Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Can we return it?

My academic alma mater, the MIT Cancer Center, has been re-christened the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Too bad David Koch and his brother Charles are conniving conservative douchebags, as detailed in this Rolling Stone article.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stat of the day

With Ortiz' 26th home run, [the Red Sox] improved to 23-2 in games in which he goes deep

Isn't the simplest interpretation of this datum that Ortiz only goes deep against truly horrible pitching, which is why the Red Sox have such a good record in those games?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Health Care Q&A

The invaluable Judge Smails passes this along this primer:
Question #1: What the hell is a "markup"?

It's a formal meeting of the committee to consider a bill, operating much like the House or Senate floor, except only Members of the committee participate. Legislation (in this case the Baucus plan) is introduced, Members can offer amendments, and ultimately the committee will take a vote whether to report the bill out of committee or not. It's the basic formal mechanims of committee work.

Question #2: What is "the Chairman's mark"?

It's the first draft of the bill, and the version which the committee starts with in the markup. In this case, Baucus' staff will have prepared the mark. It is a massive advantage to be the chairman and introduce the mark, since there are enormous first-mover advantages in legislation drafting --- since you get to structurally arrange the bill, and any changes to the bill (in or out) will be subject to filibuster on the floor (and psuedo-filibuster in committee).

Question #3: How do amendments work in committee? I heard there are 500+ amendments for the Baucus bill?

Much the same as on the floor of the Senate. Without unanimous consent, it is relatively wide-open (with exceptions, see below). Anyone can offer any amendment at any time. Amendments are allowed in two degrees. The Finance committee does not have any specific rule requiring first-degree amendments to be pre-printed; the 500+ printed amendments were either given priority (to encourage pre-printing) or the subject of a UC agreement (I haven't been able to figure out which). In general, however, you can write an amendment on a napkin during the markup and get it considered. And that is always true of second-degree amendments.

Question #4: Are the amendments debatable like on the Senate floor? Does this mean that you can have a committee filibuster?

Yes and no. The basic rules of the Senate apply in committee, so all amendments are debatable. However, the Senate also empowers committees to make further rules governing their procedures. In the case of the Finance committee, there is a committee rule that the Chairman can make an non-debatable motion to end debate on any amendment, with an up/down vote on the amendment afterward. So effectively, the chairman and a majority can shut off debate on any amendment. As with the Senate floor, unanimous consent agreements can also be struck in committee, allowing for House-style structure to debate (with time limits, etc.). And, as always, motions to table amendments are also in order, allowing amendments to be killed without debate.

Question #5: So should we expect filibusters or other bad-faith action?

Not really. A straight up amendment filibuster in committee has to be conducted the old-fashioned way, by standing there and talking. It's not possible to dual-track a markup like you can on the floor, so there isn't an informal "hold" system available. Of course, you can still filibuster-by-amendment if you offer a gazillion amendments, but that's somewhat rare too. Most amendments are sincere. It is likely that the 500+ amendments are almost all genuine. Of course, some may be strategic --- putting in poision pills, etc. --- but even those are in the realm of "things the sponsor hopes are actually adopted," rather than simply debating devices. Watching something get filibustered in committee is not the best image to be showing the world, so it's tough politically --- it shuts-out the other 76 Senators who would like to bloviate, and it reminds too many people in the press of the bottling up of civil rights bills. And a markup of this size takes long enough as is.

Question #6: So how long will the markup take?

Probably a long time, but there are no guarantees either way. The Senators could come to a UC agreement 5 minutes into the markup to table all amendments and report the bill to the floor, but that is unlikely. Assuming they don't actually have debate on 500+ amendments (by coming to some sort of UC time agreement or tabling amendments en masse), it probably will go somewhere between days and weeks.

Question #7: Is it guaranteed that a bill gets reported out?

No. But it's highly likely. When bills die in committee, they almost always die from inaction, not from failed markups. It's possible that the Baucus bill could be maneuvered in such a way as to have the GOP and the progressives defeat Baucus and some conservatie dems in a committee vote, but very unlikely, since the progressives would almost certainly see the politics of that as bad, and choose to just hold their nose and report the bill out. It's also not nearly as important to get the bill out of committee in the Senate as compared to the House. A lost markup in the House would almost certainly destroy the bill's possibility on the floor. In the Seante, there are plenty of ways around a committee, although the politics of bypassing one can get very dicey.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Awesome clip

In case you didn't catch it on SportsCenter, check out this recap of the Phillies game, go to about 1:20 in. Hilarious:


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Money saving?

Much has been made in the past 48 hours about the Baucus plan, which has finally emerged. Not surprisingly, even after months of negotiating with Republicans, none of them support it. And multiple high-profile Democrats have attacked various aspects of it as well. A real highlight of the bill is that it is quite fiscally attractive, the CBO scoring it as deficit reducing over a 10 and 20 year window.

But what I don't understand is the mechanism by which it achieves some of these cost-savings, namely an (increasing) tax on generous insurance policies. I have no idea how the CBO scores such things, but wouldn't a higher and higher tax eventually produce diminishing returns, as in, employers and their employees will switch to cheaper plans?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Farm system for mayors?

Don't know why I thought of this, but is it odd that mayors don't seem to move around very much? Right now in Boston we're choosing between essentially three candidates, all of whom are local -- the current mayor, Menino, and two councilors, Yoon and Flaherty. My question is, why isn't there much of a farm system for mayors? Something like, I've been mayor of Portland, Maine for the past 8 years, and now I'm ready for something bigger, so now I'll move to Boston. And if you do a good job in Boston, you run in Houston, and then New York.

Certainly one pragmatic reason is residency requirements, which I'm sure exist. But it does strike me as odd that we don't seem to include people who have actually run cities before, just not our city. Put another way, 'd imagine that being a good mayor of town B is a better predictor of success at mayoring town A than being some sort of lower official in town A.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Nails on a chalkboard

Brother Disconfirmed emails from the Bolt bus on his way up to Boston:
I didn't think it's possible, but I'm sitting in front of someone even more annoying than that lady we stood next to on the subway platform 10 years. Subjects I've overheard so far (all discussed very loudly and in explicit detail):

- her physical therapy after a car accident
- her gall bladder surgery and the gas she experienced afterwards
- her concussion while playing soccer in high school
- the medication she takes daily (prozac and birth control)
- her biopsy next week
- how she used to used a diaphram and how annoying it was to insert and take out
- a story involving tampons on a camping trip

And no she is not remotely attractive.

I remember that woman on the subway platform 10 years ago, she was exquisitely annoying. That only lasted until the next train arrived, though, not for a four hour trip. Bro, I'll have a beer waiting for you when you arrive.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Irate email!

I'm very excited to share an irate email I received this morning from a "mike sanders" who somehow stumbled on this blog. Here it is, in its entirety, with my comments interspersed:

Your blog had more inaccuracies then I could count. But then again that's the liberal mantra. Keep saying something till people think it's a fact. you know when I'm in China I see the same thing in their papers as well. Plus I have seen this from the Stalin handbook as well.

Well Mike, I'd say that your opening paragraph has more grammatical inaccuracies than I could count, but I'm really good at counting. So that was one. Next is more of a terminology issue, I don't really think that "mantra" is an appropriate word in the second sentence, maybe tactic? The third "sentence" is actually a sentence fragment, "till" is not a word unless you are working the soil, but you do get bonus points for using the apostrophe in "it's" as most people forget that the contraction form of it is requires the apostrophe. Not capitalizing the beginning of the next sentence is forgivable, because coming up we have a sentence written in ALL CAPS, so on balance we're even. Okay, so now that we've established the topic of the debate, namely my Sino-Russian blase attitude towards facts, let's see where I've erred. In response to my assertion that there are a lot of non-toll roads in Massachusetts, mike writes:
wow so I take it you have never heard of Rte 1? Rte 1a? Rte 95? rte 93 or Rte 128? Cause last time I checked, there are tolls on them. I can draw you a map if you want?

I would be very interested in such a map, as I-95, I-93, and Rt. 128 do not have any tolls on them in Massachusetts -- they do if you continue into other states, but Schilling was very clear in his statement that you can't drive in this state without paying tolls. Now, Rt. 1 does have a toll on it, but that is to cross the Tobin bridge, so it a bridge toll, not something that makes Rt. 1 a toll road (ditto for some of the tunnels to exit from Logan). But you can drive through the entire state of Massachusetts on I-93 and I-95 and not pay a dime. I also like the "I'm Ron Burgundy?" aspect of the offer to draw me a map.
HA yes all of us republicans are soooo against science. The world is still flat right? I too support ALS research. I make less then $50k a year but still raised over $150k in 5 years for ALS research with the charity me and my brother started. I give as much money as I can to charities (part of being a Christian and Not a Entitlement Liberal.) I give to Cancer Research as well. I spend time to help my community from my work at a private club that helps the community from scholarships or to on my own helping every thing from the local little league to the Salvation Army. What have you done for your community besides belittle people that are actual doing things on there own and people that are not ACORN paid demonstrators? See Republicans believe charity is something we Should do but not forced to do. (as in TAKING my money to give to the whacko's at eh NEA or what ever else) So again I ask What DO YOU DO?

Now, I simply noted that it was "odd" that Schilling and his wife support scientific research yet also support the Republican party. This is an opinion that is quite common among scientists, in fact. What I didn't question, but mike seems to want to say I did, is both the value of doing charity work and the relative contribution of liberals and conservatives towards charity. But we get mike's treatise on the subject nonetheless. I appreciate the ALL CAPS at the end, it really brings home the point that I should reconsider how I contribute to society, because clearly my line of work is pretty selfish.
I can go over everyone of your responses and give you truth instead of the kool aid answers you have to each of Curts statements. But Sorry the state just raised my taxes so I need to get some work done.

It is too bad mike chose to spend his time ranting about ACORN instead of informing me about truth, and I also like the use of Schilling's first name, as if to imply that they are buddies or something. As for the recent sales tax increase that mike mentions, it is worth noting that "the higher sales tax on Massachusetts residents, even at 6.25 percent, would be among the bottom third of states because Massachusetts does not impose sales taxes on groceries, clothing under $175, and prescription drugs."

Thanks for your time, mike.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Bill gives his advice, and I think it is spot on: "All we have to worry about is getting things done and doing them as well as we can. Don't even worry about the Republicans. Let them figure out what they're going to stand for. 'Cause as long as they're sitting around waiting for us to mess up, they don't have a chance."

This is true. If the country is feeling good in 2010, and especially in 2012, Democrats and Obama get re-elected, and it doesn't matter who the Republicans run.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Judge Smails asks for a bit more explanation:
Vitter is another Senator who's a Rhodes Scholar. Yikes.

Concur that Schilling is an idiot. Although I disagree that it's somehow impossible to support Republicans if you believe in science research. It's one issue. Very few people agree with every major position of the party they support; those who do,by and large, are simpletons. For example, I presume you support the Democrats despite a strong (and probably complete) objection to the farm policies they support?

A few points. First, yes, science is only one issue, but it is a rather big issue, ranging from one's acceptance of the effectiveness of vaccines to sustainable farming to funding of basic research to climate change. And, more broadly, it signifies a willingness to listen critically to experts and accept what they are saying, even if you don't like the conclusion. This obviously relates to the anti-intellectualism that runs through American right now, which, from my vantage point, has more of a home on the right than the left, at least currently.

I'll put it this way -- there are some circumstances where I could support a Republican over a Democrat, especially if the Republican had a strong record of rational and logical thinking (Sherwood Boehlert, former representative of the district that Hamilton was located in, is a good example). But especially when you're talking about the Senate, where the ideology of the 60th vote matters so much and where Republicans, at least currently, have a helluva lot of party discipline, I just couldn't vote for a member of a party that also has James Inhofe.

Further, I just can't imagine that if Schilling were really into ALS research and asked researchers what they thought of Bush he'd still be defending him. There is no single block of people who despise Bush more than scientists, and I don't think that's an exaggeration.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Curt for Senate?

For some reason, someone put a microphone in front of Curt Schilling and asked him about the vacant Massachusetts Senate seat, which has somehow created the smallest inkling of a possibility that he'd run for Senate. Good God.

First, Schilling is politically best known for his belief that it was everyone's "duty" to vote for George Bush in 2004. Mmm, strike one, buddy. Second, it has always struck me as odd that he is, seemingly, devoted to ALS (i.e. Lou Gehrig's Disease) research, and his wife lobbies for melanoma research... and yet he supports Republicans, whom are vigorously anti-science.

Anyways, he just posted on his blog about his political beliefs. Let's go through it:

People, many people, point to my support of former President Bush as the only reason they need to support “whoever he would run against”. Obviously that’s your right, and freedom. However it appears to me that as an Independent, which I will always be, I’ve always tried to vote for the right team more so than the right person. I believed in Dick Cheney, I believed in Colin Powell, I believed in Condoleezza Rice. I voted as much, if not more, for the team President Bush had assembled as I ever did for the man.

Okay, this makes it even worse. Cheney committed war crimes, Powell was dismissed about two days into the new administration and either lied or was too dim to see the truth when he spoke at the UN in the run-up to the Iraq war, Condi declared that no one could have forseen the breach of the levies in New Orleans, even though many people, including a leading researcher at Tulane (in New Orleans!) said exactly that. This is just a bizarre defense of a vote for Bush.

I live in a state where I can’t drive 1/2 of a mile without a torn up road, or on a major highway without paying a toll, a large toll.

The only toll road in Massachusetts is I-90. You can drive on I-93, I-95, and I-495 and not pay a dime. You can also drive on Route 2 across the state to the Berkshires, Route 3 down to the Cape, and Route 24 towards Providence for free. Pandering moron.

I’m pro-life (with exception to rape, incest or terminal consequences to mom or child during birth) and against Gay marriage. However, let me be very clear on both of those issues. Those issues are so far beyond the scope or responsibility of one person to legislate it’s laughable. The state you reside in should be the body that determines BOTH of those laws.

Well, if you are a Senator, you are one of 100 people who work on things like this, so I would hardly describe it as 'laughable' that a Senator's position on these matters would matter. Certainly if one has the same attitude towards civil rights as Schilling is making for gay rights then this nation would probably still be far behind where we are now in terms of race relations.

Were I to even consider this it would be for 1 term and 1 term only, and then only to do everything in my power to rid this state of the tired an unethical people that have run it into the ground and help it begin the healing process, and once again become a thriving state to live and work in.

Curt might need a bit of a primer on the structure of federal and state government. How, exactly, is someone in the US Senate going to clean up the Massachusetts state legislature and governor and judicial system? Beyond that, Massachusetts has actually held up really well during his recession.

I’m not even close to a Rhodes Scholar or Ivy League graduate, but I also know I’m watching many people with those exact credentials run this state, and this country, into the ground.

George Bush has an MBA from Harvard, so when did this become a no-go for Schilling? John Roberts has a BA from Harvard, Alito from Princeton, and Scalia has his JD from Harvard Law -- should we remove them from the bench? As for Rhodes Scholars, there are exactly two in the US Congress, Dick Lugar and Russ Feingold (in looking that up, I learned the Bobby Jindal is a Rhodes Scholar) and I'd hardly point to them as two of the main architects of running Mass or USA into the ground.

Curt Schilling is an idiot.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Harvard: Blazing Trails

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Information Technology will discontinue its little-used dial-up internet service starting Sept. 30 in an effort to cut costs.... Current usage has dwindled to an average of two users a day—a level at which FAS IT “can no longer justify the large expense of maintaining the service,” said spokesman Noah S. Selsby ’94.... Citing departmental policy, Selsby declined to reveal how much breathing room FAS IT would gain from cutting the service, but said the savings were “substantial.” .... Should users wish to “check their e-mail very, very slowly,” Selsby said with a laugh, third-party dial-up service providers, such as www.netzero.net and www.earthlink.net, remain available.