Javascript files don’t auto-update

On a panel of 4 Javascript library developers at Ajax Experience 2008, a question came up about how their libraries use browser detection. When John Resig suggested that libraries should strive for full feature detection (hardly used at all at the time) instead of browser/object detection, the other developers reacted like he was crazy. They mentioned the cases where this just isn’t possible, but none of the developers mentioned the huge, very good reason to do this whenever possible: There are pages using libraries deployed everyday that never get maintained. Yes, when a new browser changes behavior the libraries can quickly update their codebase, but many pages will never get those updates.

Note, there are autoloaders that may maintain the latest library version, but this doesn’t guarantee a stable library API over time. Feature detection (mostly) does.

Morning Edition is not the O’Reilly Factor

NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep is often an excellent interviewer, but his behavior in this “interview” with Republican chairman Michael Steele was awful (and many commenters seem to agree). This morning I only heard the last 30 seconds or so and it was painful. I tried to listen again and could only stand a minute or so.

Yes Steele’s op-ed is ridiculous — “trust Republicans to defend Medicare!”, even NRO bloggers label it pandering — but Inskeep is clearly too close to this issue to conduct the interview respectfully. If Steele said contradictory/false statements, I was completely distracted by Inskeep’s badgering.

NPR needs an editor who’s willing to cut segments like this, not feature them on the home page!

Update: After listening again, what bothered me as much as Inskeep’s tone was his questions. He seemed to have an agenda to box in Steele as an anti-government ideologue (he is, but this isn’t particularly enlightening) and make the point that, since Steele agrees that Medicare is useful, that his opposition to another government plan is illegitimate. Much of the interview seemed like a jab at air.

Why Our Government Shouldn’t Kill

From a comment on a Radley Balko post about Troy Davis:

the state can’t be trusted to sort the innocent from the guilty with the 100% accuracy necessary for executions to be morally defensible, even if death is a theoretically just punishment…

From what I read everyday it’s abundantly clear that this is true. The criminal justice system has corrupt prosecutors and judges, drastically inadequate public defender resources, corrupt forensic scientists, and plenty of bogus testimony and pseudoscience sold to juries as proof. The latest news could change everything: DNA evidence might be forgeable. If this can be done, a corrupt law enforcement individual will mostly certainly manufacture DNA evidence in the future.

From the ACLU’s Death Penalty Q&A:

Since 1973, 123 people in 25 states have been released from death row because they were not guilty. In addition, seven people have been executed even though they were probably innocent. A study published in the Stanford Law Review documents 350 capital convictions in this century, in which it was later proven that the convict had not committed the crime. Of those, 25 convicts were executed while others spent decades of their lives in prison. Fifty-five of the 350 cases took place in the 1970s, and another 20 of them between 1980 and 1985.

…Who gets the death penalty is largely determined, not by the severity of the crime, but by: the race, sex, and economic class of the prisoner and victim; geography — some states have the death penalty, others do not, within the states that do some counties employ it with great frequency and others do not; the quality of defense counsel and vagaries in the legal process.

…Poor people are also far more likely to be death sentenced than those who can afford the high costs of private investigators, psychiatrists, and expert criminal lawyers. Indeed, capital punishment is “a privilege of the poor,” said Clinton Duffy, former warden at California’s San Quentin Prison. Some observers have pointed out that the term “capital punishment” is ironic because “only those without capital get the punishment.”

…study after study has found serious racial disparities in the charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty. People who kill whites are far more likely to receive a death sentence than those whose victims were not white, and blacks who kill whites have the greatest chance of receiving a death sentence. … Minorities are death-sentenced disproportionate to their numbers in the population. This is not primarily because minorities commit more murders, but because they are more often sentenced to death when they do.

Setting aside all moral and emotional arguments, by using the few cases where there is indisputable proof of guilt to justify capital punishment, we guarantee it will be abused to execute many more innocent persons.

Cases for Competition, not Insurance

An Andrew Sullivan reader needed a (seemingly) straightforward outpatient procedure. Her bill was almost 300% of the estimate. She complains that “the price of health care procedures is nothing but a dart thrown at numbers on a dart board.”

Of course the provider has acted in bad faith, but I think the entire insurance system is the real culprit. Providers over-bill because a) someone else is paying (in her case they knew she was insured) and b) they know they’ll get away with it (who are insurance companies going to complain to?). A mechanic will have you sign off on some percentage above the written estimate, and clearly itemize your charges; because the competition will also. If you get ripped off, you won’t come back and you’ll try your best to make sure others won’t either. Also, it’s my hunch that medical providers who see you walk in the door as a future fight with an insurer (who might not pay them)–rather than as a direct customer–probably aren’t going to be as motivated to make you happy.

Another Sullivan reader is baffled trying to predict the cost of a child delivery…also due to an incredibly complex insurance system.

Of course it’s not practical for everyone to know the cost of most medical procedures, but in the system we have now, almost no one does, and that’s a great environment to produce costs that rise past their real value.

Update: Even more evidence that prices are screwed up by the insurance system.

Health reform is absolutely necessary, and I support efforts to prevent insurers from ripping off customers and making care more accessible to those who need it, but HR3200 means mandatory insurance for even smaller and more common procedures, which seems exactly the wrong direction to go if our goal is to control costs and encourage competition among providers.

Although undoubtedly there’s a level of anti-government propaganda in this piece, Stossel’s “Sick in America” is something every proponent of more insurance should watch:

Medical innovation is worth the cost

Here’s a pretty inspiring interview with inventor Dean Kamen, who says the focus on long term costs of the health care system (and fears of rationing) is all wrong, and that we should put more money into innovations that more than payoff later.

I’m sure in 1920 if you asked actuaries to say what percentage of our GDP are we going to spend taking care of people with polio, they’d say: “They get polio, it goes to their lungs, they sit in iron lung machines, they could live a whole lifetime with three people watching over them. We can’t support them all.”

But what did it cost to deal with everybody with polio? Oh, $2 apiece.

Simple cures for diseases like diabetes (high cost in aggregate) and Alzheimer’s might be just down the road and would radically change the cost of care. So how do we pump up innovation? In this Ezra Klein article, MIT economist Amy Finkelstein says, “If you cover people with insurance it increases their demand for health care and that will create a larger market for innovations. That’s certainly what I found happened with Medicare.” (No evidence provided but she does have a lot of publications on Medicare and insurance markets.)

So even if costs rise (and long-term costs appear scary today), the increased coverage that some kind of HC reform (private or public) would provide is likely to raise demand and spur more innovation, not less, increasing our chances of finding treatments that will lower costs in the long run? It’s an interesting hypothesis anyway.

On Cash for Clunkers

I have to agree with USA Today’s editorial on Cash for Clunkers (via), but they don’t even mention opportunity cost. Even with the minor fuel economy savings, “helping” people into loan payments further redirects money away from local economies and family savings. I feel for the auto workers, but the auto industry has enjoyed riding the wave of the housing bubble (buyers relying on home appreciation to offset auto depreciation) and the wave has crashed.

So this seems like a bad deal for buyers, local businesses, the environment, and the taxpayers who’ll pay for it.

Anti-new car propaganda: