Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Speaking of renewable energy, at age 14, William Kamkwamba of Malawi brings electricity to his community by building its first windmill dynamo, completely from spare parts and junk. And he did it from reading a book from his local library called Using Energy.

Using Energy described how windmills could be used to generate electricity. Only two percent of Malawians have electricity, and the service is notoriously unreliable. William decided an electric windmill was something he wanted to make. Illuminating his house and the other houses in his village would mean that people could read at night after work. A windmill to pump water would mean that they could grow two crops a year rather than one, grow vegetable gardens, and not have to spend two hours a day hauling water. "A windmill meant more than just power," he wrote, "it was freedom."

William scoured trash bins and junkyards for materials he could use to build his windmill. With only a couple of wrenches at his disposal, and unable to afford even nuts and bolts, he collected things that most people would consider garbage-slime-clogged plastic pipes, a broken bicycle, a discarded tractor fan-and assembled them into a wind-powered dynamo. For a soldering iron, he used a stiff piece of wire heated in a fire. A bent bicycle spoke served as a size adapter for his wrenches.

For an educated adult living in a developed nation, designing and building a wind turbine that generates electricity is something to be proud of. For a half-starved, uneducated boy living in a country plagued with drought, famine, poverty, disease, a cruelly corrupt government, crippling superstitions, and low expectations, it's another thing altogether. It's nothing short of monumental.
This goes to show the incredible things human beings are capable of when they are put to the test. With knowledge, determination, and freedom we can accomplish anything. And we don't need the government to do it for us.

Holy Chinese Weather Control

Chinese scientists are devising a plan to ensure a rain free celebration of the People's Republic's 60th birthday.

While meteorologists in much of the world are simply charged with forecasting rain or shine, Mr. Guo and his colleagues at the Beijing Municipal Meteorological Station were also responsible for making sure the weather is of the crowd-pleasing variety. “If we make a mistake with our work, the impact will be huge,” Mr. Guo, a soft spoken scientist, told a news conference this week. “We are under a lot of pressure.”

Meteorologists said their efforts to prevent foul weather on Oct. 1 involved satellites, 400 scientists, cloud-probing lasers and a squadron of transport planes capable of sprinkling liquid nitrogen into pregnant clouds. “It is the first time in Chinese history that artificial weather modification on such a large scale has been attempted,” Cui Lianqing, an air force meteorologist, told Global Times newspaper last week.
Damn, China, stop being so terrifying.

The Unintended Consequences

Renewable energy is often touted as our savior from environmental collapse, but many renewable sources come with their own downsides.

Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year.

“When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on renewable energy,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin who studies the relationship between energy and water.

Conflicts over water could shape the future of many energy technologies. The most water-efficient renewable technologies are not necessarily the most economical, but water shortages could give them a competitive edge.

There are always unintended consequences, ignore them at your peril.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Let's Get Constitutional

A number of states have finally grown a pair and are challenging the Federal government's right to mandate purchasing health insurance for all Americans. They are on shaky constitutional ground, but so is the Federal government in my opinion.
ST. PAUL — In more than a dozen statehouses across the country, a small but growing group of lawmakers are pressing for state constitutional amendments that would outlaw a crucial element of the health care plans under discussion in Washington: the requirement that everyone buy insurance or pay a penalty.Efforts are underway in Arizona to bring about state constitutional amendments to block the possibility of insurance mandates and government-run health care.

Approval of the measures, the lawmakers suggest, would set off a legal battle over the rights of states versus the reach of federal power — an issue that is, for some, central to the current health care debate but also one that has tentacles stretching into a broad range of other matters, including education and drug policy.

Scholars are looking into the constitutionality of a federal insurance mandate, but come to different conclusions:

Friday, September 25, 2009

What Is Wrong With People?

Whoever did this needs to be put down, permanently.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can You Say 'Bubble?'

Twitter is now valued at $1 billion, and continues to raise capital.

Ok, This Is Just Weird

Woman get's pregnant, while pregnant:

Arkansas couple Todd and Julia Grovenburg found out that they were having a baby and then discovered they were having two bundles of joy — but the babies aren't twins. An ultrasound revealed that a male fetus was conceived a full two-and-a-half weeks after the woman became pregnant with a baby girl, according to reports from local media. The Grovenburgs' obstetrician confirmed the case to Arkansas television station KFSM-TV.
The pregnancy is believed to be a case of a rare condition known as superfetation, or conceiving while pregnant.

Bang For Your Buck: Why We Need Death Panels

The public outcry against "death panels" is framed by liberals as right wing insanity, but the fact is a cost cutting government run health plan must have a death panel of some kind.

About $67 billion — nearly a third of the money spent by Medicare — goes to
patients in the last two years of life. The need to spend less money at the end
of life “is the elephant in the room,” Evan Thomas wrote in “The Case for
Killing Granny,” the cover story in last week’s Newsweek. “Everyone sees it but
no one wants to talk about it.”

It's funny, but the right wing nuts yelling about "death panels" do want to talk about it. They know on some level that killing granny is indeed fiscally sound, and will be a necessary part of a government takeover of health care. Of course their argument is against a nightmare, worst-case scenario, but is definitely rooted in truth; if we are serious about cutting costs, we must cut off our old people at some point.

Progress in AIDS Vaccine

A large scale study in Thailand finds some success with an H.I.V. vaccine:

Col. Jerome H. Kim, a physician who is manager of the army’s H.I.V. vaccine program, said half the 16,402 volunteers were given six doses of two vaccines in 2006 and half were given placebos. They then got regular tests for the AIDS virus for three years. Of those who got placebos, 74 became infected, while only 51 of those who got the vaccines did.

Although the difference was small, Dr. Kim said it was statistically significant and meant the vaccine was 31.2 percent effective.

Not bad, you gotta start somewhere.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Same Shit, Different Day

Not much happening today, Muammar Qaddafi goes nuts on the UN, Obama tries to scare the world into helping us in the Middle East, and Will Ferrel comes out in favor of the public option.

Just another day on the planet Earth.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama Redefines the word 'Tax'

Obama and Stephanopoulus disagree over what a 'tax' is.

"Under this mandate, the government is forcing people to spend money, fining you if you don't. How is that not a tax?" the host asked.

Obama responded: " No, but -- but, George, you -- you can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase."

Nice try, but socialized medicine will require higher taxes, no matter well you can spin.

Surfing the Web, Amish Style

It's like a collection of local blogs (on paper, of course):

The national edition of The Budget, now available in print only, is largely composed of submissions from hundreds of volunteer “scribes” from across the country. Typically, a scribe talks about the weather and segues into the goings-on in the local community. Around 500 scribe letters a week take up roughly 50 pages, said the publisher, Keith Rathbun, who like the rest of the Budget staff is not Amish. (The local edition covers just the area around Sugarcreek.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Poles, Russkies, and Iran

Found the first article to fully lay out the relationship between the now-cancelled Polish ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, Russia, and Iran.

Given that even small numbers of missiles easily could overwhelm the system, the BMD system in no way directly affected Russian national security: The Russian strike capability — against both Poland and the continental United States — was not affected at all. Indeed, placing the system on ships is no less threatening than placing them on land. So, if it was the BMD system the Russians were upset with, they should be no less upset by the redeployment at sea. Yet Moscow is pleased by what has happened — which means the BMD system was not really the issue.

It's a little long, but well worth the read.

We Want To Emulate These Guys?

The health care debate often centers around France's much lauded system, but I think we all need some perspective on the French: their response to tough economic times is to get naked.

Their protest is the latest, and barest, effort by French workers to fight back at the economic downturn. Employees have locked up their bosses, threatened to blow up factories and blocked oil supplies in scattered incidents around France in recent months.

After receiving the news in June that they might be laid off, the workers at the Chaffoteaux factory took a creative approach to show their displeasure. The company, which makes gas and water heating equipment, is facing declining demand amid a slump in real estate sales and a shift in French households away from gas heaters.

Fifteen men who work at the factory in Ploufragan, 280 miles west of Paris, posed for the calendar. Five thousand copies were printed, and 2,000 had been sold at $10 each as of Monday, three days after they were made available.

Brigitte Coadic, the representative from the CGT labor union that organized the calendar, said the workers want to attract public attention to the layoffs in the hope that will help them in negotiations with the management.

"In contrast to classic responses to layoffs ... we aren't going to just accept fate," she said. The workers did not appear to be offering any solid solutions to the company's declining sales.

I mean, we'd all love to get naked and party, but as far as a business plan I think we can do better.

Current Gun Laws: Not Bad

Though I consistently hate on the government, I must admit that our current gun laws seem to be working alright.

Authorities say a 91-year-old man in South Florida jumped out out of bed naked and held an intruder breaking into his house at gunpoint until deputies arrived.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said Robert E. Thompson was awoken Saturday morning after a burglar climbed his backyard fence and was met by his charging dog, Rettt, a Rottweiler and Doberman Pinscher mix. Thompson heard the commotion, grabbed his .38-caliber revolver and phoned police without ever getting dressed.

Deputies say Thompson fired a warning shot at 26-year-old Jose Pasqual after the intruder started to come toward him. Pasqual was booked in the Palm Beach County Jail and did not immediately have an attorney.
I like my old men armed and naked.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is Nothing Sacred?

God help us, government overreach has found the N.F.L.

A three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in Minneapolis, last week upheld a lower court ruling that prohibited the N.F.L. from suspending two Minnesota Vikings players who violated the league’s antidoping policy, saying they could contest their suspensions in state court. The ruling was a victory for the players because Minnesota state laws — and laws in about half of all states — are considered worker-friendly and say that an employee cannot be penalized for an initial positive drug test.

American citizens might let the government slide on every other issue, but this is going to cause riots.

Obama: Race 'Not the Overriding Issue Here'

President Obama commented on the claims of racism in the health care debate:

WASHINGTON -- President Obama said Friday that angry criticisms about his health care agenda are driven by an intense debate over the proper role of government -- and not by racism.

"Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are," Obama told CNN. "That's not the overriding issue here."

Great. Can we stop talking about this now?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Brazil's Cane Ethanol Contributing to Global Warming

Brazil, the apple of the environmentalist's eye for its progress in renewable sugar cane ethanol, has discovered that all that is renewable is not green.

Due to the high demand for cane ethanol, the Amazonian rainforest is being cleared to make room for more sugar cane plantations. This is about the worst thing possible for global warming activists, as the rainforest eats CO2 faster than any other place on the planet.

The Brazilian government is now framing legislation to stop the deforestation and limit sugar cane production.

As we move towards renewable energy with the best of intentions, we must take heed of the unintended consequences of our actions.

Adam Gets Political

On today's Adam Carolla Podcast, Adam tells you why you're wrong you goddamn liberals.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Health and Education: The India Solution

From Tim Harford of the Financial Times:

Take the doctors of Delhi, who were studied carefully by two World Bank researchers, Jishnu Das and Jeffrey Hammer. These doctors are busy people – the average household visits a doctor every two weeks, and the poor are particularly likely to visit. And, surprisingly, three-quarters of those visits are to private practitioners – despite the fact that public-sector doctors are better qualified. Why?

Das and Hammer tested the competence and the practices of a sample of doctors by sending observers to sit in their surgeries. They discovered that “under-qualified private-sector doctors, although they know less, provide better care on average than their better-qualified counterparts in the public sector”. This is not particularly mysterious, because private-sector doctors don’t get paid unless they can convince their patients that they’re doing a decent job. Public-sector doctors draw salaries and, if they are held accountable at all, it is through indirect channels.
I couldn't ask for better evidence against medical practice licensing. By limiting the market to only those who are "qualified" we deprive everyone, rich and poor, of access to cheaper, better care. By taking a hands off approach to the health care market, India has proven that profit motive works for everyone.

This argument extends to education as well:

A professor of education at the University of Newcastle, Tooley first encountered private schooling for the poor while exploring the slums of Hyderabad, again in India. It took little more than Tooley’s curiosity to unearth a network of 500 private schools, typically charging less than $3 a month, and providing an education of sorts to thousands of children from very poor families. Many of the poorest children were on scholarships, educated for free by school owners with an eye on their standing in the local community.

Tooley has since gone on to catalogue cheap private schools for the poor across the world, and has also tested their quality. His research team discovered more committed teachers, and better provision of facilities such as toilets, drinking water, desks, libraries and electric fans. Most importantly of all, the children were learning more.

I love free markets precisely because they help poor people far more than a government program ever could.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Robot Apocalypse: It Begins

From Gizmodo:

An MQ-9 Reaper drone's fail-safe programming failed and it rushed through Afghanistan's airspace on Sunday. The US Air Force simply responded by sending a manned plane to shoot it down. Turns out this isn't all that uncommon.

Apparently the pilots of an unmanned, but armed, MQ-9 Reaper drone lost control of the UAV a few days ago. The resulting manned mission to take it down was mounted almost immediately and ended successfully before the drone reached the edges of Afghanistan's airspace.

I wonder what would've happened if the Reaper hadn't been shot down. It is typically used for "hunter-killer" missions and targets enemies on the ground. Would it continue a mission like that without operator input?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles like the Reaper are supposed to be programmed to return to their home bases in case they lose contact with their pilots. There's no explanation as to why the fail-safe didn't kick in for this particular Reaper. Nor is this incident the first time that a UAV has been shot down by intentional friendly fire. What's going on and when can I start to panic?

Now it's just a matter of time

US Government Solves $9 Trillion Debt Problem

U.S. Government Stages Fake Coup To Wipe Out National Debt

A Concrete Example

Of why governments fail at cutting costs:

Say that, all things equal, you could fix a problem for $8000 or fix the same problem for $150. Which would you choose? Clearly, you are not Medicare.

Proloquo2Go is a text-to-speech iPhone app that's meant to aid those with autism, cerebral palsy, ALS, Down Syndrome—pretty much anyone who has a disability that makes speaking a difficult venture. It costs $150.

But Medicare/Medicaid restrictions won't pay for this software or the accompanying iPhone because the iPhone is not a uni-functional device. (A person with autism might play games on it, after all! Or call a doctor!)

One family's alternative, as documented by the NYTimes, is a government-funded $8000 desktop computer that can have no other function than text-to-speech. No emailing doctors. No browsing the web for medical research. So, this pricey clunker sits at home while the family pays out of pocket for the iPhone app that can operate in their real, mobile life.

Thank you, Medicare, for showing us what a stupid idea government health care is.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Keepin' It Fresh, Old School

With 12:51 left in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots begin their drive from their own 2 yard line after a perfect punt from the Buffalo Bills, who are leading 14-10. The Bills' defense has delivered a touchdown-interception, and the offense the other TD while going completely no-huddle.

The Patriots, with an early field goal and TD, are now driving down the field to the Bills' 45 with 7:44 on the clock. Tom Brady is back, with some strong runs from RB Laurence Maroney. The Patriots drive down the field is hard fought though, and comes to naught, as Buffalo's defense forces them to turn over on downs.

Terrel Owens, who has been surprisingly quiet, gets his first reception with 4:33 left in the 3rd for a first down, but New England holds them to a field goal. I like this game.

and p.s. the NFL is great at making money, they just showed me a video comercial on the live website play diagram. Wonder when they'll have all the games online?

Best New Podcast

This Week in Google, with Leo Laporte (TWiT, Tech TV), Jeff Jarvis (Buzz Machine), and Gina Tripani (Lifehacker). If you are in any way interested in Google, technology, or the future of the Internet, this podcast's greatness will smack you in the face. I suffer a whimsical black eye every week from this podcast's analysis of Google's attempt to harness the power of the Internet.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Our Business is Capitalism

And buddy, business is booming:

The World Bank’s annual Doing Business report indicates that capitalism has fared better than feared in the recession. For the year ending in May 2009, 131 countries introduced 287 reforms, more than in any year since the survey began in 2004. Rwanda led the way, followed by other low and lower-middle-income countries. Research has shown that pro-business reforms are particularly beneficial in developing countries. The Economist notes that, “One study shows that, in poor countries, a ten-day reduction in the time it takes to start a business can lead to an increase of 0.4 percentage points in GDP growth.”

'Nuff said.


The NYTimes's Maureen Dowd believes Joe Wilson's "You lie" outburst was racially motivated:

The normally nonchalant Barack Obama looked nonplussed, as Nancy Pelosi glowered behind.

Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t.

But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!

Really Maureen? YOU heard "boy" at the end, and you're calling HIM a racist?

It's not racist to call the President a liar when he claims we can give insurance to everyone in America during a recession without increasing the deficit. If you think that's racism you need to stop and check your own prejudices first.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Real Liars

Tort reform is an obvious, popular, and relatively simple idea that would save betweeen $65 and $200 billion in annual medical costs. It is a necessary part of any meaningful health care reform, yet some are fiercely opposed to it.

The only folks not on board are a handful of powerful trial lawyers, and a handful of politicians who receive a generous cut of those lawyers' contingency fees. The legal industry was the top contributor to the Democratic Party in the 2008 cycle, stumping up $47 million. The bill is now due, and Democrats are dutifully making a health-care down payment.

During the markup of a bill in the Senate Health Committee, Republicans offered 11 tort amendments that varied in degree from mere pilot projects to measures to ensure more rural obstetricians. On a party line vote, Democrats killed every one.

This begs the question: do Democrats care more about helping Americans, or scoring a big political win?

A Bunch Of Ignorant Radicals

Tens of thousands of ignorant right wing radicals descended upon Washington, D.C. today to protest the federal government's attempts to help the poor:

They came by bus, car and airplane, arriving here from Texas and Tennessee, New Mexico and New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The messages on their signs told of an intense distrust of the government, which began well before Mr. Obama took office and extends far beyond the effort to overhaul health care. One sign declared: “We are under attack by our own government.” And several signs said, “Our Constitution has termites!”

The protest, organized by anti-tax groups, opened peacefully, with few visible signs of counter-protesters.
They clearly don't realize that our government is only trying to help.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Listen To This Now

El Pico by Ratatat

You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Robot Apocalypse: UPDATE

At least death will come in a cute package.

And this one is just plain creepy:

Robot Apocalypse: This Ain't No Joke

Cornell researchers develop a machine that can deduce natural laws, simply by observing a swinging pendulum:

Initially, the equations generated by the program failed to explain the data, but some failures were slightly less wrong than others. Using a genetic algorithm, the program modified the most promising failures, tested them again, chose the best, and repeated the process until a set of equations evolved to describe the systems. Turns out, some of these equations were very familiar: the law of conservation of momentum, and Newton’s second law of motion.

"It’s a powerful approach," said University of Michigan computer scientist Martha Pollack, with "the potential to apply to any type of dynamical system." As possible fields of application, Pollack named environmental systems, weather patterns, population genetics, cosmology and oceanography. "Just about any natural science has the type of structure that would be amenable," she said.

Yeah, it's coming.

Apple Unveils New iPods

Steve Jobs returns to present the new wave of iPods. Notable is the new Nano, which now has a video camera, microphone, FM tuner, and pedometer, which is pretty sweet. I would totally buy one if I wasn't already planning to get the next iteration of the iPhone.

Obama Sends Mixed Signals To Students

I didn't buy into the ridiculous conservative firestorm directed towards Obama for his address to schools. If the president wants to tell kids you have to work hard to succeed, that's fine with me.

However, I do have a problem with his mixed signals. On the one hand, he tells students that "being successful is hard." Yet on the other hand his liberal policies reward failure, while punishing success with higher taxes.

Kids need more than a good pep talk every now and then, Mr. Obama. They also need consistency, so get it straight.

Palin Understands Health Care

When Sarah Palin is schooling you on the health care debate, you know it's time for a different tack.
Instead of poll-driven “solutions,” let’s talk about real health-care reform:
market-oriented, patient-centered, and result-driven. As the Cato Institute’s
Michael Cannon and others have argued, such policies include giving all
individuals the same tax benefits received by those who get coverage through
their employers; providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to
purchase their own coverage; reforming tort laws to potentially save billions
each year in wasteful spending; and changing costly state regulations to allow
people to buy insurance across state lines. Rather than another top-down
government plan, let’s give Americans control over their own health care.

Palin earns a great deal of my respect with this op-ed, her ideas echo mine, and her voucher plan to replace Medicare, though not her own idea, is the missing piece I've been looking for in a comprehensive market-based strategy that doesn't leave poor folks in the cold.

Legislators take heed, this plan is politically AND economically feasible.

[WSJ via Enableate]

Consumers Reduce Debt

Americans have finally realized that too much debt is a bad thing:

The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that consumers in July ratcheted back their
credit by a larger-than-anticipated $21.6 billion from June, the most on records
dating to 1943. Economists had expected credit to drop by $4 billion.

I hope this new attitude towards debt translates into more fiscal responsibility by our government.

Medicare Fraud

I should get a new job defrauding Medicare.

A Raleigh man who federal investigators say was at the center of an
operation that pocketed more than $12 million from false Medicare claims pleaded
guilty Tuesday to fraud.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector
General reported in May that more than 10 percent of the $920 million Medicare
paid in 2005 for powered wheelchairs had been misspent.

That still leaves at least $80 million unaccounted for. I want a slice of that pie.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

You Spin Me Right Round

From the New York Times:

So far, the Obama administration’s plan for dealing with the budget deficit — an estimated $9 trillion over a decade — is to not dig the hole any deeper. That’s an important first step. President Obama deserves credit for proposing ways to pay for his two big initiatives to date: health care reform and energy legislation. Reducing the growth in health care costs, in particular, is vital to curbing future deficits.

As for the hundreds of billions of dollars in economic stimulus, their impact on long-term deficits is marginal because the spending is temporary. More important, deficit spending is warranted in a recession because it eases the downturn and in so doing, averts even worse damage to the economy and the budget.

But, sooner than he may prefer, Mr. Obama will have to face up to what he has so far avoided: the need to raise taxes broadly to rein in deficits.

Without even entertaining the notion of cutting spending, this magical editorial makes Obama's fiscal irresponsibility into a good thing. Only the New York Times could spin a doubling of our 9 trillion dollar debt into a positive, instead of a complete disaster.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cuba Runs Out Of Toilet Paper

No, this isn't a joke, this is what happens when you use the government to run the market.

Cuba, in the grip of a serious economic crisis, is running short of toilet paper and may not get sufficient supplies until the end of the year, officials with state-run companies said on Friday.

Officials said they were lowering the prices of 24 basic goods to help Cubans get through the difficulties provoked in part by the global financial crisis and three destructive hurricanes that struck the island last year.

Health care reformers beware, when you screw with the market, you get screwed. Luckily, Raul Castro knows the solution.

He has taken various steps to boost output, including putting more state-owned land in private hands and pushing forsalaries to be based on productivity.

Even communists realize the free market out performs socialism.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Land of Opportunity

I often get into arguments about poverty and its causes. Those on the left frequently argue that the poor are poor because they lack opportunities, and that big business must be restrained to allow the poor to flourish. I counter that big business gives opportunity to poor people in the form of a job. Luckily, the data is on my side:

Two studies by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (1992a, 1992b) examined income mobility using a panel that followed 14,351 taxpayers over the period from 1979-1988. (8) The first Treasury study found that 86 percent of taxpayers in the lowest income quintile in 1979 had moved to a higher quintile by 1988 and 15 percent of them had moved all the way to the top quintile.

Eighty-six percent of the poorest 1/5 of our country improved their economic status. Fifteen percent became the richest 1/5 of our country! Don't tell me there's no opportunity in America.

What's that? You want more current data? Sure!

Both absolute and relative income mobility has been large and upward in the past ten years for those starting with below-average incomes; 80 percent of taxpayers had incomes in quintiles as high or higher in 2005 than they did in 1996, and 45 percent of taxpayers not in the highest income quintile moved up at least one quintile[2].

America, land of opportunity.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

LA on Fire

The fire, now visible from space, threatens to destroy LA while I laugh uncontrollably.

Medicare is Awesome!

Pfizer has agreed to pay a settlement of $2.3 billion for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.

Marketing fraud cases against pharmaceutical companies have become almost routine, with almost every major drug maker having been accused of giving kickbacks to doctors or shortchanging the Medicaid program on prices. Prosecutors said that they had become so alarmed by the growing criminality in the industry that they had begun increasing fines into the billions of dollars and would soon start charging doctors individually as well.

If you think corruption is bad now, wait till you see the Public Option.

Placebo Effect Gets Stronger

Last November, a new type of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, championed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was abruptly withdrawn from Phase II trials after unexpectedly tanking against placebo. A stem-cell startup called Osiris Therapeutics got a drubbing on Wall Street in March, when it suspended trials of its pill for Crohn's disease, an intestinal ailment, citing an "unusually high" response to placebo. Two days later, Eli Lilly broke off testing of a much-touted new drug for schizophrenia when volunteers showed double the expected level of placebo response.

It's not only trials of new drugs that are crossing the futility boundary. In many cases, these are the compounds that, in the late '90s, made Big Pharma more profitable than Big Oil. But if these same drugs were vetted now, the FDA might not approve some of them. Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.

I've been pushing placebos for years now. They cost practically nothing, have zero side effects, and can actually improve health on par with real medicine. Yet we do not use them.

Economic Sanctions Don't Work

In fact, they usually strengthen the very people they are designed to hurt. Take Iran, for example:

American sanctions against this country are not only obviously ineffective, as my walk along Fayyazi demonstrated, they often have unintended consequences that hurt American interests.

President George W. Bush’s 2005 sanctions on financial assets, meant to crack down on rogue banks facilitating Iran’s nuclear program, had two unforeseen side effects. Freezing the financial assets of these banks increased the price of credit, making it more costly for honest financial firms like ours to operate. It also increased the value of Western goods like TV satellite dishes, cigarettes and alcohol, which the Revolutionary Guards sell on the black market, netting an estimated $12 billion a year.

To see real change in Iran, we must economically empower the private market enough to challenge state authority. This can be done with good old fashioned global trade.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The craigslist Economy

Wired has a great article about Craig Newmark, the creator of craigslist, and his unique business style.

Newmark's claim of almost total disinterest in wealth dovetails with the way craigslist does business. Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investment, ignores design, and does not innovate. Ordinarily, a company that showed such complete disdain for the normal rules of business would be vulnerable to competition, but craigslist has no serious rivals. The glory of the site is its size and its price. But seen from another angle, craigslist is one of the strangest monopolies in history, where customers are locked in by fees set at zero and where the ambiance of neglect is not a way to extract more profit but the expression of a worldview.

The axioms of this worldview are easy to state. "People are good and trustworthy and generally just concerned with getting through the day," Newmark says. If most people are good and their needs are simple, all you have to do to serve them well is build a minimal infrastructure allowing them to get together and work things out for themselves. Any additional features are almost certainly superfluous and could even be damaging.

Businesses are not all working to increase profits by nickel and diming their customers. The playing field is leveled on the internet, and the sites offering the best service at the lowest cost and least hassle rise quickly to the top.

Craigslist and Google have both grabbed majority market share by being simple and unintrusive, providing a good service for free. They could both increase short term revenue by changing their business models, by charging more for services or increasing ad space, but they do not because doing so would drive away loyal clients. It's counterintuitive, but giving consumers a great value at zero cost is actually good business.

Craigslist gets more hits a day than Amazon or Ebay, and is an invaluable resource for everybody, from finding jobs and apartments to selling couches and finding homes for rescued pets, craigslist proves that giving a basic infrastructure to people and staying out of their way, they will not spend all day trying to screw each other as so many on the left believe, but will create a truly valuable community.

Craigslist and Wikipedia are two of the most popular, most valuable sites on the internet, and they are created and policed by their users. They both because people are mostly good, and simply by giving them a platform to meet and exchange goods and ideas without boundaries, we all benefit.