Monday, April 05, 2010

Weird 2.0
March 23, 2010
(datelines March 13-March 20) (links correct as of March 23)

"To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle"—George Orwell
"A little learning is a dangerous thing"—Alexander Pope
"Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns"—Rome Daily Inquirer, 7-18-64A.D.

Woo-wee! Investigations are starting to pay off on those breathtaking episodes of theft of freshly-minuted $100 bills that Americans looted from their own government in the weeks after the 2003 invasion of Iraq! Was there anyone at all involved in Coalition Provisional Authority contracts who took only what the official paperwork said he took? New York Times

ITT Technical, Le Cordon Bleu, University of Phoenix—examples of trade schools that are catching a major tailwind, generated by (1) the bad economy, creating people so desperate that they take on massive loans for dubious classes; (2) the government's need to put "stimulus" money out, in the form of more Pell grants; (3) lax oversight standards, in that only recently have trade schools become more popular for loans than the much more transparent colleges and universities; and (4) the short-term greed of the schools, figuring that they better milk the government for as much as they can before Congress and the Administration notice. Actually, it looks like they've still got plenty of milking time left. New York Times via MSNBC

Heckuva Job, Fellas: They didn't get millions like the bankers did, but the federal regulators overseeing bankers did get bonuses. After all, it took skill to ignore so much mumbo-jumbo in the economy. The Associated Press reported that the bureaucrats only got "thousands" of dollars each, totaling at least $19 million over the four years 2003-2006. But all of the regulators blew it; no one "regulated"; why are there bonuses? The answer, said agency spokespersons, is that those people "worked hard." Associated Press via Philadelphia Inquirer

Just in time for the health insurance debate: Previously undisclosed records in a September 2009 court case revealed that Assurant Health (formerly, Fortis) had a routine algorithm in place to target any premium-payer who came down with HIV to be immediately suspected of fraud, requiring a top-to-bottom investigation. (And of course, there's a reason why these records were "previously undisclosed," despite their relevance to the court case decided in September.) Reuters

The U.S. Senate managed to pass a bipartisan bill to align the federal criminal penalties for possession of cocaine (crack and powder). A 20-year-old law set the penalties for crack at approximately 100 times those for powder, allegedly owing to you-know-who's preference for crack versus you-know-who's preference for powder. The more logical, rational Senate majority now believes that possessing crack is only about 18 times worse than possessing powder. Chemists' heads are about to explode. National Public Radio

Recurring Theme: Expensive ($20,000 each) British dowsing rods are now captivating Mexico. It was bad enough that Iraqi police trust them, laughably, to detect bombs moving through Baghdad [NOTW M137, 11-22-2009]. Now, though, another British company has produced a mighty similar wand that allegedly is so sensitive that it can detect drugs on you if you've used any time in the last two weeks. And the Mexican police love it! The British government has warned Mexico not to waste its money, but when ignorance establishes a foothold, it's difficult to dislodge. New York Times /// New York Times [Iraqi police]

BS-Spotting Exercise: Researchers writing in the journal Pediatrics revealed that the cutesy ads and giveaways for Camel No. 9 cigarettes are extremely popular among girls age 12-16. R.J. Reynolds, which promised in 1998 never to advertise to the underaged, responds with two barely-relevant head fakes: (1) 85% of Camel No. 9's are sold to those over 18 and (2) Smoking rate among underage girls is down in the time since the ad campaign started. Therefore, RJR says, STFU. But . . RJR makes money if it merely increases the number of underage girls who might be willing to try Camel No. 9s; they don't need a majority of them in order to make money, and they don't need to turn around the whole underage-smoking rate, itself, in order to make money. It's a winner for them if they just pick up a few more lifetime smokers. In other words, it's a brilliant campaign. The 1998 agreement is better stated as a promise not to get caught doing something they can't plausibly head-fake around. USA Today

It's not just the Catholic Church in Germany, Ireland, et al. Last week the Boy Scouts went on trial in Portland, Ore., under similar charges, i.e., our good name is more important than stopping scoutmasters from diddling and sucking little boys [ed.: Oops, sorry, I'm supposed to use the politically correct term, "abuse"] The plaintiff's lawyer has 1,000 Scout-related-perv case files, which the Scouts say they needed to keep to themselves because they were doing their own perv-investigation/prevention (but obviously doing it poorly if there are 1,000 of them). The Oregonian /// Associated Press via Washington Post

[Weird 2.0 is a kinda-upmarket rendition of News of the Weird / Pro Edition. No perverts, no drunks, no stupid criminals. Just scary important stuff.]