Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Donald Rumsfeld has died at 88

The Washington Post reports:

Donald H. Rumsfeld, whose roles overseeing the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and efforts to transform the U.S. military made him one of history’s most consequential as well as controversial Pentagon leaders, died June 29 at his home in Taos, N.M. He was 88. …

His greatest notoriety and national effect came during a six-year reign as defense secretary under President George W. Bush. Hailed initially for leading the U.S. military to war in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld’s handling of the Iraq War eventually led to his downfall. Widely criticized for poorly planning the invasion’s aftermath, he was slow to recognize the development of an insurgency, draft an effective strategy for countering it and set clear policy for the treatment of prisoners.

Dogged for months by mounting calls for Mr. Rumsfeld’s removal, Bush finally let him go in late 2006 — 3 1/2 years into the Iraq War and just after an election in which the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress. Mr. Rumsfeld’s forced exit under clouds of blame and disapproval cast a dark shadow over his previously illustrious career.

None of his predecessors had come into the Pentagon’s top job with as much relevant experience. Having served as defense secretary once before under Ford, Mr. Rumsfeld was the only person ever to get a second shot at the position. He held the record as the youngest Pentagon leader — and early in his tenure under Bush, he became the oldest. …

Rumsfeld was the subject of an Errol Morris documentary, The Unknown Known (2013):

The Onion's take:
Weapon Of Mass Destruction Found Dead At 88

Saturday, June 26, 2021

What happened to the promises of Obamacare?

Megan McArdle points out in the Washington Post:

Obamacare’s supporters talked a lot about illnesses contributing to more than half of all bankruptcies, which implied there should have been a sharp decrease in 2014, when Obamacare’s major coverage provisions took effect. There wasn’t.

Obamacare’s supporters frequently cited America’s abysmal infant mortality rate, which implied that once Obamacare was in full swing, infant mortality should decrease sharply. It didn’t.

Obamacare’s supporters claimed that tens of thousands of people were dying every year because they didn’t have health insurance, which implied that by 2019, our overall mortality rate should be substantially lower than it had been in 2009, with a noticeable kink around 2014. Instead, mortality rates, which had been trending downward, leveled off around that time.

Obamacare’s supporters talked a lot about reducing health-care costs, or at least the rate at which they were growing. Sadly, no.

In 2011, Doug Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office, testified that by 2021, 24 million people would be buying their insurance on the Obamacare exchanges. … In reality, the most recent data suggest it’s half that. …

That’s not to say Obamacare did nothing; the percentage of Americans who are uninsured has fallen from 16.7 percent in 2009 to 9.2 percent in 2019. … But even its most zealous boosters should be willing to admit that the program the Supreme Court saved this week is far from the revolutionary transformation its architects envisioned.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Did covid-19 vaccination lotteries backfire?

Connecting vaccinations to lottery prizes doesn't seem to have worked too well:

Ohio, the state that launched the national movement to offer millions of dollars in incentives to boost vaccination rates, planned to conclude its program Wednesday — still unable to crack the 50% vaccination threshold. …

In late May, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that Oregonians who are 18 or older and have received at least a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine will automatically be entered to win $1 million or one of 36 $10,000 prizes — with one winner in each county. Oregonians, ages 12 to 17, have a chance to win one of five $100,000 scholarships. …

The Oregonian reported in early June that the seven-day average of adults receiving their first shots had actually decreased from about 9,000 the day before Brown, a Democrat, announced the lottery to 6,700 nearly two weeks later.

In Colorado, vaccinations have slowed since its lottery was rolled out by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis last month, with about 589,000 fewer doses given out in the month since Polis’ announcement, compared to the same amount of time a month before the contest began.

Could the lotteries have backfired by implying that getting vaccinated isn't intrinsically desirable, hence the need to entice people by giving away millions of dollars? In other words, the financial incentive (a chance to win the lottery) could undercut the non-financial incentive of getting vaccinated (including virtually eliminating the risk of death, at least for now). 

There was no controlled experiment with the vaccination lotteries, so we can't know for sure what effect they had. But what happened could be analogous to the Israeli day care experiment described by Freakonomics, where a financial disincentive (a fine for parents who are late to pick up their kids at day care) undercut the non-financial disincentive (parents wanting to avoid feeling guilty for inconveniencing the day-care workers). That was a randomized controlled trial where the fee was introduced at some day cares but not others, and the result was that about twice as many parents were late at day cares that did fine them!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Joni Mitchell's Blue

Joni Mitchell, the Canadian singer / songwriter / guitarist / pianist / genius, released her fourth album, Blue, 50 years ago today on June 22, 1971.

Blue is great but understated. It's often clever, never pretentious.

Rolling Stone ranked it the third "greatest album" by anyone!

So many lines from Blue stay in mind:

I wanna talk to you, I wanna shampoo you, I wanna renew you … I wanna make you feel free …

He's a walker in the rain, he's a dancer in the dark …

I could drink a case of you … and I would still be on my feet …

(Photo of Joni Mitchell in 1968: Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

My favorite movie of each year from 1920 to 2020

Today I'm starting a blog that's going to turn into an extended love letter to movies. 

The site will be centered on a list of my favorite movie(s) from each year of the past 101 years, but it'll be much more than just a list: there'll be videos, quotes, and thoughts on the movies from me and others.

Keep checking back for more movies!