Who pays for health care?

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

From Who pays for health care?:

Paul Krugman has a good column on rising healthcare costs and how to ration them. Krugman has been a frothing nutter for about 6 years now, so it’s nice to see something honest and reasonable for a change.

On the topic of rising healthcare costs, Krugman correct identifies the main culprit: new (expensive) medical technology.

Krugman’s prescription is to have the government step in and regulate pricing. He does not point out that this fix works by eliminating new (expensive) medical technology. This does not matter if you are an old person or someone with a treatable disease, but sucks if you are a young person or have a (currently) untreatable disease.

Be more productive

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

Aaron Swartz explains how to be more productive:

There are a lot of myths about productivity — that time is fungible, that focusing is good, that bribing yourself is effective, that hard work is unpleasant, that procrastinating is unnatural — but they all have a common theme: a conception of real work as something that goes against your natural inclinations.

And for most people, in most jobs, this may be true. There’s no reason you should be inclined to write boring essays or file pointless memos. And if society is going to force you to do so anyway, then you need to learn to shut out the voices in your head telling you to stop.

But if you’re trying to do something worthwhile or creative, then shutting down your brain is entirely the wrong way to go. The real secret to productivity is the reverse: to listen to your body. To eat when you’re hungry, to sleep when you’re tired, to take a break when you’re bored, to work on projects that seem fun and interesting.

How Bad is Life in North Korea?

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

How Bad is Life in North Korea? Pretty bad. The government allows its “most loyal” citizens to work abroad — and keeps most of the hard currency they earn:

By far the largest number of North Koreans working outside their country are in Russia, where they do mostly logging and construction in military-style camps run by the North Korean government. When the camps were set up in the early 1970s, the workers were North Korean prisoners. But as the North Korean economy disintegrated in the late 1980s, doing hard labor in Siberia came to be seen as a reward because at least it meant getting adequate food.

One Laptop Per Child

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

One Laptop Per Child explains both what the $100 laptop will have and what it won’t:

  • fans or heat sinks (saving power, cost and weight)
  • disk drive (they are fragile, expensive, and unreliable, and eat power)
  • any I/O expandability other than USB
  • any hardware/flash expandability

Fear destroys what bin Laden could not

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

The headline’s a bit much — Fear destroys what bin Laden could not — but the article’s not:

If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden’s attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution — and then expect the American people to congratulate him for it — I would have presumed the girders of our very Republic had crumbled.

Had anyone said our president would invade a country and kill 30,000 of its people claiming a threat that never, in fact, existed, then admit he would have invaded even if he had known there was no threat — and expect America to be pleased by this — I would have thought our nation’s sensibilities and honor had been eviscerated.

If I had been informed that our nation’s leaders would embrace torture as a legitimate tool of warfare, hold prisoners for years without charges and operate secret prisons overseas — and call such procedures necessary for the nation’s security — I would have laughed at the folly of protecting human rights by destroying them.

If someone had predicted the president’s staff would out a CIA agent as revenge against a critic, defy a law against domestic propaganda by bankrolling supposedly independent journalists and commentators, and ridicule a 37-year Marie Corps veteran for questioning U.S. military policy — and that the populace would be more interested in whether Angelina is about to make Brad a daddy — I would have called the prediction an absurd fantasy.

That’s no America I know, I would have argued. We’re too strong, and we’ve been through too much, to be led down such a twisted path.

What is there to say now?

All of these things have happened. And yet a large portion of this country appears more concerned that saying ”Happy Holidays” could be a disguised attack on Christianity.

I evidently have a lot poorer insight regarding America’s character than I once believed, because I would have expected such actions to provoke — speaking metaphorically now — mobs with pitchforks and torches at the White House gate.

Milgram’s Progress

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Milgram’s Progress describes the work of the scientiest responsible for the famous “shock” studies:

Milgram’s contributions were remarkably numerous and varied during his abbreviated career (he died of a heart attack in 1984 at age 51). Some of the highlights: He conducted the experiments that led to the phrase “six degrees of separation” and devised methodological innovations such as the “lost letter” technique (pretending to accidentally lose letters addressed to various individuals or organizations and then seeing how many are picked up and mailed by people passing by). He also virtually invented the field of urban social psychology. And he conducted the largest-scale investigation ever on whether viewing violence on television leads to violent behavior, a study for which he persuaded CBS to modify the ending of a popular drama for showings in different cities.

But it is the obedience experiments (which he ran in the 1961–62 academic year, just after receiving his Ph.D.) for which Milgram will always be remembered, for better or for worse. The studies were inspired by Milgram’s interest in the pathologies of the Holocaust. Specifically, he wondered why tens of thousands of ordinary German citizens willingly provided the manpower to carry out a massive killing program. He reasoned that when a type of behavior, no matter how evil, becomes “normal,” an explanation for it can probably be found in features of the situation. In this case, he hypothesized, the toxic trigger for the behavior was obedience to authority.

Milgram recruited a diverse group of psychologically normal adult men to participate in a laboratory experiment supposedly designed to measure the effects of punishment on learning. Each subject was given the role of teacher and instructed to ask another ostensible subject (actually a research assistant who was a confederate of the experimenter) a series of questions. The subject in the role of teacher was instructed to administer an electric shock each time the “learner” made an error, beginning with a mild 15 volts and progressing in 15-volt intervals up to an eventual 450 volts, which was clearly marked as extremely dangerous. Although no shocks were actually administered, the situation was orchestrated to appear terrifyingly realistic. Midway through the experiment, the confederate, who was in an adjoining room where he could be heard but not seen, screamed out that he was having a heart attack; eventually, he ceased responding altogether. If the subject resisted administering shocks, the experimenter urged him on with statements like “It is absolutely essential that you continue” and “You have no choice. You must go on.”

How many psychologically normal people would administer a 450-volt shock to someone who might be going into cardiac arrest as a result? When Milgram posed this question to others, the average estimate was no more than one in a hundred people. A group of psychiatrists guessed one in a thousand. Most people estimated that they themselves would break off at about 135 volts — at a point just before the supposed learner demands to be released. Almost none of those asked said that they would obey instructions to turn up the juice all the way to 450 volts.

Astonishingly, however, Milgram found that a full 65 percent of the men (26 out of 40) went to 450 volts. Milgram then conducted an equally remarkable and elaborate series of follow-up studies in which he investigated how the subject’s obedience was affected by such factors as the proximity of the experimenter, the proximity of the victim, the subject’s sex and the presence of peers. Obedience varied from one condition to another but in almost every case was frighteningly high. In a television interview in 1979, Milgram said that he eventually came to the conclusion that “If a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would be able to find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town.”

Bush reads up on Teddy Roosevelt, U.S. troops

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

From Bush reads up on Teddy Roosevelt, U.S. troops:

Bush was reading When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House, by Patricia O’Toole, and Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, by Robert Kaplan while on holiday at his Texas ranch, said White House spokesman Trent Duffy.

"Rogue" African elephants may soon hunt poachers

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

The headline sounds much more interesting than the actual story. “Rogue” African elephants may soon hunt poachers:

Tembo was a killer who faced the death sentence for his “crimes.”

But the six-tonne bull elephant won a reprieve after a vet approached animal trainer Rory Hensman and asked him if he could mend Tembo’s wild ways.

Now tourists are taking rides on Tembo’s back in the bush at Dinokeng Game Reserve 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Johannesburg — proving that grown elephants can learn new tricks.

Tembo and some of his jumbo friends may also be put to work soon protecting their own kind as “all-terrain” vehicles in anti-poaching patrols.

But he’ll remember, with advantages …

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

But he’ll remember, with advantages … cites a fascinating passage from Robert Kaplan’s The future of America — in Iraq:

If you want to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions. For several weeks, I observed these young officers working behind the scenes to organize the election in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. … Throughout Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become veritable mayors of micro-regions, meeting with local sheiks, setting up waste-removal programs to employ young men, dealing with complaints about cuts in electricity and so on. They have learned to arbitrate tribal politics, to speak articulately and to sit through endless speeches without losing patience.

I watched Lt. John Turner of Indianapolis get up on his knees from a carpet while sipping tea with a former neighborhood mukhtar and plead softly: “Sir, I am willing to die for a country that is not my own. So will you resume your position as mukhtar? Brave men must stand forward. Iraq’s wealth is not oil but its civilization. Trust me by the projects I bring, not by my words.” Turner, a D student in high school, got straightened out as an enlisted man in the Coast Guard before earning a degree from Purdue and becoming an Army officer. He is one of what Col. Michael Shields, commander of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Mosul, calls his “young soldier-statesmen.”

Tech leaders tell of books offering insight, wisdom

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

USA Today‘s Kevin Maney asks tech industry leaders to write about two favorite books, one old and one new, and shares the results in Tech leaders tell of books offering insight, wisdom. Yang Yuanqing, chairman of Lenovo, recommends Built to Last and The World is Flat.

Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of Linden Lab, which created the avatar-filled online world of Second Life, recommends The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando de Soto, and On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee.

Matthew Szulik, CEO of Red Hat, recommends On Becoming a Leader and Massive Change.

Larry Downes, associate dean of the Berkeley School of Information Management & Systems, “keeps coming back to” Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and admires The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law.

Literacy of College Graduates Is on Decline

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

Literacy of College Graduates Is on Decline:

The test measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading — such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as “proficient” in prose — reading and understanding information in short texts — down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient — compared with 40 percent in 1992. Schneider said the results do not separate recent graduates from those who have been out of school several years or more.

The results were based on a sample of more than 19,000 people 16 or older, who were interviewed in their homes. They were asked to read prose, do math and find facts in documents. The scores for “intermediate” reading abilities went up for college students, causing educators to question whether most college instruction is offered at the intermediate level because students face reading challenges.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling.)

Hollywood’s New Year

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

In Hollywood’s New Year, Edward Jay Epstein provides his predictions for 2006:

Before the invasion of television, the big screen (aka movie theaters) provided 100 percent of the studios’ revenues. Now it accounts for less than 15 percent. The small screen — which includes computers, portable DVD players, and iPods as well as televisions — provides 85.6 percent.

According to Epstein, “the further migration of Hollywood into home entertainment will be greatly accelerated in 2006 by the following five events”:

  1. The success of Google’s Wi-Fi experiment in San Francisco.
  2. The further collapse of the video window.
  3. The proliferation of digital video recorders.
  4. The Blu-Ray DVD.
  5. The mandated digital conversion of television.

The Burke Habit

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

In The Burke Habit, Jeffrey Hart looks at how The Conservative Mind has evolved since Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, published in 1953:

Both hard and soft utopianism ignore flawed human nature. Soft utopianism believes in benevolent illusions, most abstractly stated in the proposition that all goals are reconcilable, as in such dreams as the Family of Man, World Peace, multiculturalism, pacifism and Wilsonian global democracy. To all of these the Conservative Mind objects. Men do not all desire the same things: Domination is a powerful desire. The phrase about the lion lying down with the lamb is commonly quoted; but Isaiah knew his vision of peace would take divine intervention, not at all to be counted on. Without such intervention, the lion dines well.

Density Is Destiny: On Politics and the Paperboy

Monday, December 26th, 2005

In Density Is Destiny: On Politics and the Paperboy, Patrick Cox looks at rural versus urban views on government:

Historically, there has been a higher perceived and practical need for government in big cities. Sewer systems, for example, are a matter of life and death in cities where diseases spread rapidly through densely packed populations. In the country, outhouses worked fine for most people until septic tanks with indoor plumbing came along, and neither needed government involvement or assistance to install and use — except in so far as they might require permission from local regulators, who were therefore resented.

Clean and healthful running water in cities likewise entailed major public works programs as well as taxation in some form. Water in the country was usually a matter of drilling a well and was therefore untaxed. Garbage disposal in cities, required to prevent all sort of unpleasantness including vermin infestation and disease, has almost always involved government. In the country, you could burn or bury.

Crime rates, despite Hollywood’s slander of the American West, have also traditionally been a more serious problem in big cities. When you can see people coming from far away and tend to know all those around you, those already accustomed to handling weapons and hunting have a different take on crime prevention than those who live among high-density strangers.

The Myth of Man the Killer

Monday, December 26th, 2005

From The Myth of Man the Killer:

Human beings are social primates with social instincts. One of those instincts is docility, a predisposition to obey the tribe leader and other dominant males. This was originally adaptive; fewer status fights meant more able bodies in the tribe or hunting band. It was especially important that bachelor males, unmarried 15-to-25 year-old men, obey orders even when those orders involved risk and killing. These bachelors were the tribe’s hunters, warriors, scouts, and risk-takers; a band would flourish best if they were both aggressive towards outsiders and amenable to social control.

Over most of human evolutionary history, the multiplier effect of docility was limited by the small size (250 or less, usually much less) of human social units. But when a single alpha male or cooperating group of alpha males could command the aggressive bachelor males of a large city or entire nation, the rules changed. Warfare and genocide became possible.

Actually, neither war nor genocide needs more than a comparative handful of murderers — not much larger a cohort than the half-percent to percent that commits lethal violence in peacetime. Both, however, require the obedience of a large supporting population. Factories must work overtime. Ammunition trucks must be driven where the bullets are needed. People must agree not to see, not to hear, not to notice certain things. Orders must be obeyed.