Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why Does Obama Hate Freedom?

Now that the O-Bomba is flexing his muscle, the dreaded SHCA hydra is returning to U.S. politics. Yes, that old many headed serpent, the Socialist Health Care Agenda is back, and by Zeus, it has got teeth.
As any liberal with a bleeding heart can tell you, people often seem to support the idea of institutionalised health care. (Usually it is because they are closet commies - no doubt the blood of those demanding fair access to health is red like Marx.) Some people even go so as to say that health care is morally important. I truly wonder why people hate freedom?
Fortunately, like any good citizen group, the CPR have swiftly stood up to the monstrous threat to choice that is socialised health care.
In a series of advertisements released in the U.S., the Conservatives for Patients' Rights have finally spoken the truth about health care. Following is selected chunks from Chris McGreal's article in today's Guardian:

[The CPR campaign claims that] "a state-run system strips patients of control over their healthcare. "[People] lose control over their own destiny in the health system,"...[This] campaign is being co-ordinated by the same public relations firm that masterminded the "Swift boat" attacks by President Bush's campaign against John Kerry in the 2004 election...CPR says that Obama's plans to control costs, while widening access to care for some 45m people without health insurance, means that the US will introduce rationing of treatment and drug supplies...[describing] Britons as "trapped" by the NHS, with medical decisions made by bureaucrats, not doctors.
Yes. The U.K. health care system is obviously a nightmare. Waiting lists can be long. Choice relating to doctors is limited. In contrast, the current U.S. system truly supports freedom: I can get the best health care in world if I truly want it. Choice is more important than being alive to make choices. I sure as fudge don't want some pesky socialist bureaucrat telling someone who oversees an institution to tell a medical Dr what to tell me. I would rather die from freedom than live in a world where I get healthcare without choices. As the founder of the CPR Richard Scott points out "What you see is when the government gets involved, you run out of money and health care gets rationed." I assume it follows that those who don't have money to begin with deserve their poor health. In fact those who don't have the money to pay for health ought to follow Scott's entrepreneurial model.
We ought avoid those pesky ideas like 'health' or 'wellness' in the world of healthcare. Healthcare needs only Scott's four pillars: "choice, competition, accountability and personal responsibility." Anything else must simply be a socialist conspiracy.

60 days till midnight...

Swine flu is the Y2K of our time, the beast that roared but never bit, the River Phoenix of the disease-disaster constellation....right? Wrong...

The first few days of swine flu seemed like the aporkalypse. 1800-odd cases, 80 deaths and plane-loads of coughers and sneezers on their way to threaten our 'border security'. Antivirals were in short supply, pork was suspicious (if not unsafe) and we needed to close the airports and stick thermometers in tourists in order to keep ourselves safe. The ABC was doing its bit for the nation with some hard hitting reportage on scurrillously unhindered passengers at Sydney Airport. The end was nigh...

But then it wasn't.... no one that mattered was getting sick, there wasn't any Australian cases and masks were not the newest fashion accessory in Mosman. Besides; Madonna was getting remarried, the government was inventing words and abusing idiom (see "nation-building", "forged in the fire") and NRL players were objectifying women again. All was right with the world, the danger had passed.

At this point, most right-thinking media consumers probably saw a furphy...the eggheads and politicans had sold us a pup!! The cynical saw an availability heuristic in action; "suspicious thinkers" saw a consipracy at every-turn. Pockets had been lined, Roche had sold a bucket-load of Tamiflu and curious troop movements were seen in the Arctic...we'd been hoodwinked and there was actually nothing to fear. Just another beat-up by rent-seekers and panic-button pushers.

The problem with this perfectly reasonable view is its distance from pesky reality. The latest scientific information, based upon initial case and fatality data from Mexico, turns up some interesting information. Firstly, the speed with which the virus spreads seems to be relatively slow...for a pandemic (in germ geek-speak; R0=1.6). The number of people who will likely die once they have been infected also seems to be quite low (CFR <0.6%). style="font-weight: bold;">is
a potential Lilliputian.

Of course, that doesn't mean it's not going to affect you, just that it might take some time before it does. The impression that the H1N1 flu was a fizzer is tempting, but misleading; especially when the models of how disease spreads through a population seem to tell us that pandemics can have relatively long periods of stasis before reaching a tipping point beyond which the disease spreads rapidly and effectively.

Therefore, to put the provisional R0 of 1.4-1.6 in context, we need to go down in the weeds a little bit. For those of you allergic to graphs...shield your eyes now.

(A) Given our value for R from the Science paper. The delay before an epidemic-inducing 20 concurrent infectious cases in Australia (or any country outside of North Am) has a 95% probability of being between 40 and 70 days from initiation of the epidemic in the source region.
(B) Number of travellers leaving source region and arriving in at-risk country per day has a negligible effect on the median delay once number of travellers >100 (i.e. remains at ~60 days for R0 of 1.5)
(C) Screening incoming travellers for symptoms has a negligible effect on delay
(D) “In general, the additional delay achieved by introducing non-pharmaceutical border control measures is generally small in comparison with the natural delay”

The (highly) general conclusion from this is that we may have to wait up to two months for the natural introduction of the pandemic into Australia....and that border screening will do very, very little to alter this. Sixty days is a long time for the media-land goldfish (and its ADHD brother, the blogosphere), and hence the tendency is towards swiftly shifting attentions and the phenomenon of rapidly appearing and dissappearing threats.

The idea that disease could take a long time to get to Australia also works counter-intuitively in a world were the bananas on your kitchen table were in the Phillipines two days ago. But the confusion is lessened when you realise that the probabilities of any one passenger on a flight to Australia being infectious with a disease that has only infected a few thousand people in a country of 100 million, while rising towards 1, are relatively small in the initial stages of an epidemic.

Hence the idea that we are 60 days from midnight...or atleast 60 days from when I'll be proven wrong...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Economic Rationalism And Smoking

In what is perhaps the greatest news story/public policy on the face of the planet, read the following excerpt from an article in today's Age titled Chinese Ordered To Smoke Until They Drop:

LOCAL government officials in China have been ordered to smoke nearly a quarter of a million packets of cigarettes to boost the local economy during the global financial crisis.

The edict, issued by officials in Hubei Province, in central China, threatens to fine officials who "fail to meet their targets" or are caught smoking rival brands manufactured in neighbouring provinces.

Even local schools have been given a smoking quota for teachers, while one village was ordered to buy 400 cartons of cigarettes a year for its officials.

This is part genius and part rational. While the absurd(ist) moron in me is giggling with excitement about this, I find it hard to see how this is very much different from Rudd's cash-splash. Spend, dammit, spend. Don't save, don't invest in the future, spend now. Even if it means putting a shotgun to a child's head and screaming at them to start smoking, (slight exaggeration here), we must support the economy at all costs.

In fact, if you expand this out a little, this is the very argument put forward by the Australian coal lobby et al. that we can't afford to impose hefty carbon debts on high polluting industries. Jobs (as an abstract economic quantifier) are for more important than the health or well being of the people inhabiting those jobs, their families or those in their community. So smoke up, kiddoes, because Jobs are jesus, and the Economy is god.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Troubling Times

In a weird twist of world events, i have found myself in (indirect) support of Philip Ruddock. Yes, he of the 'pacific solution', who (on some accounts) officially co-ordinated the institutional abuse of some of the world's most vulnerable people.

Yes, today finds me at odds with my morally sound belief that the sooner Ruddock is permanently removed from public life, the safer the world will be for all of us. Yet, as I read an article in today's Australian, I actually found bile entering my blood stream in such a way that the blood-brain barrier was passed and I though for a second, 'these people have no right to demand Ruddock's departure'.

So what rubbish am I babbling about today? In a sign of how Australian politics works in practice, let me quote from today's Australian:

MAJOR business donors to the Liberal Party have put Malcolm Turnbull on notice that their continued financial support is now conditional on the Opposition Leader personally driving a large scale renewal of MPs in the parliamentary party.

The business figures have compiled a list of MPs who they believe should stand down at the next election in order to allow new talent to come through and to demonstrate to voters that the Opposition is looking to the future, rather than the past.

The list of 14 MPs across all states includes senior figures from the Howard era such as Philip Ruddock, Bronwyn Bishop, Kevin Andrews and NSW powerbroker Bill Heffernan.

Now, believe me, dead wood needs pruning, and in this case a good burn-off would go well. But there is something fundamentally pathological in a society where:
a) it is the donors to a political party who decide the content of a political party. I was under the impression that democracy was concerned with the elected members serving the interests of the electorate, and not who 'donates' money to them.
b) this is public knowledge and no-one seems to be concerned about it at all. Are we so far gone as a society that we see it as o.k. that donors to political parties can make demands as to who represents the people?

Now this is not a problem of the Liberal Party, i'm sure this sickness poisons the integrity of the Labour Party as much as any other. The bile that has now filled the cavity of my brain is screaming that something has gone horribly wrong here.

Does anyone else hear these voices? Am I the only one?