[FoRK] Rules of thumb

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Mon Apr 6 16:12:35 PDT 2009

On Apr 6, 2009, at 5:11 PM, Stephen Williams wrote:

> I analyzed what the administration was saying, compared it to what  
> you were saying they were saying and/or pointing to what other  
> people were saying they were saying and noting gaps.  I guess if  
> that isn't analysis then... whatever.

Let's be perfectly clear.  I was *restating* the figure the  
administration offered on estimated spend, which you did not at the  
time take issue with:  ~$65B / year.  So your previous objection is a  
fabrication, we were NOT in fact ever disagreeing about what you most  
recently claimed we were disagreeing about prior to this new,  
qualitative, harder-to-falsify-by-design revision of history.

Nor was your analysis an analysis of claims.  Your objections, the  
better / more valid ones, were objections to the various quantities  
put forth in my Fermi estimation.  I was not "pointing to what other  
people were saying and noting gaps."  I was performing a de novo  
estimation of the ranges of various parameters in the Fermi  
estimation, and *then* supporting those ranges with reference to  
various external sources.  I drew these from a variety of differing  
sources, offered so that you could choose which end of the range to  
believe or where in the middle to place your own estimate of each  
discrete quantity;  and I was forthright about offering the caveats  
attendant to each such choice.  At the end of the day, I offered a  
range so large an asteroid could pass through it undisturbed:  $130B /  
year on the low end (supported both by bottom-up estimation by parts  
and top-down verification by external source estimates and application  
of the aforementioned rule-of-thumb) to >$500B / year on the high  
end.  That you chose to object to such a non-specific estimate,  
without offering any concrete alternative estimation of your own, is  
both humorous and slightly alarming.  Basically, what you were doing  
was saying "no, despite lack of any detail in what the offered spend  
number is actually going to be spent on, I support it as being  
sufficient to accomplish "the" goals (whatever those might be) as  
stated."  Not supported, not supportable, completely fictional,  
blindly accepted.  Instead you "offered" an incoherent, fragmented,  
and ungrounded critique of the various inputs (never intended to be  
authoritative anyway) to the Fermi model, nit-picking it to death,  
without offering any alternatives.

I do note that you didn't offer any alternative model in toto,  
therefore nothing you offered could be viewed as a reasonable  

I also stated that the *implied* goal of the administration, based on  
their statements and general policy positioning of not just the Obama  
campaign but the entire Democratic wonk establishment over 20+ years,  
is "universal" health care.  I was further making the generous  
assumption that by "universal" health care the intent was merely  
coverage of those not (presently) covered by private insurance;  this  
is a generous assumption because of course, in the limit, "universal"  
health care *could* be interpreted to mean "coverage by the  
government, from taxes, of all Americans' total health care."  I chose  
the less controversial and more practical interpretation.  Yet you  
still could have objected to the interpretation I offered, but did  
not;  had you objected to this, it would have been easy to refute your  
objection with direct reference, repeatedly, to the apparent source of  
concern by the administration:  the number of uninsured Americans in  
various demographic categories, offered repeatedly throughout the  
campaign by Obama himself and others.

Let's review:  you didn't adequately object to the most contentious,  
qualitative part of the whole argument, the "goals."  You didn't  
object to the initial stated spend number, since that would have been  
ridiculous (it was sourced, objective, and assumed --- and quite  
ridiculous for you to have stated this time around that this was your  
objection at that time, really.)  You didn't actually effectively  
criticize the Fermi model as a whole, though you seemed confused about  
the transitions between Fermi model, supplying and validating its  
parameters, and cross-check by top down analysis, by reference to  
external sources, and by rule-of-thumb.  Much of your criticism was  
apparently rooted in your inability or unwillingness to correctly  
distinguish those particular modes of arguments in my overall  
critique.  You took aim at the conclusions of the estimation, which  
were really so non-specific as to be ludicrous to object to anyway;   
you offered no viable alternative model and estimation of your own;   
and instead basically, implicitly, argued that "whatever" the goals  
might be, the stated spend number was either implicitly sufficient, or  
"a reasonable down payment" (whatever that might mean.)

My point then, and now, remains this:  the only things that we *knew*  
from the Obama campaign were that (a) they intended to spend at least  
$65B (more) per year on health care, whatever that might mean, and (b)  
they were desirous of covering most or all of the presently uninsured  
part of the population.  Thus the point of the argument was to  
demonstrate that whatever your assumptions might be,  (a) is laughably  
insufficient to accomplish (b) --- as we now know by the spend that's  
already been done in SCHIP etc., the new spend that's intended /  
already budgeted, the greater clarification on where that spend is  
going to go, and the clear recent *acknowledgment* by all involved at  
the top policy-making level that this all is insufficient to  
accomplish the broader goal of insuring 100% of America.  QED.

I keep harping on this because this exchange, with you, was the  
singular most significant reason that I chose to stop engaging via  
FoRK in n-way conversation about any of these things, as it became  
clear that your snow-job approach to trying to defuse my (hopefully  
healthy, certainly well-intended) skepticism and critique was making  
any rational discourse impossible.  Yet I know that you are both  
capable of understanding the argument I was making *and* understanding  
how your response was not a productive engagement in such a  
conversation;  and I remain hopeful that you can and will, eventually,  
make whatever corrections are necessary to return the conversation to  
a productive, rational basis.  I have and will again, if it you make  
it possible, value your critical insights;  but first you have to stop  
offering extremely fragmented, reactionary, and irrelevant responses  
to what you incorrectly, apparently, perceive as ideological  
demagoguery on my part.

Put more simply, please understand three things:  first, the snow-job  
isn't convincing to anyone, and you're better than that.  Second, that  
while both of us may share a desire for "progress" (and some, perhaps  
large, agreement on what that means) that doesn't make anything that  
smacks of "progressivism" immune from skepticism or criticism nor does  
such criticism necessitate a reactionary retort, i.e. think about the  
criticism *as such* before you counter.  Finally, that criticizing the  
(unhelpfully characterized) "left" does not automatically make me part  
of some "right" (much less an apologist for such odious characters as  
Limbaugh or Hannity); just as my frequent criticism of the "right"  
over the years automatically does not make it mandatory for me or  
anyone to blindly support the agenda of Obama and friends in part or  
in whole.



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