Saturday, March 29, 2008

The law of unintended consequences strikes the environment

As the world has become obsessed with bio-fuels, we forgot that in order to produce it we have to both take resources away from food production and accelerate deforestation to grow the crops. This results in a rising cost of food, and greater carbon emissions fron deforestation - as well the the potential extinction of species of animals, birds, and plants. This is likely to prove as destructive, in a different way, as fossil fuels.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Do Journalists understand science enough?

Science is not like politics where there may be several legitimate points of view. In science there is often only right, or wrong. Yet journalists feel obligated, when presenting a perspective on global warming, or evolution to present the opposing point of view also. This is harmful, as it seriously misleads by allowing people to think. for example that there is serious debate about the topics among scientists.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What inadvertent damage we do by verbally supporting some dissidents without following through

The US has a long habit of verbally supporting dissident groups in other countries so strongly that they believe that they will get material help from the US. Then when they rebel the US stands by and watches as they get crushed. This is happening now in Tibet. The US awarded the Dalia Lama the Congressional Gold medal, but is not prepared to be active in supporting the Tibetans who demonstrated against China. The US did this to the Kurds under Saddam Hussain and as far back as 1956, verbally encouraged the Hungarian uprising, but had to watch its brutal suppression by Russia. It is critical that the US understands how words of support may be read by oppressed people around the world, or many more people will die.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A system is only as good as the people who run it

Every now and again we hear about IRS employees looking at taxpayer's individual tax records out or curiosity. Recently, we hear about State Department employees looking at Senator Barack Obama's passport records. The New York Times carried a story about potentially thousands of immigration agents demanding sex or money in exchange for favorable consideration for a green card. We constantly forget, when we put in a system, that people have to run it. People are fallible and corruptible. Therefore, the more complex the system, and the more dependent it is on people who run it, the more likely it is to become corrupt.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What makes us think that most politicians get caught when they step over the line?

We wring our hands over politicians who get caught in illegal or immoral behavior. Yet there is no reason to think that those we hear about are the only ones. It is clear that there are many politicians who are not caught, but are guilty. Of course, that then begs the question of whether behavior which is licentious, but not illegal nor involved theft or bribery, necessarily hurts their ability to govern.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Is the fact that 25% of the time, the US is obsessed by presidential elections a national handicap?

No other democracy spends so long a time carrying out elections. While one can argue that this means they are thorough, it is both a major distraction of time for politicians and it means that they have to spend as much time fund-raising as they do governing the country. This has to hurt the US

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Is a faked autobiography any less literature for being faked?

There have been several scandals recently when the author of an "autobiography" turns out to have made it all up. It is a novel rather than fact. Now does the artist have to be ethical to be talented? The same question was asked about Leni Reifenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker. In reality art does not change according to the views or behavior of the creator. So if a book is outstanding should it really be removed from shelves if it turns out to be fiction?

Do "loyalty marketing" programs discourage loyalty?

So many "loyalty" programs essentially try to trap the customer. Then they apply "bait and switch" by changing the rules. Now perhaps the company gets "loyal" behavior for a while, but the moment the customer has an opportunity to leave, he or she does - with glee!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Why is it that obituaries can be so fascinating?

A well written obituary is a work of art. It can be instructive, thought-provoking, and touching. It is not merely the obituaries of famous people, but often those of people who lived otherwise ordinary lives who, perhaps, once in their lives, did something extraordinary. Whether that is an act of heroism, creativity, or selflessness, the contrast shows us that we each have within us, the ability to become special, even if only for a moment.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tesco's Fresh & Easy stores - simple to fix

I have written much about the new Fresh & Easy stores since shortly after they opened. I predicted failure based on careful study. While others were initially favorable, more and more observers are now pessimistic. Yet, most of the problems are easily, though not always rapidly, fixable. Yet, the more criticism which is directed at them, the more they dig their heels in and refuse to change. One of the great advantages a retailer has is that of instant feedback, yet Tesco's reaction has been to attack the symptoms rather than the causes. Perhaps the company has become so used to adulation, that it just cannot accept and learn from problems.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

5.3 million sane and free adult Americans do not have the right to vote

In many states, once someone has "paid their debt to society" they may not be allowed to vote ever again. Of course, this depends on the accident of which state in which you live. While some people claim that this dates back to medieval days, when forfeiture of propery and of civil rights was part of conviction. However, this was largely abandoned in all English Common Law when many Southern States re-introduced it. This was probably motivated by a wish to restrict voting by African-Americans in a back door way. While about 17 states have some form of this, no one seems to be outraged by the inequity of it.

Medical records - medical wasted costs

Three years ago I moved and changed doctors. To this day, in spite of repeated requests and mailing a check for $20, the files have still not been mailed to my current doctor. In most Wesdern countries almost all files are electronic. This not only reduces cost, but improves treatment and reduces error. In the US, this is rare. In most Western countries, appointments and follow-up are made electronically. There seems to be no incentive in the US to reduce cost, which is simply passed on, but also there is apparently no incentive to reduce error.