Friday, September 23, 2022

If you need another Columbo fix...

...or just need to get away from the news for an hour and a half this weekend, here's is one of the rare cases where YouTube's algorithm came up with something I actually wanted to watch. [Following up last month's post.]

Murder by Natural Causes is prime Levinson and Link with a first rate cast and a plot where you may see the broad strokes coming but the the details will probably catch you off guard. 

Good, mean-spirited fun.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Five years ago at the blog -- No special relevance here. I just like talking about this stuff.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Thoughts on a Ouija board

As previously (and frequently) mentioned, I've been chipping away at a couple of essays about 21st century attitudes toward technology. The incredible spike in innovation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries plays a big role. Unfortunately, the more I dig in, the more I find new aspects to the subject.

I came across yet another when watching this Bob Chipman movie review of Ouija [Now apparently off line -- MP]. My general rule for movie reviews and criticism (Chipman falls more in the latter but is also pretty good at the former) is to only check out writing on movies that I either have seen, or care so little about that they can't really be spoiled. This one fell in the second category.

Chipman is exceptionally good with historical and cultural context. He started this review with a brief historical overview of the popular board game, suggesting that the filmmakers could have gotten a more interesting and original film had they mined the actual history of the Ouija board rather than opting for something standard and derivative. What caught my ear was the fact that the Ouija board was first marketed in 1891 as an attempt to cash in on the spiritualism craze of the era.

Here's Linda Rodriguez McRobbie writing for the Smithsonian:

As spiritualism had grown in American culture, so too did frustration with how long it took to get any meaningful message out of the spirits, says Brandon Hodge, Spiritualism historian. Calling out the alphabet and waiting for a knock at the right letter, for example, was deeply boring. After all, rapid communication with breathing humans at far distances was a possibility—the telegraph had been around for decades—why shouldn’t spirits be as easy to reach? People were desperate for methods of communication that would be quicker—and while several entrepreneurs realized that, it was the Kennard Novelty Company that really nailed it.

The facts weren't exactly new to me, but somehow I had never thought about the peak of the spiritualism movement coinciding with the explosive scientific and technological advances of the era. I'd always tended to think of that form of spiritualism as quaint and old-fashioned, particularly when compared with the sci-fi infused New Age mysticism of today. Now I'm wondering if I got that exactly backwards.

Particularly in America, the period from around 1880 to 1910 was one of unprecedented technological change, reordering every aspect of society to a degree that hadn't been seen before and hasn't been seen since. It was also, not surprisingly, and era of wild speculation and fantasy. Most of HG Wells' best known scientific romances came from the 1890s. The idea that Mars harbored not only intelligent life but great civilizations had started gaining popularity a decade earlier.

Perhaps living in a time of impossible things makes people credulous, it might even be a form of adaptation. People not only excepted the incredible, they craved more. This gave rise to and army of metaphysical conmen exposed by the  Seybert Commission in the 1880s. While it is always dangerous to generalize from outliers, it is certainly interesting that the greatest age of progress was also remarkable for producing dreamers and suckers.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

American agency

This is Joseph

This tweet needed to be seen to be believed:

I find that World War 2 is a fertile ground for this theory that everything bad comes from the United States. When I was younger there was a huge debate about whether the US knew about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in advance and that this somehow reduced Japanese culpability. Now, pre-knowledge of the attack might have had implications for the leadership being indifferent to casualties instead of setting an ambush, but it is common for intelligence to go astray. Look at the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union:
Stalin also ignored his own spies, who, from such locations as Germany, Japan, Romania and Switzerland, reported with increasing frequency that the Nazis were about to strike. In early 1941, for example, an undercover source in Berlin asserted that “war with Russia has definitely been decided on for this year,” whereas in Bucharest a German commander was quoted describing the upcoming clash as “something that goes without saying.” Border guards heard much the same from captured enemy saboteurs, and railroad workers observed huge numbers of Nazi soldiers moving east. Though not every report proved reliable, Soviet intelligence purportedly named the exact, or almost exact, date of the invasion no fewer than 47 times in the 10 days before “Operation Barbarossa” went into effect.

Now, to be clear, Japan attacked the United States and then Germany declared war on the United States. It is implausible in the extreme that this process was driven by the United States in any meaningful sense of the term and Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda goes back to far earlier eras, like the book Mein Kampf. 

Now World War 2 was atypical in that there was a pretty clear event that started the war and the other side uniformly declared war on the United States. Further, it was pretty clear that the Axis countries were conducting atrocities on defenseless conquered populations. It is rare that the lines are so clear as with the US involvement. I think this is uniformly true of the Allies, in general, but I think it is clearest with the US which was not central to the pre-war diplomacy as the UK, USSR, or France. 

This strange brand of anti-Americanism continues to the modern era, with people still needing to debunk that the defensive NATO alliance was the cause of the 2022 war. To be clear, some US interventions are questionable -- I think serious people can ask hard questions about the wisdom of the Vietnam war or the invasion of Iraq. There are many US foreign policy decisions that are questionable.

But saying the US is always a bad actor is as naΓ―ve and silly as calling the US as always being a good actor. Nation-states are famous for making all sorts of unfortunate decisions in the name of national interest and the US is no exception. But it is ridiculous to try and make the record worse than it actually is. To be honest, on a historical scale, the US has tended to be an atypically ethical and restrained great power. 

Reflexive anti-Americanism is very  unhelpful in generating a useful pathway to improving US foreign policy and these sorts of silly arguments drag oxygen away from actually working to make the US more ethical and more restrained as a great power. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Tuesday (Themed) Tweets -- Getting increasingly difficult to avoid the obvious comparisons

Presented without comment.


Monday, September 19, 2022


This is Joseph.

Do royal ascensions bring out bad takes? Here is one that I think is worth talking about: Should Charles abdicate at 75 years of age?  

There are two ways to answer this question. One is to ask if it ever makes sense to have a hereditary monarchy, even a constitutional one? Because if your concern is a gerontocracy, then this is an institution that is likely to make this a common concern. Nor can one king abdicating bind any future king -- it'd need to be a constitutional change. 

Two, is to note that this confuses group and individual incentives. King Charles waited 73 years (almost 74) to ascend to the throne. Given that his birthday is in November, he would resigning after something like 15 months on the throne should be abdicate at 75 years of age. Now, his mother could have resigned at 75, with a half century on the throne, and that might have made sense in terms of setting a precent. But, in this case, we are correcting the excesses of the previous group by asking the succeeding group to make a sacrifice and that has some issues in terms of natural justice. 

About 30 years ago, the mandatory faculty age for retirement in Canada was overturned. Current faculty are benefiting from the lack of a retirement age which often delayed the careers of the succeeding generation. If we then dropped it back to the original 65, the group that would be penalized are not the current faculty who benefited from the change in rules, but their successors who had a delay to the start of their careers.

But there is no way that I would expect the person who waited 73 years for the throne (his entire working life) to quickly give it up because of a concern about gerontocracy in the context of a monarchy!  

Friday, September 16, 2022

There is no such thing as a poll of likely voters

[Starting a sometimes meta thread on the current state of polling.]

There are polls of the general population and polls of registered voters, but there has never been a poll of likely voters. What we do have do have is polls of registered voters that have been weighted to favor the respondents whom the pollsters think are likely to turn out on election day.

The polls and the models used to determine how likely different people are to vote are entirely different creatures, supported by different assumption, prone to fail in entirely different ways for entirely different reasons. If we are going to pay attention to electoral polling (and I have very mixed feeling about whether we should), we need to be aware of these things.

If you have a candidate like Trump or an issue like Dobbs bringing in large numbers of people who otherwise probably wouldn't have voted, inevitably you will screw over likely voter models. This is doubly true if the model puts heavy weight on past voting history. Dobbs is particularly interesting in this respect since it seems to be causing a surge not just in registrations, but in registrations of young people. If a likely voter model looked at voting history and age these are the last people it would flag as likely.

Of course, outside of a handful of special elections which don't really tell us much, we don't know how many of those young people who registered will actually vote. We won't know until November and from the standpoint of prediction, that will be too late.

Here's my take. At this point, I would not put any weight whatsoever on likely voter models. Not this year and not in 2024. Every warning light relevant to predictive models is flashing proceed with caution and we are so far out of the range of observed data that it is no longer visible on the horizon.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

This is definitely an interesting take

This is Joseph.

Parody, has gone here to die:

Paywalled but you can read it here:
When the yacht was commissioned in the 1950s, Her Majesty turned down the initial design as too lavish. She wanted simplicity and would disembark for picnics with the Tupperware on remote beaches in the Western Isles.


 Her dresser, Angela Kelly, explained that once an outfit had become familiar to the public, the Queen would recycle it to wear at Sandringham fΓͺtes.

Her shoes and handbags dated back to the 1950s. She didn’t mind anyone seeing the £30 electric heaters in the Audience Room at Windsor or knowing of her preference for shallow baths — seven inches at 22C, adopted by her father George VI at Buckingham Palace during the war.

So you have a person who has a yacht, even a modest one, an audience room, and a dresser. It might be that she is projecting a helpful attitude but actual poor people lack the luxury of these things. Actual poor people don't have pets to spoil or Land Rovers as vehicles:

The Queen didn’t have to fake her naturally parsimonious nature. She championed the Land Rover for its durability and the fact that she could mend the engine herself. Not for her, her grandchildren’s new Range Rover SUVs. Only the corgis were spoilt: the story of Prince Andrew being made to retrace his steps after returning from a long walk as a child without their leads, while the dogs remained to eat slivers of freshly cooked rabbit, became a family legend. 

It is very different to be frugal by choice, when you have money. Just like it is easy to decide to diet as opposed to lacking enough food. This family is in a very different economic position than the Queen in terms of cost of living. It is one thing to have a style driven by frugality, it is quite another to be forced into it by circumstance, especially when actual deprivation is a policy.

It is like people who worry about climate change so they open windows instead of using AC but drive SUVs, fly to climate conferences, and think nothing of a large house. In the end, the Queen simply did not live in the same environment as any but the most affluent of her subjects. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Ten years ago at the blog -- We were into self-selection before self-selection was cool

Non-response has become a hot topic among political writers and data. I'm not entirely happy with some of the analyses we've been seeing, so I need to get serious about the thread on electoral forecast I've been putting for years. 

In the meantime, here was our first foray into the topic.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Life on 49-49

[Following up on this post, here are some more (barely) pre-election thoughts on how polls gang aft agley. I believe Jonathan Chait made some similar points. Some of Nate Silver's critics also wandered into some neighboring territory (with the important distinction that Chait understood the underlying concepts)]

Assume that there's an alternate world called Earth 49-49. This world is identical to ours in all but one respect: for almost all of the presidential campaign, 49% of the voters support Obama and 49% support Romney. There has been virtually no shift in who plans to vote for whom.

Despite this, all of the people on 49-49 believe that they're on our world, where large segments of the voters are shifting their support from Romney to Obama then from Obama to Romney. They weren't misled to this belief through fraud -- all of the polls were administered fairly and answered honestly -- nor was it a case of stupidity or bad analysis -- the political scientists on 49-49 are highly intelligent and conscientious -- rather it had to do with the nature of polling.

Pollsters had long tracked campaigns by calling random samples of potential voters. As campaign became more drawn out and journalistic focus shifted to the horse race aspects of election, these phone polls proliferated. At the same time, though, the response rates dropped sharply, going from more than one in three to less than one in ten.

A big drop in response rates always raises questions about selection bias since the change may not affect all segments of the population proportionally (more on that -- and this report -- later). It also increases the potential magnitude of these effects.

Consider these three scenarios. What would happen if you could do the following (in the first two cases, assume no polling bias):

A. Convince one percent of undecideds to support you. Your support goes to 50 while your opponent stays at 49 -- one percent poll advantage

B. Convince one percent of opponent's supporters to support you. Your support goes to 50 while your opponent drops to 48 -- two percent poll advantage

C. Convince an additional one percent of your supporters to answer the phone when a pollster calls. You go to over 51% while your opponent drops to under 47%-- around a five percent poll advantage.

Of course, no one was secretly plotting to game the polls, but poll responses are basically just people agreeing to talk to you about politics, and lots of things can affect people's willingness to talk about their candidate, including things that would almost never affect their actual votes (at least not directly but more on that later).

In 49-49, the Romney campaign hit a stretch of embarrassing news coverage while Obama was having, in general, a very good run. With a couple of exceptions, the stories were trivial, certainly not the sort of thing that would cause someone to jump the substantial ideological divide between the two candidates so, none of Romney's supporters shifted to Obama or to undecided. Many did, however, feel less and less like talking to pollsters. So Romney's numbers started to go down which only made his supporters more depressed and reluctant to talk about their choice.

This reluctance was already just starting to fade when the first debate came along. As Josh Marshall has explained eloquently and at great length since early in the primaries, the idea of Obama, faced with a strong attack and deprived of his teleprompter, collapsing in a debate was tremendously important and resonant to the GOP base. That belief was a major driver of the support for Gingrich, despite all his baggage; no one ever accused Newt of being reluctant to go for the throat.

It's not surprising that, after weeks of bad news and declining polls, the effect on the Republican base of getting what looked very much like the debate they'd hoped for was cathartic. Romney supporters who had been avoiding pollsters suddenly couldn't wait to take the calls. By the same token. Obama supporters who got their news from Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews really didn't want to talk right now.

The polls shifted in Romney's favor even though, had the election been held the week after the debate, the result would have been the same as it would have been had the election been held two weeks before -- 49% to 49%. All of the changes in the polls had come from core voters on both sides. The voters who might have been persuaded weren't that interested in the emotional aspect of the conventions and the debates and were already familiar with the substantive issues both events raised.

So response bias was amplified by these factors:

1. the effect was positively correlated with the intensity of support

2. it was accompanied by matching but opposite effects on the other side

3. there were feedback loops -- supporters of candidates moving up in the polls were happier and more likely to respond while supporters of candidates moving down had the opposite reaction.

You might wonder how the pollsters and political scientists of this world missed this. The answer that they didn't. They were concerned about selection effects and falling response rates, but the problems with the data were difficult to catch definitively thanks to some serious obscuring factors:

1. Researchers have to base their conclusions off of the historical record when the effect was not nearly so big.

2. Things are correlated in a way that's difficult to untangle. The things you would expect to make supporters less enthusiastic about talking about their candidate are often the same things you'd expect to lower support for that candidate

3. As mentioned before, there are compensatory effects. Since response rates for the two parties are inversely related, the aggregate is fairly stable.

4. The effect of embarrassment and elation tend to fade over time so that most are gone by the actual election.

5. There's a tendency to converge as the election approaches. Mainly because likely voter screens become more accurate.

6. Poll predictions can be partially self-fulfilling. If the polls indicate a sufficiently low chance of winning, supporters can become discouraged, allies can desert you and money can dry up. The result is, again, convergence.

For the record, I don't think we live on 49-49. I do, however, think that at least some of the variability we've seen in the polls can be traced back to selection effects similar to those described here and I have to believe it's likely to get worse.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Tuesday Twitter -- Dispatches

If you've been trying to stay up to date on the war in Ukraine while not having to scroll past endless articles on Queen Elizabeth, Josh Marshall is here to help.

In any case, I would recommend to you again two Twitter lists I’ve curated with experts from whom we can learn more. This one is about the Ukraine war generally and this focuses more narrowly on the military dimensions of the conflict

Lots of smart, informed conversations and useful links like this excellent overview of the recent counter-offensive.

Remember Ted Cruz insisting our military was too "woke" to be effective fighters?

One of the recurring themes is just how bad a rout this was.

Part of the speed of the collapse might be explained by this.

With notable exceptions, the reaction of Russia and its allies has been anger, bluster, blame,,,

And denial.


 And to make the cold war vibe complete, we even have SMERSH (3:34).

Monday, September 12, 2022

"Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal"

2022 has been, so far, a remarkably bad year for expert opinion. We've been dabbling in press criticism now for more than a dozen years and I can't think of a time when the anointed experts of the mainstream media been more wrong on more important questions than they have been over the past 9 months. The  conventional wisdom has been comically off on the reaction to Dobbs and the January 6 hearings, the viability of prominent candidates, the GOP "moving on" from Trump, the importance of Social Security and Medicare as an electoral issue, and, of course, the war in Ukraine.

If recent trends continue (always a big if), we can expect to see a lot of revisionism from major pundits and publications. They will shove as much as they can down the memory hole. Where that fails, they will either dredge up some ass-covering quote from paragraph twenty-three and pretend that was the main thrust of their position or they will claim that "It wasn't just us. Everybody got it wrong."

 That last bit of retconning distorts what really happened in two ways. It ignores both the people who actually did get it right and the distinction between slightly wrong and totally wrong. If you two forecasts, one predicting warm and sunny with 0% chance of precipitation and the other warning of moderate to heavy rain, and you get a torrential downpour, both were wrong, but the warm-and-sunny guy doesn't get to use that as a defense.

 The post-2016 revisionist push, "everybody got it wrong" became the go-to line, probably because the screw-up was too big to downplay or deny. Michael Moore doesn't figure into the conversation and Nate Silver's 30% chance of a Trump is grouped with all the single digit predictions.

Here are two takes on the Russian military written during the build-up to the war. The first is from the NYT, as always, the official spokesman for conventional wisdom.

From Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal

 By Anton Troianovski, Michael Schwirtz and Andrew E. Kramer

Jan. 27, 2022

Two decades later, it is a far different fighting force that has massed near the border with Ukraine. Under Mr. Putin’s leadership, it has been overhauled into a modern sophisticated army, able to deploy quickly and with lethal effect in conventional conflicts, military analysts said. It features precision-guided weaponry, a newly streamlined command structure and well-fed and professional soldiers. And they still have the nuclear weapons.

The modernized military has emerged as a key tool of Mr. Putin’s foreign policy: capturing Crimea, intervening in Syria, keeping the peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and, just this month, propping up a Russia-friendly leader in Kazakhstan. Now it is in the middle of its most ambitious — and most ominous — operation yet: using threats and potentially, many fear, force, to bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.

“The mobility of the military, its preparedness and its equipment are what allow Russia to pressure Ukraine and to pressure the West,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russian security analyst. “Nuclear weapons are not enough.”

Without firing a shot, Mr. Putin has forced the Biden administration to shelve other foreign policy priorities and contend with Kremlin grievances the White House has long dismissed — in particular reversing Ukraine’s Westward lean in the post-Soviet period.


What is new is not just Russia’s upgraded equipment, but the evolving theory of how the Kremlin uses it. The military has honed an approach that Dmitry Adamsky, a scholar of international security at Reichman University in Israel, calls “cross-domain coercion” — blending the real or threatened use of force with diplomacy, cyberattacks and propaganda to achieve political aims.

That blended strategy is playing out in the current crisis around Ukraine. Russia is pushing for immediate wide-ranging concessions from the West. Russian troop movements into allied Belarus put a potential invasion force within 100 miles of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Russian state media is warning that Ukrainian forces are the ones preparing acts of aggression.

Compared to this from 

Assessing the Military Strength of Russia and Ukraine
Russia may not the hold the military advantage media reports indicate.
Giselle Donnelly
Feb 7

There has also been a profusion of articles summarizing Russian military modernization and reforms since the end of the Cold War and highlighting Russian successes in Syria and elsewhere, including Ukraine in 2014. “Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal,” headlines the New York Times. Under “Putin’s leadership,” the paper reports, the Russian military “has been overhauled into a modern sophisticated army, able to deploy quickly and with lethal effect in conventional conflicts. … It features precision-guided weaponry, a newly streamlined command structure and well-fed and professional soldiers.”

This is true, but isn’t the whole story. 


But just as in the United States, the logic of defense reductions is inescapable; the priority on “strategic” systems has crowded out investments in other elements of military modernization. Thus, while some elements of Russia’s conventional forces are indeed, as the New York Times puts it, “modern and lethal,” it is far from clear how far and wide the Russian general-purpose force modernization and organizational reforms has progressed. A review of post-Cold War performance reveals a mixed record.


In sum, the famed Russian willingness to suffer, perhaps Moscow’s greatest asset in World War II, has become a grave strategic liability. This, in conjunction with a need to preserve the limited quantity of his well-trained and well-armed conventional forces, has profoundly shaped Putin’s military moves for the past two decades. It also explains why “gray-zone” warfare—the use of unconventional tactics from cyber attacks to local proxies and influence operations—figures prominently in Russian strategy. Putin may be a wily card player, but he has some weak cards.

He has played these pretty close to the vest in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea and the Donbass in 2014 and since, in Syria the following year, in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 and lately in Belarus and Kazakhstan. Further, this is a substantial and growing list of conflicts—all of them limited but none of them decisively resolved or allowing for the easy shifting of forces and resources. And none of them is remotely of the same scale as the full-blown invasion of Ukraine he now threatens. For all of Putin’s provocations, he has acted like a man unsure of his own strength, more concerned with maintaining a potential “threat-in-being” than in showing off an undoubted ability to “shock and awe,” Desert Storm-style.


You can argue that no one realized how "creaky" the Russian military actually had become, it's important to distinguish between analysts who at least asked some of the right questions and those who simply followed the standard narrative.

Friday, September 9, 2022

We're going to skip the crown entirely...

If you're feeling warm and sentimental about the end of the reign Queen Elizabeth II, you'll probably enjoy this clip...

If, on the other hand, you were already tired of the German British royal family and the thought of wall-to-wall coronation coverage make you feel slightly sick to your stomach, you'll probably want to go with this incredibly mean spirited roman Γ  clef. This is the second chapter of the original (and far superior) House of Cards trilogy, but it works OK as a stand alone. Fans of Diana will want to give it a pass. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Thursday Tweets

Conventional wisdom assumed the midterms would be about Biden and Inflation. Trump and Abortion make for a very different battlefield.

In theory, the keep-him-out-of-the-election approach has a lot to be said for it; in practice, it's a bit difficult to execute when your party is now basically a conspiracy theory/cult of personality built around an attention hungry narcissist.

Remember when David Brooks was holding up Rubio as the sensible answer to Trump? No wonder Brooks has started talking about third parties.

If you listened carefully a few months ago, you would have noticed that smart Republicans were nervous about Dobbs. Now everyone has noticing something big is going on.

Ohio is a solidly pro-choice state with one of the most extreme anti-abortion policies. We talked about this back is May

Remember, Masters also wanted to overturn the ruling guaranteeing the right to contraception.

When things get chaotic, it's smart to field solid candidates in what would normally be extreme long-shot races. I'm not saying the Democrats should spend big bucks in Arkansas, but if Trump implodes (or turns on the GOP), they might be glad they had this minister with a PhD. on the ticket.

When useful idiots start winning the primaries, they no longer fall into the "useful" category.

Rich people

At least some of those billionaire survivalists are justifying themselves with this...
While on the subject of Thiel...

When I lived in Atlanta, I heard this a lot. Things were great under the benevolent mad, worse after Time-Warner, terrible after AOL.

Excellent thread retweeted by Margaret Sullivan,

Remember massive, systemic plagiarism from those too small to fight back is OK is long as you don't steal actual wording. 

Bad journalism.

Good journalism.

It took over a decade for the WSJ to notice MeTV but better late than never.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Ground source heat pumps are "the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available," but maybe we can get journalists to talk about them anyway. [Repost]

I'm joking but I'm not kidding. 

If Elon Musk or some other Silicon Valley visionary proposed some laughable plan based on non-existent technology, reporters would be scheduling interviews within the hour, but a solution supported by experts based on mature, tested systems will get little to no coverage.

One of the biggest crises facing California is a failing electrical grid, particularly during summer heat waves which are going to continue becoming more frequent and severe as the planet warms. Ground source heat pumps and similar technology could greatly alleviate pressure on the grid, especially when coupled with roof top solar. On top of that, its efficiency reduces demand for fossil fuels.

If we're going solve our problems, we can't go on being disinterested in solutions. 

From Wikipedia:

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called ground source heat pumps the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available. Heat pumps offer significant emission reductions potential, particularly where they are used for both heating and cooling and where the electricity is produced from renewable resources.
Ground source heat pumps are characterized by high capital costs and low operational costs compared to other HVAC systems. Their overall economic benefit depends primarily on the relative costs of electricity and fuels, which are highly variable over time and across the world. Based on recent prices, ground-source heat pumps currently have lower operational costs than any other conventional heating source almost everywhere in the world. Natural gas is the only fuel with competitive operational costs, and only in a handful of countries where it is exceptionally cheap, or where electricity is exceptionally expensive. In general, a homeowner may save anywhere from 20% to 60% annually on utilities by switching from an ordinary system to a ground-source system. However, many family size installations are reported to use much more electricity than their owners had expected from advertisements. This is often partly due to bad design or installation: Heat exchange capacity with groundwater is often too small, heating pipes in house floors are often too thin and too few, or heated floors are covered with wooden panels or carpets.
Capital costs may be offset by government subsidies, for example, Ontario offered $7000 for residential systems installed in the 2009 fiscal year. Some electric companies offer special rates to customers who install a ground-source heat pump for heating or cooling their building. Where electrical plants have larger loads during summer months and idle capacity in the winter, this increases electrical sales during the winter months. Heat pumps also lower the load peak during the summer due to the increased efficiency of heat pumps, thereby avoiding costly construction of new power plants. For the same reasons, other utility companies have started to pay for the installation of ground-source heat pumps at customer residences. They lease the systems to their customers for a monthly fee, at a net overall savings to the customer.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

A concern about the Canadian Health Care system

This is Joseph.

A 2017 CMAJ article has been making the rounds on Twitter that has the headline result of:
Medical assistance in dying could reduce annual health care spending across Canada by between $34.7 million and $138.8 million, exceeding the $1.5–$14.8 million in direct costs associated with its implementation. In sensitivity analyses, we noted that even if the potential savings are overestimated and costs underestimated, the implementation of medical assistance in dying will likely remain at least cost neutral.

While costs are never irrelevant and this was a pre-implementation estimate, there is a concern about focusing on costs in a context of medical resource shortages.  We also have concerning cases like the case where the only condition listed was "deafness" on an application for medical assistance in dying in 2019. Or the high profile concerns that Jennifer Gunter, a US physician, had for the end of life care for her father in Manitoba. 

Now, I know that people will blame COVID for the problems, and that is certainly not unrelated, but there consensus that this is also a problem with health care policy:

But experts say decades of bad policy, including the closure of hospitals and past austerity budgets, coupled with Canada's vast and complex geography, have exacerbated the pandemic pressure

And this is a real challenge to the goal of the system, to create equitable outcomes:

Canada's system, however, ranks lower overall than the UK and others in international comparisons . . . Canada specifically lags when it comes to equitable access and care outcomes.

Data over the last five years shows people are waiting longer in the ER before they are either seen by a doctor or admitted to hospital. Nearly five million Canadians don't have a family doctor, often making an emergency room their primary place to get help if they need it. 

 So I want to flag two important things. One, is there is a heightened need to be vigilant about processes like medically assisted dying in a context where care is hard to obtain. The risk of concerning events slipping thought is heightened when the entire hospital system is in crisis and people are overworked/burnt out. Two, that it is important to remember that the reason for a public-only health care system is to ensure equitable access and care outcomes -- making sure that more resources don't give better access to care but instead basing care on need. But that requires that these outcomes be equitable and that the level of care is acceptable (although perhaps minimally so) for all patients. 

If we can't do that then we need to think more carefully about what are the health care outcomes that we want. 

That said, everything I read suggests that there is a staffing crisis which is leading to issues like 20 hour waits in the emergency room. I hate to quote basic economics, but when there is a shortage of workers then maybe it is time to consider raising wages? Even temporarily? As a larger matter, it might not have been the wisest idea to let government funding drive the number of training spots, as it is possible for forecasts to be incorrect. 

Monday, September 5, 2022

It's Labor Day, so we're taking time off and running an excerpt from a recent Monkey Cage post

Sociologists Jasmine Kerrissey and Judith Stepan-Norris, co-authors of “Union Booms and Busts: The Ongoing Struggle over the U.S. Labor Movement,” look at the state of unions America and, for the first time in a long time, find reason for optimism.

It was 1894, the Gilded Age — a time of extreme inequality, foul working conditions, worker unrest and violent strikes. Congress created Labor Day, a national holiday celebrating workers and labor union

Labor Day alone didn’t change much. But from the 1930s through 1950s, labor unions were on the rise. One in every three workers were unionized, ushering in a new middle class, safety procedures and a voice at work, before membership declined again for decades. Today, only 1 in 10 workers are organized, and one-third of the country’s workers earn less than $15 an hour. Research suggests that union decline has contributed significantly to the rise in inequality.

But this Labor Day, for the first time in almost 25 years, union elections — events in which workers vote on whether to form unions — have increased significantly. Workers file for elections with the National Labor Relations Board, which governs most private-sector employees. Union election filings with the NLRB increased by 58 percent in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2022 (October-June), compared with the same period in 2021. Already, recent tallies estimate that more than 1,250 elections were held from October to August, more than were held during all of 2021. And unions have won the majority of these elections.


This past year has been different: Support for unions is surging. Both general approval of unions and union elections has been rising. In 2022, Gallup found that 71 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest percentage since 1965. Gallup also found that over 40 percent of nonunion workers have some interest in joining one.

And workers are taking action. Interestingly, many are organizing in industries and companies that previously avoided union representation. Megacorporations, especially in retail, tech and service, have long kept out unions — until now.