Ronald Bailey looks at the too-good-to-be-true claims made for caloric reduction as a life-extending tool:
Last week, two research teams reported to great fanfare that restricting the calories consumed by rhesus monkeys had extended their lifespans. Calorie restriction is thought to increase longevity by boosting DNA repair. The idea is that the mechanism evolved so that creatures on the verge of starvarion could live long enough to reproduce when food becomes plentiful again. But did the experiments really show the CR works?
In my earlier blogpost on the research results, I noted that some experts quoted in the New York Times were not convinced. Why? Because the difference in actual death rates between the dieting monkeys and the free feeding monkeys was not statistically significant.
This doesn't necessarily derail the notion that calorie restriction may be associated with increased lifespan, but the way this study was performed does not appear to prove anything due to rigging of the data.
Megan McArdle points out another datum on whether nationalizing the U.S. healthcare system will actually provide the touted cost savings and quality improvements:
. . . here's the thing: Army hospitals have all the advantages that single-payer advocates love about the VA. They're unified. There's no profit incentive — indeed, the doctors are on quite low salaries. They have great incentives for preventive care. They certainly don't have any profit motive to provide bad care. So why did Walter Reed suck? And what guarantees that the VA is the system we'll follow, rather than the multiple other dysfunctional government systems everyone hates?
Bureaucracies are really good at doing bureaucratic things. Delivering healthcare services has a bureaucratic side — like almost anything else nowadays — but it's not the core functionality of the system. But it will quickly become the core function of the system if it is converted to a single-payer model.
I have tried pointing Americans at the British example to show them what an appalling idea it is to have the state directing any industry, let alone medical care. But alas it is very hard to overcome that special kind of insular American optimism that does not think what happens in another advanced first world nation can teach them anything, because in the USA things will be different.
Well yes, it will be different . . . in that the control obsessed Obama's of this world will find new, innovative and oh so wholesome American ways to end up with a third rate health care system much like Britain has today.
This might be a good time for Americans to invest their money in Swiss medical clinics as I suspect in the coming years expatriated medical care will be a serious growth industry... plus it has the added benefit of getting your money out of the USA and US dollar.
Perry de Havilland, "A stupidity of voters'', Samizdata, 2009-06-21
I am a gold medalist in the macho Sleepless Working Olympics. I once worked a 60-hour shift without sleep. (Yes, that's 2.5 days without any shuteye.) One stormy February, I put in 468 hours, almost 120 hours a week for four weeks straight, sleeping an average of less than 4 hours a night. I have enjoyed all the exciting side effects of prolonged sleep deprivation, like uncontrollable "microsleep" which once almost caused me to walk into the path of a cab, or the hallucinations that set in after 48 hours or so — not fun hallucinations, either, just long conversations with co-workers who turned out to have left the building hours or even days before. I was essentially dreaming with my eyes open.
So I know whereof I speak when I think about interns training on gruelling regimens. And you know what I learned on all those sleepless nights?
Well, actually, not much. It turns out that adequate sleep is crucial to memory formation. But I did manage to process and retain one fact: when you have not had enough sleep, you. are. stupid.
Megan McArdle, "Let them sleep!", Asymmetrical Information, 2009-06-12
Estimates of the cost of Obama care start at $1.2 trillion over the next decade. The administration believes it can cover about half that amount through tax increases on the rich and greater efficiencies in Medicare and Medicaid. But it's hard to find anyone else who shares that touching faith. When I asked Robert Bixby, head of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan fiscal watchdog group, he said, "I don't see any plausible way of getting the savings they need to add the expanded coverage in a deficit-neutral way."
There are only three ways to pay for this expansion of health insurance coverage: increased taxes, reduced benefits, or shiny gold ingots falling out of the sky. Voters emphatically prefer the latter option, so that is the one most likely to be embraced by Congress and the administration.
Steve Chapman, "Indulging Our Health Care Fantasies: The problem with Obama's health care plan", Reason Online, 2009-06-15
Think about this for a moment. Medicare is a huge, single-payer, government-run program. It ought to provide the perfect environment for experimentation. If more-efficient government management can slash health-care costs by addressing all these problems, why not start with Medicare? Let's see what "better management" looks like applied to Medicare before we roll it out to the rest of the country.
This is not a completely cynical suggestion. Medicare is, for instance, a logical place to start to design better electronic records systems and the incentives to use them. But you do have to wonder why a report that claims that Medicare is wasting 30 percent of its spending thinks it's making a case for making the rest of the health care system more like Medicare.
Virginia Postrel, "Medicare First!", The Dynamist, 2009-06-04
I had to visit our local hospital late last night, and parked for two hours in the almost-empty parking garage adjacent to the Emergency entrance. When I checked out, I discovered that parking at the hospital is roughly four times as expensive as parking in downtown Toronto during the week: $13.50. Unless I'm hallucinating, the last time I parked there a few years ago, the parking was more like $2 per hour. I guess the hospital has figured out that when you're bringing someone in to the Emergency entrance, you don't really have a choice about where you park your vehicle . . .
Further to the series of "OMG! We're all gonna die!" coverage in most media reports, Drew Curtis points out a few less-than-panicking facts:
Here's what's happened since I wrote my original article, "Why Swine Flu Isn't Going to Kill Us All".
- A toddler in Texas has died of the swine flu
- Mexico's infection and death estimates continue to climb
- The World Health Organization has raised it's pandemic warning from 5 to 6, the top of the scale
These three items have ruled headlines for the past 24 hours. However here are a few other things that are going on that you may not have heard.
- 36,000 people die every year from the regular flu.
- Since I wrote my article on Monday, 1 person in the United States has died from swine flu.
- The tally in the last three days: Swine Flu: 1, Real Flu: 295.
I mentioned in my last update that only 18 deaths had been confirmed to have been from Swine Flu, and that the other figures were estimates. That confirmed total has since been revised downward to 7. To quote Stratfor's reaction to this data:
"There is still a lack of information regarding the particulars about this new pathogen; but if it has killed only seven people after two months of spreading in a country with somewhat limited health care services, perhaps its virulence is not so harsh after all, even if its communicability is impressive."
In any case of an outbreak of a communicable disease, caution is warranted. Panic certainly isn't.
On a lighter note, Kernel of Wisdom presents WHO Level 5 Swine Alert!! Tips for Survival!.
Well, it was a nice 100 days of administration peace and harmony, wasn't it? Who'd have expected the Vice President to be the one to finally sound the klaxon of alarm that the media have been tuning up for the last little while. Here's the official Vice Presidential health advice for today:
I would tell members of my family — and I have — I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now [. . .] It's not that it's going to Mexico. It's [that] you're in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me. [. . .] So, from my perspective, what it relates to is mitigation. If you're out in the middle of a field when someone sneezes, that's one thing. If you're in a closed aircraft or closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it's a different thing.
So much for the President's rather more careful advice about the situation. At least Obama didn't call for everyone to abandon mass transit and avoid air travel at all costs.
Jeff Winkler reports on, among other things, the most recent nomenclature decision of the Israeli Health Ministry:
Orthodox Jews will not be referring to the flu as it relates to filthy pigs. So dirty are the animals that their name can't be uttered. However, Israeli Health Minister Yakov Litzman has declared "Mexican Flu" to be a fittingly swinish substitute, making it Kosher to identify a particular country with filth and disease. Apparently, Kosher does not mean "it's cool," which confuse Goyim, who still struggle with the meaning of other Jewish words, like "shmuck."
Update: Another group in favour of finding a new name for the disease are pig farmers and pork product companies:
For U.S. pork producers the swine flu name has hurt, forcing government officials into the position of stressing that American pork is safe to eat and that other countries should not ban imports.
Pork, soybean and corn prices have fallen in the last two days, "and if this continues, obviously you have significant potential, which is why it's important to get this right," Vilsack said.
At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was also talk of stripping the "swine" from swine flu, which CDC acting director Richard Besser said was leading to the misapprehension that people can catch the disease from pork.
"That's not helpful to pork producers. That's not helpful to people who eat pork. It's not helpful to people who are wondering, how can they get this infection," Besser told a briefing.
According to this article in Pravda, Russian beer is being regulated:
The content of toxic substances — lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, radioactive nuclides, caesium, pesticides and ergot — must be restricted in the Russian beer. Parasites of bread reserves — insects and ticks — must not appear in the production process. Beer must be made without the use of ethyl alcohol. Labels on the end product must provide full and true information for customers. These are a few of the new technical regulations on beer; the document was submitted to the Russian parliament, the State Duma, on Tuesday, The Vremya Novostei newspaper wrote.
A couple of thoughts on this, first "Yikes! I'm not drinking any Russian beer after reading that!", but second "Wait a second . . . has this gone through a typical media thought filter?"
It's a rare media outlet that ever has second thoughts about regulation — any regulation — being a good thing. As reported, this appears to be a good thing. After all, who wants to drink beer with contaminants like "lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury" in measurable quantities?
But just because it's going to be restricted in future doesn't mean it's already in the product. For instance, you could pass a regulation saying that Australian beer must contain no more than 1 microgram of U-238 per serving or that South African beer was limited to a maximum of 16 millilitres of liquid yak vomit. The media in those jurisdictions could be depended on to jump on the story as "OZ beer no longer radioactive!" or "SAB not allowed to put Yak Vomit in Beer!"
Doesn't mean it ever contained those things, just that it's now legally not allowed to contain 'em. After all, brewing is a pretty simple process involving a relatively small number of ingredients to produce the basic beer — water, hops, and (usually) malted grain. It's possible (even likely) that some Russian beers have included contaminants from improperly treated water, badly maintained brewing equipment, or (especially if rye is the source of the malt) traces of ergot.
Hmmm. On third thought, maybe I'll skip Russian beer, just in case . . .
In a refreshing break from the non-stop panic, Toronto's CITY-TV reports on the first confirmed cases of Swine Flu in the GTA:
For days, officials had been saying "when" not "if." That prognostication proved prescient on Tuesday, as Ontario health experts confirmed four cases of the swine flu turned up close to home in this province.
Three women have tested positive for the malady in Durham while a man is sick in York. None are directly in Toronto yet, but that could certainly change. At least 20 more people in Ontario are being probed to see if they have the influenza strain, a number Dr. David Williams, Ontario's Chief Acting Medical Officer of Health, calls "fluid."
Those affected aren't seriously ill and are recovering at home. All had recently travelled to Mexico. "These are mild cases," confirms Williams. "All the cases we've seen so far are mild, self limiting and it's like flu season continuing."
But, of course, we have to have a tension-escalating item:
But treating the disease or finding a vaccine may not be easy. "There is already evidence that the virus is mutating rapidly, as influenza does, and so whatever our model is going to be will be based on the history of the virus from a few weeks earlier," warns Dr. Vivek Goel of the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion.
OMG! He said "mutating"! The only things that ever mutate in movies are super-villains and monsters! Everybody PANIC!
Or, y'know, not.
Evgeny Morozov makes some good points about Twitter not being well suited to certain kinds of communication:
Who knew that swine flu could also infect Twitter? Yet this is what appears to have happened in the last 24 hours, with thousands of Twitter users turning to their favorite service to query each other about this nascent and potentially lethal threat as well as to share news and latest developments from Mexico, Texas, Kansas and New York (you can check most recent Twitter updates on the subject by searching for "swine flu" and "#swineflu"). And despite all the recent Twitter-enthusiasm about this platform's unique power to alert millions of people in decentralized and previously unavailable ways, there are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter's role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu.
First of all, I should point out from the very outset that anyone trying to make sense of how Twitter's "global brain" has reacted to the prospect of the swine flu pandemic is likely to get disappointed. The "swine flu" meme has so far that misinformed and panicking people armed with a platform to broadcast their fears are likely to produce only more fear, misinformation and panic.
His quoted examples of individual Twitter updates illustrate quite nicely how quickly it can turn into a game of Telephone (or Chinese Whispers to the Brits).
He also makes the following somewhat ironic statement: "In moments like this, one is tempted to lament the death of broadcasting, for it seems that the information from expert sources — government, doctors, and the like — should probably be prioritized over everything else and have a higher chance of being seen". As illustrated in the last two posts, the mainstream media have been doing their level best to hype up the panic levels and make the situation seem even more scary than it already is. Given that, it's just as well that fewer and fewer people take their "authoritative" news from those sources!
Just finished, here's how the CBC evening news went:
tamil protest in TO
DUI manslaughter conviction
tamil protest in TO
pitch more swine flu coverage on late news ("how worried should you be?" I'm dying to find out!)
a couple of arts stories
pitch more swine flu coverage on late news
swine flu 'update'
tamil protest in TO (I get it, university ave is closed)
That's just one dose of daily news and I'm ready to jump off of my 8th-floor balcony rather than hear about it again. Also, I feel like I am at that stupid protest (actually it's only a couple blocks away from my apt, I heard some of it earlier) after having seen all of that stock footage of it .
As Drew Curtis said, it's a potentially bad public health situation, but it's not the apocalypse, and all the media pantswetting is not helping. The CBC is not alone in this, of course, as the British media have spent the last 24 hours publicizing an off-the-cuff comment by an EU official as a formal travel warning to the US and Mexico. As Gawker put it, "Even in Mexico, the epicenter of the deadly outbreak, and home to a far, far worse health care system than we have, it's only killed 103 people. That's a lot fewer people than have been killed in the Juarez drug war this year. This is a page B-3 story that's gone all A-1."
In case you haven't been paying attention (like, well, me), here's a quick summary from the media: Mexican Flu! It's the pandemic we've been warning you about for years! You're all gonna die!
Drew Curtis (of fark.com fame) clarifies the underlying complexity of the situation:
Finally, something of substance has appeared in the news. Swine Flu will kill us all. EVERYBODY PANIC.
First off, I mentioned this in my book in the chapter on Media Fearmongering (which, if you read it, you're already recognizing the signs in MSM today). The problem with being the guy telling everyone not to panic is that if you're wrong, you're an idiot. As opposed to being wrong when predicting the apocalypse, in which case everyone just laughs at how silly you were for predicting the apocalypse. If you want to win every argument with no danger of coming down with "Long Term Idiot Stigma", be a consummate pessimist. If you think about it, probably every argumentative asshole you've ever met is one.
- The Mexican Government estimates that 86 people (or more) have died from Swine Flu. Okay, that's tragic. But why the hell are we taking their numbers at face value? For starters, if you read the fine print the death numbers being tossed around are estimates. There are 18 confirmed deaths so far. Which ain't awesome, but it's a damn sight better than a hundred.
- In quite a few articles I've read, I've seen statements to the effect of researchers aren't sure why the cases in the US and Canada appear to be milder than the ones in Mexico and none have resulted in death. I know we'd all like to pretend that Mexico has its act together, but last time I checked Mexico was a third world country with third world healthcare. Do the math.
- Speaking of no one having died in the US and Canada, not only has no one in a first world country died from Swine Flu yet, but so far no one's even rumored to be in danger of dying. And most of the confirmed cases got better on their own after a few days at home. EVERYBODY PANIC
Update: Reader "Ben" sent the following related comment:
Did you hear about the high school in California that closed because ONE kid was /mildly/ ill... they sent everyone home while they check to see if it's even the swine flu.
THEY SENT EVERYONE HOME AND DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THE KID HAS!
what if its' only food poisoning?
Bureaucrats, especially school board 'rats, don't get paid to make decisions sensibly. They get paid to implement board policy, however ill-advised and clumsy it may be. As someone once said, no bureaucrat has ever been fired for following written policy, while those who try to do the "right thing" too often end up as object lessons for new staff.
This is probably another variant of the "zero-tolerance" notion that's embedded itself in school board administrative policies. Nobody will be held to be in the wrong, or have made a mistake as long as they followed the set procedures. There's probably a policy document detailing what to do in the case of various health-related issues, and this'll be the "big red button" option.
Visitors since 17 August, 2004