|Hedy Lamarr: Hollywood's Secret Weapon Inventor
Hedy Lamarr played much more than “the most beautiful woman in the world” as an Austrian-American actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age. The mathematically-minded inventor first learned about military technology from dinner party conversations between her arms-manufacturer husband and Nazi German generals, before escaping to America where she eventually invented a new torpedo guidance system for the U.S. Navy.The actress-inventor’s life almost seems like a no-brainer for a Hollywood action hero makeover, given her brush with Nazis and behind-the-scenes efforts to aid the U.S. war effort during World War II. But her life is also fitting as a tragic drama — the glamor of the silver screen blinded most people to her inventor’s passion that would lead to a patented “frequency hopping” breakthrough still used in civilian and military technologies today.
“The reason she set up inventor’s room in her house and pursued inventing as a hobby was that she didn’t drink, didn’t smoke and didn’t like parties,” said Richard Rhodes, author of “Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World” (Doubleday, 2011).
Any inventors willing to look beyond Lamarr’s beauty would have found a kindred spirit, Rhodes said. She embodied the stereotype of the classic inventor who loved to tinker — her lesser-known inventions include an instant fizzy soda cube and a trash receptacle attached to tissue boxes.
Her most recognized work came from co-inventing a frequency-hopping wireless signal for guiding U.S. Navy torpedoes to their targets. But even after Lamarr enlisted the help of fellow inventor George Antheil and received a “Secret Communications System” patent in 1942, the U.S. Navy ignored the breakthrough until its engineers rediscovered the patent in the mid-1950s.
Lamarr’s motivation for frequency-hopping likely first arose during the Viennese dinner parties held by her first husband, the Austrian arms manufacturer Fritz Mandal, in the years leading up to World War II. Guests at such parties often included German generals or admirals. [Secret Weapons of the Third Reich]
“She was perfectly positioned as Mandal’s wife — as an arm piece at the fancy dinners they gave — to hear discussions about what technology the Germans were developing, how they worked and what their problems were”.
After Lamarr escaped her obsessive husband and headed for a new acting career in Hollywood, she grew furious over reports of German submarines torpedoing ships filled with refugees. She first suggested going to Washington, D.C., to testify about her knowledge of German technology before the National Inventor’s Council, but nobody took her seriously.
Luckily, Lamarr met and recruited Antheil to help develop her idea for frequency hopping (also known as spread spectrum) — a concept for having wireless radio signals switch quickly among many different frequency channels so that enemies could not jam the signal. Antheil’s background as a musician and tinkerer came in handy when he came up with a workable concept similar to player-piano rolls that could synchronize the switching among 88 frequencies.
The Germans had their own wire-guided system for torpedoes, but Lamarr’s wireless technology never saw action during World War II. Still, the U.S. Navy eventually applied the jamming-proof technology to radios used during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it went on to shape modern technologies such as GPS, Bluetooth in headsets and phones, and U.S. military guided missiles.
“Most of her ideas were interesting but trivial,” Rhodes said. “This one was fundamental.”
|The Origin Of 'The World's Dumbest Idea': Milton Friedman
No popular idea ever has a single origin. But the idea that the sole purpose of a firm is to make money for its shareholders got going in a major way with an article by Milton Friedman in the New York Times on September 13, 1970.As the leader of the Chicago school of economics, and the winner of Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, Friedman has been described by The Economist as “the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century…possibly of all of it”. The impact of the NYT article contributed to George Will calling him “the most consequential public intellectual of the 20th century.”Friedman’s article was ferocious. Any business executives who pursued a goal other than making money were, he said, “unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.” They were guilty of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor.” They had even turned themselves into “unelected government officials” who were illegally taxing employers and customers.
How did the Nobel-prize winner arrive at these conclusions? It’s curious that a paper which accuses others of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor” assumes its conclusion before it begins. “In a free-enterprise, private-property system,” the article states flatly at the outset as an obvious truth requiring no justification or proof, “a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business,” namely the shareholders.
If anyone familiar with even the rudiments of the law were to be asked whether a corporate executive is an employee of the shareholders, the answer would be: clearly not. The executive is an employee of the corporation.
An organization is a mere legal fiction
What’s interesting is that while the article jettisons one legal reality—the corporation—as a mere legal fiction, it rests its entire argument on another legal reality—the law of agency—as the foundation for the conclusions. The article thus picks and chooses which parts of legal reality are mere “legal fictions” to be ignored and which parts are “rock-solid foundations” for public policy. The choice depends on the predetermined conclusion that is sought to be proved.
A corporate executive who devotes any money for any general social interest would, the article argues, “be spending someone else’s money… Insofar as his actions in accord with his ‘social responsibility’ reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money.”
How did the corporation’s money somehow become the shareholder’s money? Simple. That is the article’s starting assumption. By assuming away the existence of the corporation as a mere “legal fiction”, hey presto! the corporation’s money magically becomes the stockholders’ money.
But the conceptual sleight of hand doesn’t stop there. The article goes on: “Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money.” One moment ago, the organization’s money was the stockholder’s money. But suddenly in this phantasmagorical world, the organization’s money has become the customer’s money. With another wave of Professor Friedman’s conceptual wand, the customers have acquired a notional “right” to a product at a certain price and any money over and above that price has magically become “theirs”.
But even then the intellectual fantasy isn’t finished. The article continued: “Insofar as [the executives’] actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money.” Now suddenly, the organization’s money has become, not the stockholder’s money or the customers’ money, but the employees’ money.
Is the money the stockholders’, the customers’ or the employees’? Apparently, it can be any of those possibilities, depending on which argument the article is trying to make. In Professor Friedman’s wondrous world, the money is anyone’s except that of the real legal owner of the money: the organization.
One might think that intellectual nonsense of this sort would have been quickly spotted and denounced as absurd. And perhaps if the article had been written by someone other than the leader of the Chicago school of economics and a front-runner for the Nobel Prize in Economics that was to come in 1976, that would have been the article’s fate. But instead this wild fantasy obtained widespread support as the new gospel of business.
People just wanted to believe…
In fact, the argument was so attractive that, six years later, it was dressed up in fancy mathematics to become one of the most famous and widely cited academic business articles of all time. In 1976, Finance professor Michael Jensen and Dean William Meckling of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester published their paper in the Journal of Financial Economics entitled “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure.”
Underneath impenetrable jargon and abstruse mathematics is the reality that whole intellectual edifice of the famous article rests on the same false assumption as Professor Friedman’s article, namely, that an organization is a legal fiction which doesn’t exist and that the organization’s money is owned by the stockholders.
Even better for executives, the article proposed that, to ensure that the firms would focus solely on making money for the shareholders, firms should turn the executives into major shareholders, by affording them generous compensation in the form of stock. In this way, the alleged tendency of executives to feather their own nests would be mobilized in the interests of the shareholders.
The money took over…
Politics also lent support. Ronald Reagan was elected in the US in 1980 with his message that government is “the problem”. In the UK, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979. These leaders preached “economic freedom” and urged a focus on making money as “the solution”. As the Michael Douglas character in the 1987 movie, Wall Street, pithily summarized the philosophy, greed was now good.
Moreover an apparent exemplar of the shareholder value theory emerged: Jack Welch. During his tenure as CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, Jack Welch came to be seen–rightly or wrongly–as the outstanding implementer of the theory, as a result of his capacity to grow shareholder value and hit his numbers almost exactly. When Jack Welch retired, the company had gone from a market value of $14 billion to $484 billion at the time of his retirement, making it, according to the stock market, the most valuable and largest company in the world. In 1999 he was named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine.
The disastrous consequences…
Maximizing shareholder value thus turned out to be the disease of which it purported to be the cure. As Roger Martin in his book, Fixing the Game, noted, “between 1960 and 1980, CEO compensation per dollar of net income earned for the 365 biggest publicly traded American companies fell by 33 percent. CEOs earned more for their shareholders for steadily less and less relative compensation. By contrast, in the decade from 1980 to 1990, CEO compensation per dollar of net earnings produced doubled. From 1990 to 2000 it quadrupled.”
Even Jack Welch sees the light…
In due course, Jack Welch himself came to be one of the strongest critics of shareholder value. On March 12, 2009, he gave an interview with Francesco Guerrera of the Financial Times and said, “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products. Managers and investors should not set share price increases as their overarching goal… Short-term profits should be allied with an increase in the long-term value of a company.”
From shareholder value to hardball…
In such a world, it is therefore hardly surprising, says Roger Martin in his book, Fixing the Game, that the corporate world is plagued by continuing scandals, such as the accounting scandals in 2001-2002 with Enron, WorldCom, Tyco International, Global Crossing, and Adelphia, the options backdating scandals of 2005-2006, and the subprime meltdown of 2007-2008. Banks and others have been gaming the system, both with practices that were shady but not strictly illegal and then with practices that were criminal. They include widespread insider trading, price fixing of LIBOR, abuses in foreclosure, money laundering for drug dealers and terrorists, assisting tax evasion and misleading clients with worthless securities.
Martin writes: “It isn’t just about the money for shareholders, or even the dubious CEO behavior that our theories encourage. It’s much bigger than that. Our theories of shareholder value maximization and stock-based compensation have the ability to destroy our economy and rot out the core of American capitalism. These theories underpin regulatory fixes instituted after each market bubble and crash. Because the fixes begin from the wrong premise, they will be ineffectual; until we change the theories, future crashes are inevitable.”
Peter Drucker got it right…
Similarly in 1979, Quaker Oats president Kenneth Mason, writing in Business Week, declared Friedman’s profits-are-everything philosophy “a dreary and demeaning view of the role of business and business leaders in our society… Making a profit is no more the purpose of a corporation than getting enough to eat is the purpose of life. Getting enough to eat is a requirement of life; life’s purpose, one would hope, is somewhat broader and more challenging. Likewise with business and profit.”
The primacy of the customer…
A whole set of organizations responded by doing things differently and focusing on delighting customers profitably, rather than a sole focus on shareholder value. These firms include Whole Foods [WFM], Apple [AAPL], Salesforce [CRM], Amazon [AMZN], Toyota [TM], Haier Group, Li & Fung and Zara along with thousands of lesser-known firms. The transition is happening not just in high tech, but also in manufacturing, books, music, household appliances, automobiles, groceries and clothing. This different way of managing turned out to be hugely profitable.
The common elements of what all these organizations are doing has now emerged. It’s not merely the application of new technology or a set of fixes or adjustments to hierarchical bureaucracy. It involves basic change in the way people think, talk and act in the workplace. It involves deep changes in attitudes, values, habits and beliefs.
The new management paradigm is capable of achieving both continuous innovation and transformation, along with disciplined execution, while also delighting those for whom the work is done and inspiring those doing the work. Organizations implementing it are moving the production frontier of what is possible.
The replacement for shareholder value is thus now identifiable. A set of books have appeared that spell out the elements of this canon of radically different management.
See: When Will ‘The Dumbest Idea In The World’ Die?
|How To Detect Pseudo-Science B.S.
Climate denial … creationism … doomsday predictions … vaccination warnings: It’s all in a day’s debunking for Phil Plait, the astronomer and skeptic who weighs in on all sorts of pseudo-science.
Plait, 48, started out as a researcher delving into supernovae, gamma-ray bursts and other mysteries of the universe. But that began to change when he wrote a book titled “Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing ‘Hoax.’”
Over the years, he has devoted more and more time to scientific reality checks — in a follow-up book titled “Death From the Skies!” as well as his “Bad Universe” TV documentary series and the Bad Astronomy blog, now in its ninth year.
Bad Astronomy is about much, much more than bad astronomy. Plait takes on those who claim that global warming doesn’t exist, that “creation science” needs to be taught in biology class or that kids shouldn’t be vaccinated. For a time, he even served as the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, which takes aim at all sorts of pseudo-scientific silliness.
So how does Plait’s B.S. detector work? Here are some pointers from the pro:
Here are a few of Plait’s trusted sources on contentious topics:
Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait takes aim at pseudo-science.
Plait said he isn’t able to engage with his fans and foes as much as he did in the early days, but when it comes to debating science vs. pseudo-science, he tries to obey Wheaton’s Law (basically, “don’t be a jerk”). He also follows Patrick Swayze’s advice from the movie “Roadhouse”: “Be nice … until it’s time to not be nice.”
Plait promised to be nice during our online chat on “Virtually Speaking Science,” a talk show that airs at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday via Blog Talk Radio and in the Exploratorium’s virtual auditorium in Second Life. Join the virtual audience, listen to the hourlong show live online, or download the podcast anytime via Blog Talk Radio or iTunes. You can send in questions via Twitter, using the hashtag #askVS. And while you’re at it, check out these archived shows from “Virtually Speaking Science”:
|1895 8th Grade Final Exam
What it took to get an 8th grade education in 1895…Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895?
This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society
8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS – 1895
Grammar (Time, one hour)
Arithmetic (Time, 1 hour 15 minutes)
U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
Orthography (Time, one hour)
Geography (Time, one hour)
Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete.
|10 Questions To Distinguish Real From Fake Science
Pseudoscience is the shaky foundation of practices–often medically related–that lack a basis in evidence. It’s “fake” science dressed up, sometimes quite carefully, to look like the real thing. If you’re alive, you’ve encountered it, whether it was the guy at the mall trying to sell you Power Balance bracelets, the shampoo commercial promising you that “amino acids” will make your hair shiny, or the peddlers of “ natural remedies” or fad diet plans, who in a classic expansion of a basic tenet of advertising, make you think you have a problem so they can sell you something to solve it.Pseudosciences are usually pretty easily identified by their emphasis on confirmation over refutation, on physically impossible claims, and on terms charged with emotion or false “sciencey-ness,” which is kind of like “truthiness” minus Stephen Colbert. Sometimes, what peddlers of pseudoscience say may have a kernel of real truth that makes it seem plausible. But even that kernel is typically at most a half truth, and often, it’s that other half they’re leaving out that makes what they’re selling pointless and ineffectual. But some are just nonsense out of the gate. I’d love to have some magic cream that would melt away fat or make wrinkles disappear, but how likely is it that such a thing would be available only via late-night commercials?
What science consumers need is a cheat sheet for people of sound mind to use when considering a product, book, therapy, or remedy. Below are the top-10 questions you should always ask yourself–and answer–before shelling out the benjamins for anything, whether it’s anti-aging cream, a diet fad program, books purporting to tell you secrets your doctor won’t, or jewelry items containing magnets:
1. What is the source? Is the person or entity making the claims someone with genuine expertise in what they’re claiming? Are they hawking on behalf of someone else? Are they part of a distributed marketing scam? Do they use, for example, a Website or magazine or newspaper ad that’s made to look sciencey or newsy when it’s really one giant advertisement meant to make you think it’s journalism?
2. What is the agenda? You must know this to consider any information in context. In a scientific paper, look at the funding sources. If you’re reading a non-scientific anything, remain extremely skeptical. What does the person or entity making the claim get out of it? Does it look like they’re telling you you have something wrong with you that you didn’t even realize existed…and then offering to sell you something to fix it? I’m reminded of the douche solution commercials of my youth in which a young woman confides in her mother that sometimes, she “just doesn’t feel fresh.” Suddenly, millions of women watching that commercial were mentally analyzing their level of freshness “down there” and pondering whether or not to purchase Summer’s Eve.
3. What kind of language does it use? Does it use emotion words or a lot of exclamation points or language that sounds highly technical (amino acids! enzymes! nucleic acids!) or jargon-y but that is really meaningless in the therapeutic or scientific sense? If you’re not sure, take a term and google it, or ask a scientist if you can find one. Sometimes, an amino acid is just an amino acid. Be on the lookout for sciencey-ness. As Albert Einstein once pointed out, if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well. If peddlers feel that they have to toss in a bunch of jargony science terms to make you think they’re the real thing, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about, either.
4. Does it involve testimonials? If all the person or entity making the claims has to offer is testimonials without any real evidence of effectiveness or need, be very, very suspicious. Anyone–anyone–can write a testimonial and put it on a Website. Example: ”I felt that I knew nothing about science until The Science Consumer blog came along! Now, my brain is packed with science facts, and I’m earning my PhD in aerospace engineering this year! If it could do it for me, The Science Consumer blog can do it for you, too! THANKS, SCIENCE CONSUMER BLOG! –xoxo, Julie C., North Carolina”
5. Are there claims of exclusivity? People have been practicing science and medicine for thousands of years. Millions of people are currently doing it. Typically, new findings arise out of existing knowledge and involve the contributions of many, many people. It’s quite rare–in fact, I can’t think of an example–that a new therapy or intervention is something completely novel without a solid existing scientific background to explain how it works, or that only one person figures it out. It certainly wouldn’t just suddenly appear one night on an infomercial. Also, watch for words like “proprietary” and “secret.” These terms signal that the intervention on offer has likely not been exposed to the light of scientific critique.
6. Is there mention of a conspiracy of any kind? Claims such as, “Doctors don’t want you to know” or “the government has been hiding this information for years,” are extremely dubious. Why wouldn’t the millions of doctors in the world want you to know about something that might improve your health? Doctors aren’t a monolithic entity in an enormous white coat making collective decisions about you any more than the government is some detached nonliving institution making robotic collective decisions. They’re all individuals, and in general, they do want you to know.
7. Does the claim involve multiple unassociated disorders? Does it involve assertions of widespread damage to many body systems (in the case of things like vaccines) or assertions of widespread therapeutic benefit to many body systems or a spectrum of unrelated disorders? Claims, for example, that a specific intervention will cure cancer, allergies, ADHD, and autism (and I am not making that up) are frankly irrational.
8. Is there a money trail or a passionate belief involved? The least likely candidates to benefit fiscally from conclusions about any health issue or intervention are the researchers in the trenches working on the underpinnings of disease (genes, environmental triggers, etc.), doing the basic science. The likeliest candidates to benefit are those who (1) have something patentable on their hands; (2) market “cures” or “therapies”; (3) write books or give paid talks or “consult”; or (4) work as “consultants” who “cure.” That’s not to say that people who benefit fiscally from research or drug development aren’t trustworthy. Should they do it for free? No. But it’s always, always important to follow the money. Another issue that’s arisen around pseudoscience is whether or not a bias of passionate belief is as powerful as fiscal motivation. If you have a bias detector, turn it on to full power when evaluating any scientific claim. If yours is faulty–which you might not realize because of bias–perhaps you can find someone in real life or online with a hypersensitive bias detector. Journalists, by nature of training and their work, often seem to operate theirs on full power.
9. Were real scientific processes involved? Evidence-based interventions generally go through many steps of a scientific process before they come into common use. Going through these steps includes performing basic research using tests in cells and in animals, clinical research with patients/volunteers in several heavily regulated phases, peer-review at each step of the way, and a trail of published research papers. Is there evidence that the product or intervention on offer has been tested scientifically, with results published in scientific journals? Or is it just sciencey-ness espoused by people without benefit of expert review of any kind?
10. Is there expertise? Finally, no matter how much you dislike “experts” or disbelieve the “establishment,” the fact remains that people who have an MD or a science PhD or both after their names have gone to school for 24 years or longer, receiving an in-depth, daily, hourly education in the issues they’re discussing. If they’re specialists in their fields, tack on about five more years. If they’re researchers in their fields, tack on more. They’re not universally blind or stupid or venal or uncaring or in it for the money; in fact, many of them are exactly the opposite. If they’re doing research, usually they’re not Rockefellers. Note that having “PhD” or even “MD” after a name or “Dr” before it doesn’t automatically mean that the degree or the honorific relates to expertise in the subject at hand. I have a PhD in biology. If I wrote a book about chemical engineering and slapped the term PhD on there, that still doesn’t make me an expert in chemical engineering. And I’m just one person with one expert voice in the things I do know well. I recommend listening to more than one expert voice.
There is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism, but there is also nothing wrong in acknowledging that a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing, that there are really people out there whose in-depth educations and experience better qualify them to address certain issues. However, caveat emptor, as always. Given that even MDs and PhDs can be disposed to acquisitiveness just like those snake-oil salesmen, never forget to look for the money. Always, always follow the money.
|Myths About Israel And The Palestinians
Speech by Ron Prosser, Israel Permanent Representative to the UNRon Prosor, Israel’s representative at the United Nations, made the following statement as part of an “Open Debate on the Situation in the Middle East.”
Thank you, Madame President.Let me begin by thanking you, personally, for your outstanding leadership of the Security Council this month. Churchill once said, “In the time that it takes a lie to get halfway around the world, the truth is still getting its pants on.”
In the barren deserts of the Middle East, myths find fertile ground to grow wild. Facts often remain buried in the sand. The myths forged in our region travel abroad – and can surprisingly find their way into these halls.
I would like to use today’s debate as an opportunity to address just a few of the myths that have become a permanent hindrance to our discussion of the Middle East here at the United Nations.
Myth number one: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the central conflict in the Middle East. If you solve that conflict, you solve all the other conflicts in the region.
Make no mistake: it is important for Israel and the Palestinians to resolve our longstanding conflict for its own merits. Yet, the truth is that conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain, and many other parts of the Middle East have absolutely nothing to do with Israel.
It is obvious that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict won’t stop the persecution of minorities across the region, end the subjugation of women, or heal the sectarian divides. Obsessing over Israel has not stopped Assad’s tanks from flattening entire communities. On the contrary, it has only distracted attention from his crimes.
This debate – even this morning – has lost any sense of proportion.
And dedicating the majority of this debate to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, month after month after month, has not stopped the Iranian regime’s centrifuges from spinning. Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons are the single greatest threat to the Middle East, and the entire world.
The Iranian nuclear program continues to advance at the speed of an express train. The international community’s efforts to stop them are moving at the pace of the local train, pausing at every stop for some nations to get on and off. The danger of inaction is clear. We cannot allow the diplomatic channel to provide another avenue for the Iranian regime to stall for more time, as they inch closer and closer to a nuclear weapon.
Myth number two: there is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
In fact, numerous international organizations have said clearly that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including the Deputy Head of the Red Cross Office in the area.
Gaza’s real GDP grew by more than 25 percent during the first three quarters of 2011. Exports are expanding. International humanitarian projects are moving forward at a rapid pace.
There is not a single civilian good that cannot enter Gaza today.
It is a simple equation. If it is calm in Israel, it will be calm in Gaza. But the people of Gaza will face hardship as long as terrorists use them as human shields to rain rockets down on Israeli cities.
Each rocket in Gaza is armed with a warhead capable of causing a political earthquake that would extend well beyond Israel’s borders.
It is time for all in this Chamber to finally wake up to that dangerous reality. The Security Council has not condemned a single rocket attack from Gaza. History’s lessons are clear. Today’s silence is tomorrow’s tragedy.
Myth number three: settlements are the primary obstacle to peace.
How many times have we heard that argument in this chamber? Just this month, the Human Rights Council proposed yet another “fact-finding” mission to Israel. It will explore…surprise, surprise…Israeli settlements.
Today, I’d like to save the Human Rights Council and the international community some time and energy. The facts have already been found. They are plain for all to see. The fact is that from
The fact is that in 2005, when I was the Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, we took every settlement out of Gaza and only got rockets on our cities in return.
The fact is that this Israeli Government put in place an unprecedented ten-month moratorium on settlements. The Palestinian leadership used the gesture as an opportunity to take Israel and the international community on another ride to nowhere. For nine out of those ten months, they rejected the moratorium as insufficient – and then demanded that we extend it. As former U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell said “what had been less than worthless a few months earlier became indispensable to continue negotiations…[for the Palestinians].”
The primary obstacle to peace is not settlements. The primary obstacle to peace is the so-called “claim of return” – and the Palestinian’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
You will never hear Palestinian leaders say “two states for two peoples”. You won’t hear them say “two states for two peoples”
Some of you might say, “Oh Ambassador, but the Palestinians know that they will have to give up this claim, that’s what they whisper quietly at the negotiating table.”
Ladies and Gentleman – the Palestinian leadership has never, ever said publicly that they will give up the so-called “claim of return”
Since the Palestinian leadership refuses to tell the Palestinian people the truth, the international community has the responsibility and duty to tell them the truth. You have a duty to stand up and say that the so-called “claim of return” is a non-starter.
Instead of telling the Palestinian people the truth, much of the international community stands idle as the Arab World tries to erase the Jewish people’s historical connection to the Land of Israel.
Across the Arab World – and even at this table – you hear claims that Israel is “Judaizing Jerusalem”. These accusations come about 3,000 years too late. It’s like accusing the NBA of Americanizing basketball.
Like many nations around this table, the Jewish people have a proud legacy of age-old kings and queens. It’s just that our tradition goes back a few years earlier. Since King David laid the cornerstone for his palace in the 10th Century BC, Jerusalem has served as the heart of our faith. In debate after debate, speakers sit in the Security Council and say that Israel is committing “ethnic cleansing” in Jerusalem, even though the percentage of Arab residents in the city has grown from 26% to 35% since 1967.
The holiest sites in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, were closed only to Jews from 1948 until 1967. Everyone could come to these sites except Jews. There was absolutely no freedom of worship. The world did not say a word about the situation in Jerusalem at that time.
There is another great truth that this organization has completely overlooked for the past 64 years. In all of the pages that the UN has written about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, in all of its reports and fact-finding commissions, and in all of the hours dedicated to debate about the Middle East, there is one great untold story. Or – to be more specific – there are more than 850,000 untold stories.
More than 850,000 Jews have been uprooted from their homes in Arab countries during the past 64 years. These were vibrant communities dating back 2,500 years. On the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Babylonian Jewry produced many of Judaism’s holiest books – and thrived for two millennia. In the great synagogues and libraries of Cairo, Jews preserved the intellectual and scientific treasures of antiquity into the Renaissance. From Aleppo to Aden to Alexandria, Jews stood out as some of the greatest artists, musicians, businessmen, and writers.
All of these communities were wiped out. Age-old family businesses and properties were confiscated. Jewish quarters were destroyed.
The time has also come to speak openly in these halls about the Arab World’s role in maintaining the Palestinians as refugees for more than six decades. Jews from Arab countries came to refugee camps in Israel, which eventually gave birth to thriving towns and cities.
All of these are facts that must be neither forgotten nor overlooked, as we look to move forward on the path to peace.
I’ve saved the most obvious myth for last: the myth that peace can somehow be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians by bypassing direct negotiations. History has shown that peace and negotiations are inseparable. Direct negotiations are the only tool, the only way and the only path to create two-states for two peoples. Last January, Israel offered a clear proposal in Amman for restarting direct negotiations. We presented the Palestinian delegation with negotiating positions on every major issue separating the parties.
This week we will observe the two most significant public holidays in Israel – our day of remembrance and our day of independence. On Wednesday, sirens will sound across Israel. For two minutes, everything will come to a halt. People will stop in their tracks, cars will pull over to the side of highways, and the entire country will pause to remember the more than 22,000 Israelis who have been killed by wars and terrorism in our nation’s short history. On Thursday, we will celebrate the rebirth of the Jewish nation – and our 64th year as a free people in our ancient homeland. Against persistent threats and overwhelming odds, Israel has not only survived, but thrived.
I walk the halls of this organization tall and proud of my extraordinary nation – a nation of just 7 million that has produced 10 Nobel prizes; a nation that sends satellites into space, puts electric cars on the road, and develops the technology to power everything from cell phones to solar panels to medical devices.
We intentionally commemorate these two days one after another. As the Israeli people celebrate our independence, we carry the heavy weight of great suffering and sacrifice. The lesson we take from these days is clear. We can never turn a blind eye to the dangers around us. We cannot pretend that we live in a stable region filled with Jeffersonian democracies. But there is another lesson that will fill the hearts of Israelis this week. We can never, ever give up hope for lasting peace.
In the dangerous uncertainty of a turbulent Middle East, the Security Council has never had a greater responsibility to separate myth from truth, and fact from fiction. The clarity of candor has never been more valuable. The need for honest discourse has never been clearer.
|Busted: Seven Myths About Obesity, and Why They're Wrong
Some of the top obesity researchers in the country joined forces to bust the most pervasive myths about weight loss in a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. They say they don’t want people to stop trying, but they do fear there are some misguided policies out there.They combed through Internet posts, books and government health advisories, and settled on seven common beliefs that they say are not only incorrect, but often illogical, even though they’ve been endorsed by government or other experts:
Small, sustained changes in energy intake or expenditure will produce large, long-term weight changes. It’s not only untrue, the researchers say, but illogical.
Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important, because otherwise patients will become frustrated and lose less weight. So-called realistic goals may actually be too modest, the researchers say.
Large, rapid weight loss is associated with poorer long-term weight-loss outcomes, as compared with slow, gradual weight loss. In fact, some people can successfully lose a lot of weight very quickly, the researchers said.
It is important to assess the stage of change or diet readiness in order to help patients who request weight-loss treatment. The researchers note that studies show people who sign up for weight-loss programs may say they are ready, but often actually lose little weight.
Physical-education classes, in their current form, play an important role in reducing or preventing childhood obesity. The researchers say most PE classes do little actually to get kids moving much.
Breast-feeding is protective against obesity. Studies have shown that in fact, there’s little correlation.
A bout of sexual activity burns 100 to 300 calories for each participant. It’s really about 14 calories.
The team also identified six common presumptions which, while they haven’t been proven wrong, also haven’t actually been proven to be true, either.
These include the idea that eating breakfast helps people lose weight, that children develop eating and exercise habits for life at an early age, that eating more fruits and vegetables alone will somehow displace more calorie-laden food in the diet and help people lose weight, that built-up environments help make people obese, that snacking causes weight gain, and that yo-yo dieting can kill you.
So what does work? Drugs do, to an extent, says Allison. “For people who are very obese, pharmaceuticals work a little bit,” he said. So does surgery to make the stomach smaller. The companies that make the devices used for the surgery, and the surgical centers, are doing the randomized, controlled clinical trials that can prove whether something works, Allison says. “Clearly, these are things we should be investing in,” he said.
Other researchers said the article points out some useful facts. “As with any serious problem, the best public policy solutions should be driven by facts. The article in the NEJM provides a significant service by pointing out the myths, from presumption and facts regarding obesity as a means to guide better public policy decisions,” said Dr. Frank Greenway of the Pennington Center, who wasn’t involved in the research.
|Economists Demonstrate Exactly Why Bank Robbery Is A Bad Idea
The typical return on a bank holdup is, “frankly, rubbish.”In most papers we at Ars cover, we’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a single clever turn of phrase that has survived multiple rounds of editing and peer review. So it was an unexpected surprise to come across a paper where the authors, all professors of economics, have spent the entire text with tongues so firmly planted in their cheeks that they threatened to burst out, alien-style. It surprised me even more to find it in a journal that is produced on behalf of the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association. Credit to the statisticians, though, for the journal’s clever name: Significance.
What topic allowed the economists to cut loose? Bank robberies—or more specifically, the finances thereof. The UK’s banking trade organization decided it wanted an analysis of the economic effectiveness of adding security measures to bank branches. The professors did that, but in the process, they also did an analysis that looked at the economics of bank robbery from the thieves’ perspective.
The results were not pretty. For guidance on the appropriateness of knocking over a bank, the authors first suggest that a would-be robber might check with a vicar or police officer, but “[f]or the statistics, look no further. We can help. We can tell you exactly why robbing banks is a bad idea.”
The basic problem is the average haul from a bank job: for the three-year period, it was only £20,330.50 (~$31,613). And it gets worse, as the average robbery involved 1.6 thieves. So the authors conclude, “The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest £12,706.60 per person per raid.”
“Given that the average UK wage for those in full-time employment is around £26,000, it will give him a modest life-style for no more than 6 months,” the authors note. If a robber keeps hitting banks at a rate sufficient to maintain that modest lifestyle, by a year and a half into their career, odds are better than not they’ll have been caught. “As a profitable occupation, bank robbery leaves a lot to be desired.”
Worse still, the success of a robbery was a bit like winning the lottery, as the standard deviation on the £20,330.50 was £53,510.20. That means some robbers did far better than average, but it also means that fully a third of robberies failed entirely.
(If, at this point, you’re thinking that the UK is just a poor location for the bank robbery industry, think again, as the authors use FBI figures to determine that the average heist in the States only nets $4,330.00.)
There are ways to increase your chance of getting a larger haul. “Every extra member of the gang raises the expected value of the robbery proceeds by £9,033.20, on average and other things being equal,” the authors note. Brandishing some sort of firearm adds another £10 300.50, “again on average and other things being equal.”
What do the numbers mean to the group that actually asked for the study, the bankers? For one, the pattern of branches targeted for robberies appeared more or less random, with branch size, distance to the nearest police station, etc. all failing to influence the frequency of robberies. So the banks probably can’t focus their security costs on any subset of their branches that are more likely to be victimized.
One security measure that has been adopted in the UK—bank tellers can trigger compressed air to rocket a security screen up, separating them from the robbers—is remarkably effective: “A fast-rising screen in a banking outlet relative to other counter-security arrangements reduces the expected value of a robbery by £24,463.30, on average and other things being equal.” You may be confused by the fact that this is more than the average haul, but the authors are prepared for your conclusion, noting parenthetically, “Those last seven words take care of the fact that the expected reduction in haul is £4,000 greater than the expected average haul. A screen in no case has actually resulted in raiders handing over £4,000 of their own money to the bank cashiers before fleeing the premises.”
Despite the effectiveness of these screens, however, the low rate of robberies and their general failure to remove much in the way of cash from the banks means that it’s probably not worth the cost of installing them.
So, there you have it: a clear case where crime, economically, doesn’t pay. The authors suspect this may be behind the gradual decrease of bank robberies in the UK. “It is worth noting that the criminals themselves seem to have learnt this,” they conclude. “Robbing banks is no longer what you could call the crime of choice.”
Possibly so, but it’s probably a stretch to go from that to their final conclusion: “The lesson of which would seem to be: successful criminals study econometrics. Statistics can help in all walks of life.”
Let’s hear it for Costco! (This is just mind-boggling!)Make sure you read all the way past the list of the drugs. The woman that signed below is a Budget Analyst out of federal Washington, DC offices.
Did you ever wonder how much it costs a drug company for the active ingredient in prescription medications? Some people think it must cost a lot, since many drugs sell for more than $2.00 per tablet. We did a search of offshore chemical synthesizers that supply the active ingredients found in drugs approved by the FDA. As we have revealed in past issues of Life Extension a significant percentage of drugs sold in the United States contain active ingredients made in other countries. In our independent investigation of how much profit drug companies really make, we obtained the actual price of active ingredients used in some of the most popular drugs sold in America.
Celebrex: 100 mg
Claritin: 10 mg
Keflex: 250 mg
Lipitor: 20 mg
Norvasc: 10 mg
Prevacid: 30 mg
Prilosec: 20 mg
Prozac: 20 mg
Tenormin: 50 mg
Xanax: 1 mg
Zestril: 20 mg
Zithromax: 600 mg
Zocor: 40 mg
Since the cost of prescription drugs is so outrageous, I thought everyone should know about this.
I went to the Costco site, where you can look up any drug, and get its online price. It says that the in-store prices are consistent with the online prices. I was appalled. Just to give you one example from my own experience I had to use the drug Compazine which helps prevent nausea in chemo patients.
I used the generic equivalent, which cost $54.99 for 60 pills at CVS. I checked the price at Costco, and I could have bought 100 pills for $19.89. For 145 of my pain pills, I paid $72.57. I could have got 150 at Costco for $28.08.
|The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies You Were Taught In History Class
High school was hard enough, what with all the video games and boobies to distract us from our homework. What makes it even harder is having to unlearn all of the stuff they taught us in elementary school that turned out to be utter bullshit.To this day you can even hear some adults repeating these “amazing” historical tales that, years ago, somebody just pulled out of their ass:
#5. Columbus Discovered the Earth is Round
Columbus, as we were told, did fail to reach his destination, but not because the world was flat–it was because he crashed into the future greatest nation on Earth, baby! Thus, Columbus proved the world was round, discovered America, and a national holiday was born.
In fact, the navigational techniques of Columbus’ time were actually based on the fact that the Earth was a sphere. Trying to navigate the globe as if it was a flat plane would have fucked up the trip even more than it was.
The Spanish government’s reluctance to pay for Columbus’ expeditions didn’t have anything to do with their misconceptions about the shape of the world. Ironically, it was because Columbus himself severely underestimated the size of the Earth and everybody knew it. The distance he planned to travel wouldn’t have taken him anywhere near Asia. Nevertheless, he eventually scraped together enough funds to embark on his ridiculous adventure, and the clusterfuck that was the Columbus voyage has been celebrated annually in the Americas and in Spain ever since.
So where did the myth come from? It began with author and historical charlatan Washington Irving, who wrote a novel about Columbus in 1838. The novel was fiction, but some elements managed to creep into our history textbooks anyway, probably by some editors who wanted to spice it up a bit. Who’s going to read a history book that’s just filled with a bunch of boring shit anyway?
#4.Einstein Flunked Math
That muddled kid grew up to be Albert Fucking Einstein! And if he can do it, then so can you!
The idea that Einstein did badly at school is thought to have originated with a a 1935 Ripley’s Believe it or Not! trivia column.
Not the actual column
There’s actually a good reason why it’s a bad idea to include Robert Ripley among the references in your advanced university thesis. The famous bizarre trivia “expert” never cited his sources, and the various “facts” he presented throughout his career were an amalgamation of things he thought he read somewhere, heard from somebody, or pulled out of his ass. The feature’s title probably should have been: Believe it or Not! I Get Paid Either Way, Assholes.
When he was first shown this supposed expose of his early life, Einstein allegedly just laughed, and probably went on to solve another 12 mysteries of quantum physics before dinner. By the time he finally kicked the bucket in 1955, it’s entirely possible that “failure” was the one concept that Albert Einstein had never managed to master.
Of course, this just reaffirms what we have always suspected, deep down: success really is decided at birth, and your life will never be better than it is right now. Sorry about that.
#3.Newton and the Apple
The story we heard:
Probably his most famous discovery, however, is the law of gravity. The story goes that Newton, a modest mathematician and professor of physics, was sitting under the shade of an apple tree one sunny day, when an apple dropped from a branch and bopped him right on the head.
While most people would merely think “Ouch! Son of a bitch!” and stare warily upward for 10 minutes, Newton’s first instinct was to formulate the entire set of universal laws governing the motion of gravitating bodies, a theory so sound that it went unchallenged and unmodified for over 200 years.
“Whilst he was musing in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from the tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from the earth but that this power must extend much further.”
You’ll notice that even then we don’t get the thing with the apple actually hitting Newton in the head, it got added somewhere along the line to add the element of cartoonish slapstick to his genius life.
Future versions will say that Newton then vomited in agony.
We like to think complex discoveries happen this way, with a sudden light bulb popping on over our head. Kind of makes it seem like it could happen to us one day, the next great idea will just occur to us while we’re wasting the afternoon on a park bench. In reality, Newton spent the best part of his life formulating and perfecting his theories.
When we have kids, we’re going to tell them the truth, dammit. Just Newton, hunched over his piles of papers covered with clouds of tiny numbers. Just months and years of tedious, grinding, silent, lonely work, until he had a nervous breakdown and finally died years later, insane from Mercury poisoning. Welcome to the real world, Timmy.
#2.Washington and the Cherry Tree
As a child, we were told, George Washington came into possession of a hatchet, and went about his days chopping the shit out of everything he saw. One day he came upon his father’s prize cherry tree, and without so much as a second thought he chopped that sucker down, presumably because it was a Monarchist. Upon being quizzed by his father about the event, Washington proudly admitted that he had been the culprit, due to his inability to lie. The story was later loosely adapted to film with Jim Carrey in the leading role.
Weems recalled many fantastic stories about Washington, with particular emphasis on his overwhelming moral fortitude and infallibility. The cherry tree story is of particular importance, because it demonstrates that Washington can easily destroy things, and just chooses not to.
According to Weems, “at the sight of him, even those blessed spirits seem[ed] to feel new raptures.” That’s right, when the angels learned of the existence of George Washington, they began to second-think their allegiance to their much less powerful leader, God. Curiously, Weems waited until Washington was dead before publishing his anecdotes.
As it turns out, if Washington was indeed incapable of lying, then Mason Weems was surely his exact nemesis, seeing as his recounting of Washington’s exploits were about as historically accurate as the 1999 Civil War documentary Wild Wild West.
Nevertheless, Weems’ pack of lies were taught as fact in American school textbooks for over a century, probably because they are much more enthralling than the true story of a man who, by more reliable accounts, was actually a bland, boring and uncharismatic everyman who just happened to be taller than average, and pretty good at warring. The story still resonates today, delivered to your children’s impressionable minds through such reliable media as Sesame Street.
Why does this bullshit story survive? Perhaps because the central message still resonates: “It’s much easier to tell the truth when you’re the one holding the ax.”
#1.Benjamin Franklin, the Kite and the Thunderstorm
Franklin, with a knowing wink, went out into a raging thunderstorm and released a kite with a lightning rod affixed to the top and a metal key attached to the string. When the kite had annoyed the face of God to the point that he threw a bolt of lightning at it, the charge passed down the string and into the key, and when Franklin touched the key, it let off a spark of static, which somehow allowed him to discover electricity.
Many people today who believe the amended story of Franklin’s kite experiment grew up immersed in the revisionist history of Walt Disney, whose classic cartoon Ben and Me portrayed Franklin not only as having flown the kite in a thunderstorm, but also having been a complete fucking jerk.
While few people still believe that all of Franklin’s innovations are actually attributable to his pet mouse, the kite story is still widely accepted despite the unfortunate testimonies of anyone who’s ever been stupid enough to replicate it.
The reality of Franklin’s experiment is that it simply involved flying a kite into some clouds to collect a few harmless ions, in order to prove that the atmosphere carries a charge. It is through Franklin’s discoveries that science was able to infer, later on, that lightning probably has something to do with electricity.
The idea that his kite was actually directly struck by a bolt of lightning is a rather dramatic exaggeration perpetuated by some school textbooks, which also helpfully serves to convince generations of children that getting hit by lightning is not only totally harmless, but scientific fun!
It also, like the Newton apple thing, takes one of history’s great geniuses and portrays them experiencing childlike wonder at some now-common idea, as if everyone who lived before the 20th century was a childlike simpleton.
Why can’t there be some other legend about him, one closer to his real personality? Like the time he pleasured six women at once. Sure, we made that up. But if you go out and repeat it enough, it’ll be in the textbooks by 2050. Let’s try it.
|Short And To The Point!
This rather brilliantly cuts thru all the political doublespeak we get. It puts it into a much better perspective.Lesson # 1:
* U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
Let’s now remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:
* Annual family income: $21,700
OK now Lesson # 2: Here’s another way to look at the Debt Ceiling:
Let’s say, you come home from work and find there has been a sewer backup in your neighborhood….and your home has sewage all the way up to your ceilings.
What do you think you should do?
Raise the ceilings, or pump out the crap?
|Understanding The Hyper Rich Through The Lens Of Tomorrow's History
Charlie Stross goes on a tear with “A cultural thought experiment,” looking at what the wealth of the 1 percent means, what it can’t buy them, and how it might be viewed from a future society.The diminishing marginal utility law dictates that the more money we have, the less utility we get from any additional incremental gain. And this bites the top 1% very hard indeed.
Examine the world around us from the point of view of someone with a net income of $5M/year.
Food is essentially free; you can afford to spend $1000 per meal, three meals a day, in the most expensive restaurants in London or Tokyo or Manhattan, and not make a dent in your income. (Oddly, even the hyper-rich don’t typically spend $1000 on lunch every day: a more realistic expectation might be to dine out expensively twice a week, for $100K/year, and have the best of everything in-house the rest of the time, with a live-in chef, for another $100K/year.)
Clothing is essentially free; want a different $5000 suit for every day of the week? That’s going to set you back only $35K! Spouse wants a dozen designer evening gowns a year? That’s still going to be on the low side of $200K.
Housing is essentially free; $1000/day will rent you a penthouse suite in a five star hotel in Manhattan, while your mortgageable income will let you buy a palace in the $5-20M range. (There are places where you may need to spend more than $20M to buy a house; but not many of them.)
You don’t have to do housework, interior decorating, cooking, driving, DIY home improvements, flight booking, or shopping (unless you want to). People can be hired to do any of the above for rates ranging from $15K to $100K per year, depending on the complexity of the job. And you earn $100K per week.
|The Price Of Gas Versus Printer Ink
All these examples do NOT imply that gasoline is cheap; it just illustrates how outrageous some prices are compared with gasoline.Think a gallon of gas is expensive?
This makes one think, and also puts things in perspective.
Diet Snapple 16 oz $1.29 … $10.32 per gallon
Lipton Ice Tea 16 oz $1.19 ……….$9.52 per gallon
Gatorade 20 oz $1.59….. $10.17 per gallon
Ocean Spray 16 oz $1.25 ……… $10.00 per gallon
Brake Fluid 12 oz $3.15 …… $33.60 per gallon
Vick’s Nyquil 6 oz $8.35 … $178.13 per gallon
Pepto Bismol 4 oz $3.85… $123.20 per gallon
Whiteout 7 oz $1.39 ……. … $25.42 per gallon
Scope 1.5 oz $0.99 …….$84.48 per gallon
And this is the REAL KICKER…
Evian water 9 oz $1.49….$21.19 per gallon! $21.19 for WATER and the buyers don’t even know the source (Evian spelled backwards is Naive.)
Ever wonder why printers are so cheap?
So they have you hooked for the ink.
Someone calculated the cost of the ink at, (you won’t believe it but it is true) $5,200 a gal. (Five thousand two hundred dollars)So, the next time you’re at the pump, be glad your car doesn’t run on water, Scope, or Whiteout, Pepto Bismol, Nyquil or God forbid, Printer Ink!
Just a little humor to help ease the pain of your next trip to the pump.
The whole world is concerned about China made ‘black hearted goods’. Can you differentiate which one is made in Canada, Philippines, Taiwan or China?The first 3 digits of the barcode is the country code wherein the product was made.
Sample: All barcodes that start at 690 – 695 are all MADE IN CHINA. 471 is Made in Taiwan
Government and related departments won’t educate the public. Therefore, we have to educate ourselves.
Nowadays, Chinese businessmen know that consumers do not prefer products ‘Made in China’, so they don’t show from which country it is made.
However, you may now refer to the barcode, remember if the first 3 digits are: 690-695 then it is Made in China.
00 ~ 13 USA & CANADA
|Fact And Myth About Our Dynamic Earth
Earth is a dynamic sphere and, it turns out, so is the planet’s climate, otherwise known as the long-term trend of global weather conditions. It’s no wonder questions and myths abound about what exactly is going on in the atmosphere, in the oceans and on land. How can we tell our orb is actually warming and whether humans are to blame? Here’s a look at what scientists know and don’t know about some seemingly murky statements on Earth’s climate. Climate has changed before
Myth: Even before SUVs and other greenhouse-gas spewing technologies, Earth’s climate was changing, so humans can’t be responsible for today’s global warming.Science: Climate changes in the past suggest that our climate reacts to energy input and output, such that if the planet accumulates more heat than it gives off global temperatures will rise. It’s the driver of this heat imbalance that differs.
Currently, CO2 is imposing an energy imbalance due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Past climate change actually provides evidence for our climate’s sensitivity to CO2.
(Image left: heat given off by Earth’s surface and atmosphere; Right: sunlight reflected back out to space.)
… but it’s cold outside!
Science: Local temperatures taken as individual data points have nothing to do with the long-term trend of global warming. These local ups and downs in weather and temperature can hide a slower-moving uptick in long-term climate. To get a real bead on global warming, scientists rely on changes in weather over a long period of time. To find climate trends you need to look at how weather is changing over a longer time span. Looking at high and low temperature data from recent decades shows that new record highs occur nearly twice as often as new record lows.
For instance, a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in 2009, found that daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the prior decade across the continental United States.
Climate is cooling
Science: The last decade, 2000-2009, was the hottest on record, according to Skeptical Science. Big blizzards and abnormally chilly weather often raise the question: How can global warming be occurring when it’s snowing outside? Global warming is compatible with chilled weather. “For climate change, it is the long-term trends that are important; measured over decades or more, and those long term trends show that the globe is still, unfortunately, warming,” according to Skeptical Science.
The sun is to blame
Science: In the last 35 years of global warming, the sun has shown a slight cooling trend, while the climate has been heating up, scientists say. In the past century, solar activity can explain some of the increase in global temperatures, but a relatively small amount. (Solar activity refers to the activity of the sun’s magnetic field and includes magnetic field-powered sunspots and solar flares.)
A study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in December 2011 revealed that even during a prolonged lull in the sun’s activity, Earth still continued to warm. The study researchers found that the Earth absorbed 0.58 watts of excess energy per square meter than escaped back into space during the study period from 2005 to 2010, a time when solar activity was low.
Not everyone agrees
Science: About 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human-made global warming is happening. “In the scientific field of climate studies — which is informed by many different disciplines — the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change — and that’s nearly all of them,” according to Skeptical Science, a website dedicated to explaining the science of global warming.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is not a pollutant
Science: While it is true that plants photosynthesize, and therefore take up carbon dioxide as a way of forming energy with the help of the sun and water, this gas is both a direct pollutant (think acidification of oceans) and more importantly is linked to the greenhouse effect. When heat energy gets released from Earth’s surface, some of that radiation is trapped by greenhouse gases like CO2; the effect is what makes our planet comfy temperature-wise, but too much and you get global warming.
Climate scientists are conspiring to push “global warming”
Science: Yes, a hacker did access and release emails and documents from the University of East Anglia server. But there was no cover-up; a number of investigations were launched, including two independent reviews set up by the university: the Independent Climate Change E-mails Review (ICCER) and the independent Scientific Appraisal Panel (SAP). The investigations cleared the researchers involved with the e-mails of scientific misconduct, and found no evidence of a cover-up.
Don’t worry, it’s not that bad
Science: Climate scientists say any positives are far outweighed by the negative impacts of global warming on agriculture, human health, the economy and the environment. For instance, according to one 2007 study, a warming planet may mean an increased growing season in Greenland; but it also means water shortages, more frequent and more intense wildfires and expanding deserts.
Antarctica is gaining ice
Science: The argument that ice is expanding on Antarctica omit the fact that there’s a difference between land ice and sea ice, climate scientists say. “If you are talking about the Antarctic ice sheet, we expect some gain in accumulation in the interior due to warmer, more moisture-laden air, but increased calving/ice loss at the periphery, primarily due to warming southern oceans,” climate scientist Michael Mann, of Pennsylvania State University, told LiveScience. The net change in ice mass is the difference between this accumulation and peripheral loss. “Models traditionally have projected that this difference doesn’t become negative (i.e. net loss of Antarctic ice sheet mass) for several decades,” Mann said, adding that detailed gravimetric measurements, which looks at changes in Earth’s gravity over spots to estimate, among other things, ice mass. These measurements, Mann said, suggest the Antarctic ice sheet is already losing mass and contributing to sea level rise.
Now for sea ice, this type of ice is influenced by year-to-year changes in wind directions and changes in ocean currents. For sea ice, it’s tricky to identify a clear trend, Mann said.
Climate models are unreliable
Science: Models have successfully reproduced global temperatures since 1900, by land, in the air and the oceans. “Models are simply a formalization of our best understanding of the processes that govern the atmosphere, the oceans, the ice sheets, etc.,” Mann said. He added that certain processes, such as how clouds will respond to changes in the atmosphere and the warming or cooling effect of clouds, are uncertain and different modeling groups make different assumptions about how to represent these processes.
Even so, Mann said, certain predictions are based on physics and chemistry that are so fundamental, such as the atmospheric greenhouse effect, that the resulting predictions — that surface temperatures should warm, ice should melt and sea level should rise — are robust no matter the assumptions.
|Revealed – The Capitalist Network That Runs The World
AS PROTESTS against financial power sweep the world this week, science may have confirmed the protesters’ worst fears. An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.
The study’s assumptions have attracted some criticism, but complex systems analysts contacted by New Scientist say it is a unique effort to untangle control in the global economy. Pushing the analysis further, they say, could help to identify ways of making global capitalism more stable.
The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere (see photo). But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs).
“Reality is so complex, we must move away from dogma, whether it’s conspiracy theories or free-market,” says James Glattfelder. “Our analysis is reality-based.”
Previous studies have found that a few TNCs own large chunks of the world’s economy, but they included only a limited number of companies and omitted indirect ownerships, so could not say how this affected the global economy – whether it made it more or less stable, for instance.
The Zurich team can. From Orbis 2007, a database listing 37 million companies and investors worldwide, they pulled out all 43,060 TNCs and the share ownerships linking them. Then they constructed a model of which companies controlled others through shareholding networks, coupled with each company’s operating revenues, to map the structure of economic power.
The work, to be published in PLoS One, revealed a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships (see image). Each of the 1318 had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to 20. What’s more, although they represented 20 per cent of global operating revenues, the 1318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world’s large blue chip and manufacturing firms – the “real” economy – representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues.
When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a “super-entity” of 147 even more tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network,” says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.
John Driffill of the University of London, a macroeconomics expert, says the value of the analysis is not just to see if a small number of people controls the global economy, but rather its insights into economic stability.
Concentration of power is not good or bad in itself, says the Zurich team, but the core’s tight interconnections could be. As the world learned in 2008, such networks are unstable. “If one [company] suffers distress,” says Glattfelder, “this propagates.”
“It’s disconcerting to see how connected things really are,” agrees George Sugihara of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, a complex systems expert who has advised Deutsche Bank.
Yaneer Bar-Yam, head of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), warns that the analysis assumes ownership equates to control, which is not always true. Most company shares are held by fund managers who may or may not control what the companies they part-own actually do. The impact of this on the system’s behaviour, he says, requires more analysis.
Crucially, by identifying the architecture of global economic power, the analysis could help make it more stable. By finding the vulnerable aspects of the system, economists can suggest measures to prevent future collapses spreading through the entire economy. Glattfelder says we may need global anti-trust rules, which now exist only at national level, to limit over-connection among TNCs. Sugihara says the analysis suggests one possible solution: firms should be taxed for excess interconnectivity to discourage this risk.
One thing won’t chime with some of the protesters’ claims: the super-entity is unlikely to be the intentional result of a conspiracy to rule the world. “Such structures are common in nature,” says Sugihara.
Newcomers to any network connect preferentially to highly connected members. TNCs buy shares in each other for business reasons, not for world domination. If connectedness clusters, so does wealth, says Dan Braha of NECSI: in similar models, money flows towards the most highly connected members. The Zurich study, says Sugihara, “is strong evidence that simple rules governing TNCs give rise spontaneously to highly connected groups”. Or as Braha puts it: “The Occupy Wall Street claim that 1 per cent of people have most of the wealth reflects a logical phase of the self-organising economy.”
So, the super-entity may not result from conspiracy. The real question, says the Zurich team, is whether it can exert concerted political power. Driffill feels 147 is too many to sustain collusion. Braha suspects they will compete in the market but act together on common interests. Resisting changes to the network structure may be one such common interest.
When this article was first posted, the comment in the final sentence of the paragraph beginning “Crucially, by identifying the architecture of global economic power…” was misattributed.
The top 50 of the 147 superconnected companies
1. Barclays plc
2. Capital Group Companies Inc
3. FMR Corporation
5. State Street Corporation
6. JP Morgan Chase & Co
7. Legal & General Group plc
8. Vanguard Group Inc
9. UBS AG
10. Merrill Lynch & Co Inc
11. Wellington Management Co LLP
12. Deutsche Bank AG
13. Franklin Resources Inc
14. Credit Suisse Group
15. Walton Enterprises LLC
16. Bank of New York Mellon Corp
18. Goldman Sachs Group Inc
19. T Rowe Price Group Inc
20. Legg Mason Inc
21. Morgan Stanley
22. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc
23. Northern Trust Corporation
24. Société Générale
25. Bank of America Corporation
26. Lloyds TSB Group plc
27. Invesco plc
28. Allianz SE 29. TIAA
30. Old Mutual Public Limited Company
31. Aviva plc
32. Schroders plc
33. Dodge & Cox
34. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc*
35. Sun Life Financial Inc
36. Standard Life plc
38. Nomura Holdings Inc
39. The Depository Trust Company
40. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
41. ING Groep NV
42. Brandes Investment Partners LP
43. Unicredito Italiano SPA
44. Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan
45. Vereniging Aegon
46. BNP Paribas
47. Affiliated Managers Group Inc
48. Resona Holdings Inc
49. Capital Group International Inc
50. China Petrochemical Group Company
* Lehman still existed in the 2007 dataset used
Graphic: The 1318 transnational corporations that form the core of the economy
click here to close
|The Complete List Of Problems With High-Stakes Standardized Tests
By Marion Brady
In 1949, I was a self-employed trucker, buying and hauling timber for shoring up the roofs of coal mines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.A very long United Mine Workers strike put me out of the trucking business. Not having exhausted all the GI Bill benefits due me from a stint in the U.S. Navy, I went back to college, jumped through the necessary certification hoops, and started teaching in 1952 at the high school level.A few days ago, I went to a reunion of the surviving members of a class that picked up their diplomas 50 years ago, in 1961. They were a smart bunch of kids. The work of a couple of them would be familiar to millions of Americans.
Not surprisingly, a few became teachers. Without exception, those who talked to me at the reunion had no regrets. But also without exception, none of them would now encourage anyone to enter the field. Reason Number One: Standardized, machine-scored, high-stakes tests.
If that comes as a surprise, credit corporate America’s successful promotion of the idea that test scores say something important. Opposition to the present orgy of testing is now wrongly interpreted as unwillingness to be held accountable.
For those who buy that fiction, a list of some of the real reasons for educator opposition may be helpful.
Teachers (at least the ones the public should hope their taxes are supporting) oppose the tests because they focus so narrowly on reading and math that the young are learning to hate reading, math, and school; because they measure only “low level” thinking processes; because they put the wrong people — test manufacturers — in charge of American education; because they allow pass-fail rates to be manipulated by officials for political purposes; because test items simplify and trivialize learning.
Teachers oppose the tests because they provide minimal to no useful feedback; are keyed to a deeply flawed curriculum adopted in 1893; lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning; unfairly advantage those who can afford test prep; hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring; penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways.
Teachers oppose the tests because they radically limit their ability to adapt to learner differences; encourage use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators; wrongly assume that what the young will need to know in the future is already known; emphasize minimum achievement to the neglect of maximum performance; create unreasonable pressures to cheat.
Teachers oppose the tests because they reduce teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession; are culturally biased; have no “success in life” predictive power; lead to the neglect of the best and worst students as resources are channeled to lift marginal kids above pass-fail “cut lines;” are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences.
Teachers oppose the tests because they’re at odds with deep-seated American values about individual differences and worth; undermine a fundamental democratic principle that those closest to and therefore most knowledgeable about problems are best positioned to deal with them; dump major public money into corporate coffers instead of classrooms.
I, a retired teacher beyond the reach of today’s “reformers,” oppose the tests for those reasons, and for the psychological damage they do to kids not yet able to cope. But my particular, personal beef is that the tests (and the Common Core State Standards on which they’re based) are blocking policymaker consideration of what I believe to be the most promising educational innovation in the last century — the use of general systems theory as it developed during World War II as a tool for reshaping and radically simplifying the “core curriculum.”
If you think that even a couple of those 25 reasons why educators oppose standardized tests are valid, consider getting behind what ought to be an option for every child’s parent or guardian — the right to say, without being pressured or penalized by state or local authority, “Do not subject my child to any test that doesn’t provide useful, same-day or next-day information about performance.”
|I Didn't Know That!
More than half of the coastline of the entire United States is in Alaska .Amazon
The Amazon rainforest produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen supply. The Amazon River pushes so much water into the Atlantic Ocean that, more than one hundred miles at sea off the mouth of the river, one can dip fresh water out of the ocean. The volume of water in the Amazon river is greater than the next eight largest rivers in the world combined and three times the flow of all rivers in the United States .Antarctica
Antarctica is the only land on our planet that is not owned by any country..
Ninety percent of the world’s ice covers Antarctica. This ice also represents seventy percent of all the fresh water in the world. As strange as it sounds, however, Antarctica is essentially a desert; the average yearly total precipitation is about two inches. Although covered with ice (all but 0.4% of it, ice.), Antarctica is the driest place on the planet, with an absolute humidity lower than the Gobi desert.
New York City
St. Paul , Minnesota
|China’s Population Crash Could Upend U.S. Policy
By Ramesh PonnuruApr 30, 2012 7:00 PM ET
It isn’t quite true that demography is destiny. But if Nicholas Eberstadt is right, our destiny is going to be shaped by demography in ways we may not expect.
Eberstadt studies demographics for the American Enterprise Institute, and makes projections in full awareness that the field has gotten the future wrong before. In the 20th century, the global population increased almost fourfold, to 6.1 billion from 1.6 billion.
“Nothing like this magnitude or tempo of population change had ever previously been witnessed in the history of our species,” he has written.
It was reasonable to fear, as many people did during that period, that the result would be mass famines. Instead, the world saw rising prosperity.
Today’s most important population trend is falling birthrates. The world’s total fertility rate — the number of children the average woman will bear over her lifetime — has dropped to 2.6 today from 4.9 in 1960. Half of the people in the world live in countries where the fertility rate is below what demographers reckon is the replacement level of 2.1, and are thus in shrinking societies.
A Few Predictions
In the U.S., we are accustomed to thinking about how this trend affects the welfare state: Longer lives and fewer children make it harder to finance retirement programs. But the rest of the developed world is aging faster, and it’s worth thinking about how that will change America’s global position, as well.
As Eberstadt points out, we can make predictions about the next 20 years with reasonable accuracy. The U.S.’s traditional allies in western Europe and Japan will have less weight in the world. Already the median age in western Europe is higher than that of the U.S.’s oldest state: Florida. That median age is rising 1.5 days every week.
These countries will have smaller workforces, lower savings rates and higher government debt as a result of their aging. They will probably lose dynamism, as well.
All these effects will, in turn, almost certainly make these countries even less willing than they already are to spend money on their armed forces. Americans who want Europe to bear more of the free world’s military burden — or even provide for its own defense — are probably going to be disappointed. So will those who expect Europe to take on humanitarian missions. It won’t even be able to maintain its current weight in future debates about the values of peace and democracy.
But one country that worries American military strategists will also face serious demographic challenges. China’s rise over the last generation has been stunning, but straight-line projections of its future power and influence ignore that its birthrate is 30 percent below the replacement rate.
The Census Bureau predicts that China’s population will peak in 2026, just 14 years from now. Its labor force will shrink, and its over-65 population will more than double over the next 20 years, from 115 million to 240 million. It will age very rapidly. Only Japan has aged faster — and Japan had the great advantage of growing rich before it grew old. By 2030, China will have a slightly higher proportion of the population that is elderly than western Europe does today — and western Europe, recall, has a higher median age than Florida.
China, notoriously, has another demographic challenge. The normal sex ratio at birth is about 103 to 105 boys for every 100 girls. In China, as a result of the one-child policy and sex- selective abortion, that ratio has been 120 boys for every 100 girls. From 2000 to 2030, the percentage of men in their late 30s who have never been married is projected to quintuple. Eberstadt doesn’t believe that having an “army of unmarriageable young men” will improve the country’s economy or social cohesion.
He thinks demographic change will pose two problems specific to China.
All in all, Eberstadt concludes, “we might want to have some additional new friends and allies in the world.” America’s growing ties to India, a nation he describes as “aging moderately,” strike him as promising. But he warns that it has not made the most of its
Foreign-policy thinkers can often lose sight of demographic trends, Eberstadt says, because from a policy makers’ view “they tend to look really glacial. If it’s not happening in the next 48 to 72 hours, it’s not in the inbox.” But “population change gradually and very unforgivingly alters the realm of the possible.”
|This is How History's Greatest Inventions Really Happened
The myth of the solitary inventor
The world’s most famous inventors are household names. As we all know, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone, and Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin.
Except they didn’t. The ideas didn’t spring, Athena-like, fully formed from their brains. In fact, they didn’t spring fully formed from anybody’s brains. That is the myth of the lonely inventor and the eureka moment.
“Simultaneous invention and incremental improvement are the way innovation works, even for radical inventions,” Mark A. Lemley writes in his fascinating paper The Myth of the Sole Inventor. Lemley’s paper concentrates on the history and problems of patents. But he also chronicles the history of the 19th and 20th century’s most famous inventors — with an emphasis on how their inventions were really neither theirs, nor inventions. Here is a super-quick summary of his wonderful distillation of the last 200 years in collaborative innovation.COTTON GIN
The fabric cotton comes from cotton fibers that mix with seeds in the pods of cotton plants. To make the fabric, therefore, you have to separate the fibers from the seeds. For centuries this was done mostly by hand, until Eli Whitney “invented” the cotton gin in 1793. But various forms of roller gins (i.e. technologies for separating fibers from seeds) had been around for thousands of years. Five years earlier, in 1788, Joseph Eve developed his own mechanized self-feeding roller gin. Whitney’s true innovation was to improve existing cotton gins by “replacing rollers with coarse wire teeth that rotated through slits to pull the fiber from the seed.” If this insight was a breakthrough, the glory goes to Whitney only he was faster than his competitors. In 1795, John Barcley filed a patent on a gin featuring circles of teeth — awfully similar to Whitney’s wire-tooth model (see left). In short, the modern cotton gin was a eureka moment that multiple inventors experienced nearly simultaneously and was expedited by their competition.TELEGRAPH
As the tale goes, Samuel Morse was having dinner with friends and debating electromagnetism (like you do) when he realized that if an electrical signal could travel instantly across a wire, why couldn’t information do the same? Like most fun eureka stories, it’s a fib. The telegraph was invented by not only Morse, but also Charles Wheatstone, Sir William Fothergill Cooke, Edward Davy, and Carl August von Steinhiel so near to each other that the British Supreme Court refused to issue one patent. It was Joseph Henry, not Morse, who discovered that coiling wire would strengthen electromagnetic induction. Of Morse’s key contribution — the application of Henry’s electromagnets to boost signal strength — Lemley writes that “it is not even clear that he fully understood how that contribution worked.”
THE MOVIE PROJECTOR
At the end of this section, Lemley lists four inventors who, yeah, okay, really were alone. But the funny thing about the exceptions is that they’re almost all accidents.
Alexander Fleming discovered the anti-bacterial properties of penicillin because a sample of bacteria had accidentally been contaminated with mold. No one is sure where the mold came from; Fleming’s discovery was true serendipity. Even in that case, there is some evidence that others made the same accidental discovery. The adhesive behind the Post-It note was developed in 1968, and languished in 3M for six years before a different 3M employee hit on the idea of putting it to use attaching a bookmark to a book.
Charles Goodyear discovered vulcanized rubber when a batch of rubber was accidentally left on a stove; Goodyear had previously thought that heat was a problem for rubber, not the solution.
Wilson Greatbatch developed the pacemaker when he accidentally grabbed the wrong resistor from a box when he was completing a circuit.
Louis Daguerre invented film when, having failed to produce an image on an iodized silver plate, he put the plate away in a cabinet filled with chemicals and the fumes from a spilled jar of mercury produced an image on the plate.
It would seem that eureka is Greek for “oops.”
|The Health Insurance Shell Game
The insurance industry had a rocky start a century ago. It was clear that there were untoward events that could befall any of us with catastrophic results, from the incineration of a home to the loss of the ability to maintain gainful employment from injury or death.Insurance offers a mechanism to share this risk. The stumbling block was the possibility that the insured might burn down their home to collect. Once it was realized that “moral hazard” could be held at bay by investigating for fraud, there was little to hinder the growth of an industry designed to serve our risk adverse proclivities. Almost every adult has some experience valuing the expense of sharing risk for a variety of hazards. After all, automobile insurance is generally compulsory and most of us are familiar with notions of deductibles and riders when it comes to homeowners’ policies. The possibilities are not an abstraction; we can envision the house or its contents damaged, destroyed, or stolen leaving us bereft. What would reducing that prospect be worth to us? As is true for many value-based decisions, the answer brings a mix of reason and intuition1 that can produce surprising outcomes2.
Health insurance is even more complex, and has always been so. The industrial revolution saw the development of “Friendly Societies” in Britain and the Prussian “Krankenkassen”. These were trade-based institutions that allowed advantaged workers to purchase insurance to provide “sick pay” but there was little else. The sea change was the Prussian “welfare monarchy”3, an extensive insurance scheme that encompassed universal health care and a complex approach to disability insurance.4 Modifications of the Prussian scheme spread across the industrial world. It made landfall in the United States in time for the presidential election of 1912. Only one component took root in America: Workers’ Compensation Insurance but not as a national insurance scheme. It fell to the each state to regulate an insurance scheme to compensate injured workers for lost income and medical expenses.
This set the stage for state-based regulation of employer-sponsored private health insurance schemes going forward. But forward momentum appears anything but swift or linear in a country that trusted physicians to charge “commensurate with the services rendered and the patient’s ability to pay” (AMA Code of Medical Ethics, 1957.) Health Insurance as both an industry and a product has become a frustrating web of inefficiency and confusion.
No one needs to be reminded of the escalating costliness of this approach to sharing the risk in healthcare or discordance between the costliness in the United States and elsewhere. No one needs to be reminded of the bizarre machinations already in place and now unfolding to reign in this costliness. What are less discussed are the processes by which these machinations distort peoples’ values, all of us, for whom purchasing health insurance is to provide security against the untoward consequences of clinical misadventures.
The standard approach is to ask employees to decide how much insurance should be purchased and for what coverage. If only it were that simple, but it is not. The average employee has to decide on an insurance plan that hosts a dizzying array of fees and coverage: How much will you pay out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in (deductible)? What’s the maximum coverage (cap) if I get really sick? Is a million dollars enough? Two million? What about co-insurance? What is co-insurance? Do co-pays count towards the deductible? What about tests?
Answers to these and similar questions dramatically alter the monthly premium, which is not a trivial consideration for the average American employee. In homeowner’s insurance such questions can test one’s mettle when valuing the loss of a family heirloom. How are they even ponderable when valuing health care for one’s self or one’s family? Research suggests they are not, at least not in an optimal way5.
Today’s American employees register their preference for health insurance at the start of employment or during an annual confusing and worrisome time called “open enrollment”. The process is familiar to most employed Americans who must consider and value variations in premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and the like. It is an annual rite because the menu of options often varies year-to-year reflecting employer prerogatives.
The workers’ input to the design of healthplans and their component fees is after the fact; their preferences are constrained by the options offered. They are faced with a complicated choice that pits financial savvy and preconceptions as to the value of health care against their tolerance of risk. This is the model that has been adopted by the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in the formulation of the Exchanges which are about to make their way deeper into the American landscape.
One might predict that few of us are a match for weighing the array of benefits in light of the costs we might predict we would face. That assumption did not prove true when we put it to the test. We invited members of the North Carolina State Employee Association and faculty/staff of Duke University to volunteer for a web based survey. The survey assessed demographic features of 400 volunteers and presented them with a series of panels, each of which offered up 3 options in health plan design with variations in the description of doctor visit fee, annual deductible, proscription fee, lifetime coverage, choice of doctors, and monthly premium. The Figure (below) is a display of the features of the plans that influenced the preferences of the State Employees.
With further analysis we could demonstrate that the State and Duke employees would be willing to spend several out-of-pocket dollars on co-pays rather than a dollar more in premium. Furthermore, this sensitivity to premium is greatest for younger employees insuring only themselves; non-white families are more sensitive to annual deductibles.6 Clearly these volunteers were weighing the value to them of greater expense assuming that the health policy had intrinsic value worthy of as much as they could afford. The more their resources were limited, the more they were willing to run the risk of incurring expense modulated by their assessment of their risk for sickness.
Generations of Americans have now been lulled into thinking all of this is sensible. “Gaming” the system is the way it is and the way it will be. Health insurance may seem like a logical variation on homeowners’ insurance. But there is nothing sensible about it. Choosing health coverage is a totally different exercise from choosing to insure a family home or heirloom. For one, the home or heirloom can be appraised. Health can’t be appraised; in fact, it is difficult to define. How valuable is the care, which elements of care are less valuable and which might one rationally do without? No one offers a policy designed to such particulars, and no person can be reasonably expected to fully know what they will want or need as a sick, scared, patient during the savvy consumer-minded extravaganza of open-enrollment. For health insurance, the “moral hazard” does not pertain to the insured; it pertains to the other stakeholders participating in the system.
Medicine in the 21st century should be an exercise in informed medical decision making. For each option in diagnosis and intervention, the patient must be encouraged to ask, “Based on the available science, what is the best I can expect?” And then actively and with comprehension, listen to the answer. For some options, there is no informative science. For many, the science may be robust but demonstrations of efficacy have proved elusive, inconsistent or marginal. Examples include interventions for occlusive atherosclerotic disease, elective procedures on backs, shoulders and knees, pharmaceutical management of cognitive impairment, situational affective disorders, type 2 diabetes and essential hypertension, along with various screening protocols that afford minimal if any demonstrable benefit. The therapeutic decision hinges on how the patient values the remote possibility of benefit and the probability of harm.
Shouldn’t health insurance in the 21st century live by the same razor? How valuable is the care, which elements of care are less valuable and which can one rationally do without? Rather than tolerate increases in co-pay and deductible, shouldn’t we be able to pay less because we do not value particular options. Better yet, shouldn’t the options relate to the likelihood of benefit? Those of us who consider interventions with unlikely or small benefits of little value should not be asked to burden the cost of providing such for those who value such. We should be offered a “high efficacy option” at lower cost than an “any efficacy option” and no one should be offered an option that indemnifies for interventions that have been studied and cannot be shown to offer a clinically meaningful benefit. In fact, if the “any efficacy option” was transparent in terms of limitations in efficacy and risk of toxicity, would anyone want to share in the expense of indemnification or balk at a policy that did not cover interventions that lacked substantive evidence for meaningful effectiveness7?
Focusing primarily on cost, costliness, and administrative priorities takes the health of the “health care system” as the primary goal. It is a focus that provides no measurable advantage in caring for people. Persisting in this approach, and even expanding it, provides a temporary diversion, but not a solution. Neither the practice of medicine nor its infrastructure is the reason for medicine to exist. Furthermore, becoming a savvy consumer of “health care” is not what is meant by informed medical decision making. Medicine’s primary calling is to the personal, unique, idiosyncratic needs and values of each person who chooses to be (or must become) a patient. And in that calling is the solution to the crisis of costliness.7
|Niels Bohr's 127th Birthday
The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen:“Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer.”
One student replied:
“You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building.”
This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed immediately. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case.
The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but did not display any noticeable knowledge of physics. To resolve the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer that showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics.
For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn’t make up his mind which to use. On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:
“Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer.”
“Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow.
“But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T =2 pi sqr root (l /g).”
“Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up.”
“If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building.”
“But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor’s door and say to him ‘If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper’.”
The student was Niels Bohr, the only Dane to win the Nobel Prize for physics.
|Anonymous funeral director explains the big con behind the industry, coffins, and embalming
What is a “dirty little (or big) secret” about an industry that you have worked in, that people outside the industry really ought to know?I’m a funeral director. Our entire industry is basically a pyramid scheme. It blows my mind how blindly people accept that certain things “have to” be done to the body of their loved one. Think about that for a second: this is the last tangible remnant of someone you loved and you are now going to pay stranger thousands (oftentimes HUNDERDS of thousands) of dollars to (warning: graphic from here on out) systematically mutilate that body.
There is nothing dignified about having one’s mouth wired shut, eyelids forced closed by spiked plastic contact lenses, and ramming a trocar into the abdomen to puncture organs so that they can be suctioned out. After the embalming fluid is introduced, the anus and vagina are stuffed with cotton and other absorbent materials to prevent what we refer to as “purge.” This charming phenomenon can occur any time after death – yes, before or after embalming, at any stage of decomposition – when the fluid created by tissues breaking down is leaked through any nearby orifice, oftentimes the nether regions.
The process creates an enormous environmental problem; using toxic chemicals which are flushed into our sewers along with those pureed livers, hearts, spleens, pancreas’ which then also flow into our sewers. Oh, what’s that? I told you embalming is a legal requirement for public sanitation? That’s utter bullshit. If anything, it creates a sanitation problem if the cemetery you use is anywhere near a municipal water line, which most “commercial” cemeteries are.
In fact, in most states, the law only requires embalming if you are transporting a body across state lines or are not planning to inter for more than 72 hours and/or having a public viewing. It has not a single thing to do with public health. It’s a cash cow, plain and simple. It is barbaric, costly, and does not keep the body from deteriorating. But we’ll tell you just about anything you need to hear to get you to agree to it.
What I’m doing here is incredibly illegal and I know it, but on the slim-to-none-chance that you’re a sharp-minded consumer in the midst of your grief and call my state’s licensing board about it, all I have to do simply tell them you were mistaken. I’ve seen funeral directors force-feed families absolute horseshit – saying anything – to get them to sign a contract. Here’s a hint: don’t sign any pre-printed “form” contracts. Most of the contracts we use are super vague, so we can charge you for just about anything and justify it by pointing to your signature on the dotted line. It is in your best interest to only agree to specific itemized charges – i.e., have the hearse but no limousines. Or have hair/makeup done without any embalming. The law is very specific and on your side, but we count on your ignorance and vulnerability.
Even better, find a trusted friend or family member who is more emotionally stable right now and appoint them as your lawyer/detective. You know that bitchy sister-in-law everyone has who makes major holidays a nightmare? I can spot her a mile away and will do everything I can to keep her out of financial discussions – because I know she will take that obnoxious nagging and throw it at me for every single penny I’m trying to get out of your family. See my co-workers standing around looking somber and respectful? They’re not there to just have a presence of authority, they are studying you. They are watching the family dynamic and will report back to me with any potential angles I can play to manipulate your emotions, which family members are taking it the hardest and will therefore be the easiest prey, and their estimation of your financial well-being. If, by the way, you appear to be less affluent, I’ll tell you to take your business elsewhere. This is not a hospital and I don’t provide a service – this is a business. If you aren’t paying me (in full and up front, generally), all you’re getting is my sympathy.
Do yourself a favor and read the FTC Funeral Rule. It’s very clear and concise in stating what you as the consumer are required to do and what rights you have. Did you know the casket I’m selling you for $5000 is really just a nicely decorated plywood box? If you were smarter, you’d know you don’t have to buy that from me. In fact, the law requires me to allow you to “BYOB.” Costco and Wal-Mart sell very reasonably priced nice caskets on their websites. If you happen to be armed with that tidbit of information, I’ll try to make it a practical issue: it will be easier to use the caskets we already have here. Another line of crap. All of the caskets at the funeral home are demo models (and are actually nice napping spots on slow days). Anything you buy will be delivered to the funeral home via freight the next day, just like the Wal-Mart caskets.
Another well-worn sales tactic is to try to shame you into going along with the exorbitant cost, implying you didn’t really love grandma enough if you spend less than five figures with me. You should know, by the way, that everything you buy from me – a guestbook, prayer cards, even the damn obituary notices – is marked up at least 200%. See the picture I’m painting here, kids? Smoke and mirrors. It hasn’t always been like this, but with the corporatization of the death care industry, the almighty dollar is the only consideration anymore.
Whew, this is getting to be a novel. Sorry, hang with me just a bit longer – we are getting to the major issue here.
Right now – literally right now, August 16, 2013 – the FTC is reviewing a merger between the two largest funeral service corporations in the United States: Stewart and SCI. Stewart has 500-ish locations while SCI has 2000+. This will create a mega-Decepticon-conglomerate that will control at least 40% of all funeral service business transactions in this country – and that, my friends, is what antitrust regulations refer to as a monopoly. We are racing full speed ahead to the genesis of the McFuneralHome and nobody is doing anything about it. The reason? Misdirection. There’s no Stewart Funeral Home or SCI Mortuary in your hometown. They’re operating under the same names they always have, letting you believe that the good people of Bubba & Sons Memorial Chapels would never steer you wrong. Bubba’s been around for 50 years! Bubba’s handled your family’s funerals for generations! Let me tell you something: Bubba cashed out years ago and is pretty much a figurehead at this point. Check his website carefully: at the bottom, you’ll probably see a copyright for either “Dignity Memorials” (SCI) or “STEI” (Stewart).
Every single thing you’ve read in this thread about cutting corners, shoddy work, under-trained and under-paid employees, outsourcing certain processes, covering up mistakes… ALL OF IT HAPPENS IN THE FUNERAL INDUSTRY. Now, most of us are decent human beings and aren’t interested in getting freaky with dear old granny, but in terms of services performed and their actual value, you trust us WAY, WAY TOO MUCH.
You know how shitty the cell phone service provider market is right now and how worked up everyone gets about that? The funeral industry is worse. And we should all be raising hell, because EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US is going to have to conduct business with the deathcare industry eventually — be an informed consumer and know who you’re really giving your money to.
I know I’ve hyperlinked the shit out of this, but please read the last one from the Funeral Consumers Alliance on how horrifyingly out of control this situation has gotten:
“It’s alarming to think that a company with a long track record of abusing consumers at the worst times of their lives might get even bigger,” said Josh Slocum, FCA’s executive director. “For at least 15 years grieving families around the country have complained to us about the practices at SCI funeral homes and cemeteries. From lying about options in order to boost the funeral bill, to digging up graves to re-sell them to another unsuspecting family, to denying the legal rights of LGBT people to make funeral arrangements for their partners. You name it, we’ve heard it.”
Funeral Consumers Alliance reminds the Federal Trade Commission that funeral purchases are unlike any other in their potential to harm the customer. Families buying funeral and cemetery services are incredibly vulnerable and have been subject to deceitful and egregious conduct.
“This is not a run of the mill merger; this isn’t about whether a $20 retail product will cost consumers $5 more,” Slocum said. “We’re talking real money here. Funeral consumers often make great economic sacrifices to bury their loved ones. The average full-service funeral runs in excess of $7,000 and often for much more at SCI’s Dignity locations. Especially when it has faced less competition, SCI has increased prices and we can expect more of the same if this merger occurs. Given the lack of knowledge about funeral options and the stress of grief, we can’t just say a ‘rational consumer’ will vote with their dollars and choose another funeral home. That’s not how the unique funeral transaction works, and that reality is why the FTC specifically regulates funeral homes.”
10 Old Wives Tales People Still Believe
Carrots Improve Night Vision
Many people think that eating carrots, or other foods rich in beta-carotene, will improve their ability to see in the dark. In fact, there is no medical evidence to support this belief. The idea may originate in propaganda from the Second World War: The British government claimed the keen night vision of its fighter pilots was the result of eating carrots. In fact, it was merely disinformation intended to prevent the German intelligence services from discovering the British had mounted radar sets in some of their aircraft.
Toads Give You Warts
Too Much Television Hurts Your Eyes
The Mother’s Abdomen Indicates the Sex of the Baby
You Shouldn’t Swim After Eating
You’ll Catch a Cold If You Go Outside With Wet Hair
Shaving Your Legs Makes Hair Grow Back Thicker
Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever
Cracking Your Knuckles Causes Arthritis
Cats Choke Babies
Can You Pass The Science Quiz That Too Many Americans Failed?
Do Americans know their science? The results are in from a new National Science Foundation survey that assessed our knowledge of basic biology, chemistry, astronomy, geology, and physics — and they don’t look promising.
The survey shows that an alarming number of Americans think astrology has a foundation in science (it doesn’t). And too many of us don’t know what determines a baby’s sex or the correct answer to the simple true-or-false question “The universe began with a huge explosion.”
Want to test your own science knowledge? All the questions from the survey are included below.
Water Or Coke.....Let This Be A Lesson!
#1. 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.
#2. In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is mistaken for hunger.
#3. Even MILD dehydration will slow down one’s metabolism as 3%.
#4. One glass of water will shut down midnight hunger pangs for almost 100% of the dieters studied in a University of Washington study.
#5. Lack of water, the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue.
#6. Preliminary research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers.
#7. A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page.
#8. Drinking 5 glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%., and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer. Are you drinking the amount of water you should drink every day?
#1. In many states the highway patrol carries two gallons of Coke in the trunk to remove blood from the highway after a car accident.
#2. You can put a T-bone steak in a bowl of Coke and it will be gone in two days.
#3. To clean a toilet: Pour a can of Coca-Cola into the toilet bowl and let the ‘real thing’ sit for one hour, then flush clean. The citric acid in Coke removes stains from vitreous china.
#4. To remove rust spots from chrome car bumpers: Rub the bumper with a rumpled-up piece of Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil dipped in Coca-Cola.
#5. To clean corrosion from car battery terminals: Pour a can of Coca-Cola over the terminals to bubble away the corrosion.
#6. To loosen a rusted bolt: Apply a cloth soaked in Coca-Cola to the rusted bolt for several minutes.
#7. To bake a moist ham: Empty a can of Coca-Cola into the baking pan, wrap the ham in aluminum foil, and bake. Thirty minutes before ham is finished, remove the foil, allowing the drippings to mix with the Coke for a sumptuous brown gravy.
#8. To remove grease from clothes: Empty a can of Coke into the load of greasy clothes, add detergent, and run through a regular cycle. The Coca-Cola will help loosen grease stains. It will also clean road haze from your windshield.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION:
#1 The active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid. It will dissolve a nail in about four days. Phosphoric acid also leaches calcium from bones and is a major contributor to the rising increase of osteoporosis.
#2. To carry Coca-Cola syrup! (the concentrate) the commercial trucks must use a hazardous Material place cards reserved for highly corrosive materials.
#3. The distributors of Coke have been using it to clean engines of the trucks for about 20 years!
Now the question is, would you like a glass of water? or Coke?
10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing
Many ideas have left the world of science and made their way into everyday language — and unfortunately, they are almost always used incorrectly. We asked a group of scientists to tell us which scientific terms they believe are the most widely misunderstood. Here are ten of them.
3. Quantum Uncertainty and Quantum Weirdness
4. Learned vs. Innate
When speaking of food, “natural” is even slipperier. It has different meanings in different countries, and in the US, the FDA has given up on a meaningful definition of natural food (largely in favor of “organic”, another nebulous term). In Canada, I could market corn as “natural” if I avoid adding or subtracting various things before selling it, but the corn itself is the result of thousands of years of selection by humans, from a plant that wouldn’t exist without human intervention.
Typically “gene” is misused most when followed by “for”. There’s two problems with this. We all have genes for hemoglobin, but we don’t all have sickle cell anemia. Different people have different versions of the hemoglobin gene, called alleles. There are hemoglobin alleles which are associated with sickle cell diseases, and others that aren’t. So, a gene refers to a family of alleles, and only a few members of that family, if any, are associated with diseases or disorders. The gene isn’t bad – trust me, you won’t live long without hemoglobin – though the particular version of hemoglobin that you have could be problematic.
I worry most about the popularization of the idea that when a genetic variation is correlated with something, it is the “gene for” that something. The language suggests that “this gene causes heart disease”, when the reality is usually, “people that have this allele seem to have a slightly higher incidence of heart disease, but we don’t know why, and maybe there are compensating advantages to this allele that we didn’t notice because we weren’t looking for them”.
7. Statistically Significant
8. Survival of the Fittest
Fittest does not mean strongest, or smartest. It simply means an organism that fits best into its environment, which could mean anything from “smallest” or “squishiest” to “most poisonous” or “best able to live without water for weeks at a time.” Plus, creatures don’t always evolve in a way that we can explain as adaptations. Their evolutionary path may have more to do with random mutations, or traits that other members of their species find attractive.
9. Geologic Timescales
Things can be natural and “organic”, but still quite dangerous.
13 Facts You Didn't Know About Economics
1. Economics was originally called ‘political economy’
Economics is politics and it can never be a science. Yet the dominant neoclassical school of economics succeeded in changing the name of the discipline from the traditional ‘political economy’ to ‘economics’ at the turn of the 20th Century. The Neoclassical school wanted economics to become a pure science, shorn of political (and thus ethical) dimensions that involve subjective value judgments. This change was a political move in and of itself.
2. The Nobel Prize in Economics is not a real Nobel Prize
3. There is no single economic theory that can explain Singapore’s economy
To put it bluntly, there isn’t one economic theory that can single-handedly explain Singapore’s success; its economy combines extreme features of capitalism and socialism. All theories are partial; reality is complex.
4. Britain and the US invented protectionism, not free trade
The US went even further. Taking inspiration from British protectionist policy, Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary of the US (that’s the guy on the ten-dollar bill) developed a theory called the ‘infant industry argument’ – the view that the government of an economically backward nation should protect and nurture its young industries until they ‘grow up’ and can compete in the world market. Hamilton died in 1804 in a pistol duel, but the US adopted protectionism in the 1820s and remained the most protected economy in the world for most of the next century.
5. Free trade first spread mostly through un-free means
6. It was arch-conservative Otto von Bismarck who introduced the first welfare state in the world
7. Capitalism did best between the 1950s and the 1970s, an era of high regulation and high taxes
8. The internet was invented by the US government, not Silicon Valley
The Pentagon financed the development of the computer in the early days and the Internet came out of a Pentagon research project. The semiconductor – the foundation of the information economy – was initially developed with the funding of the US Navy. The US aircraft industry would not have become what it is today had the US Air Force not massively subsidized it indirectly by paying huge prices for its military aircraft, the profit of which was channeled into developing civilian aircraft.
9. Before tax and welfare spending, Germany and Belgium are more unequal than the US
10. Finland, one of the most equal countries in the world, has grown faster than the US
11. The ‘lazy’ Greeks are the hardest working people in the rich world after South Koreans
12. Switzerland and Singapore are not living off banking and tourism alone
Actually these two countries show the exact opposite. According to the UNIDO data, in 2002, Switzerland had the highest per capita manufacturing value added (MVA) in the world – 24% more than that of Japan. In 2010, Singapore ranked the first, producing 48% more MVA per capita than the US. Switzerland ranked the third.
13. Most poor people don’t live in poor countries
But most poor people do not live in poor countries. Over 70% of people in absolute poverty actually live in middle-income countries. As of the mid-2000′s, over 170 million people in China (around 13% of its population) and 450 million people in India (around 42% of its population) lived with incomes below the international poverty line. These show the enormity of challenges that the two most populous countries face.