Tina K. Russell

February 14, 2009

The Smut-Hawley (UPDATED)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:09 pm

Washington porn tax would fund social program – OregonLive.com
OLYMPIA — State Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way has proposed a 19 percent tax on pornography.

He wants the revenue to save a program that provides money to people unable to work because of physical or mental disabilities.

The General Assistance-Unemployable program would be cut in the budget proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The legislation would tax adult magazines and video, telephone services and paraphernalia.

The tax would need a supermajority vote of the Legislature or approval by voters. Miloscia told The Spokesman-Review he’s confident his proposal would pass if it went to a statewide vote.

I think this is a terrible idea for 3 reasons:

  1. You’re taxing a specific kind of speech. Why not single out action movies or picture books for a tax? It’s not even the medium that defines what is being taxed in this proposal, just the content.
  2. A program that depends on revenue from porn taxes is a program that depends on the flourishing of the porn industry, not exactly I goal I think lawmakers in Washington State have in mind. Here in Oregon, a distressing amount of our money comes from the lottery and from video poker machines, and as a result, the government rolls over instantly whenever the gambling industry asks us for anything.
  3. It creates an inappropriate stigma. Gasoline taxes are often used for road repair because the costs and benefits stay within the same group (people who use roads). What is the connection between porn and the difficulty of people with disabilities to find employment? As someone with a learning disability, I benefit from school and government considerations all the time; society as a whole benefits when all are able to succeed regardless of circumstance, so I’m not sure why consumers of pornography should be singled out to pay.

In short, I see no reason why we should tax porn-consuming Peter to pay disabled Paul; it’s mean-spirited, it’s opportunistic, and it’s offensive. I support these kinds of government programs and wish the taxes would be spread among those who benefit (everyone), rather than targeting a specific group for no reason.

Update: It died. One reason cited is that a fellow state senator “foresaw problems with a bill that would put a different sales tax on goods based on content.” I believe the legislative term for this is “no sheezy.”

February 5, 2009

Perspective on Michael Phelps

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:55 pm

Steve Duin on the Michael Phelps “oh my God inspirational sports heroes occasionally do stupid things like smoke marijuana” scandal:

Michael Phelps and illusions of perfection – OregonLive.com
I always thought the crime of “betraying” America was reserved for spies, war profiteers and Ponzi schemers, rather than world-class swimmers who might have a buzz on. (Phelps has apologized that he “engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” but he has yet to admit that he was one toke over the line.)

To get myself up to speed on this savage betrayal of all we hold dear, I decided to check out the fine print on Phelps’ gold medals. You know, the stern warnings that victory in the Olympic pool requires that he immediately forfeit his youth, his privacy and his margin of error.

The formal announcement that, as a celebrity icon, Phelps must now live in accordance with the (generally) hypocritical standards and expectations of people he’s never met.

I have yet to find those cautionary notes, but they must be around somewhere. They explain the hysterical criticism of a 23-year-old kid who worked like a backstroking dog for four years to make much lazier Americans feel good about themselves and who was enjoying a few weeks off before he dove back into the deep end of Olympic training and Olympian ideals.

He was hugging a bong, sports fans. Not an Uzi, not a pit bull, not a tobacco lobbyist. He’s Seth Rogen, not Michael Vick.

See also Study: 100 Percent of Americans Lead Secret Lives. See also Jesus.

December 23, 2008

Vice precedent

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:33 am

Letters – A Tax on Sugary Sodas? – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:

Re “Miracle Tax Diet,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Dec. 18):

It may very well be that a higher tax on sugary soda would shrink Empire State waistlines as it fattens Albany’s coffers. But what ultimate price, in terms of individual freedom, shall we pay if the state starts dictating our dietary and lifestyle choices?

Using the rubric of better overall health as a “sweetener” for government intrusion in citizens’ private lives could damage our liberties in the same way that high-fructose corn syrup may have had on our body-mass measurements.

I’m happy to have government give me information with which I can make informed decisions, but let the choice be mine — untaxed and unfettered, please.

Mark A. Kellner
Columbia, Md., Dec. 18, 2008

I may have mentioned this before (I don’t remember), but John Stuart Mill had a few things to say on this in his essay, On Liberty. He spends good chunks of the essay condemning government attempts to limit individual choice, even bad choices, if they do not affect others. But, on the subject of vice taxes (see chapter 5, paragraph 9), he notes that governments have to raise money, that taxes are best levied on items that are nonessential, and that a vice is, by definition, nonessential. If it’s actively harmful to us, it’s something we can spare from our budgets, and therefore a good option for a tax.

As it happens, government actively subsidizes candy and fast-food through our ridiculous farm subsidy system, and a subsidy is a reverse tax. Government already influences our nutritional habits, and the question is whether or not they’re doing so in good faith.

December 16, 2008

Making the call on treatment — Plus! Your mission

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:26 pm

Daschle Will Lead Health Care Overhaul – NYTimes.com
At the heart of the health care system, Mr. Daschle wants to establish a Federal Health Board, an independent entity like the Federal Reserve. The board would make coverage decisions for federal health programs. It would, he says, “reduce or deny payment for new drugs and procedures that aren’t as effective as current ones.”

The board could have a “spillover effect” in the private sector, he said. Private insurers already follow many of Medicare’s coverage decisions. Mr. Daschle said Congress could go further and link tax breaks for private insurance to compliance with the board’s recommendations — a step that would give the government far more influence than it now has.

That sounds like a great idea! Obviously, the board will have to be super-independent, with legislation to ensure they aren’t being moved by free gifts or implicit career offers from HMOs or drug companies. Still, it’s an enormous problem, and one source of our stratospheric healthcare costs, that there doesn’t seem to be any check on the cost or utility of new drugs or devices. A popular drug may have a generic equivalent that doctors or patients stubbornly aren’t using. A hospital may have purchased an MRI machine and wants to recoup the costs by using it to investigate headaches (a breach of the enormous trust patients place in their doctors). A big new drug may be just like an old one, different enough only as to warrant a new patent. And, of course, there’s the rush for drug companies to create “blockbuster drugs” for non-clinical ailments that everybody has, like sometime anxiety or difficulty sleeping under stress, rather than treat actual ailments with actual medicine that would only reach a limited market (the sick).

Anyway, I hope this board puts human interest at the forefront when it makes its selections. Another problem with our healthcare system is that profit, not utility, governs what is covered in a for-profit healthcare plan, and HMOs have an incentive to deny as much care as they can under existing prices. So, simply a new definition of what medicines and procedures warrant coverage would be refreshing. As it happens, the sick are presently the worst off in our healthcare system (besides, you know, being sick), as they tend to be “uninsurable” and most likely to be denied coverage due to technicalities.

What’s in it for me? Well, as I understand, most nations with universal healthcare cover treatment for transsexuality. As it happens, gender identity disorder is in the DSM IV and has been an established condition in medical literature for decades, and the international medical consensus is that it should be treated with therapy and, if the patient so chooses (and if it is right for the patient), physical transition with hormones and surgery. It’s time to bring the US up to international standards in this regard!

As soon as this board forms, your mission, my fellow transgender people and allies, is to press for this it to give the standard medical procedures for gender identity disorder its formal endorsement. It would be an enormous step toward making sure transsexuals live full, productive, happy lives, that we live for our potential, that we contribute our full extent to the economy, and that young trans children are not tempted to go into sex work solely to pay for their healthcare, or are forced to choose between their health and a college education. It would be a weight from our shoulders, a blessing in our lives, a decades-overdue gesture of recognition, and the start of transsexuality finally being something normal in society. It would mean the world to me.

Join us!

November 23, 2008

I just want to feel something

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:24 am

New Pain-Inducing Advil Created For People Who Just Want To Feel Something, Anything | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source
PHILADELPHIA—Wyeth Pharmaceuticals unveiled a new pain-causing line of Advil this week that will help millions of benumbed, hollow consumers to feel at least somewhat alive for up to four hours.

“Advil Release delivers a soothing burst of pain when cold and listless Americans need it most,” Wyeth CEO Bernard J. Poussot said during a press conference Monday. “Just two capsules can deliver all-day relief in the form of searing, life-affirming agony; the kind of agony Advil users trust when being a pale specter of humanity adrift in a meaningless and uncaring universe is just not an option anymore.”

I sort of know what this article means. There was a time… I can’t talk about this much, but there was a time when a friend of mine died. I didn’t know him well, but… he was so good-natured, and the circumstances of his death so unjust… I just cried and cried. I mean, I’m sure I would have cried anyway, but those elements just made me cry more.

And it was an odd feeling, crying and crying, because, as I told someone… for months before that, I hadn’t been feeling anything, and that chilled me. I was alive, with a feeling rushing through me. Now I felt better and I felt worse.

I remember being finished crying when someone came over to me and said, hey, remember, that’s not really what our friend would want you to feel. He would want you to be happy, not sad. I smiled at this person’s ignorance… crying is all I could do, it’s what I needed to do, and I’m sure my friend would have been okay with me listening to my heart. Crying flushed all the emotions out of my soul… I just didn’t know what to do with them afterward.

By the way, dear Tina’s friends: Please don’t die! There are much more effective and less costly ways to elicit necessary emotions from me…

October 10, 2008

Hypocrisy on women’s health

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:53 pm

Nicholas Kristof:

Op-Ed Columnist – Can This Be Pro-Life? – NYTimes.com
The Bush administration this month is quietly cutting off birth control supplies to some of the world’s poorest women in Africa.

Thus the paradox of a “pro-life” administration adopting a policy whose result will be tens of thousands of additional abortions each year — along with more women dying in childbirth.

The saga also spotlights a clear difference between Barack Obama and John McCain. Senator Obama supports U.N.-led efforts to promote family planning; Senator McCain stands with President Bush in opposing certain crucial efforts to help women reduce unwanted pregnancies in Africa and Asia.

Retrograde decisions on reproductive health are reached in conference rooms in Washington, but I’ve seen how they play out in African villages. A young woman lies in a hut, bleeding to death or swollen by infection, as untrained midwives offer her water or herbs. Her husband and children wait anxiously outside the hut, their faces frozen and perspiring as her groans weaken.

When she dies, her body is bundled in an old blanket and buried in a shallow hole, with brush piled on top to keep wild animals away. Her children sob and shriek and in the ensuing months they often endure neglect and are far more likely to die of hunger or disease.

In some parts of Africa, a woman now has a 1-in-10 risk of dying in childbirth. The idea that U.S. policy may increase that toll is infuriating.

September 9, 2008

Proprietary science is patently absurd

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:18 pm

(I also wanted to call this post, “Putting drug companies on the Dole? I don’t Bayh it!”)

Unboxed – When Academia Puts Profit Ahead of Wonder – NYTimes.com
In the past, discovery for its own sake provided academic motivation, but today’s universities function more like corporate research laboratories. Rather than freely sharing techniques and results, researchers increasingly keep new findings under wraps to maintain a competitive edge. What used to be peer-reviewed is now proprietary. “Share and share alike” has devolved into “every laboratory for itself.”

In trying to power the innovation economy, we have turned America’s universities into cutthroat business competitors, zealously guarding the very innovations we so desperately want behind a hopelessly tangled web of patents and royalty licenses.

The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 is one of my least-favorite pieces of legislation ever for this reason. Once upon a time, the results of federally financed research were public domain, since after all, we paid for them! Of course, two Senators got it into their heads that this was a problem, that America can succeed as a country only if we devolve into everyone-for-themselves, Lord of the Flies melee combat. Now universities are in a rush to patent their findings (as though basic knowledge of the universe could be patented) and license them exclusively to drug companies that can take advantage of a sick and desperate audience and bilk us for all we’re worth. (The “cost of innovation” excuse is nonsense, as anyone who knows about price elasticity of demand is aware.)

Please read the article! It tackles the research rather than the public health side, but it’s a blow-by-blow account of the mess we’re in. Over in the software world, we’ve slowly learned that sharing information and then competing on merit—that is to say, standing on the shoulders of giants, who are themselves standing on the shoulders of other giants—produces better software than locking up our code and having to reinvent the wheel each and every time we make a new application (and even then not being able to release it without a maelstrom of C&Ds from opportunistic patent trolls). In science, sadly, we run a risk of slipping steadily back from this realization, from Jonas Salk’s bemused reaction of “there’s no patent… could you patent the sun?”, and into a world in which we compete not for titles or reputations but for cold, hard cash, and are willing to let the scientific world splinter into a thousand pieces and let innovation grind to a halt for that worship of money.

I like intellectual property, I like copyright, I like the idea that you have control over the things you create. I want people who write books and make movies and report the news and create astonishing inventions and build the latest videogame to be able to make lots of money from what they do. However, when a university is receiving public money, they ought to be willing to give back to the people that gave them the opportunity, and we ought to attach those strings to the money we give.

More important than any of that though is the simple fact that—as we’ve learned in software—a mad rush to patent everything “under the sun, made by man” does not promote innovation but rather grinds it to a halt. Innovation, by and large, is not a college student with a billion-dollar idea; it’s many, many bright people slowly building on an idea until it becomes robust and unstoppable. An angel coming down from the heavens with the concept for your next patent application is rare, and those “aha!” moments can only come from the long hours of drudgery, the thankless work of intellectual labor, the ninety-nine percent perspiration whose inspirational component makes it all worth it. When you cannot build on others’ ideas, when the giants are wearing massive, spiked shoulder-pads of IP to prevent you from standing on their shoulders, you must repeat every act of this intellectual drudgery that anyone before you has ever completed before. Oh, and if you work for an institution with such a strong-IP bent, and you leave or are fired or laid off, guess what? Work-for-hire just means you lost your life’s work. Sucks to be you.

What’s more, the article goes on to discuss how these patents, for the massive intellectual gold rush going into them, for the university legal departments sprouting up like mini-malls and the armies of men in lab coats hiring brokers, are mostly not even profitable! The money that goes into the sheer legal paperwork and hoop-jumping of the patent mess—not to mention enforcing your patent in costly lawsuits—is more money than you can ever hope to get from Fig. B. This doesn’t even begin to describe the massive deadweight loss to society when universities quit cooperating and attempt to establish their own scientific fiefdoms, their own legal terrariums, sheltering their research from the outside world, forcing institutions of science to go it alone and duplicate every lab-room slough that anyone has ever endured if they ever want to make any kind of discovery.

This is something that’s crushing to me not only because I have ADD and the patent on my medication does not run out until 2018 because somebody decided that you could patent the very concept of a generic medicine with an immediate- and extended-release mechanism (not such a mechanism, but the basic idea of one!), and the courts and the patent office have rolled over like doting puppies. It’s not crushing to me just because of the rising costs of healthcare across America are explained not only by very real and impressive technological and medical advances but also because of an elaborate scheme of publicly-funded extortion of sick people unknowingly set up by our government and paid for by taxpayers (twice!). It’s crushing to me because I love science, and science can’t happen if no one is able to stand on the shoulders of giants because the giants have taken out patents on their shoulders and they won’t be public domain for twenty years, at which point they’ll be changed slightly solely for the sake of a new shoulder-patent.

Today’s science patent scheme was supposed to create innovation by allowing scientific institutions to have twenty-year monopolies on their discoveries. It works great for books or movies (unless Disney can buy enough Congressmen to keep America’s cultural heritage under copyright forever), and it’s great for specific inventions that are reasonably clever and nonobvious. For science, however, excessive patenting means that innovation happens in a glacial, twenty-year cycle. I can’t think of a good way to get the public riled up about this, but we must. Don’t pay for your medicine at both ends. Lets restore trust in our doctors and scientists and kick out the plague of greed from our institution of science.

America’s economy of innovation depends on it. Public funding should mean public domain.

August 29, 2008

Give it time

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 10:25 pm

Please read.

Response: Young transsexuals should be allowed to put puberty on hold | Comment is free | The Guardian
Your article (‘My body is wrong‘, G2, August 14) sensitively reports the anguish of the young teenage transsexual as the body changes in the direction of the wrong sex. That anguish is medically treated in other countries. But in the UK the “wrong puberty” is allowed to progress for years before treatment. Not only are these unwanted body changes traumatic as they develop, but if the teenager goes on to live as an adult of the other sex, they pose additional hardship. Aptly, the article tells of a mother whose (now) daughter was denied hormone treatment “until the age of 16, by which point she already had an Adam’s apple, a deep voice and facial hair”.

It is difficult for someone who is not a parent of a very distressed – perhaps suicidal – young teenage transsexual to empathise with what appears to be such a radical treatment. This is similar to the situation 40 years ago with sex-change surgery for adult transsexuals. In 1969, when I endorsed the first transsexual surgery for the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, not only were most physicians opposed, but I was, with my surgical colleague, concerned about the possibility of prosecution for mayhem, punishable by 14 years in prison.

There are arguments against early puberty suspension. Your article quotes Polly Carmichael of Gender Identity Development Service as saying: “The Dutch data [on gender suspension] looks promising. But they have not been doing it for so many years that you have long-term follow-up.” Perhaps. But we do have long-term follow-up of the consequences of denying timely treatment.

When buying equipment for the disabled, don’t use price as a crutch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:29 am

Letter – Medicare Bidding – Letter – NYTimes.com
In your Aug. 22 editorial “Medicare’s Claims,” you refer to the postponement by Congress of a new competitive bidding system for durable medical equipment. Such a system might sound great, but it does not serve or help people with disabilities. It can literally kill us.

I use a $20,000 power chair for mobility and a $15,000 vent to breathe. This equipment has allowed me to drive, teach, write books and plays, and enjoy a full life. Allow competitive bidding, and I’d be using inferior equipment and my quality of life would be compromised.

I really loathe this argument. “You get what you pay for” is kind of a myth; you don’t get anything with a Rolex, save for the status symbol of having paid hundreds of dollars for a wristwatch. Meanwhile, it’s kind of a no-brainer that you should choose the least-priced option that meets your prescribed standards of quality. If you’re not getting the right quality, the answer isn’t to pay more money, it’s to raise your standards.

And, you know, if you’re supposed to pick not the most expensive option, but not the cheapest, either… than what? Should we pick something somewhere in the middle? The second-cheapest option? Third-cheapest? Whatever arbitrary meaning we give to prices is waiting to be manipulated by manufacturers that will put their prices right where we want them, regardless of the quality of the product.

The best option, of course, is to remember that price has utterly no bearing on the quality of the product, and we should rate the product on its own merits instead. But, that’s just me. And since you’re reading this blog for free, and not paying me hundreds an hour as a marketing consultant, my opinions are clearly worthless. I should learn to charge more for the same service.

Oh, and buried in my ellipsis is this gem:

Moreover, surgical suppliers of such advanced and often custom equipment are already working on an extremely low profit margin. If the government starts awarding funds to the lowest bidder, it would reduce the ability of surgical suppliers to stay in business.

Yes, remember that the government is a charity organization for unprofitable businesses! Seriously, if those hardscabble mom-and-pop surgical supplies operations, surviving on sheer pluck and spunk, are just so much gol-darn better than the cheaper competition, that should be the reason to select them, not for being the next-most expensive. Remember: cost of manufacture is a baseline for the final price, and sometimes not even that. (Sony loses money each time you buy a PlayStation 3, for instance.)

Price is what companies think you will pay, not necessarily what the product is worth. If you’re afraid of the shoddy work of the theoretical lowest bidder, that means that quality standards must be raised, not that quality should be judged on how expensive the product is. In fact, I have some swampland in Florida I’d like to sell you. It’s just $493,000 an acre.

August 17, 2008

Lice, lice, baby

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 3:45 pm

I have bugs on my head. Head lice is extremely unpleasant. I’m not sure I can describe it to you; just imagine lots of tiny gray-brown bugs crawling, mating, laying eggs, taking dumps, and generally founding a civilization atop your scalp. Imagine your head turning against you, harboring the enemy, and the hair that you’re so proud of being used as cover. Imagine having a hundred acutely irritating roommates at the same time, and the room is your head.

For something like seven dollars I bought a bottle of anti-lice shampoo. I have so much hair, I’ll probably need the whole bottle; and then, when I use it a second time, in a week, to kill all the new bugs that have since hatched but before they lay new eggs, I’ll probably need another new bottle. And, every few days, I’ll need to comb my hair thoroughly with a plastic anti-lice comb that looks like a razor and will probably break if I ever try to use it on my entire head of hair. (I need a special, extra-strength, enormous brush for all my hair, as I have broken the handles off brushes several times while straightening out my locks. You might say my hair mats pretty well.) And, since I cannot see the back of my own head (though I’m sure it’s sexeh), it helps if I have somebody else do this.

I’ll have to swallow my pride and ask my brother–who generously lets me stay in his apartment for school as long as I need to–to spend an hour or two every few days picking bugs out of his beloved sister’s hair. (And bug eggs. Lice eggs–nits–are evil because they look like dandruff but stick to your hair.) That, or I will have to call the university health center (I’ll do this tomorrow) and find out if they have any anti-lice services. I would certainly hope that’s the case, since a lice outbreak is not in the campus interest; but this is Amurica, and we don’t practice preventative medicine here. Remember: if the government does it, and it saves the government and the people vast amounts of money, it’s bad.

(At my school, you have to pay for doctors’ appointments. I’ve heard the argument before that this is good, because it means people won’t sign up for unnecessary appointments and thus money is saved. That argument bothers me because the truth is that you want to encourage regular checkups–nobody likes going to the doctor, so it’s not like anyone will sign up for too many appointments–so that problems can be solved early, saving everyone lots of money. Ever wonder why our government spends more on healthcare than countries with universal coverage? …Yeah.)

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