Beyonce Tears Leg Muscle While Dancing

Thursday, September 30th, 2004

It would appear that Beyonce is not as hamstring-licious as she is booty-licious. From Beyonce Tears Leg Muscle While Dancing:

Beyonce tore a leg muscle rehearsing dance moves with Destiny’s Child and her injury could delay some of the group’s plan, a record company spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The singer tore her right hamstring, one of the muscles at the back of the knee, while practicing Tuesday in Los Angeles for an upcoming TV special.

What the Bubble Got Right

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

Paul Graham “had a front row seat for the Internet Bubble”; he worked at Yahoo. In What the Bubble Got Right, he explains how Yahoo was an unintentional pyramid scheme:

What made our earnings bogus was that Yahoo was, in effect, the center of a pyramid scheme. Investors looked at Yahoo’s earnings and said to themselves, here is proof that Internet companies can make money. So they invested in new startups that promised to be the next Yahoo. And as soon as these startups got the money, what did they do with it? Buy millions of dollars worth of advertising on Yahoo to promote their brand. Result: a capital investment in a startup this quarter shows up as Yahoo earnings next quarter — stimulating another round of investments in startups.

But it wasn’t all flash:

Even at the morning-after valuations of March and April 2001, the people at Yahoo had managed to create a company worth about $8 billion in just six years.

The first thing the Bubble got right: retail VC:

Taking a company public at an early stage is simply retail VC: instead of going to venture capital firms for the last round of funding, you go to the public markets.

The second thing: the Internet:

Recognizing an important trend turns out to be easier than figuring out how to profit from it. The mistake investors always seem to make is to take the trend too literally. Since the Internet was the big new thing, investors supposed that the more Internettish the company, the better. Hence such parodies as Pets.Com.

In fact most of the money to be made from big trends is made indirectly. It was not the railroads themselves that made the most money during the railroad boom, but the companies on either side, like Carnegie’s steelworks, which made the rails, and Standard Oil, which used railroads to get oil to the East Coast, where it could be shipped to Europe.

The third: choices:

In the “old” economy, the high cost of presenting information to people meant they had only a narrow range of options to choose from. The tiny, expensive pipeline to consumers was tellingly named “the channel.” Control the channel and you could feed them what you wanted, on your terms. And it was not just big corporations that depended on this principle. So, in their way, did labor unions, the traditional news media, and the art and literary establishments. Winning depended not on doing good work, but on gaining control of some bottleneck.
First, the Internet lets anyone find you at almost zero cost. Second, it dramatically speeds up the rate at which reputation spreads by word of mouth. Together these mean that in many fields the rule will be: Build it, and they will come. Make something great and put it online. That is a big change from the recipe for winning in the past century.

He makes seven more points.

The Autonomist Manifesto (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road)

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

In The Autonomist Manifesto (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road), John Tierney proclaims, “Americans still love their own cars, but they’re sick of everyone else’s.” Then he lists off some prevailing myths about cars and their consequences:

Sprawl traps drivers in traffic hell. It’s true that highways have gotten much more congested, but the worst traffic tends to be in densely populated urban areas that haven’t been building new roads, like New York and Chicago — the kind of places hailed by smart-growth planners but now avoided by companies looking for convenient offices. During the 1990′s, the number of suburban workers surpassed the number downtown. These commuters still encountered traffic jams, but by not driving downtown they could still get to work reasonably quickly. The length of the average commute, now about 25 minutes, rose just 40 seconds in the 1980′s and about 2 minutes in the 1990′s. Sprawl didn’t trap drivers — it gave them an escape.

Suburban car culture traps women. Critics complain that mothers in the suburbs are sentenced to long hours chauffeuring children to malls and soccer games and piano lessons, which are tasks that do indeed require a car. But so do most of their jobs. In his book ”Edge City,” the writer Joel Garreau traces the golden age of sprawl to the surge in women entering the work force in the 70′s and 80′s, when the number of cars in America doubled as developers rushed to build office parks and malls for women who didn’t have time to take the bus downtown. The only way to juggle all their responsibilities was to buy a car and find a job close to the stores and schools and day-care centers near their homes.

Sprawl is scarring the American landscape. If by ”landscape” you mean the pasture or forest near your home that has been paved, then sprawl does look like an abomination. Who wouldn’t prefer to be surrounded by greenery, especially when you’re not paying property taxes for it?

But if you look at the big picture, America is not paving paradise. More than 90 percent of the continental United States is still open space and farmland. The major change in land use in recent decades has been the gain of 70 million acres of wilderness — more than all the land currently occupied by cities, suburbs and exurbs, according to Peter Huber, author of ”Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists.” Because agriculture has become so efficient, farmers have abandoned vast tracts of land that have reverted to nature, and rural areas have lost population as young people migrate to cities. You may not like the new homes being built for them at the edge of your town, but if preserving large ecosystems and wildlife habitat is your priority, better to concentrate people in the suburbs and exurbs rather than scatter them in the remote countryside.

Mass transit is the cure for highway congestion. Commuter trains and subways make sense in New York, Chicago and a few other cities, and there are other forms of transit, like express buses, that can make a difference elsewhere. (Vans offering door-to-door service are a boon to the elderly and people without cars.) But for most Americans, mass transit is impractical and irrelevant. Since 1970, transit systems have received more than $500 billion in subsidies (in today’s dollars), but people have kept voting with their wheels. Transit has been losing market share to the car and now carries just 3 percent of urban commuters outside New York City. It’s easy to see why from one statistic: the average commute by public transportation takes twice as long as the average commute by car.

Anthony Downs, an economist at the Brookings Institution who favors giving more aid to transit, says the subsidies have social benefits (like helping people without cars), but he warns it will make little difference in highway congestion. O’Toole and Wendell Cox, a transportation expert and visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, estimate that even if Congress miraculously tripled the annual subsidy for transit, the average driver’s commute would be reduced by a grand total of 22 seconds.

Drivers are getting a free ride. Yes, the government spends a lot more money on highways than transit, but most of that money comes out of the drivers’ pockets. If you add up the costs of driving — the car owner’s costs as well as the public cost of building and maintaining highways and local streets, the salaries of police patrolling the roads — it works out to about 20 cents per passenger mile, and drivers pay more than 19 of those cents, according to Cox. A trip on a local bus or commuter train costs nearly four times as much, and taxpayers subsidize three-quarters of that cost.

Drivers do avoid paying some indirect costs of their cars, like the health consequences of the pollution from tailpipes. One of the most thorough attempts to measure these social costs was done by Mark Delucchi, a cost-benefit analyst at the University of California, Davis, who factored in everything from expenditures in the Persian Gulf to the cost of the real estate devoted to free parking lots. Autonomists complain that he overestimated the car’s costs, but even so, his calculations show that when compared with the social costs of transit systems (like taxpayer subsidies and noise from buses), the car is at least twice as cheap per passenger mile as transit.

New highways just make things worse. Environmentalists and smart-growth planners say that more highways merely create more problems because of ”induced demand,” also known as the if-you-build-it-they-will-come theory. They argue that any new stretch of highway will fill up quickly because drivers discover new uses for it. Adding new lanes or roads may ease traffic temporarily, they say, but ultimately you’re doomed to become like Los Angeles.

A new freeway does indeed attract new drivers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth building. Besides benefiting those drivers (no small thing), it eases the strain on the road network. This year’s report from the Texas Transportation Institute confirms other research showing that when you take population growth into account, traffic congestion has been increasing more rapidly in the cities that haven’t been building roads. The reason for Los Angeles’s traffic morass is that it didn’t build enough freeways, incredible as that sounds. The great symbol of sprawl is not what it seems when you compare it with other cities using the Census Bureau’s definition of an ”urbanized area,” which extends until the point where there’s open countryside. By this definition, Los Angeles is the most densely populated city in America, with 7,068 persons per square mile of urbanized area. Its traffic is terrible because it built only about half the freeways originally planned, so that it now has fewer miles of freeway per capita than any other major city.

You Call This Health Insurance?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

In You Call This Health Insurance?, Arnold Kling distinguishes between true insurance and “split the check” plans:

One of the most serious impediments to rational debate on health care is the misuse of the term ‘health insurance.’ What we call health ‘insurance’ in this country was never designed to insure the consumer. Instead, its purpose is to insure steady, reliable incomes for health care providers. True health insurance is the economist’s equivalent of a unicorn — we can describe it, but none of us has actually seen it.

What Blue Cross and Blue Shield pioneered was a “split-the-check” approach to health care. An equivalent plan for restaurant meals would be that instead of paying for your meal, you would pay an annual premium to “Blue Eats,” which would in turn reimburse restaurants for their costs, plus a profit margin. Every individual member of “Blue Eats” would have an incentive to eat out a lot and order the most expensive items on the menu, because the cost is shared among all of the members of “Blue Eats.”

“Blue Eats” would be a great marketing ploy by restaurants, because it would get people to eat out more and spend more at restaurants. Similarly, John C. Goodman argues that what we call “health insurance” originated as a marketing ploy by physicians and hospitals. It worked really well, too.

Insurable events are unlikely events.

Dawn of the Dead-Flesh Eaters

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

Ah, the healing power of maggots! From Dawn of the Dead-Flesh Eaters:

It seems that maggots, long neglected by medicine, have come back from the dead.

Their resurrection began in the early 1980s when Dr. Ronald Sherman, a researcher at the University of California at Irvine, began exploring their potential benefits for patients with wounds, especially on their legs and feet.

Despite their reputation as disgusting and repulsive animals, maggots — blowfly larvae — are largely harmless. Their life cycle is simple: The flies lay eggs when they find decaying flesh. The maggots hatch, enjoy several meals at the nearest dead-animal buffet, develop cocoons known as pupae and turn into flies. Then everything begins again.

Without blowflies and maggots, decomposition would occur a lot more slowly, if at all, and forensic entomologists would have a lot harder time using bugs to figure out times of death in murder cases.

For centuries, according to Sherman, military doctors have noticed that maggots do a good job of eating dead flesh on a live person. “Soldiers injured on the battlefield whose wounds became infested with maggots did better and their wounds did better than soldiers who weren’t infested,” he said.

In the late 1920s, a former World War I surgeon began trying maggots on patients at Johns Hopkins University, and the treatment soon became common. Herb Nordquist, Donna’s husband, remembers being treated with maggots 60 years ago when he had an infected foot. “It didn’t bother me,” he recalled as nurses removed his wife’s maggots in a doctor’s office nearby. “I had no idea what was going on.”

Antibiotics soon entered the picture, however, and maggots fell out of favor as doctors turned to penicillin and its sister drugs. But Sherman’s research resurrected the critters, and 15 years ago he created a “medical maggot” nursery, using rancid liver as food.

He and his wife now send shipments of 250 to 500 disinfected maggots — $70 plus shipping — to as many as 35 doctors a week. (Since maggots are tiny before they begin feasting on flesh, doctors can put dozens of them into a single wound.)

Cheetahs Flourish on Spanish Plain

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

A German couple has successfully bred cheetahs on a ranch in Spain. Cheetahs have been tamed and kept as pets for centuries, but they don’t breed in captivity. From Cheetahs Flourish on Spanish Plain:

Popular as hunting animals and elegant pets with rulers ranging from Charlemagne to Akbar, the 16th century emperor of Mughal India, cheetahs are the only big cats that can be trusted not to turn on their owners if tamed, according to Heidenreich.

‘Taming a cheetah is very easy, they are different to other big cats, never aggressive … In 5,000 years there have been no accidents reported between cheetahs and humans.

‘They never look for a fight because even if they get a very small injury on just one foot, they cannot run again and will die,’ he added.

However despite their great beauty, usefulness as hunters and non-aggressive nature, the spotted sprinters have never been domesticated because of the difficulties of breeding them.

Akbar’s cheetah stable is reported to have contained up to 1,000 animals, but almost all were caught wild, probably between the ages of three and five, and tamed.

‘Why are they not a domesticated animal if people have been living with them since 3,000 years before Christ?’ said Heidenreich. ‘Because it was almost impossible to breed them in captivity.’

Axe Man Runs Amok on Norway Plane, Injures Pilots

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

From Axe Man Runs Amok on Norway Plane, Injures Pilots:

A man attacked two pilots and a passenger with an axe on a domestic Norwegian flight on Wednesday, police said.

The pilots, who witnesses said were covered in blood, managed to land the 18-seat Kato Air flight with seven passengers on board on its way from Narvik to Bodoe in northern Norway.

The attacker, in his 30s, was immediately arrested at Bodoe airport

Then, five paragraphs later…

The attacker said he was Algerian, police said.

Minor detail.

The Greatness That Cannot Be Taught

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

David Halberstam opens The Greatness That Cannot Be Taught with the notion that you can’t learn leadership from a book. Or from a great general, who is great within a hierarchy. Or from a great football coach, who also expects to be obeyed without question.

Then he switches to the tale of a great general. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to learn from it or not:

In the fall of 1950, General Douglas MacArthur had just executed his brilliant Inchon landing behind North Korean lines. Trapped, the North Korean army hastily retreated north. Thanks to Inchon, MacArthur, a general who always put himself above the normal chain of command, was at the pinnacle of his success. No one dared question him as his armies started pursuing the enemy across the 38th parallel. But President Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were properly nervous as MacArthur went farther north, because just across the Korean-Chinese border were hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops. The one thing Truman and the Joint Chiefs feared was a larger, wider war with the Chinese. In mid-October Truman flew to Wake Island and met with MacArthur. Speaking as a general and a self-appointed expert on the mind of the Oriental, MacArthur assured him the Chinese would not enter the war, but that if they did, the result would be the greatest slaughter in history.

And so MacArthur, exceeding his orders, sent his forces farther north, pushing them to race to the Chinese border so that they could be home by Christmas. In late November, his troops — most wearing summer-weight uniforms in Arctic temperatures, fighting in terrible terrain with their lines of communication vastly overextended — were hit by surprise by hundreds of thousands of Chinese. The American units, terribly vulnerable to this assault, largely fell apart (though the Marines’ fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir is one of our most valorous moments).

A month later, in late December, with MacArthur alternating between talk of using the atom bomb and getting off the Korean peninsula completely, Ridgway took command of the Eighth Army in Korea. He was nothing less than a miracle worker. Today he would be called the real deal. He was already known as a great soldier, having led the airborne jump behind German lines on D-Day. A friend of mine in the CIA briefed him during the Korean War and later told me that he had never dealt with anyone as demanding, as probing, and as relentless as Ridgway. He was highly intelligent and ferociously focused. He needed to know everything, especially about the enemy. He was furious with commanders who did not know their men and who did not know exactly where the enemy was. He pushed his troops hard, but he was always out there at the front, sharing as much as possible in their hardships. He wanted his troops warmly clothed, well fed, and well led by tough field officers whom he did not fear to relieve if he felt they weren’t getting the job done. There would be no more retreating, he told his command upon his arrival. They would turn around and start moving north again — hence his nickname, “Wrongway Ridgway.”

Kwikpoint Iraqi Visual Language Survival Guide Cards

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

A firm called Kwikpoint is offering “visual language survival guides” for Iraqi Arabic. Normally the term “survival guide” isn’t quite so literal.

A couple sections (part one, part two) provide lots of little pictures you can point to in front of an Iraqi person to say things like “is the improvised explosive device hidden under the dead goat?” and “was the bomb maker planning manual or remote detonation?” As Boing Boing points out:

Visually, they’re unsettling. The images are functional icons, like highway signs or web UI buttons, so they reflect a simplified aesthetic — like early childhood storybooks. The subject matter is violent, but the look is “see spot run” or “happy Lego people at play.”

Manna from China

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

Alex Tabarrok draws an amusing analogy in Manna from China:

If cheap goods from China are bad for the United States then surely zero-priced Manna from Heaven must have been terrible for the Israelites.

Bombing Iraq to Prosperity

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

Tyler Cowen’s Bombing Iraq to Prosperity cites an actual USA Today headline that is “no less absurd”: Growth from Hurricanes Could Outweigh Costs:

Although natural disasters spread destruction and economic pain to a wide variety of businesses, for some, it can mean a burst in activity and revenue.
For that reason, economists tallying the numbers expect the hurricanes will be neutral in their effect on the U.S. economy, or may even give it a slight boost, particularly because of an expected reconstruction boom in the already red-hot construction industry.

Haven’t these people heard of the “broken window” fallacy?

Cochrane estimates that in Florida, the state hit hardest by the storms, 20,000 jobs will be created that otherwise would not have been. Two-thirds of those jobs will be in construction. The rest will be in areas including utilities, retailing, insurance and business services. Another 2,500 jobs will likely be added in Mobile, Ala., according to
Economic consulting firm Global Insight estimates the hurricanes at most will shave two-tenths of a percentage point off gross domestic product, the broadest gauge of U.S. economic activity, in the third or fourth quarters. That will be offset by reconstruction activity.

As Cowen says, “I would not have dared this as satire.”

Poor Definitions

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

From Johan Norberg’s Poor Definitions:

Does anyone know this gentleman: He has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two colour televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family?s essential needs.

This is the typical American poor, according to the definition by which there are 12.5 percent living in poverty. There is also real poverty in the US, people who experience something like overcrowding, temporary hunger or difficulty obtaining health care. But that?s only about a third of those officially classified as poor, and the groups shouldn?t be confused.

And “some other interesting facts about American poverty from a Heritage backgrounder by Robert Rector“:

  • The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna and other European cities.
  • Despite the recession, nearly one million black children have been raised out of poverty since the welfare reform of 1996.
  • The census report that the top fifth of households has $14.60 in income for every $1.00 in the bottom quintile. But these figures don?t include taxes and the social safety net, and they don?t adjust for the size of households (the top quintile has 70 percent more people than the bottom quintile). When adjusted accordingly, the ratio of the income of the top quintile to that of the bottom quintile falls from $14.60 to $1.00 to $4.21 to $1.00.

Why do you have a murderer on your t-shirt?

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

Johan Norberg cites Paul Berman’s take on Che Guevara in Why do you have a murderer on your t-shirt?:

“Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution?s first firing squads. He founded Cuba?s ?labor camp? system?the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che?s imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for ?two, three, many Vietnams,? he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: ?Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become ??? and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy?a tragedy on the hugest scale.”

The Swedish Mother Model

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

In The Swedish Mother Model, Johan Norberg cites a Guardian article by Catherine Hakim:

“[T]here is a pay threshold in Nordic countries below which are 80% of all women, and above which are 80% of all men.

?What is more, the glass ceiling problem is larger in family-friendly Sweden than it is in the hire-and-fire-at-will US, and it has also grown as family-friendly policies have expanded. In Sweden 1.5% of senior management are women, compared with 11% in the US.?
75% of Swedish women are working in the public sector — traditionally the lower-paid, lower-qualified end of the employment market — while 75% of men are working in the racier, more demanding private sector. What has happened through the years of family-friendly policies, she says, is that private companies have reduced their number of female employees because they can?t afford the cost of the generous maternity packages.”

Facts About Cuba

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

Johan Norberg points out some simple Facts About Cuba:

Before Castro, Cuba was as rich as Italy, and richer than Spain. Cuba has not merely lagged behind, it has actually grown poorer, and is now more than five times poorer than these countries. It used to be among the richest in Latin America, now it?s among the poorest.