Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Weasel words from NASA hierarchy:
Could anything have been done to save the astronauts, if not the shuttle, had the problem been identified earlier?
If you look realistically at where [the shuttle] was it didn’t have many options going for it: a very limited duration, few consumables, no ability to go to the [space] station or do repair and limited ability to even do any type of inspection. We would have had to rush to launch the other vehicle [shuttle] on the ground and that would have been a risk for that vehicle. Even if you knew for sure that you had damage on the first that made it not recoverable—and I’m not sure how you would do that even with all the imagery you thought you could get—it would still be a very tough management decision to launch a second vehicle with exactly the same kind of external tank and the same likelihood of that kind of problem. So it made for a very difficult decision. Conceivably could something have been done if we’d known such-and-such information on such-and-such a date? Well, yes, but when you look at all the things that would have had to happen to make that possible the chances of it making a difference is remote in my opinion.

There has been plenty of reporting that NASA staffers suspected strongly that the foam caused the problem. If the NASA mindset had been proactive instead of staid and apparently discouraging of dissent in the ranks, a rescue mission could have been mounted that might have saved the astronouts and Columbia. Had that happened, NASA would have been seen as heroes a la the NASA of Apollo 13 days. Instead, they sat on their thumbs, ignored the problem and hoped it would go away, and are grounded, maybe for another year, maybe forever.

Gene Kranz, well-known former flight director, responded to the following question as follows:

Q: After a while, the public came to see the success of the space program as inevitable, but you paint a different picture of facing constant risk and danger. How did we get through the program without more disasters? What were the guiding principles?

Good question, one that is difficult to answer briefly. The "human factor" was the key when all of our glittering technology broke down. It was people working with the knowledge and very primitive technology at hand that controlled the risks of our work. We knew there would never be a second chance, so our personal readiness was extensive. The spacecraft and the technologies were fresh from the laboratories. There were no books on our jobs, no manuals on the systems we would fly. We learned our job and then taught the rest of our teammates. We were engineers and scientists flying a spacecraft that moved five miles a second, with a communications system that dated back to the Old West and the pony express. We succeeded because we were a team. If one of us did not have the answer, we searched for the teammate that had one. The cumulative experience of our training and our missions was additive, and with each successful escape we gained the confidence to walk closer and straighter on the edge. We became a team, experienced and unafraid to make time-critical risk judgements in front of the entire world.
The principles of flight control were often simply expressed: "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything! Learn to say I don't know, then go find an answer! Dammit, there are no books; use your judgment! You better be right the first time; you don't have a second chance." We got through the flight program because of the human factor. We were a brotherhood and when times got tough and our equipment broke down, we stood together. When we won it was everyone's victory.

My sense is that this esprit de corps, or cameraderie, that was prevalent in Apollo days doesn't exist any more at NASA. Look at that last paragraph; nobody running the show said that during Columbia's last mission. Without that team spirit, that brotherhood, manned space flight is that much more dangerous. As Apollo 13 [the mission and the movie] exemplified, the real stars at NASA were the guys on the ground, who refused to consider failure as an option.

George W. really hates plaintiffs. Even when they are POWs and even when the defendant is Saddam's Iraq, and even when the judgment by default has already become final. Says one of the affected former POWs: ""It's a sorry situation when our government puts more value on the former government of Iraq than the people who went there to fight that government." Even Repubs are disturbed by the Administration's action: "Sen. George Allen, R-Va., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has signaled his concern over Bush's position. '[Allen] has a hard time understanding how pending lawsuits and judgments can simply be erased,' says Michael Waldron, the senator's communications director, adding that Allen supports the use of Iraqi assets for paying American victims' claims."

Which reminds me of one of the conclusions drawn from the recent PBS Watergate special: Even the President of the United State is not above the law.

100 of our friends and family will die today in hospitals due to patient injuries from their care, and not from their diseases. And tomorrow, and the next day. But that'll stop if we limit or bar lawsuits against those responsible. Oh yeah.
From the subscription-only A.M. Best BestWire, on July 29:
Three weeks ago, a handful of congressmen asked the General Accounting Office to find out why medical malpractice premiums were kyrocketing. Its conclusion? There's not enough data to say for sure. The GAO made no recommendation for any executive action based on its report, which was produced at the request of 10 Democrats led by U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan. The report did say Congress "may wish to consider encouraging" the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and state insurance regulators to gather more data to better understand of the market.

Rep. John Conyers said in a prepared press release:

Rep. John Conyers, Jr. issued the following statement concerning the GAO Report on medical malpractice: "Today's report makes it clear that extreme, anti-victim tort 'reform' of the type proposed by the Republicans and President Bush will not resolve the insurance crisis but will simply serve to inflict greater harm on the victims of medical malpractice and wrongdoing by HMOs and drug companies." Among the information included in the GAO Report:
* There is no correlation between losses paid by medical malpractice insurers and limitations on non-economic damages. Minnesota, which had no caps on non-economic damages, had the smallest increase in losses paid by insurers during the period covered (1992-2002), while Florida, which has among the most severe caps on non-economic damages in the country, experienced the greatest increases in insurance losses.
* Lack of competition had an important impact on medical malpractice rates. "Because fewer insurers are offering [medical malpractice] insurance, there is less price competition." "When a large insurer leaves a state insurance market [as St. Paul did in 2002], the supply of medical malpractice insurance decreases, and the remaining insurers may not need to compete as much on the basis of price."
* Reduced investment income by the medical malpractice insurance industry also had an impact on the insurance market. "The approximately 1.6% percentage drop in the return on investments these insurers experienced from 2000 through 2002 would have resulted in an increase in premium rates of around 7.2% over the same two year period."
* The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the cyclical nature of the medical malpractice insurance business further contributed to premium spikes. "Reinsurance rates overall have increased as a result of reinsurers losses related to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001." "Cycles in the medical malpractice market tend to be more extreme than in other insurance markets because of the longer period of time required to resolve medical malpractice claims and factors such as changes in investment income and reduced competition."
* The GAO has no idea as to what contributes to increased insurance pay outs, and concluded that what's needed most is greater information. Possibilities leading to insurance company losses include "a sicker, older population," "a reduced quality of care," "the breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship owing, for example, to factors such as the increasing prevalence of managed care organizations," and other potential factors. "While we could not analyze such potential causes for increased losses, understanding them would be useful in developing strategies to address increasing medical malpractice premium rates." Conyers concluded, "The Republican approach of capping non-economic and punitive damages, capping attorneys fees, and insulating HMO's and drug companies from liabilities clearly misses the mark. The Democratic alternative of limiting frivolous actions, subjecting medical malpractice insurance companies to the antitrust laws, requiring that savings from legal reforms are passed on to consumers, and giving Congress greater information to assess the root causes of the insurance crisis is clearly more in tune with the GAO's findings."
"Political Malpractice" -- that's what a Florida legislator recently called attempts to use unsupported findings of fact in consideration of a tort limitations bill:
Summing it up, Rules Chairman Tom Lee said the Senate would have to rewrite the findings of "fact" that went into its bill last week. "We're not going to put legislative findings in a bill that can't be sustained by the evidence," he said. "That's malpractice."

As the editorial correctly states, the big question is not what limitations to impose, but whether limitations are needed at all.

I changed my blog template. I like it OK, I think.
Ugh. Serious Ugh.
Ever bemoan the lack of a cold [emphasis on "cold"] frosty one when you need it? Here's the solution!
Now I know how to be a better blogger.
The RIAA is out to get YOU. Here's a link to a list of names and ISPs the recording industry outfit is targeting.

UPDATE: Here's how not to get sued by the RIAA
Larry Flynt for Governor! Courtesy of No Watermelons Allowed, and via C-Log.
Marriage between two people bad, polygamy good?
Dennis Prager says that the U.S. is a Judeo-Christian country governed by a secular government. He doesn't much care for the ACLU, either:

That the ACLU would write a letter protesting three little plaques at the Grand Canyon with verses from the book of Psalms provides a clear example of how intent the organization is on destroying the Judeo-Christian moral foundations of this society. This, after all, is the same ACLU that went to court in Florida to protect a Muslim woman's right to be photographed for her driver's license ID wearing a veil! If it ain't Judeo-Christian, the ACLU is a big fan of religion.

For what it's worth, I always thought the U.S was a nation with moral and historical underpinnings based on Judeo-Christian concepts. I'm sure my hindu, arab, buddhist, etc. friends might agree with me there. Also, Prager misses the point in the quoted material above. The religious placques are assertedly a violation of the constitutional Establishment Clause to the first amendment. Allowing the moslem woman to wear her veil is consistent with the Free Exercise Clause to the first amendment.
Sgt. Stryker posts about the Hiroshima bombing anniversary, and comments on the revisionist theory that dropping the A-Bombs were unnecessary.

I ran into the same revisionist thinking when I was in college over 20 years ago. I was taking a History of WWII course, and it was straight revisionism, from start to finish. As I already knew a fair amount about that war, I was shocked and offended that the 2 teachers of the course would sell their revisionism as established historical fact. In fact, I refused to spout back their theories, and my grade in the course suffered. My dad liked my stand, but my GPA didn't. These were also the types of teachers that completely believed that there was no way to be objective in reporting history; one must always approach the research with one's personal outlook, so one better have the right outlook. Really, they tried to teach me that. Contrary bastard that I am, I resisted.

Incidentally, every WWII veteran I have ever spoken to is convinced that the use of nuclear weapons in 1945 (1) shortened the war, (2) saved in the neighborhood of 2 million american lives by making an invasion of the Japanese home islands unnecessary, and (3) probably saved their lives, as well.

Had I been Truman in the moment, with the information I had about the planned home island operations and anticipated casualties, and without any of the [now justified] fears about nuclear weapons that have developed over the last half century, I would have used the bombs, too.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Any home studio enthusiasts out there? I'm playing with a bunch of new software using Cubase/Nuendo and various VST instruments. I've got 2 MIDI keyboards, and I want to be able to record or play back both MIDI from the keyboard and VST instruments. After hours fussing with it, I still can't get it to work right. Any emailed suggestions or web sites pertinent to the subject would be gratefully appreciated.
"Is Democrat Howard Dean President Bush's biggest competition?" I'm sure the Bush folks hope so, because Dean is a real lame-o, in my opinion. Not surprisingly, these guys don't much care for Dean either. Uh Oh. Rush Limbaugh is after the guy, too.

I think that Bush wants to run against someone at least generally perceived to be far to the left [it doesn't matter what he really is; perception is everything in politics]. Dean is that candidate. Personally, my gut just doesn't like the guy; maybe it's his excessive opportunism leading up to the Iraq war.

What the Repubs fear, I would think, is a centrist democrat who can get traction with the current Administration's shockingly cavalier attention to the economy. Foreign policy is fine, but I'm betting that people will be asking themselves the penultimate question at election time: "Am I better off now than I was four years ago?" There are a lot of folks out there who decidedly are not. Say what you will about his taste in women, Clinton's attention to domestic affairs -- and his track record in that area -- beats Bush's, hands down.

Now, I was a supporter of war in Iraq, based on two factors, mostly. First was the Administration claim of WMD. Second was the realization that the Administration's sabre-rattling had put us in a no-back-down situation; we couldn't gear down without losing complete credibility at home and in the world community. So, I said, let's go clear Saddam out, because of the WMD threat and because we have backed ourselves in a corner. Now, months after combat ops have ended, there is nothing more than a hint, if that, of WMDs in place at the time the war began. Bloggers are relegated posting to stories about finding detritus back in 1995

If it turns out that we led down a garden path to war and military occupation by misstatements and -- dare I say it -- lies by our government, then God hel George W. Bush. To paraphrase the famous Nixon line, "You're entitled to know whether your president is a liar. Well, I'm not a liar." Well, Nixon was a crook, and Bush may well be a . . . .

While there is some level of mistruth in a lot of political statements, lying to push us into war -- no matter how desirable it was to oust Saddam -- is simply unacceptable, especially given the result in U.S. lives and depletion of treasury.

From the "He Oughtta Get An Award for This Piece of Idiocy" Department, Mike Tyson is filing for bankruptcy.

Why don't I ever get the chance to spend that kind of dough?
An interesting email from a Drexel med student, which says in part: "We are taught that the only thing we can do to
decrease malpractice suits is to develop a better rapport with patients. I think getting doctors to try and improve their empathic skills is great, and is the only possible benefit to the malpractice mess we are in now."

This guy hits the nail on the head. I can't tell you how many times I've head a client say something like "I never would have considered making a claim if he had just apologized." Often, especially in my part of the world, people just want (a) forthrightness and (b) common human decency. Unfortunately, so many doctors have that well-known arrogance, which translates into either apparent contempt for their customers [patients], and/or the absolute certainty that they have NEVER screwed up a case.

As I have said previously, it takes a special set of facts to justify the time, risk and expense of a medical malpractice case. How many cases would never be contemplated if the doc just said, "my bad. Send me the bills and I'll take care of it." Not all, but a lot.
My old school chum, back on April 22, kindly emailed me the result in that Tommy Lee wrongful death lawsuit over that little boy who drowned in Lee's pool. My off the cuff opinion is that the jury reached the correct conclusion. One of the jurors even laid the blame where it should have been -- at the feet of the babysitter who was supposed to be watching the child. It is noted that the parents are an actress and a TV producer. It begs the question: where were they? As the parents of a six and a three year old, I know that I can't let them out of my sight, especially when a swimming pool is involved.
Email from "doclevittMD" on April 24. How sweet:

This business of 50% of the malpractice cases coming from 5% of the doctors is incomplete and poorly described. If those 5% are neurosurgeons, obstetricians and orthopedists it becomes quite understandable . A bad result (not bad medicine) in those fields leads to the most devastating damages. If you can find liability you guys have it made! The next time you quote that 50/5 thing you should check your sources and the specialists involved. You would get rid of most of the neurosurgeons in the state of Florida if insurance rates matched payouts. The average neurosurgeon in the state has 3 pending suits. Are they bunglers? No they are the most highly trained physicians of all and most come from the top third of their medical school class. Most lawyers, even the ones involved in medmal haven't a clue of what it's like to be a practicing physician. The complexity of it is astounding and it takes a lifetime to master all of it. Ever see a doctor say "I'm not sure what the medicine is on that subject but I can research it and get back to you" and then bill for looking up information that should have been on the tips of his fingers? You people can take years second guessing what a surgeon had to decide in a split second to try and save a patient's life in an operating room. And I'll let you in on a little secret: despite taking that oath to tell the truth lots of plaintiffs expert witnesses lie in court. Our professional societies are just catching up with such prostitutes. Sanctions against neurosurgeons who bear false witness against their brethren for profit have been held up in Federal Appeals Court.

It is simplistic to assume that the insurance companies and doctors are evil or fools and therefore won't jump at obvious simple solutions. Patients need to be cared for. Most of them get very good care. Let's hope it's always available for our families, Counselor.

Gee, doctors have it so tough. They're crying all the way to the bank, after which they're off to their multi-million dollar homes, etc. I recently read in the newspaper that an OB/GYN that I know just sold his house [he moved out of town] for well over a million bucks. And I thought that all the OB/GYNs had gone out of business.
Checking my long-ignored email, I found that my ship has come in, care of Mr. Udenta Chukwu:

I am Mr.Udenta Chukwu, the manager of bill and exchange at the foreign Remittance department of African Development Bank, A.D.B. I am writing to you following the impressive information about you i got in a business attachee from your embassy here through my private search for a reliable and God fearing someone in your country that will help
me to achieve this laudable aim.

The information assured me of your capability and reliability to champion this business Opportunity together. In my department, we discovered an abandoned sum of $38m (THIRTY-EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS) in an account that belongs to one of our foreign customer that died in A Concord plane crash in the year 2000 in Paris that took the whole lives of passengers on board. Since we got the information about his death, we have been expecting his next Of kin to come over and claim his money because we cannot release it unless somebody applies for it as the next of kin or a relation to the deceased as Indicated in our banking guidelines. But unfortunately, we discovered that his supposed next of kin or relation Died along with him in the Plane crash, leaving nobody behind for the claim.

It is therefore upon this discovery that I and other officials in my department now decided to make this business proposal to you and release this money to you as the next of kin or a relation to the deceased for safety and subsequent disbursement, since nobody is coming for it and we don’t want this money to go into the Banks treasury as unclaimed Bill, for the Banking law and guideline here Stipulates that if such money remains unclaimed after four to five years, the money will be transferred into the Banks treasury account as unclaimed fund.

The request of foreigner as next of kin in this business is occasioned by the fact that the customer was a foreigner and a witin the African country cannot stand as next of Kin to a foreigner. We agreed that 25% of this money will be for you as a foreign partner in respect to the provision of a foreign account, 10% will be set aside for expenses incurred during the course of this business, and 65% will go for me and my colleagues. Thereafter, my colleagues and I will visit your country for disbursement according to the percentages indicated. Therefore, to enable the immediate transfer of this fund to you as arranged, You must apply first to the Bank as relations or next of kin to the deceased, Indicating your Banking particulars, your private telephone and Fax numbers for easy and effective communication and location where the money will be remitted. Upon receipt of your reply, I will send to you by email the text of Application.

I will not fail to bring to your notice that this transaction is a hitch free and that you should not entertain any atom of fear as all required arrangements have been made for the transfer. You should contact me immediately as soon as you receive this letter. Trusting to hear from you immediately.
Yours Faithfully,

MR.Udenta Chukka.
N.B.My intention of writing you through email is
Because I believe it is very confidential.


Oops. I missed that confidential thing. Everybody just ignore this post....
I'm back......

I've now gone, like, four months without blogging even once. I've got excuses, if anyone cares [one partner had heart surgery; the other partner just had prostrate cancer surgery -- they're dropping like flies!]. And, as sage friends have said, you have to be in the mood to do this sort of thing.

Also, I was getting bored by blogging just about tort limitations. And depressed. When you have a doctor masquerading as Senate Majority Leader, and there are questions as to his motivations, then you just have to wonder why you should beat your head against the wall any more. Ultimately, it's not a question of right or wrong, as much as it is the usual naked grab for power.

The original thrust of this blog was to ameliorate that power to some extent, by countering the big propaganda machine with my modest effort. Some of you were listeninging, and some were hearing without listening. That's what's cool about blogs. I'll still post news and fun facts/rumors [lies, damn lies, and...what's the rest of it?] on the tort limitation debate, but I thought I'd weigh in on other sundries, as well.