys top science reporters. We took delight in the murky writing in that highlighted passage.
Our question: Why would Einstein have to proclaim that the speed of light is independent of the way you yourself are moving? Who would have thought something else was true? What could that statement mean?
If someone throws a baseball at you, who would feel he had to proclaim, then go on to prove, that the speed of the baseball is independent of the way you yourself are moving? If the baseball is thrown at 100 miles per hour, who would think its speed would change depending on what you do?
Ditto with the speed of light: If a light ray is moving toward you from a distant star, who would think its speed would change depending on how you yourself were moving? Why would Einstein feel he had to proclaim that its speed wouldnt change even if you started to move?
Science writers have had 104 years to work out their explanation of what Einstein saidin this bedrock principle. Heres our question: Did anyone reading Thursdays Times really understand what Overbye wrote? We know, we know! Some of you think you can explain what he said. But well guess that you maybe cant. Not exactly really.
Science writers have had 104 yearsbut their editors keep waving statements like that into print. That said:
If we cant do better than that after 104 years of practice, how well do you think we can explain the current state of health reform? The current state of educational standards-or-testing?
In this mornings Times, we thought Robert Pear was very murky on various aspects of health reform. Ditto for Sam Dillon, writing a highly ambiguous piece about shifting educational standards. On Monday, we may look at those reports. But good grief! If we still cant explain what Einstein proclaimed, when will the Times be ready to shed clear light on these much newer topics?
DEFINING HEALTH REFORM DOWN: Its the defining moment for health reform, Paul Krugman correctly says in this mornings column.
But hasnt this also become the moment for defining health reform down? We refer to something that seems to have changed as Krugman starts his column:
KRUGMAN (10/30/09): O.K., folks, this is it. It's the defining moment for health care reform.
Past efforts to give Americans what citizens of every other advanced nation already haveguaranteed access to essential carehave ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, usually dying in committee without ever making it to a vote.
But this time, broadly similar health-care bills have made it through multiple committees in both houses of Congress. And on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, unveiled the legislation that she will send to the House floor, where it will almost surely pass. It's not a perfect bill, by a long shot, but it's a much stronger bill than almost anyone expected to emerge even a few weeks ago. And it would lead to near-universal coverage.
Lets assume that the House bill would in fact lead to near-universal coverage. In the past, didnt we also speak about giving people access to affordable care? In this column, affordable has largely made way for essential (see highlighted statement above)except when the House bill includes more generous subsidies than expected, making it easier for lower-income families to afford coverage. Alas! Presumably, those generous subsidies are necessary because the bill will do next to nothing about the astonishing cost of insurance premiums. And guess what? Employers and those persons who dont qualify for subsidies will still have to grapple with those daunting costs. For the vast majority of consumers, Krugmans column says little or nothing about the discarded matter of affordable costs.
For ourselves, we would vote for this bill whether it contained a public option which was robust, opt-in, opt-out or trigger. But in our view, the looting seems to have stayed in the picture as the question of affordable care disappears:
This brings us to Tuesday evenings Countdown, when Keith Olbermann (almost) got it right.
Olbermanns second topic on Tuesday was a majorand pleasantsurprise. A new study by Thomson Reuters had attempted to quantify the (gigantic) amount of wasteful spending in our health care system; Olbermann spent an entire segment discussing what the new study said! To be honest, Olbermann didnt do a good job with this topicin large part, because his staff had booked a non-expert guest. But how about credit where credit is due? Olbermann actually spent some minutes discussing a major topic which all parties, political and journalistic, have largely agreed to deep-six.
No, he didnt do a good job. But this is the way he started:
OLBERMANN (10/27/09): President Obama has often said that eliminating waste and inefficiency in the health care system could pay for most of any health care reform package. Critics have howled that there could not possibly be that much waste.
And in our fourth story on the Countdown: A remarkable independent study not only supports Obama but proves he may have vastly underestimated just how much waste there is.
The U.S. health care system wastes at least $505 billion, perhaps $850 billion every year. This is according to an independent study by Thomson- Reuters, the international news and information organization with expertise in health care and science.
The vice president of health care analysis for that group saying, quote, "That`s one-third of the nations health care bill. The good news is that by attacking waste, we can reduce health care cost without adversely affecting the quality of care or access to care."
Other findings from the study: 37 percent of waste, $200 billion to $300 billion a year, comes from unnecessary care, like the overused of antibiotics or lab tests to protect, in part, against malpractice exposure. 22 percent of health care waste, up to $200 billion, is created by fraud. 18 percent of it comes from administrative inefficiency and redundant paper. 11 percent of waste derives from medical mistakes. And preventable conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes cost $30 billion to $50 billion a year by themselvesthats about 6 percent to 10 percent of health care waste.
All of this explaining why the U.S. spends far more per person on health care than any other industrialized nation. For example, the average U.S. hospital spends a quarter of its budgeta quarteron billing and administration. And its about twice as much as Canadian hospitals do.
Lets turn to the executive director of the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee, Rose Ann Demoro.
There were problems with Olbermanns presentation, including his obvious attempt to pander to us right in that opening paragraph. Some, though not all, of the problems:
Have Obamas critics really howled that there could not possibly be that much waste in our health care spending? More often, all sectorspro-reform and anti-reformhave simply ignored this topic.
Is this new study really remarkable? In fact, it makes the types of claims which such studies always produce. These studies always produce these claimsafter which, they get ignored by all major sectors in our pseudo-discussion. (For an earlier example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/09.)
Does the United States spend far more per person on health care than any other industrialized nation? Yes, but were always annoyed when expositors state it that way. How many people in Olbermanns audience understand what far more really means in this context? Olbermann never presented the simple data which would have shown the astonishing size of our over-spending, as compared to that in the rest of the world. Instead, he offered a hugely irrelevant micro-example in which our hospitals spend almost twice as much as Canadian counterparts.
Guess what, crackers? Our health care system as a whole spends almost twice as much as Canadas! We spend more than twice as much as the Frenchand we start to incline toward three times as much when we talk about Span, Japan, Italy.
Aaargh! Olbermann offered a largely pointless mini-examplebut failed to present the Big Honking Picture. In this way, we fiery cable viewers remain dumb, barefoot, uninformed.
After this, Olbermann brought out Demoro, who may serve with distinction at the CNA but seemed to be over her head with this topic. She fawned to her host in predictable ways and emoted in ways which this program demands. But she showed little sign of real expertise concerning this daunting topic.
Afterwards, Olbermann moved to his next topic: To an utterly foolish segment in which he and Margaret Carlson kicked Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich all around. They mugged and clowned for us liberal rubes about the ongoing race in New Yorks 23rd House district. But right from Olbermanns top-of-the-show introduction, neither performer seemed to have any real idea what Gingrich has actually said on this (basically pointless) topic. But then, most of the work on our liberal programs is just comfort food for us liberal rubes. After wasting his time with Carlson, Olbermann wasted his time pretending that an obscure Georgia congressman was the worlds worst personwhile pretending that he was angry about it. He then wasted time with Gene Robinson, who dumbed himself down to please us rubes with predictable, mocking talk about George Bushs motivational speaking.
We got to laugh at Bushs dumb speech. And we stayed dumb about spending.
To his credit, Olbermann actually raised the question of our astonishing level of spending. But he discussed the topic poorlyand quickly moved on to the silly tricks with which he dumbs liberals down.
Back to Krugmans column: Whatever happened to the idea that health reform (a health overhaul) would involve making health care affordablewould involve bringing our astonishing spending in line with that found in the rest of the world? Would involve lowering our absurdly expensive premiums? By now, that idea has basically been disappeared. As best we can tell from the Nexis archives, Olbermann was the only host, broadcast or cable, to discuss this new study in prime time this week. Beyond that, the AP doesnt seem to have filed a report. No newspapers seem to have reported on this new study.
Should this study have been reported? Unclear. But every sector has kept you clueless this year about the massive over-spending which drives American health care. As of 2007, your country spent $7300 per person per year. France spent only $3600; Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Japan spent substantially less than that! But the entire American press corpsincluding progressive cable entertainers and clownshave joined both major political parties in ignoring this astonishing story.
The looting has stayed in the system! Everyone has rolled up his or her sleeves, helping maintain our astonishing level of spending. In the process, Keith makes five millionand Rachel makes one. May our corporate democracy thrive!
To his credit, Olbermann briefly discussed this topic. But he didnt discuss it welland a series of clowns came next.