Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Follow the turtle

An odd Oxonian

A graduate of the University of Oxford is suing his alma mater for “negligent” teaching which allegedly resulted in him failing to graduate with a first class degree. This has affected his income and career prospects. Plus, he suffers from insomnia and depression as a result. There must be some other problems he has as he graduated sixteen years ago.

Free Hugs are Bad... Montreal’s Metro stations. Tommy Boucher has been giving hugs to Metro riders for a year-and-a-half. This week he was fined for doing so because he did not have a permit. I guess there was a stink about the fine as the authorities killed it.

I think this is the first time this has happened since the Free Hugs Movement began years ago. We have been giving them at some of our dinners for years.

A different country

I think we were very different during WWII than we are today, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. While we still had a segregated military and there were conscientious objectors, we were one nation from kids to seniors. We all contributed to our war efforts and the war was in the news every day. I don't like most overtly patriotic songs, but this one moved this country in WWII.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Administration can be expensive

At least as practiced by the Pentagon. It has 1.3 million troops on active duty but needs almost a million desk jockeys, including about 300,000 contractors. A study by the Defense Business Board, an advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey concluded that we could save $125 billion over five years by streamlining the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailing the use of contractors and making better use of information technology. But this conclusion was not accepted by management. Why is unknown as the department imposed secrecy restrictions on the data and removed a 77-page summary report from its website .

Trees can communicate

So says Peter Wohlleben, a professional forester in Germany. He is reporting on his own experience and that of scientists. Their theory is that there is a vast underground network, called a mycorrhiza, in which fungi connect trees of different species by passing chemical and electrical signals among the trees’ roots. It was an arboreal Internet—christened the “wood wide web.” Trees could actually communicate by exchanging carbon through their roots. The exchange offered mutual support. Carbon is the food of trees, created by photosynthesis, using the leaves as solar panels. Sometimes one tree would act as mother to its neighbors, giving them more carbon than it received in return. Later the debt would be repaid as the roles were reversed.

Continued studies told the scientists that trees exchanged vital information, warning their neighbors (and children) of threats and advising them of opportunities to seize. For example, if a tree’s leaves are bitten by a caterpillar, it will send a message though the mycorrhiza, prompting other trees in the network to release chemicals that repel caterpillars. 

Wohlleben believes trees have feelings, they knew how to communicate with one another, and that the strong assist the weak. 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Costs and Benefits

We don't do too much analysis of costs and benefits when it comes to prescription drugs. Other countries do. They first see whether the new drugs really have solid benefits that the proposed price justifies. Then, they'll haggle over the price. We don't regulate or negotiate the prices of new prescription drugs when they come onto market.  The drug companies charge what they want. As a result, we pay more than other countries do.

There is one exception. The VA does negotiate drug prices. It gets drugs that are usually 40 percent cheaper than what Medicare pays. But it also covers fewer products.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Military on Climate Change

Some generals are really worried. "Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century,” said Maj Gen Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh. Brig Gen Stephen Cheney, a member of the US Department of State’s foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project, said: “Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal. 

The generals said the impacts of climate change were already factors in the conflicts driving a current crisis of migration into Europe, having been linked to the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency.They are now warning that immediate action is required.

One Hell in America

That's what solitary confinement is. Between 80,000 and 120,000 men and women are held in solitary confinement every day in this country. Most of them are African-American or Hispanic, and make up 80 percent of the country’s prison population and 95 percent of the inmates confined in solitary cells. Things are getting worse: in the five-year period from 1995 to 2000, the most recent years for which data are available, the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement increased by 40 percent. Here's what a solitary cell in Rikers looks like:

Note that the light is always on. Usually there aren’t any windows. The toilet has no toilet seat or paper and there is no shower. In a book containing essays by former residents of solitary, Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement, residents describe being shackled to their bunks by their feet and hands, and moved from place to place like animals. They report being fed slop and also left without food in a state of extreme hunger. They write that hooded guards, armed with tasers and bats, in body armor and riot gear, extract prisoners from their cells and leave them lying on the floor, beaten, bruised, and unexamined by doctors. And the place truly stinks.

Prisoners are subject to the whims of prison officials, they have no legal recourse. They can be placed in solitary for minor infractions such as walking too slowly, or too fast, or talking too much. Prison guards are prosecutors, witnesses, and judges.

A Wall Street Journal View of Trump

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

True Love

Mitch McConnell truly loves his wife, Elaine Chao. She has been nominated by Trump to be Transportation Secretary. She's probably a good choice as she has served as Deputy Transportation Secretary and, I'd wager, she is a shoo-in to be confirmed. Her husband will be one of the people voting on that confirmation. He is truly an odd guy.

George Washington's teeth

Courtesy of a Duncaster resident