Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Are we actually doing all we can to stop the oil leak?

Health care news: positively, our premature births rate is declining, though still elevated as compared to other nations. Negatively, well, this:
The U.S., which is projected to have 6.7 deaths per 1,000 children this year, saw a 42% decline in child mortality, a pace that is on par with Kazakhstan, Sierra Leone and Angola.

"There are an awful lot of people who think we have the best medical system in the world," said Dr. Christopher Murray, who directs the institute and is an author of the study. "The data is so contrary to that."

Even many countries that already had low child mortality rates, such as Sweden and France, were able to cut their rates more rapidly than the U.S. over the last two decades.

The U.S. mortality rates defy traditional explanations, such as a nation's diversity, high number of immigrants and persistent pockets of poverty, Murray said.

Australia, another diverse country with a large immigrant population, cut its child mortality rate over the last two decades more than the U.S. Australia now ranks 26th in the world.

Murray said high child mortality rates were not limited to black and Latino populations in the U.S. In fact, researchers have found high rates among higher-income whites, a group that traditionally has better access to medical care.

The data instead suggest broader problems with the nation's fragmented, poorly planned healthcare system, Murray and other healthcare experts say.
Truly disturbing. By the way—an unrelated, unfair note—an alert to Los Angeles Times writers: simply because your paper employs Bill Plaschke doesn’t mean you have to write like him. Multiple sentences per paragraph is encouraged.

From time to time, the media hits upon a scandal that really doesn’t seem to be a scandal. The ongoing version of this is the whole Joe Sestak job offer story. The more recent version of this is this Kansas ticket scalping scandal, in which a couple of AAU impresarios organized a ticket scalping ring, which evaded taxes. I guess my first question is, why is ticket scalping illegal/wrong anyway? Like, who really cares? Isn’t that just capitalism right there? If there’s tax evasion there, that’s bad and should be prosecuted, but since it isn’t on the level of, say, Exxon not paying any taxes in the U.S., I have a hard time really getting worked up about it.

More on the French Open shifting locations.

A really great essay about Walmart, design and logistics. Here’s one of my favorite grafs:
Walmart devotes significant resources to the development, maintenance, refinement and synchronization of its distribution and data networks. The company keeps track of every item every customer buys for two years and stores this information in two data centers near its headquarters in Bentonville. Walmart uses this massive amount of information — only the U.S. Department of Defense collects more — to monitor consumer behavior and develop predictive purchasing and distribution models. The transmission of this data is then enabled by Walmart’s large satellite network and its proprietary intra-net, RetailLink. Walmart was also an early proponent of the Universal Product Code, and one of the first retailers to insist on compulsory adoption by its suppliers, which enabled the company to substantially increase the amount and quality of the data it tracked. Furthermore, the UPC, or barcode, serves in a sense to abstract the items moving through Walmart’s supply circuits: they are registered and tracked as numbers rather than things. This process — the quantification of qualities — is apparent in an illustration from 1975 that advises manufacturers on barcode placement: the products themselves are shown as blank forms because, from the merchandiser’s viewpoint, the truly relevant information is contained in the string of binary digits that make up each UPC. For Walton however, this logistical capacity was largely a means to an end. The founder remained focused only on how logistics affected performance — measured in profit. About the company's extensive data network, he wrote: “What I like about it is the kind of information we can pull out of it on a moment’s notice — all those numbers.” [note: footnotes in original have been omitted here]

I’m not a big fan of Sex and the City. Not surprising, I realize, but the good thing about Sex and the City is the negative reviews it generates; the most recent iteration, here, is fairly good by the standards of the hilariously negative review—truly, one of my favorite genres. Here are some of my favorites: Anthony Lane (the master of the bitingly negative review) on Phantom of the Opera, Matt Taibbi on Tom Friedman, and David Foster Wallace on John Updike.

The Kingston standoff over Dudus Coke continues.

The Financial Times follows up on the Harrisburg municipal default story here, and here has a very gloomy survey on the state of local government’s finances.

Wall Street Journal bringing the pain:
Over the past 10 quarters, [Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and Citigroup] have lowered their net borrowings in the "repurchase," or repo, market by an average of 41% at the ends of the quarters, compared with their average net repo borrowings for the entire quarter, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data. Once a new quarter begins, they boost those levels.

The data suggest "conscious balance-sheet management," said Robert Willens, an accounting specialist who heads Robert Willens LLC. If there are big gaps between average quarterly and quarter-end data, he said, the quarter-end numbers "are at best meaningless and at worst misleading and disingenuous."

Speaking of entitled elites continuing to reap unjustified rewards:
Tribune Co. plans to pay 35 of its top executives $14.9 million in additional 2009 bonuses, a court filing revealed late Monday, despite pointed opposition from several key constituents in the company's 17-month-old Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.
The only appropriate number for bonuses is zero. Your firm is in bankruptcy.

Annals of goofy facts about California governance: the elected insurance commissioner regulates auto, home and regular health insurance. He or she doesn’t regulate HMOs. That job is left to an appointed official.

Top ten lessons of the economic meltdown (piquant! But I think ultimately several are mistaken.)

Will Congress take away the E.P.A.’s ability to regulate carbon? Speaking of annals of goofy facts about American governance: apparently the Senate, through a simple majority, can immediately repeal any regulation proposed by a federal agency.

Highly intriguing thoughts about science and the innovation shortfall. Really, I can’t summarize it quickly—so read it yourself.

The debate over GSE reform is beginning.

In the middle of an otherwise distressing article about the chemicals around us, Jerome Groopman of The New Yorker chooses to distress us about the way science is practiced these days:
Demonstrating the malleability of data, Peter Austin, a medical statistician at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, in Toronto, has retrospectively analyzed medical records of the more than ten million residents of Ontario. He showed that Sagittarians are thirty-eight per cent more likely to fracture an arm than people of other astrological signs, and Leos are fifteen per cent more likely to suffer a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. (Pisces were more prone to heart failure.)
Hell of a demonstration. 

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