The Adversary

by Ted on July 20, 2004

I recently read Emmanuel Carrere’s The Adversary cover-to-cover in one night. It’s the true story of a man named Jean-Claude Roland who takes a terrible path.

Roland missed an important exam at the end of his second year of medical school, but never rescheduled it. Impulsively, he told his parents that he had passed. Roland pretended to continue his studies. He married and had children, convincing everyone in his life that he was a high-ranking official with the World Health Organization. He paid the bills by defrauding his parents, in-laws, and friends. He told them that he was investing their money, or sold them worthless cancer treatments. He managed this way for eighteen years. Eventually, on the verge of being uncovered, he murdered his wife, his children, his parents, and made a (strikingly half-hearted) effort to kill himself.

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Tort Transform

by Ross Silverman on July 20, 2004

Reformation of the medical malpractice system has been an issue of great contention in recent years. And then, John Edwards got the nod as the Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate. I’m not sure if you’ve heard this, but there are a few people who would like you to know that, before becoming a Senator, Edwards used to spend his days before neutral triers of fact representing those who may have been injured by others. And he was pretty good at it. Edwards’ presence on the ticket has whipped the pro-“tort reform” crowd into a frenzy, and over the past few weeks the drum beat for change has grown even louder (and the band would appreciate it if you pay no mind to whether the drummer has any rhythm).

The problems within the medical malpractice system are myriad. The legislative solutions proposed, however, have generally been myopic. This is because the proponents of change — the Republicans and physicians — have successfully boiled down the debate to One Big Thing: a cap on damages. And that’s precisely the One Big Thing the Democrats and trial lawyers do not want to see put in place. It’s been largely like this for thirty years, and so long as the discussion remains on this single axis, there is little hope for making significant progress toward improving the quality of care delivered in our health system.

Fortunately, there are a few people who are trying to reframe the debate, and in this month’s issue of Health Affairs, William M. Sage offers some exciting and innovative solutions to the medical malpractice quagmire. He does it by noting how different the health care system is from when the debate began three decades ago, and by focusing his attention on the aging hippopotamus that has been standing quietly in the corner, hoping no one would notice him.

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House Party

by Ted on July 20, 2004

1. I went to see Outfoxed at a MoveOn house party this weekend. A good time was had by all. The house was easy to identify; it was the one surrounded by cars with pro-Kerry, anti-war or anti-Bush bumper stickers.

One car, in particular, was just plastered with at least 30 or 40 liberal bumper stickers. I happened to meet the woman who drives it, and she said that she’s had the bumper stickers on the car since the 2000 election. In all that time, living in Houston, she’s never had anyone say anything rude or critical to her. Not one middle finger, one “why do you hate America”, or anything.

2. Another woman at the party mentioned offhand that under Bush, we now spend over half of the federal budget on the military. This isn’t even close to being correct. She was an activist, and surely considered herself quite well-informed.

3. Some people that I know well had a MoveOn house party in Houston to discuss Fahrenheit 9/11 after its premiere. A couple of guys brought lawn chairs and rifles and sat on public property across the street, watching people drive up. They apparently weren’t breaking any laws by doing this, but the police sent them on their way when some people who had come for the house party crossed the street to argue/fight with them. (I don’t know which.)

David Brooks, are you listening? You can coast on this stuff for a week.

The New Yorker has the inside scoop on what really ocurred when Dick Cheney threw down on Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D.-Vermont):

As a quick-thinking senatorial aide switched on the Senate’s public-address system and cued up the infamous “Seven Minutes of Funk” break, Mr. Leahy and Mr. Cheney went head-to-head in what can only be described as a “take no prisoners” freestyle rap battle….

Unfortunately, as other senators (along with assorted aides and support-staff members) were casting their votes to decide the winner, using the admittedly subjective but generally accepted “Make some noise up in here!” protocols, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Leahy took the proceedings to what one aide accurately described as “the next level.”

Edward M. Kennedy (D.-Mass.) was the first to notice that the two men were circling each other, Mr. Cheney brandishing a switchblade and Mr. Leahy the jagged neck of a broken bottle.

“Oh, snap!” Mr. Kennedy recalls thinking at the time. “It’s getting kind of hectic up in this piece.”

Man, some of those professional writers are almost as funny as the Fafblog!

Monty Hall Problem

by Brian on July 20, 2004

Via “Justin Leiber”:, here’s “a playable version”: of the “Monty Hall Problem”: It’s simultaneously a lesson in decision theory and in the perils of small sample sizes – my first two plays I lost the car by switching.

Liberal Islamophobia

by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2004

One thought that went through my mind during the recent fuss over the visit of Yussef al-Qaradawi to Britain was this: what did those who, after September 11th, uttered variations on “Islam needs a Reformation” expect the agents of such a Reformation to look like? Martin Luther or Calvin maybe? Because those guys had some pretty nasty views, and yet ….

Marc Mulholland has written “a very useful and serious post”: on “liberal Islamophobia” over at Daily Moiders, and, in comments, Anthony Cox responds.

The virus of error

by John Q on July 20, 2004

In the most recent London Review of Books, Hugh Pennington has a generally excellent article on measles and erroneous (to put it charitably) research linking the combined MMR vaccine to autism. It’s a pity therefore that, on a peripheral issue, he perpetuates an equally glaring error, saying

‘Most people have an intuitive appreciation that the best vaccine programme, from an individual’s point of view, is one where almost everyone else is vaccinated while they are not, so that they are indirectly protected without incurring any of the risks or inconvenience associated with direct protection.’ If too many people act in this way, the infection becomes commoner in the population as a whole, and returns as a real and significant threat to the unimmunised. This is a modern version of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ described by Garrett Hardin in his influential 1968 essay: 16th-century English peasants had free grazing on commons; their need to supplement food supplies and income was very great; the resulting overgrazing wrecked the commons for everyone.

As I’ve pointed out previously Hardin’s story was, in historical terms, a load of tripe.

It’s interesting to note that, in repeating Hardin’s story, Pennington adds the spurious specificity of “16th century England”, whereas Hardin’s account was not specific regarding dates and places, and therefore harder to refute. This is characteristic of the way in which factoids are propagated.

For All Your Causal Counterfactual Needs

by Kieran Healy on July 20, 2004

New from MIT Press comes “_Causation and Counterfactuals_”:, an anthology edited by “John Collins”:, “Ned Hall”: and “L.A. Paul”: At the “Pacific APA”: meetings, the latter was recently identified, much to her disgust, as “Kieran Healy from Crooked Timber’s wife.” _Causation and Counterfactuals_ presents the best recent work on the “counterfactual analysis of causation”:, which helps us understand the metaphysical underpinnings of sentences like “If you don’t buy it you’ll be sorry,” “If I hadn’t blogged so much my own book would be finished by now,” and “If everyone on CT posted a shameless plug simultaneously, who’d be responsible?” The book is also perhaps the only place to read the full, gripping saga of “Billy and Suzy”:, a tale of “passion”:, “overdetermination”:, “war”:, “double prevention”: and “appalling violence”:

Ken Lay is Innocent OK

by Daniel on July 20, 2004

Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow will all shortly be going on trial for their liberty over the Enron bankruptcy fiasco. I have to say that it seems to me that it would be a little bit unfair if any of them were to go to jail in the current political climate.

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