davidburress (David Burress)

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Town Talk: Are taxes too high here?

As an economist, I am impressed with the workmanship of this article. You very rarely see this kind of thing done without a misstep. Granted, many improved comparisons are possible--e.g. as an economist I might have preferred a better way of aggregating sales taxes with property taxes--but in terms of direct methods understandable by the general reader this is about as good as it gets.
David Burress
Lawrence

May 25, 2014 at 3:14 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Lawrence no longer second-worst performing small city, new report concludes; rental registration supporter accuses landlord of 'dirty politics'

Sunset Hills Neighborhood Association also registered concern about warrantless searches. The problem is that the rental inspectors can act as police spies on unrelated matters such as underage drinking or pot use. Not taking photos of irrelevant matters is helpful, but that needs to be written into the code.
Note that Sunset Hills does still support the principle of rental inspections.

December 10, 2013 at 5:23 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Which lives aren’t worth saving?

It's hard to know how to respond to this kind of hysteria.

What the research shows is that having pre-50 mammograms ends up doing more damage to women than not having them. That's not only because of false positives, but also because of having operations on actual cancers that never would have killed the patient. The rate of growth of early cancers is simply not predictable. Having an operation in a hospital is innately dangerous; for example, a certain fraction of patients will get antibiotic-resistant infections. Putting it all together, doing mammogram screening before 50 is apparently more dangerous than not screening. Scientists published those facts because they care about women, not because they wanted to save money.

Varner responds with understandable but irrational rage at doctors for not getting everything right the first time. She wants to live in a world where everything is known in advance and science is perfect. In reality most scientists and doctors are already doing the best they can on dealing breast cancer. All tests have false positives, and blaming doctors for that is foolish. All procedures that work well in the testing phase can potentially turn out to do more harm than good once they are implemented. Blaming scientists for publishing that when they find out is counterproductive.

Therefore Varner's question "which lives are not worth saving" is deeply unfair. Doctors want to save every life they can. Varner is in denial about the fact that simply having a mammogram risks your life, because it may lead to a dangerous operation that was unnecessary. (Moreover there is no way to tell which particular operations were unnecessary--yet we can tell what PERCENTAGE were unnecessary by comparing outcomes in otherwise similar groups with and without the operation.) Doctors are simply doing their best to decide when it more dangerous to have the mammogram, versus when it is more dangerous not to.

Then Varner really goes off the deep end with her comparison to men. She thinks doctors would have acted differently if men were involved. But in point of fact a similar change is going on right now in screening for prostate cancer. Research is showing that routine screening of PSA levels is often counterproductive, and doctors are starting to recommend against it.

Continuing in that paranoid vein, Varner somehow ties this all in to changes in national health insurance law. In reality insurance companies have always made judgments about which procedures are justified and which aren't, often unfairly so, and nothing being proposed in Congress is going to change that very much. The "death panel" lies have been debunked over and over again in the press, and even by some Republicans in Congress, but of course they are never going to be dropped by the radical right fringe.

David Burress
Ad Astra Institute
Lawrence KS

November 23, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Comparison fails

Unlike many of my friends, I think the LJW is a pretty good newspaper. I would even say especially good, considering the obstacles: media monopoly and lack of much local competition; relatively small catchment area; and right-wing political beliefs of the owner. Nevertheless, the WSJ does exert a certain degree of censorship over local news and opinion, and the details are of some public interest.

In my letter to the editor published today, the newspaper changed my sentence "Clinton never even lied to the public about intelligence data" to read "Clinton never even misled the public..." I thought that was an interesting editorial change. When I asked the editor's assistant why, she said it was because I accused someone of lying. Then I asked if the WSJ would always delete accusations of lying, and whether they had a written style book. I probably came off as argumentative, but that really wasn't my intent; I just wanted to be able to comply with their rules (while of course edging as close to the line as I thought could get away with). In any case she responded, in a manner that at the time seemed oddly curt but which I later took to be defensiveness, to the effect that there are no specific rules and it all depends on the situation.

Now that stirred my interest, so I did a search of recent WSJ stories for words like "lies" and "lying" and guess what popped up at the top? The very Kevin Groenhagen letter I was responding to. Here is Groenhagen's relevant paragraph (as printed the WSJ): "If it was a lie to say Saddam had WMDs, Bill Clinton's lies contributed to the deaths of 500,000 children and gave us 9-11. President Bush's alleged sins pale by comparison."

Now two things seem apparent to me:
1. Groenhagen was allowed to use the actual terms "lie" and "lies" while I wasn't allowed to say "lied."
2. Groenhagen actually named Clinton as a liar (with a slightly softening hypothetical lead-in), while I merely indirectly suggested that Bush might have lied, without naming him.

I think the most reasonable description of this pattern is that it is OK to imply that Clinton is a liar, but not OK to imply that Bush is a liar.

Incidentally, I have run into this sensitivity before, when a previous letter to the LJW attacking Bush was rejected. (My letter was later run by another journal; it's available at http://www.lawrencian.com/issues/octo...)

On a not totally unrelated matter, this website allows a form of lying that consists in hiding responsibility for scurrilous language behind a phoney pen name. I hope that my readers will ignore the nearly inevitable personal attacks this post will elicit from far-right-wingers wearing the electronic version of white pointy-headed hoods. It is my policy not to respond directly to verbal attacks from anonymous cowards.

David Burress
Lawrence KS

April 2, 2006 at 4:52 p.m. ( | suggest removal )