Fuels used by BGE in 2008 to generate electricity for Maryland

Here are the numbers for 2008 by type of fuel (from my December 2009 BGE bill):

]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] coal = 51.2 %
]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] nuclear = 33.2 %
]]] natural gas = 6.4 %
]] renewable* = 4.7 %
]] "system mix"
oil = 0.3 %

This is for the Pennsylvania-New Jersey- Maryland area which BGE calls "PJM".

*The renewable number breaks down like this:

] hydroelectric = 2.8%
] wood/biomass = 1.5%
captured methane gas = 0.3%
solid waste = 0.1%
geothermal = 0 %
wind = 0 %


Obama's "uncertainty tax"

I think the phrase has a good chance of catching on.

When will the left--and the president--learn that there is really very little that government can do to create jobs other than (1) foster a stable, predictable regulatory/tax climate, and (2) get out of the way.

Things like the recent jobs summit are little more than PR blather and window dressing.


ACORN pimp videos: the most troubling response from a Yale alum (4 of 5)


The rudest response to my ACORN post on the Yale listserv didn't bother me as much a private* email from another alum who I'll call "Healthy Discussion." Here's the body of her email in full:
"Your [listserv] email does not provide much room for debate or healthy discussion, and therefore I do not see the merit of your posting on this listserve,
unless your purpose is to offend those who may disagree with you."
The central problem with this email lies in the word "offend." Humor columnist Dave Barry explains what I mean in a video made by the folks at FIRE. He begins (at 1:55) with this observation:
the one place where you'd think free thought and free speech and conflict of ideas would be most encouraged [, the University,] has somehow become the most restricted and constricted and most intellectually constipated area of American life.
Then (at 2:32) he performs a wonderful riff on the O-word:
Any time anyone says that he or she is offended by anything, that's all you have to say--that's the magic word--"I'm offended"--and everybody just backs down and says "Oh my god, we don't want to offend anybody." . . . At some point the right to voice your opinion got trumped, at least in the universities, by the right not to be offended . . . Which makes a complete joke out of the concept of intellectual diversity and intellectual freedom.
Here's the thing about important and difficult topics: you can arrive at a healthy discussion from almost any starting point. But you can't have a healthy discussion if the fear of even mildly offending anyone stifles the discussion before it starts.

TOMORROW: ACORN, Yale and the double standard on free speech

*It was not part of the public listserv conversation.


Eating locally grown food: does it really reduce your carbon footprint?

Probably not, say Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon University in a piece on Kiplinger.com:

While locavores often cite “food miles”-- that is, the distance food is shipped to market -- as a reason to eat local . . . transportation accounts for only 11% of total greenhouse-gas emissions associated with food, while 83% is related to production.

I've always been skeptical about the carbon benefits of locally grown food, but I'd never seen numbers before that back up my skepticism.

Adds, Art Carden, an economist at Rhodes College, in Memphis, Tenn:

Produce grown close to home may be fresher and taste better. But food grown where conditions are most auspicious will require less fertilizer, pesticides, labor and investment in tools

Carden continues:

If you really want to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet, cut back on consumption of red meat, which Weber and Matthews say is responsible for producing 150% more greenhouse gases than chicken or fish.

From 10 Green myths debunked at Kiplinger.com.


Five local watershed groups in Baltimore announce plan to merge

From the November newsletters of the Herring Run Watershed Association and the Gwynns Falls Watershed Association:
Executive directors and board representatives from local watershed organizations – Herring Run [Watershed Association], Jones Falls [Watershed Association], Gwynns Falls [Watershed Association], Baltimore Harbor [Watershed Association] and the [Balimore] Harbor Waterkeeper – have met several times during the past several months to evaluate a strategic restructuring involving the five groups. . . .

The five organizations have signed a Good Faith Resolution to move forward toward the goal of evaluating restructuring to form a single organization, focused on water quality issues in the greater Baltimore metropolitan area.
Sounds like a good idea to me as long at they can handle the merger process reasonably quickly and smoothly.

Five organizations merging at once should be a challenge, given that mergers of two can be difficult. So it's probably a good thing that they've hired a consultant with experience in organizational development and restructuring.

Each of the groups has retained the option of withdrawing from the merger if they find that the final arrangements aren't to their liking.


"Human rights are the wrong basis for healthcare"

Congressman Ruppersberger, please take note.

Willam Easterly, an economist at NYU, had a nice op-ed piece in the Financial Times a few weeks ago.

He gives some history and context:
  • The notion of a “right to health” has its origins in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
  • The [World Health Organization] shifted from pragmatic improvement of health outcomes towards “the universal realisation of the right to health”.
  • Even Amnesty International . . . added a new section to its human rights report in 2009 on the “right to health”.
  • President Barack Obama recently held a conference call with religious leaders in which he called healthcare “a core ethical and moral obligation”.
Unfortunately, all of these groups--and President Obama--are on the wrong track. Their intentions might be good, but their efforts seem counter-productive:
the global campaign to equalise access to healthcare has had a surprising result: it has made global healthcare more unequal.
Why is the concept of "healthcare as human right" so flawed and problematic?
It is impossible for everyone immediately to attain the “highest attainable standard” of health (as the health rights declaration puts it). So [the question of] which “rights to health” are realised [becomes] a political battle. Political reality is that such a “right” is a trump card to get more resources – and it is rarely the poor who play it most effectively.

The lesson:

The pragmatic approach – directing public resources to where they have the most health benefits for a given cost – [has] historically achieved far more than the moral approach . . .

[The concept of a] “right” [to healthcare] skews public resources towards the most politically effective advocates,
who will seldom be the neediest.

The bottom line: those who frame health care as a "right" are serving up empty rhetoric.

Explaining the obvious to Michelle Goldberg

In a diavlog last month on BloggingHeads.tv, Michelle Goldberg claims--with astonishing arrogance, condescension, and superficiality--that she doesn't understand why so many folks are opposed to the health care reform bills (32-second clip):

Some responses to her questions & assertions.

ITEM #1. "Do [Townhall protesters] think the current system is acceptable?"
RESPONSE: No. The people who say at town halls that they are "satisfied" with their current health care plans are probably either (1) healthy younger folks who don't have to deal much with the current system and/or fear that they will have to shoulder more of the burden by subsidizing older folks, or (2) they are retired or soon-to-be-retired folks who fear losing elements of their existing Medicare coverage. Both of these fears are warranted, and people tend to fear losing something they already have more than they relish getting new benefits that they don't already have.
ITEM #2. "The worst part is the paperwork"
RESPONSE: Duh. Most people who have dealt with the system agree that the paperwork is awful. I'm just not confident that reform bills proposed by Democrats will reduce paperwork. Expanding government programs hasn't been a good formula for that in the past.
ITEM #3 "There's lots of misguided love for insurance companies among reform opponents."
RESPONSE: Matt Welch--he's amazingly polite to her--does a terrific job of dismantling this assertion, which is just not true. (Clip below, length 1:58, is different from one above):

ITEM #4. "Jim Wilson [yada yada] Glenn Beck. You can't argue 'death panels' and you can't argue 'totalitarianism' "
RESPONSE: If you revisit Aristotle's Rhetoric--the part on style in Book 3--you'll see that use of metaphors is one of the most powerful and effective methods of persuasion and argument. Opponents of health care reform use the terms "death panel" and "totalitarianism" as metaphors for rationing and encroaching government. Yes, they are gross exaggerations. But these metaphors (especially the death panel one) have touched sensitive nerves in the public. So yes, you actually CAN argue death panels and totalitarianism. And responses to these arguments (from Pelosi et al.) have been weak and unconvincing.
ITEM #5. "Just give me something like the French health care system."
RESPONSE: I'm no expert on the French health care system, but some quick Googling indicates that the French system does not suffer from problems the U.S. has with malpractice insurance, defensive care, and the tort system. This means that one of the key steps for getting us to something like the French system is tort reform. To my knowledge, the current Senate bill does little or nothing to deal with this issue.
ITEM #6. The reasons for opposition are "more psychological than economic".
RESPONSE: This was the most condescending of all her statements. If Michelle had looked to some of the more thoughtful folks presenting alternatives to the reform bills she would have found plenty of economic reasons to criticize the reform bills. I can think of three examples:
I. Check out David Goldhill's piece in the Atlantic Magazine How American Health Care Killed My Father. His suggestions:
  • Move away from comprehensive health care as the single model for finance health care.
  • Put the consumer, not the government at the center of the system.
  • Give government the primary task of bringing greater transparency and competition to the health care industry and directly subsidizing those who can't afford care.
  • Fund routine care out-of-pocket (not covered by insurance) so the people who care most about cost--consumers--are in their proper, primary role of trading off price, quality and value.
  • Fund massive, unpredictable expenses with insurance.
  • Replace our current web of employer- and government-based insurance with a single [mandatory] program of catastrophic insurance open to all Americans. . . with fixed premiums based solely on age. . . a single national pool, without underwriting for specific risk factors [that] would ultimately replace Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. [With a high threshold for defining "catastrophic" at approximately $50,000 or more.] Limit insurance payouts in any year to the amount of available premiums.
  • Over time, shift over to funding all non-catastrophic care from an improved, mandatory version of HSAs.
  • Fund intermediate level expenses (e.g. appendectomies) just as we do things like new cars: with credit. But allow people to borrow against future deposits into their HSA.
The bottom line for this approach:
Imagine how things might change if more people were buying their health care the way they buy anything else. I’m certain that all the obfuscation over prices would vanish pretty quickly, and that we’d see an end to unreadable bills. And that physicians, who spend an enormous amount of time on insurance-related paperwork, would have more time for patients. . . .

It will do a better job than our current system of controlling prices, allocating resources, expanding access, and safeguarding quality. And it will do a better job than a more government-driven approach of harnessing medicine’s dynamism to develop and spread the new knowledge, technologies, and techniques that improve the quality of life. We won’t be perfect consumers, but we’re more likely than large bureaucracies to encourage better medicine over time.
II. Dr. Peter Weiss of Medically Incorrect makes many of the same points in this video. Dr. Weiss's prescription for reform includes the following items:
  1. Increase competition among insurance companies by allowing them to compete across state lines.
  2. Allow people to buy health insurance through affinity groups like AAA or Costco without regard to pre-existing conditions (just as employees get insurance through large employers).
  3. For employees who lose their jobs, allow them to buy COBRA insurance at the employer was paying (not the double or triple rate that COBRA charges).
  4. Strive for major illness insurance. Insurance is meant for catastrophes, not for everyday expense. Make people pay out of their own pocket for small predictable expense like office visits and PAP smears.
  5. Have a system where consumer must take ownership of expenses (because cost is the main culprit, not access or quality).
III. Then, there's Congressman/Doctor Tom Price's alternative bill titled Empower Patients First (H.R. 3400). It suggests:
  • Fix the unfairness in the tax treatment of health insurance by extending a tax credit or deduction to those without employer-sponsored insurance;
  • Use automatic enrollment, with a right to “opt out” of health insurance coverage, and promote defined-contributions for employer plans, instead of using government coercion and mandates, to expand coverage;
  • Establish health plan portals in the states so that patients can own and control their own health insurance;
  • Offer low-income Americans the option of a voucher to purchase private coverage; and
  • Give states incentives to experiment with how best to cover high cost individuals.
The full clip on health care is here (length 10:52):


R.I.P. Mr. Hallett

Very sad news. The Sun has a very nice article:
Robert Hallett, a longtime Baltimore County school librarian who invented a spandex-clad superhero to motivate children to read, died Monday of a rare form of leukemia. . .

his library became a world designed to captivate the students coming through his doors - something he succeeded in doing so well that many remember his magic tricks and the oddities he placed around the room, including a clock with backward numbers, years after they left the school. . . .

For about two decades, he spent Friday and Saturday evenings singing on the street corner outside the Pikesville restaurant Jilly's when the weather was nice, his wife said. . .

"He's a guy that just spread joy to everybody he came in touch with," said his twin brother, Norman Hallett of Florida. "It started as a little kid, and it ran all the way through Riderwood."


If a DaVinci Code symbologist analyzed the cover art for the Danish cartoons book...

. . . he'd notice that the cover has a thought balloon on it, not a speech balloon. It's an apt way to symbolize Yale's censorship of Jytte Klausen. On the forlorn, empty cover she seems trapped speechless inside the balloon.

Here's my interpretation of the cover: the balloon represents the thinking of Klausen's readers. They are non-plussed as they consider her censored situation when they should be engrossed in the subject of the book itself: the Mohammad cartoons .

And here's an idea for the Yale Press: when the paperback comes out, change the balloon to a scream. It would represent the feelings of readers who believe the cartoons should never have been removed from the book.

Another disappointing aspect of this case: apparently many of those who argued for censorship had not read the book.

Related post here.


Debunking ACORN apologists

Listed below are some common defenses of ACORN followed by rebuttals.

Defense #1: Some of the ACORN people were "playing along" with what they thought were pranks.
Rebuttal: Even if this is true, ACORN still looks unethical on many levels. I saw no hints of "playing along" in any of the videos.
Defense #2: ACORN was responding to unethical practices of banks during the housing crisis.
Rebuttal: Two wrongs don't make a right. Moreover, the root causes of the housing crisis probably lie within government, not business. Check out the 1994 hearings on Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac.
Defense #3: James O'Keefe had racist motives for creating the videos.
Rebuttal: The O'Keefe-as-racist meme gained traction through a Washington Post story written by Darryl Fears and Carol D. Leonnig. The Post later made a retraction. Andrew Breitbart spoke to Leonnig before the article came out, and he predicted accurately that she would unfairly inject race into the story. (Go to 1:05 of the video.)
Defense #4: "Hapless" ACORN employees were caught in a politically motivated sting.
Rebuttal: Breitbart dismantles the "hapless" (a.k.a. "dumdum") argument very effectively (go to 2:30 of the video).
Defense #5: ACORN has done good things in the past.
Rebuttal: Even if ACORN has done "amazing" work elsewhere--a contention that I have doubts about--the pimp videos should serve as a wake-up call that triggers skepticism and scrutiny of all ACORN operations, past and present.


Scholarship, slogans and not-so-free speech at Yale

I drove through New Haven yesterday.

Being curious about the recently released (and censored) book on the Danish Mohammed cartoons, I stopped in at the Yale Bookstore to see how sales were coming along and to take a look at the book.

The cover of the book is dull, sadly so. It has no art except a lonely "thought balloon". I was also struck by the huge banner on the front wall . I found the juxtaposition of censored book and slogans to be a bit troubling:

A customer service person looked up recent sales on the computer for me. The store had sold only two copies in the past two weeks.

Today, the book was #55,400 on Amazon.


Ryan Mauro to political Right: Don't overdo criticism of President Obama

One key point that Mauro doesn't mention: overdoing it devalues one's criticism it and often makes it less effective.

He points this out:
The Nation Brands Index now ranks the United States as the most admired country around the world* . . .

“What’s really remarkable is that in all my years studying national reputation, I have never seen any country experience such a dramatic change in its standing as we see for the United States for 2009,” said Simon Anholt, the founder of the NBI.
Mauro's opening paragraphs resonated strongly with me:

I can remember the disgust I felt between 2001 and 2008 when so many critics of President Bush couldn’t bring themselves to applaud anything he did, instead only grinding their teeth as they mentioned his name. If boxed into a corner and forced into commending something, such as the overthrow of the Taliban, it would not be said without hateful prefaces and postscripts about how evil, dumb, incompetent, radical, etc. he is.

This pride-filled childishness, intellectual unfairness, and overall resistance to acknowledge any success propelled me to promise myself that I’d never adopt the same attitude, would remain as independent as possible so as not to be seduced by the partisan rage, and would take pride in supporting my president whenever I felt comfortable doing so.
Bush Derangement Syndrome was counter-productive for the country **, and so is knee-jerk dumping on President Obama. Criticism of President Bush's environmental record is a good example of exaggeration from the Left. The Right needs to avoid this kind of thing.

Well done, Ryan.

via Instapundit

*A dubious achievement, perhaps, but notable nevertheless.
**It damaged the credibility of the Left as well


Free home energy audits in Baltimore from BGE

Sign up at BgeSmartEnergy.com. It includes free CFLs, pipe insulation, shower head, etc.

Characteristics of Alinsky's ideal community organizer

Here they are, as listed in Rules for Radicals:
1. Curiosity
2. Irreverence
3. Imagination
4. A sense of humor
5. A bit of a blurred vision of a better world
6. An organized personality
7. A well-integrated political schizoid
8. Ego [but not egotism]
9. A free and open mind and political relativity
Only a few of these require much explanation.

The "blurred vision of a better world" (#5) means the ability to see the whole picture of Alinsky's "better world" even when the organizer is immersed in--and working to organize--just a tiny part.

What he means by "integrated schizoid" in #7 is this:
. . . the organizer must split himself into two parts--one part in the arena of action where he polarizes the issue to 100 to nothing, and helps to lead his forces into conflict, while the other part knows that when the time comes for negotiations that it really is only a 10 percent difference--and yet both parts have to live comfortably with each other. Only a well-organized person can split and yet stay together. But this is what the organizer must do.
By "political relativity" in #9, Alinsky is referring to: (1) flexibility of personality, (2) rejection of ideology and dogma, (3) being comfortable with uncertainty, and (4) recognition that "all values are relative."

One thing that surprised me about Alinsky's thinking was his rejection of ideology and dogma, including socialism and Marxism.


SunshineReview.org: Baltimore County's rates only C- in government transparency

Where our county government falls down:
Are you listening, Jim Smith? It would be nice if Mr. Smith could bump up the grade a few notches before term limits end his tenure as county executive in 2010.

Here's the main site for SunshineReview.org.

Saul Alinsky's 11 rules on "the ethics of means and ends"

Alinsky's list of 13 tactics for community organizing have gotten more press lately, but his 11 rules on means and ends are just as thought-provoking:
  1. One's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue.
  2. The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment
  3. In war the ends justify almost any means
  4. Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.
  5. Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
  6. The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.
  7. Generally success or failure is a might determinant of ethics.
  8. Morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
  9. Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.
  10. You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments.
  11. Goals must be phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," "Of the Common Welfare," "Pursuit of Happiness," or "Bread and Peace."
Alinky's intelligence, his pragmatism, and his impulse to describe things as they are remind me of Niccolo Machiavelli.

Source: Alinsky's 1971 book titled Rules for Radicals


"I know that. You think I don't know that?"

Martin Short reveals the inspiration for his cigarette-puffing lawyer character Nathan Thurm:

via The Daily Beast


Asian "stink bugs" migrate to Baltimore County via Pennsylvania

I've seen a few of these around and wondered what they were. Susan Reimer explains in the Sun:
[This] variety of stink bug . . . is Halyomorpha halys, which arrived in Southeastern Pennsylvania from Asia in the mid-1990s and has kind of hitchhiked its way into Maryland since.

It is different from the several species of domestic stink bugs that are more uniform in color, less numerous and less of a danger to crops.

This species is distinguished by its patterned legs, antennae and shield-shaped back. . . .

Unlike the domestic stink bug, which is not a threat to crops, this species favors stone fruit trees, such as peach and cherry, and legume crops, such as soybean.

"We have been seeing crop damage in stone fruits in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," said Dr. Michael Raupp, professor of entomology with the University of Maryland. "And we are starting to see it in soybeans."


"Classical liberalism" in a nutshell

Classical liberalism is pretty close to what I mean by "liberal-tarian conservatism". Here are 12 key ideas that help define the concept:
  1. Dignity of the individual
  2. Individual liberty
  3. Private property
  4. Natural law and natural rights
  5. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech
  6. Limited government
  7. Rule of law
  8. Religious toleration
  9. Domestic free markets and international free trade
  10. Peace and harmony
  11. The right of "exit"
  12. Ideas of spontaneous order
This list seems to differ somewhat from the Wikipedia entry. Here's a syllabus and reading list.

Source: Mario Rizzo, NYU Economics Department

Kingman Brewster + Hakimullah Mehsud = Yale Taliban again

Someone recently showed me Kingman Brewster's advice on how to select Yale students. Apparently, its a famous letter, at least within the Yale community. It's a great read for admissions directors and also for college applicants.

Then this morning I found that Hakimullah Mehsud, chief of the Pakistani Taliban, is still alive.

This made me think of the Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, aka the Yale Taliban.

The Yale admissions folks could have saved themselves a boatload of bad publicity if they had just looked at their own website when considering Hashemi and applied their own admissions criteria:
Fourth, moral concern and consideration for others has its place high in the list of attributes worthy of reward. Not only should demonstrated amorality and selfishness be held against an applicant no matter how bright he may seem, but outstanding public motivation and capacity to sacrifice the self for something larger seems to me to deserve positive appreciation in the admissions process.

. . .

"Moral concern and consideration for others" is almost impossible to weigh in the competitive terms which the admissions process requires. However there may be some cases where its demonstration has been so dramatic or objectively convincing as to deserve reward. On the negative side a demonstrated failure of moral sensitivity or regard for the dignity of others cannot be redeemed by allegations that the young man is extremely "interesting."


Cause of obesity? The yin-yang of spring and fall fats

Amazing if true department. Susan Allport author of The Queen of Fats, writes:
the essential fats—the omega-3s and their close cousins, the omega-6s—change with the seasons. It might sound like a small idea, but it may soon fundamentally change the way you think about food.
are likely the most abundant fats in the world, but they don't originate in fish, as many believe. Rather, they are found in the green leaves of plants. Fish are full of omega-3s because they eat phytoplankton [...] and seaweed. [...] The spring fats speed up metabolism. They are fats that animals (humans included) use to get ready for times of activity, like the mating season. They're found in the highest concentrations in all the most active tissues: brains, eyes, hearts, the tails of sperm, the flight muscles of hummingbirds. [...] These fats protect our brains from neurological disorders and enable our hearts to beat billions of times without incident.
originate in plants as well, but in the seeds of plants rather than the leaves. The fall fats are simply storage fats for plants.
Animals require both—omega-3s and omega-6s—in their diets and their tissues. But omega-6s are slower and stiffer than omega-3s. Plus, they promote blood clotting and inflammation, the underlying causes of many diseases, including heart disease and arthritis. Omega-3s, on the other hand, promote blood flow and very little inflammation, which may prevent things like heart disease. The proper mix of these two fats helps create tissue with the right amount of blood flow and inflammation.
The imbalance:
because they're in constant competition to enter our cells, if your diet consists of too many omega-6s, your body will be deficient in omega-3s. And that is what's been happening to us as we've been eating more and more seed fats in the form of soybean, corn and other vegetable oils.
The problem & the result:
Since 1909, according to the USDA, Americans have more than doubled their daily intake of omega-6s—from about 7 grams to around 18. One hundred years ago, heart disease was much less common in this country. Over the past century, though, heart disease has risen in tandem with our increasing intake of these seed fats, or omega-6s, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). So have neurological disorders like Lisa's, as well as depression, arthritis, obesity, insulin resistance and many cancers.
I don't know if all of this is true or not, but it sure seems to make sense to me, and probably Occam too.

Allport gives advice at the end of the article on how to increase Omega-3s and reduce Omega-6s in your diet.

Via Glenn Reynolds


Advice from Irving Kristol

Passed on by Mary Eberstadt:
About editing: Always just cut the text if you have to, he advised, never add to what's there.

About responding to critics en masse in a published venue: When answering letters written in response to something you've written, don't use the authors' names. Just lay out their common themes. That way you won't get caught up personally and can just stick to the ideas.
Much more in the WSJ. Kristol died a week ago.


District 42: Del. Steve Lafferty's top 20 contributors in 2008

For more detail, see Del. Lafferty's page on the SunLight Foundation's website FollowTheMoney:

$ 600 21 WEST LLC

UPDATE: See also top contributors for: Del. Sue Aumann, Del. Bill Frank, and Sen. Jim Brochin.

District 42: Del. Bill Frank's top 20 contributors in 2008

For more detail, see Del. Frank's page on the SunLight Foundation's website FollowTheMoney:

$ 400 HOUK, PAUL D

UPDATE: See also top contributors for: Del. Sue Aumann, Del. Steve Lafferty, and Sen. Jim Brochin.

District 42: Sen. Jim Brochin's top 20 contributors in 2008

For more detail, see Sen. Brochin's page on the SunLight Foundation's website FollowTheMoney:


UPDATE: See also top contributors for: Del. Sue Aumann, Del. Bill Frank, and Del. Steve Lafferty.

District 42: Del. Sue Aumann 2008 top 20 contributors

For more detail, see Del. Aumann's page on the SunLight Foundation's website FollowTheMoney:


UPDATE: See also top contributors for: Del. Bill Frank, Del. Steve Lafferty, and Sen. Jim Brochin.


Remembering a cool bumper sticker from the 1960s

From an article by Salena Zito in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
The majority is not silent – the government is deaf.
Right on!


On having your ideas attacked . . . clues that you're winning the debate . . . and the common fate of dissenters

In The Black Swan--which was published in 2007 and foreshadows/explains the economic meltdown of 2008--Nassim Nicholas Taleb has strong opinions about some well-known professors of finance & economics including Myron Scholes, Stephen Ross and Martin Shubik.

This bit is from page 280:
It was symptomatic that almost all people who attacked my thinking attacked a deformed version of it . . . . Some even had to change my biography. At a panel in Lugano, Myron Scholes once got in to a state of rage, and went after a transformed version of my ideas. I could see the pain in his face.

Once, in Paris, a prominent member of the mathematical establishment, who invested part of his lifeon some minute sub-sub-property of the Gaussian, blew a fuse--right when I showed empirical evidence of Black Swans in markets. He turned red with anger, had difficulty breathing, and started hurling insults at me for having descrated the institution, lacking pudeur (modesty); he shouted "I am a member of the Academy of Science!" to give more strength to his insults. (The French translation of my book was out of stock the next day.)

My best episode was with Steve Ross, an economist perceived to be an intellectual far superior to Scholes and Merton, and deemed a formidable debater, gave rebuttal to my ideas by signaling small errors or approximations in my presentation, such as Markowitz was not the first to ..." thus certifying that he had no answer to my main point.
Later (on page 283) Taleb points out that, as always, critics of conventional wisdom face plenty of hostility:
The insightful scholar Martin Shubik, who held that the degree of excessive abstraction of these models, a few steps beyond necessity, makes them totally unusable, found himself ostracized, a common fate for dissenters.

All you ever wanted to know about ACORN

The Washington Times has a round-up of ACORN coverage here. It's a long list.

via Instapundit.


"not one ACORN employee seemed to flinch"

Go. Go now. Go to BigGovernment.com and start scrolling.

Especially if you're a Democrat who get's most of his news from the New York Times.

Here's the thing: if Democrats do not rise up quickly to denounce ACORN--and strip away its government funding--it seems to me that President Obama and the whole Democratic party will be in deep, deep trouble. And the tipping point could come very quickly.

Mike Flynn captures the essence of the ACORN scandal with this bit:
not one ACORN employee seemed to even flinch when presented with the ridiculous scenario of a pimp and a prostitute trying to get a mortgage to house a dozen or so underage El Salvadoran child-prostitutes. They just oozed seamlessly into conjecture about whether or not a child prostitute could be considered a “dependent” for tax purposes. What do these employees hear on a daily basis that this scenario was just another problem that needed fixing?
Here are the videos. Watch them all:
#1. ACORN office in Baltimore, MD
#2. ACORN office in Washington, DC
The videos from Baltimore and DC elicited this response from Bertha Lewis, ACORN's Chief Organizer.
This recent scam, which was attempted in San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia to name a few places, had failed for months before the results we’ve all recently seen.
Her quote is a nice segue to yesterday's release from Mr. O'Keefe and Ms. Giles:
#3. ACORN office in Brooklyn, NY
And for good measure, here's today's release:
#4. ACORN office in San Bernardino, CA
James O'Keefe's intro for this vid included this nice touch, a quote from Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals:
#8: Keep the pressure on. Never let up.
If you ask me, ACORN is history. And if Obama and the Democratic party don't recognize it quickly enough, they will be too.

UPDATE: For background on Andrew Breitbart, founder of BigGovernment.com, go here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds interviews Andrew Breitbart about ACORN


ACORN staff advise pimp & prostitute how to cheat on taxes

The ACORN staffers in Baltimore were unfazed by the pair's plan to conduct child prostitution. From the Washington Post:
BALTIMORE -- The group ACORN has fired two employees who were seen on hidden-camera video giving tax advice to a man posing as a pimp and a woman who pretended to be a prostitute.

. . . On the video, a man and woman visiting ACORN's Baltimore office asked about buying a house and how to account on tax forms for the woman's income. An ACORN employee advised the woman to list her occupation as "performance artist."

The pair also claimed they planned to employ teenage girls from central America as prostitutes, and an ACORN employee suggested that up to three of the girls could be claimed as dependents, according to transcripts of the video posted online by conservative activist James O'Keefe.

O'Keefe [said] that he was shocked by the ACORN employees' helpfulness.

9/11 memorial: Tribute in Light

Click image to see larger version. Image from Wikipedia.

Obama on treasury-draining health care entitlements: "We'll make it up on volume"

The Wall Street Journal's reaction to President Obama's health care speech:

Mr. Obama began by depicting a crisis in the entitlement state, noting that "our health-care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers," especially Medicare. . . .

On this score he's right. Medicare's unfunded liability—the gap between revenues and promised benefits—is currently some $37 trillion over the next 75 years. Yet the President uses this insolvency as an argument to justify the creation of another health-care entitlement, this time for most everyone under age 65. It's like a variation on the old Marx Brothers routine: "The soup is terrible and the portions are too small."


Obama's timidity on malpractrice reform

Toward the end of his big health care speech last night, President Obama decried the current state of affairs where
only timidity passes for wisdom.
Fourteen paragraphs earlier, he said this:
I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs.
May be contributing? Ya think?


Things I hadn't known about baseball gloves

A friend and I had a very pleasant interaction a few weeks ago with a twenty-something sales manager at the Dick's Sporting Goods store in Hunt Valley. Some tidbits we picked up from him:
  1. Many gloves these days come with oil already injected into the leather. When that's the case, you shouldn't apply extra oil to the glove.
  2. Professional shortstops and second basemen tend to use smaller gloves than I had thought (around 11.5 inches).
  3. Professional infielders (except perhaps first basemen) don't insert their hand fully into their glove. They leave the bottom of the hand visible (the inch or so that includes the base of the thumb). This is partly to prevent wrist injuries when diving for ground balls so the glove can fall off rather than breaking or spraining the wrist.
  4. Many advanced players put both the ring finger and the pinky finger into the last finger hole. The middle finger goes into the ring finger hole and the index finger goes in the middle finger hole. This helps to create a larger pocket.
  5. Some pros now have "flared" corners on their gloves (the corners at the ends of the thumb and pinky). This lets the open glove cover a larger area, when compared to a glove with corners that curl around the ball.
  6. A quick way to break in a glove: smear a small dabs of shaving cream on several areas of the glove (the inside of the pocket, the back of the fingers [and the palm of the glove?] and put it in a 300 degree oven for five minutes.
  7. Some pros now have "flared" corners on their gloves (the corners at the ends of the thumb and pinky). This lets the open glove cover a larger area when compared to a glove that has more curl around the ball at the corners. But some pros prefer the non-flared gloves.
  8. One way to build up your arm strength: cut a slit in a tennis ball, fill it with pennies, seal it up with duct tape, and play catch (gently) for 10 minutes or so on a regular basis. Some caveats: don't throw too hard or too far, don't do it for too long and don't do this with your best glove, because it causes extra wear and tear on the glove.
My friend spent more money than he had planned to, but I think he got something that suits him much better and will last longer than the one he had originally planned to buy.


Please read David Goldhill's article on healthcare in the September issue of The Atlantic

I stopped in at Dutch Ruppersberger's Timonium office last week and dropped off a copy of Mr. Goldhill's article. The title is How American Health Care Killed My Father.

I attached a note to Dutch that said (roughly):
Dear Dutch -- This article is one of the best pieces of analysis and explanation that I have read on any topic, ever. Please read it. I hope you will incorporate parts of it in your thinking and in your public statements on health care. After you read it, I'd like to discuss it with you. Please call me on my cell at 410-xxx-xxxx.

Thank you.
To everyone else out there, please read the article and send a copy of it to your Congressman.

By the way, Dutch has scheduled a town hall conference call for September 21st at 7:30 PM. Details such as the call-in number and passcode are TBD.


Councilman Samuel Moxley guilty of DUI ... 2nd incident in five years

Bryan Sears* has the story in the Catonsville Times. The punishment:
. . . a suspended 60-day sentence . . . two years of monitored probation . . .
[his] car [to] be equipped with a steering wheel interlock device, a mobile breathalyzer that requires the driver to blow into a tube to prove he is not intoxicated before starting his vehicle and at random times while on the road . . . 85 hours of community service in Baltimore [City].
The article also mentions suspension of Moxley's driver's license for a year, but the article doesn't make clear whether that is for the 2009 charge or the 2005 charge.

Moxley really needs to resign.

A good question from ASA John Mitchell:
“How many bites at the apple will he get before he goes to jail?”
Here are some details of Mr. Moxley's drunk driving record from his Wikipedia page:

In 2005 Councilman Moxley was sentenced to year of supervised probation for driving under the influence.

On July 23, 2009, Councilman Moxley was arrested on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol.

According to a Baltimore City Police report, Moxley was involved in a four vehicle accident on Route 40, near the 400 block of N. Pulaski Street in west Baltimore. . . [he] failed to stop at a red traffic signal at Rt 40 and N. Pulaski Street striking a vehicle. . .

Authorities say Moxley failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a breathalyzer.

*Bryan seems like a very nice guy, but his blog photo has a definite Lex Luthor look to it.


What health insurance reform should give us: a cheap, high-deductible catastrophic policy.

Which is exactly what none of the current bills would let us have, according to John Stossel:
Consumers could not buy a cheap, high-deductible catastrophic policy [under any of the existing bills currently floating around the House and Senate]
Read the whole thing.

Last week I asked a customer service rep at Maryland's dominant health insurer* if they sell such a policy. She said no, making it sound as if selling catastrophic insurance without the "basic" plan would be an impossibly difficult feat.

At the end, Stossel adds:
Profit is the key to competition. Anyone who claims to favor competition but looks down at profit has no idea what he is talking about.
Well said.

*CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield


Maryland has forced more mandates on health care insurers than any other state

Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation, citing a 2001 Blue Cross/Blue Shield study:

Maryland leads the nation with at least 52 mandates on private health insurance . . . Only California, which has 43 mandates, comes close to Maryland.

There seem to be three types of mandates relating to (1) conditions/treatments/services (28 mandates), (2) providers (18 mandates) and (3) patient classes (6 mandates). Here are the mandates relating to conditions, treatments & services:

Alcoholism Treatment
Bone Density Screening
Breast Reconstruction
Cleft Palate
Clinical Trials
Colorectal Screening
Dental Anesthesia
Diabetic Supplies/Edu
Drug Abuse Treatment
Emergency Services
Formula for PKU
Hair Prostheses (Wigs)
Home Health Care
Hospice Care
Invitro Fertilization
Mammography Screening
Mental Health (General)
Mental Health (Parity)
Minimum Mastectomy Stay
Minimum Maternity Stay
Off-Label Drug Use
Prostate Cancer Screening
Rehabilitation Services
Second Med/Surg Opinion
Well-Child Care

A doctor told me last week that these mandates have driven up health insurance premiums in Maryland. And contributed to declining number of insurers competing in the Maryland market.


Thoughts on health insurance reform from a small-business owner in Maryland

I heard Mike Vallerie talk on the Kendel & Bob Ehrlich Show this morning. He came across as thoughtful, fair and practical. His four key ideas:
  1. Tort reform modelled on worker's comp.
  2. Roll back the definition of health insurance so that it really is insurance: "A means of indemnity against occurrence of an uncertain event."
  3. Individuals should be responsibe for taking care of themselves (i.e. paying for expected, forseeable expenses), and
  4. Level the playing field so that small businesses get a fair shake compared to big business.
His website is MikesPlan.net.


Finally! Some thoughts on health care reform that are clear, simple, honest, and to-the-point

Charles Hugh Smith gets to the root of the problem:
The corporate-America or union/government employee who goes to the doctor pays a few dollars for a visit and drugs; the “real cost” is of no concern.
The link between the “consumer” of healthcare and the provider has been broken for decades. There is no “free market” in healthcare–there isn’t any market at all. We live in a Kafka-esque nightmare system in which “some are more equal than others” and hundreds of thousands of dollars are lavished on worthless tests, procedures and medications ...
And more:
So-called “defensive medicine” in which worthless tests are administered to stave off random (sometimes valid, sometimes nuisance) malpractice lawsuits.
I'll have more to say later about my recent experiences with defensive medicine.

And what does Smith recommend?:
There is a solution so simple and so radical that it is “impossible” . . . : shut down insurance and all government entitlements, and make everyone paid cash for healthcare.
How can we break the cycle of frivolous lawsuits, defensive medicine, and spiraling costs for both procedures and malpractice insurance?:
The solution to malpractice is information, not lawsuits.
What about poor people?:
Well right now they have to stand in line at emergency rooms–the most wasteful, inefficient system possible. Even “poor people” can afford a few dollars–there’s endless excuses provided yet how many “poor people” have cell phones, eat costly fast food, do costly illegal drugs, etc. etc.
Sounds about right to me.

Mr. Smith, I hope you go to Washington. We could use more people like you down there.

via Ron Smith's website


Well said, Mr. Palmer

Parker Palmer--from a December 2008 interview on spirituality and the economic downturn--strikes a chord:
We're at a time where self-interest and idealism converge.
The interviewer is Krista Tippett. Her show, Speaking of Faith, airs in Baltimore on Sunday mornings at 7:00 AM on WYPR.



Sen. Cardin Town Hall on health care: Monday 8/10/09 @ Towson U.

The details are on his website:
Health Care Town Halls

In August, I will hold town hall meetings in Hagerstown and in Towson. For planning purposes, because o the large number of people who are interested in attending, please RSVP. Space is limited at both venues so we cannot guarantee admittance. In accordance with fire regulations, when the venues are full, there will be no standing room available.

Monday, August 10th - 7 p.m.
Towson University Center for the Arts
Harold J. Kaplan Concert Hall
Corner of Cross Campus and Osler Drives
Towson, MD 21204

Parking is available across the street from the Center for the Arts on Auburn Drive off Osler Drive on Lot 13.

RSVP - sean_mckew@cardin.senate.gov.


Wilmer Eye, Part 2: my original complaint

[For background, see Part 1.]

Here's the email I sent to Dr. Peter McDonnell under the subject heading "Wilmer Eye Institute: an unhappy customer":
Dear Dr. McDonnell -- here's my story (see link below) . . . I thought you'd like to get some feedback about people's reactions to the services provided by the Wilmer Eye Institute.

By the way, [patient] is fine now and back to normal, and we are relieved and very happy about that. I just wanted to vent, and am not asking anything from you other than to be aware of the weaknesses of your organization and do your best to fix the shortcomings.


Dave Greene



Wilmer Eye Institute flunks customer service test (Part 1)

[or . . . "How not to respond to an unhappy customer" . . .]

In response to a complaint that I emailed to Wilmer's director--the email had a link to this post--I received this letter from an executive at Wilmer, Dr. J:
Mr. Greene:

My chairman, Dr. Peter McDonnell, has brought to my attention your discontent with the care that [patient] received from Dr. [B] at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Green Spring Station on [date].
I have read your blog, discussed the visit with Dr. [B], and reviewed the medical record.

It looks to me that Dr. [B] did everything from an ophthalmological standpoint to rule out any serious eye disease.

Evidently, [patient] was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease, but I am not sure that the diagnosis of Lyme disease would have occurred to any ophthalmologist on the basis of [patient's] symptoms. I personally performed an internet search to see if I could find instances of Lyme disease presenting solely with pain in one eye upon movement, but could not find such an association.

From your blog, it seems that Dr. [B]'s style was not to your liking. Doctors are human and have personalities like everyone else, and not all doctor's styles suit every patient. I sometimes wonder how many patients leave my office upset with something that I may have said, and never let me know. All physicians recognize this and will facilitate a smooth transition to another physician when they are made aware of the concerns. We would be happy to do that in [patient]'s case if you wish and will let us know.

At Wilmer and Johns Hopkins, we are committed to improving the care that we provide, and so value the feedback that people like you give to us. Your comments will become part of our departmental Performance Improvement Program. I pledge that we will try harder to make the diagnoses, think "outside" the box when appropriate, and suggest consultation with other physicians when needed.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. [J]

cc: Peter McDonnell, Chairman, Wilmer Eye Institute ,
[Ms. X], Wilmer Patient Representative
This letter is unsatisfying and wrong-headed in so many ways, I think I'll write about it in some detail. More to come.


"Cash for Clunkers" program hurts poorest car owners

Michael Barone, who recently moved from US News to the Washington Examiner, explains how:
The dealers are required to destroy the clunkers, which will reduce the supply and increase the price of spare parts for those low-income folks who can't afford to trade their clunkers in even with a $4,500 subsidy. So much for helping the poor.
blog it


How much does a colonoscopy cost? Here's one answer

If we want to contain healthcare costs, one of the first obvious steps is to make sure that patients receive real prices before they have a procedure.

So, from time to time as I run across real-world healthcare prices, I'll pass them on here.

A family member recently had a colonoscopy in December 2008. Beforehand, we googled around a little to get a handle on the cost, but didn't find much. At one point just before the procedure, the patient asked one of the nurses at Greenspring Station Endoscopy how much the total cost would be. She gave a mechanic's shrug, "I don't know."

Everything went smoothly. Our patient liked the staff, was pleased with the experience, and thought Greenspring was a well-run place.

But, as with all doctors and healtcare providers, it would be a great improvement if they would publish prices (or ranges of prices) for prospective patients. In particular they should publish both the "sticker" price and the actual price.

For the nurse's benefit, and for anyone else out there who wants to know, the actual total price was $2,068. This amount, of course, becomes known only after the patient receives the bill indicating the "reduction of billed charges" negotiated by the insurance company**.

----------------------- LIST -- ACTUAL
ITEM ----------------- PRICE --- PRICE
Initial consultation.. $ 195 -- $ 130
Prep supplies............ 20 ----- 20
Anesthesia nurse........ 760 ---- 294
Endoscopy facility.... 1,500 ---- 726
Colonoscopy doctor.... 2,025 ---- 465
Lab/tissue diagnosis.... 600 ---- 433
............. TOTALS $ 5,100 $ 2,068*

*In this particular case, the procedure included cutting out a small number of benign polyps.

**In this case, CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield


HRWA's green building gets first "NC Gold" certification in Baltimore City from LEED

It's the Herring Run Watershed Center on Belair Road in northeast Baltimore. LEED's NC rating covers Newly Constructed buildings and extensively renovated old ones. Gold is the second highest certification level based on a 110 point system.

Here's a list of the green features in the building. It was designed by Ziger/Snead and built by Baltimore Green Construction.

Nice job, guys.


Will members rise up against AARP over its health care stand?

Mark Tapscott predicts in the Washington Examiner:
There will be hell to pay for AARP with its members when this ugly reality becomes crystal clear, as it most certainly will.
UPDATE: From the looks this video, Mark might be on to something.


Service-learning opportunity for students in Baltimore County Public Schools

Yesterday I wrote about Arin Gencer's article in the Sun on service-learning.

The article has a sidebar which includes this bit:
Examples of projects tied to service-learning

• Writing a letter to a delegate or senator regarding a particular issue or piece of legislation, or advocating a community need
Which gave me an idea:

Students in Baltimore County could lobby the Maryland General Assembly to repeal the 75-hour service-learning graduation requirement. And get service-learning credits for it!

Sounds like fun to me, and for a worthy cause. Win-win!

p.s. I'm serious about this. If any high school students in the BaltoNorth area* would like to get organized and do something along these lines, send me an email. I'd be happy to help out with ideas, publicity, or introductions to some legislators in Annapolis.

*The BaltoNorth areas corresponds roughly to the districts for Dulaney High School, Loch Raven High School and Towson High School. And perhaps Pikesville High School too.