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3.31.2004

Saving John Kerry for Game 8 

I don't know how I missed this article from last November, but here's a hilarious little baseball metaphor for this year's presidential election.

I'd have to agree with the general strategy laid out in that post -- anger and mouth-frothing do not seem to be particularly effective ways of winning elections (cf. 1998 and 2002 midterm elections).

3.30.2004

Caught unaware? 

I have to say that I'm rather unimpressed by Richard Clarke's allegations that the White House was unprepared for the attacks of September 11.

Duh. Of course the Bush administration was unprepared for the attacks. It's a pretty simply conclusion, really: the attacks happened. They were not announced in advance. Ergo, we were caught off guard by the attacks. QED.

Judging from the fact that al-Qaeda still existed in good health in 2001, the Clinton administration didn't seem to have made much of an effort to eradicate al-Qaeda either. The DoD, FBI, and other federal agencies deal with a lot of intelligence about these sorts of things, and it's anyone's guess how they figure out how much weight to put on each piece of information.

I wonder if Richard Clarke would have complained about civil liberties if we had caught the hijackers on September 10; I know a lot of other folks would have.

3.29.2004

The hands of love 

Some lady in Texas thought God was telling her to kill her three sons.

If you don't understand the headline, it's a U2 reference.

Maybe the US wasn't starving hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children after all 

We all remember the evening news spots on the thousands of Iraqi children who were undernourished and undermedicated because the US persuaded the UN to slap trade sanctions on Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the 1990s.

Well, a different story is emerging:



Never has there been a financial rip-off of the magnitude of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal.

At least $5 billion in kickbacks went from corrupt contractors — mainly French and Russian — into the pockets of Saddam and his thugs. Some went to pay off his protectors in foreign governments and media, and we may soon see how much stuck to the fingers of U.N. bureaucrats as well.

Responding to a harangue in this space on March 17, the spokesman for Kofi Annan confirmed that the secretary general's soft-spoken son, Kojo, was on the payroll of Cotecna Inspections of Switzerland until December 1998. In that very month, the U.N. awarded Cotecna the contract to monitor and authenticate the goods shipped to Iraq.

Prices were inflated to allow for 10 percent kickbacks, and the goods were often shoddy and unusable. As the lax Cotecna made a lot of corporate friends, Iraqi children suffered from rotted food and diluted medicines.

The U.N. press agent also revealed that Benon Sevan, Annan's longtime right-hand man in charge of the flow of billions, was advised by U.N. lawyers that the names of companies receiving the contracts were "privileged commercial information, which could not be made public." Mr. Sevan had stonewalling help.

To shift responsibility for the see-no-evil oversight, the U.N. spokesman noted that "details of all contracts were made available to the governments of all 15 Security Council members." All the details, including the regular 10 percent kickback to the tune of $5 billion in illegal surcharges? We'll see.



I can understand why liberals and leftists don't trust our federal government (even if I don't fully agree). I don't understand at all why the UN and its associated member states are such an authority in their eyes though.

3.28.2004

Meta-commentary 

For once can we get a Final Four without Billy Packer? The guy is entirely too much in love with the sound of his own voice.

Bill Raftery is a enthusiastic and insightful commentator who displays none of the arrogance that Packer does. He'd be a fine Final Four color guy. (He does have more than his fair share of stupid catchphrases though -- "a lingerie move...look at that penetration!")

Hell, I'll take Dick Vitale over Packer. While Dickie V's shtick gets old pretty quickly, he's a knowledgeable commentator and a genuinely humble and nice guy.

Willpower 

When one has a month or so to fix a bug in one's dissertation research and write the whole thing up, it is wise to remember the words of our Jedi master Yoda:



No! Try not! Do. Or do not. There is no try.


3.27.2004

MIT grad trying out for San Diego Padres 

Jason Szuminski, MIT '00, is currently going through spring training with the Padres and has a nontrivial chance to make the roster.

I do wish that writers would give a complete explanation for why baseballs curve and airplanes fly, though:



Frankly, I hope Jason Szuminski cracks the Padres pitching staff to become the first M.I.T. graduate to play in the major leagues, if only for the following possible clubhouse conversation.

Szuminski: You know Boomer, the reason a curveball curves is because its spin creates a difference in airflow around the ball. It's the same principle as with an airplane or a Frisbee. Or it's like when you're rowing a canoe and you make the canoe turn by dragging one oar in the water.

David Wells: Hey, Professor, try this experiment. Pull my finger.



The principle that is usually quoted is Bernoulli's principle, which claims that a differential in air speed around the sides of a airplane wing or spinning baseball or other object causes a differential in air pressure that causes the desired deflection (upward for an airplane, sideways for a curveball, and so forth).

As any MIT grad knows, this Bernoulli effect is negligible compared to the other aerodynamic phenomena that are really at work. For example, take a piece of paper, curve it upwards and blow across the top of it. Bernoulli's principle claims that the faster airflow across the top of the paper will decrease the air pressure across the top of the paper and pull it up, but your piece of paper will actually be deflected downwards.

The correct explanation is given in terms of the Coanda effect; a good reference is this website. Suffice it to say that the incompressibility of air forces the airflow around an object to follow the motion of that object; the Coanda effect is then essentially a corollary of Newton's third law.

If you're flying a plane with wings curved downward, the airflow will be forced downward by the shape of the wings. If the plane is pulling the air down, the air must therefore pull the plane up. The reverse holds if the wings are curved upward.

The spinning motion of a ball adds a new wrinkle to the phenomenon, but it does seem to be understood. If you're a righty throwing a curveball, your middle finger snaps down the left (first base) side of the ball, imparting a slight spin to it. The left side of the ball will be rotating towards you, and the right (third base) side will be rotating away from you. Since the left side of the ball is spinning with the incoming airflow, the air on that side is more easily entrained to follow the curvature of the ball's surface. Since the ball is convex, the air gets pulled towards the ball, and the ball deflects to the left.

If one appealed to the Bernoulli principle alone, one would conclude that the airflow over the right side of the ball would be faster, since the right side of the ball is spinning into the incoming air. One would then conclude that the curveball would break to the right.

3.26.2004

Scary 

Looks like "The Passion Of The Christ" may save one man's soul.

3.23.2004

White men can't jump, but they can shred documents like nobody's business 

Okay, that last phrase was shamelessly stolen by Rick Reilly.

Anyway, Bob Ryan picked Western Michigan to beat Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament because Vandy was "too white."

3.21.2004

Rite of spring 

Time to put the NCAA basketball bracket through the document shredder again.

A political victory for the terrorists 

I've been trying to convince myself for a while that the Socialists' victory in Spain was a consequence of the Popular Party trying to pin the train blast on the ETA, not a direct consequence of the attack itself. Alas, I don't really think that's true anymore.

Is it possible to support the larger war on terrorism while opposing the invasion of Iraq? Yes.
Did the removal of Saddam Hussein open up another front in the war on terrorism? Yes.
Was Jose Maria Aznar's tactic of blaming the ETA for the train blasts dishonest and poorly calculated? Yes.
Does the US and the international community at large need to engage in cultural warfare against al-Qaeda and other groups as well as military warfare? Yes.
Is withdrawing troops from Iraq while terrorism is still a huge threat there a constructive tactic? No.

It seems like the Islamist terrorists may halt operations in Spain now that the new government has pledged to remove their troops from Iraq. Okay, that's a good thing for Spain. But why do the terrorists want foreign troops out of Spain? It's not so that the people of Iraq can live in peace and harmony, free of foreign influence. In the text of a rather amusing political announcement, the Islamist terrorists once again reveal their concerns:



The statement said it supported President Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom."

In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."



The theme of this announcement is consistent with others given by al-Qaeda: their mission is to reestablish fundamentalist Islamic rule in the Arab lands. Right or wrong, we created a vacuum of sorts in Iraq by deposing Saddam Hussein, and we cannot allow it to be filled by the Islamists.

3.17.2004

Wanted 

Does anybody have tickets to Penn's commencement that they'd like to sell?

Tips on problem sets in a science or mathematics class 

Based on my experiences as an instructor, I can offer the following advice:


3.16.2004

Reverse the curse 

MIT has won the Putnam Mathematical Competition, snapping a 25-year-long streak of futility that included three second-place finishes in the last five years. Longtime rival Harvard finished second, marking the fourth time in the last ten years that Harvard has not won.

Perhaps this is a good omen for another talented Boston team that has also experienced a long championship drought and has often finished second to its bitter, much more handsomely endowed rivals.

3.15.2004

CBS to implement 10-second delay during Final Four 

Article is here.

I guess they must have been tipped off that someone's going to streak during the Final Four.

Or they're afraid of another incident like Roy Williams's "I could give a shit about Carolina right now" interview. I was quite impressed with Williams after that interview. Until, of course, he took the vacant North Carolina coaching gig.

Aliso Viejo officials briefly consider banning dihydrogen monoxide 

Stuff like this is just too good to make up.

(Link via Eugene Volokh.)

3.13.2004

Harvard to reduce or eliminate expected tuition contributions from low-income families 

This is the text of an email that President Larry Summers sent to Harvard alumni:



Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am excited to share with you the news of an important new initiative designed
to encourage students from families of low and moderate income to attend
Harvard College. This initiative has four major components: financial aid,
recruitment, admissions, and a special program for high school students.

The key element is that parents with incomes below $40,000 will no longer be
expected to contribute to the cost of their child's education at Harvard. In
addition, Harvard will reduce the contributions expected of families with
incomes between $40,000 and $60,000. We have earmarked $2 million in new
financial aid funds to cover this expanded aid next year, and we expect that
the new formula, which will take effect in the fall for all students - entering
and returning - will benefit more than 1,000 families next year.

This nation has done much since the Second World War to promote equality of
opportunity, but we can and must do more. In spite of the great strides this
country has made, the gap between the children of different economic
backgrounds has increased sharply over the last generation. In the most
selective colleges and universities, children whose families are in the lower
half of the American income distribution are underrepresented by 80 percent.

Addressing this gap has become more urgent than ever before because our
nation's competitiveness depends increasingly on the quality of those who
graduate from our nation's universities and colleges. Only by assuring access
to everyone can we maximize the quality of our nation's college graduates.

If you would like to read the transcript of my remarks on this topic at the
American Council on Education's annual meeting last week, or find a link to the
press release detailing Harvard's new initiative, please visit

http://www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2004/ace.html">

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Lawrence H. Summers



Anti-terrorism demonstrations 

InstaPundit has links to a whole bunch of blogs that have pictures of anti-terrorism demonstrations in Madrid.

I have to wonder, though -- what exactly is the point of these demonstrations? I can understand the purpose of organizing anti-terrorism demonstrations in Iraq and the massive amount of attention that devoted warbloggers have been giving them; after all, there is a widespread perception that the terrorists' goal is to drive the foreign troops out of Iraq, and that the people of Iraq share this desire.

But why the demonstrations in Spain? I could be wrong, but ETA doesn't seem to have nearly the sympathy among the people of Spain that al-Qaeda and other groups have in the Arab world. And if it was al-Qaeda or another Islamist group that bombed the train, well, they're definitely enemies of the people. It doesn't seem like 2.3 million people protesting is going to change anyone's minds.

On top of that, a 2.3 million-strong semi-spontaneous demonstration makes an awfully inviting target for a squad of suicide bombers. I'm surprised that the demonstrations went on without incident.

UPDATE: In another (and much smaller) protest, demonstrators have accused Jose Maria Aznar of pinning the blame for the attacks on the ETA in an attempt to cover up the possibility that the attack may have been executed by Islamist terrorists. Hmm.

UPDATE: If in fact Aznar and the Popular Party were trying to hide evidence that Islamist terrorists were responsible for the bombing, that tactic sure backfired.

3.12.2004

Train bombed in Madrid 

And it looks like it may have been Islamist terrorists instead of the ETA.

3.11.2004

Oil-for-food grifting 

Yet another one from the subscription-only Wall Street Journal (boo! hiss! boo!). Evidence that Saddam had bribed government officials in other countries in order to get them to oppose a US-led invasion of Iraq has been turning up for a while, but here's a real bombshell:



A letter has come to The Wall Street Journal supporting allegations that among those favored by Saddam with gifts of oil was Benon Sevan, director of the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food Program. As detailed on this page on Feb. 9, Mr. Sevan's name appears on a list of individuals, companies and organizations that allegedly received oil allocations or vouchers from Saddam that could then be sold via middlemen for a significant markup. The list, compiled in Arabic from documents uncovered in Iraq's oil ministry, included many of Saddam's nearest and dearest from some 50 countries, including the PLO, pro-Saddam British MP George Galloway, and French politician Charles Pasqua. (Messrs. Galloway and Pasqua have denied receiving anything from Saddam.) According to the list, first published by the Iraqi daily Al Mada in January, Mr. Sevan was another beneficiary, via a company in Panama known as Africa Middle East Petroleum, Co. Ltd. (AMEP), about which we have learned quite a bit.

Mr. Sevan, through a U.N. spokesperson, has also denied the allegation. But the letter, which two separate sources familiar with its origins say was recovered from Iraqi Oil Ministry files, raises new questions about Mr. Sevan's relationship with Iraqi authorities.

The letter is dated Aug. 10, 1998, and addressed to Iraq's oil minister. It states: "Mr. Muwafaq Ayoub of the Iraqi mission in New York informed us by telephone that the above-mentioned company has been recommended by his excellency Mr. Sevan, director of the Iraqi program at the U.N., during his recent trip to Baghdad." The matter is then recommended "for your consideration and proportioning" and the letter is signed Saddam Zain Hassan, executive manager of the State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO), the Iraqi state-owned company responsible for negotiating oil sales with foreign buyers. A handwritten note below the signature confirms the request was granted "by his excellency the Vice President of the Republic [presumably Taha Yassin Ramadan, now in U.S. custody] in a meeting of the Command Council on the morning of Aug. 15, 1998." Scrawled below that to one side is another note stating that 1.8 million barrels were allocated to the company two days later, on Aug. 17.
A second document shown to the Journal is a chart in Arabic with the heading "Quantity of Oil Allocated and Given to Mr. Benon Sevan." The Oil-for-Food program was divided into 13 phases in all, representing roughly six-month periods from December 1996 through June 2003. Under phase four (during which the letter was written), the chart shows 1.8 million barrels as having been allocated to Mr. Sevan and 1,826 million barrels "executed." In some phases the chart indicates that an oil allocation was approved but no contract was executed for some reason, so that the total allocation awarded to Mr. Sevan in phases four through 13 is 14.2 million barrels, of which 7.291 million were actually disbursed, according to the document.

Mr. Sevan could not be reached for comment on the letter, but did issue a denial in response to our Feb. 9 article. "There is absolutely no substance to the allegations . . . that I had received oil or oil monies from the former Iraqi regime," he said through a spokesman. "Those making the allegations should come forward and provide the necessary documentary evidence." The denial notwithstanding, the documents raise enough questions to warrant an investigation by the U.N., as well as by outside investigators, including the U.S. Congress. (A U.N. spokesman said yesterday that Mr. Sevan is on extended vacation until late April, after which he retires at the month's end.)

...

As further details of Oil-for-Food unfold, it becomes clearer than ever that the inspectors employed by the U.N. were, at best, lax in monitoring Saddam's get-rich-quick scheme. This is another area begging for investigation.
Inspections under Oil-for-Food, as former U.N. program-officer Michael Soussan indicated in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, amounted to little more than rubber-stamping whatever contract Saddam's regime initialed. On the export side, top-loading of the Essex and other vessels happened on the watch of inspectors from Dutch-based company Saybolt International BV, though no one has alleged publicly that Saybolt's inspectors knew what was going on. Saybolt's name appears on the Al Mada list too. Saybolt has denied it received anything from Saddam.

The import side too was rife with corruption, including kickbacks demanded by Iraq on imported goods, and shameful lack of quality controls on much of the food and medicine entering Iraq. The job of inspecting those goods fell mostly to a Geneva-based company called Cotecna Inspection, SA. In February 1999, the U.N. terminated a five-year contract with Lloyd's Register, which had set up an innovative system in Jordan for inspecting shipments of goods going into Iraq to ensure against sanctions-busting. The contract was put to tender and Cotecna won with the lowest bid. It has had the contract ever since and it was renewed by the Coalition Provisional Authority in November.



I still find it incredible that anyone ever really believed that Saddam would of his own volition comply with the rules of the oil-for-food program. Throughout his entire political career he has proven himself to be a master of treachery and corruption.

Even more amazing was the fact that some of the same people who said in 1998 that the UN sanctions were starving thousands of Iraqi children said in 2003 that the status quo was preferable to taking out Saddam.

3.10.2004

"All Dogs Go To Heaven" was just a movie 

Another one from the WSJ, but the content of this one is too inane not to print in its entirety:



Houses of Worship
Are Reaching Out To a Flock of Pets

Purr Box Goes to Communion At St. Francis Episcopal;
A Group 'Bark Mitzvah'

For the first time in 10 years, Mary Wilkinson went to church one Sunday in January. She sat in a back pew at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn., flipping through a prayer book and listening intently to the priest's sermon.

What drew Ms. Wilkinson back into the fold was a new monthly program the church introduced -- Holy Communion for pets. As part of the service, the 59-year-old retired portfolio manager carried her 17-year-old tiger cat to the altar, waited in line behind three panting dogs to receive the host and had a special benediction performed for her cat, Purr Box Jr. "I like that the other parishioners are animal people," Ms. Wilkinson says.

With pews hard to fill, a small number of otherwise-traditional clergy are welcoming animals into the flock. Some are creating pet-friendly worship services, while others have started making house calls for sick animals. Some are starting to accompany pet owners to the vet when they euthanize a beloved pet. Occasionally, clergy are even officiating at pet funerals and group "bark mitzvahs." Congregants at temple Beth Shir Sholom, in Santa Monica, Calif., have an animal prayer sung to the tune of "Sabbath Prayer," a song from "Fiddler on the Roof": "May our God protect and defend you. May God always shield you from fleas."

All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has doubled attendance at its Sunday evening service since it began last summer to invite pets once a month. It wanted to attract people who walked their dogs on the church grounds. "We call it evangelism," says Rector Sherod Mallow. "It's opening your doors to the different needs of the community."

Pet services are aiming to draw in the elderly, many of whom rely on pets as their only companions, and people who have strayed from religion because it no longer seemed relevant. The effort is part of a larger movement among houses of worship to attract worshipers by offering amenities considered important to modern lives. In recent years, churches and synagogues have added everything from in-house Starbucks cafes and sports clubs to special worship services for children and singles.

Churches such as Manhattan's Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine have long held annual services to bless everything from rabbits to elephants. Catholics have long revered Saint Francis as a protector of animals.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret, of Temple Emanu-El, in Palm Beach, Fla., recently took that tradition to a new level when he began making house calls to ailing animals. Noticing the popularity of animal benedictions in churches, Rabbi Steven Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore organized a similar event for his own worshipers last May. More than 100 owners and their animals showed up, including guinea pigs and a king snake. "It touched people who saw the temple as not relevant to their lives," says the rabbi, who is planning a second pet blessing in May.

Helping the trend along: the $30 billion pet-products industry, which is marketing spirituality in new ways. After pet gravestones became one of its five most-requested products, Petco introduced memorial stones in 2002. Customer requests also prompted the company to start carrying kosher dog food and Hanukkah treats last year. Hallmark, which annually ships 500,000 pet sympathy cards, introduced several with spiritual imagery last year. One features a drawing of a little bear with wings and a halo flying up to heaven and the line "Such a sweet little soul could never be forgotten."

Skylight Paths just published a book called "What Animals Can Teach Us About Spirituality." "Peace to All Beings: Veggie Soup for the Chicken's Soul," (Lantern Books) contains prayers for all sorts of creatures, including insects. (One prayer: "Peace and compassion prevails on Earth for our tiny brothers and sisters everywhere.") Pet boutiques, such as Miami Beach's Dog Bar, carry plush toy dreidels, Stars of David and St. Christopher pendants for collars, and kosher pet food (production supervised by a rabbi).

For devout pet lover Kathleen Eickwort, of Ocala, Fla., these developments are welcome. When her dog, Sarge, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in June, she made religion a part of his treatment. In addition to chemotherapy, Sarge received a 20-minute visit from the rector of Ms. Eickwort's Episcopal church, who touched him and prayed for his recovery. Sarge also went to church twice. Now, his cancer is in remission. "There is no reason why prayer healing shouldn't work for animals," says Ms. Eickwort.

Last summer, a member of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford began bringing her King Charles Spaniel on Sunday mornings; soon, several other attendees were regularly bringing their dogs. "They felt that they would be welcomed, because we have long had a blessing of the animals," says Frank Baker, the church's former treasurer.

Not everyone at St. Francis was happy to share the pews with furry creatures. One longtime congregant sent an e-mail to the church saying that his son-in-law suffered an allergy attack because of the animals. The parishioner, who won't allow his name to be used for fear of backlash from the "animal people," warned that dogs at the after-church coffee hour might bite children eating cookies.

In response to the concerns, the clergy created the monthly pet-friendly service, similar to the one at All Saints in Fort Lauderdale that they had read about in an Episcopal newspaper. "We thought we could bring people in," says the Rev. Mark Lingle.

The new service, introduced in November, is abbreviated, with readings tailored to animal lovers. At the recent service that Purr Box Jr. attended, Rev. Lingle read a psalm about a ram, prayed for "all creatures everywhere" and individually blessed each animal in attendance.

Oliver, a 7-month-old Clumber Spaniel, chewed through his leash and took off after a red cardinal he spotted outside the window while Enoki, an 8-year-old black cocker spaniel, growled. Rev. Lingle took the commotion in stride, grabbing a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Nature's Miracle after the service and inspecting the altar for drool while pets and their owners milled about. "For a lot of people, the relationships they have with their pets are central to their lives," he says. "They like to be in a place that recognizes and honors that."

Mary Wilkinson was happy that she had brought Purr Box Jr. in to be blessed for his digestive problems. Now, she says she plans to come back each month, rotating her 11 other cats.



Perhaps I'm cold-hearted, but I never saw the point in lavishing attention and affection upon creatures, much less treating them as spiritual beings, if their sole aims in life are to eat, sleep, expel waste, and reproduce. There's something a bit odd about these people who think the most important thing a church or synagogue can do for them is to bless their pets.

Entering death with dignity instead of being dragged kicking and screaming 

From today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required):



Unlikely Way to Cut Hospital Costs: Comfort the Dying

Palliative-Care Unit Offers Painkillers and Support, Fewer Tests, Treatments

RICHMOND, Va. -- The palliative-care unit at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center offers plush carpeting, original watercolors and a kitchen for visiting families. A massage therapist drops by often, and a chaplain is available 24 hours. And there's High Anxiety, a fluffy white Lhasa apso that patients love to pet.

In an era of skyrocketing health-care costs, such perks might seem misplaced. In fact, it is all part of an approach that has helped VCU save millions of dollars in an area that is notoriously expensive: treatment of patients diagnosed with incurable illnesses.

Palliative care focuses on comfort, not cure. It tries to relieve a patient's physical and psychological distress, instead of preserving life at any cost. Though palliative care is standard practice in some countries, especially in Britain, it has been slow to catch on in the U.S., where many doctors prefer to use the latest technology or drug to prolong a patient's life, if only for a few months. Fewer than 20% of community hospitals in the U.S. use the approach, according to the American Hospital Association.

"It's counterintuitive to the high-tech American model of health care," says Sheldon Retchin, chief executive officer of the VCU health system.

Now, palliative care is getting new attention, not just because proponents view it as humane, but because it is usually cheaper than standard care. In 2002, there were palliative-care programs in 844 community hospitals, 18% more than in the previous year. In palliative programs, less money is spent on drugs, diagnostics, tests and last-ditch treatments.

At VCU, for instance, a typical five-day stint for a cancer patient cost $5,312 in the palliative wing -- 57% less than it cost to house a similar patient elsewhere in the hospital. VCU officials calculate that the 11-bed unit, which opened in May 2000, saved the hospital $1 million last year, when the palliative wing broke even for the first time.

As they spread, palliative-care programs promise to fuel the debate over how to ration the nation's limited health-care resources -- especially in the expensive last days of life in a hospital. The VCU unit has been chosen as a model for other hospitals by the Center to Advance Palliative Care, based at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, which wants to popularize the concept by emphasizing both the humane and economic case for such care.

Though palliative care has been recognized as a medical specialty in Britain since 1987, it doesn't enjoy the same stature here. Most hospital CEOs in the U.S. are more familiar with making a profit by, say, installing a new CAT-scan machine. Others worry that palliative care could turn into a ploy for saving money off the backs of dying patients. Many physicians -- and patients -- simply don't like the idea of giving up until all possible avenues of treatment have been exhausted.

Even so, end-of-life care in the U.S. remains "woefully inadequate," according to a national study of such treatment, published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. One in four people who died didn't receive enough pain medication and sometimes received none at all, according to researchers at Brown University and the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Aging populations in the developed world will fuel demand for better end-of-life care: By 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 85 is expected to double to 8.5 million.


3.09.2004

Linear algebra 

Is there any way on earth to make the Gram-Schmidt process seem interesting?

3.08.2004

The odds are 2:1 in favor of God's existence 

That's what this crank in Ohio says.

Of course, in the absence of a sufficiently large sample space of universes other than ours, this statistic is meaningless, but I pass it on anyway.

(Hat tip: CalPundit.)

The chess rule that white moves first is racist 

Oh, Jeebus.

Never mind that the game of chess was thought to have been invented in Persia or India. Never mind that Maurice Ashley is one of the chess world's most respected commentators and has never given the rule any thought. It's clearly just another way of reinforcing the thought that blacks are inferior.

Why some people identify themselves entirely by the color of their skin is beyond me.

(Hat tip: Tyler Cowen.)

3.07.2004

Another one from the log 

I have no idea how tall Michael Eisner is.

Some principle of conservation is surely being violated here 

While embarking on an all-out resume blitz, I noticed that the number of job openings on services such as monster.com, hotjobs.com and MSN careers for experienced quantitative analysts in finance is roughly an order of magnitude greater than the number of openings for entry-level quants. Do quants really change jobs that often?

"Alex, I'm filthy rich. I don't need your chump change." 

The verdict is in for Martha Stewart and her broker Peter Bacanovic. Stewart was found guilty of making false statements (primarily that she and Bacanovic arranged to sell her ImClone stock once it fell below $60), of obstructing justice in the investigation of the sale of her stock, and of conspiring to commit same acts. Bacanovic was also found guilty of those charges as well as committing perjury, but ironically was acquitted of the charge to doctor a paper to support the $60 strike price alibi.

The most serious charge against Stewart -- securities fraud, ostensibly because she propped up the value of her business enterprise by falsely claiming that she was cooperating with authorities throughout the investigation -- was thrown out by the judge. Apparently Stewart was never charged with wrongdoing in the actual sale of the ImClone stock. There wasn't even that much money involved -- most estimates say that Stewart saved about $51,000 by selling early.

It's not entirely clear what message is being sent here by the government or to whom it's being sent -- is it that if you're a celebrity, and your stockbroker gives you an illegal insider tip, you have to pretend you didn't hear it? Hmm.

3.06.2004

Who replaces A-Rod in the holy trinity of baseball shortstops? 

Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and who? Eric Neel has a list of candidates including Miguel Tejada, Honus Wagner and Annie Savoy, but I believe he's missing the most obvious candidate:


3.04.2004

All those hours spend playing "Asteroids" on Atari may finally pay off 

The House of Representatives wants to put a bounty of $3,000 on asteroids that come close to hitting the Earth.

3.03.2004

Concert review: Barenaked Ladies, 3/2/04 at FleetCenter 

Setlist:

Maybe Katie
Too Little Too Late
Grade 9
(Barenaked Rap)
It's All Been Done
Another Postcard
Celebrity
A
Just A Toy
For You
Roadrunner
One Week (acoustic)
Upside Down
Testing 1,2,3
Box Set
The Wrong Man Was Convicted
Shopping
Pinch Me
War On Drugs
Never Is Enough
Old Apartment
Brian Wilson
If I Had $1,000,000
What A Good Boy

Approximately 96% of the concert was raucous and off-the-wall.

I'll comment on the other 4%, Steven Page's masterpiece "War On Drugs". Apparently the Prince Edward Viaduct in Toronto is North America's second most popular suicide spot, behind the Golden Gate Bridge. The city of Toronto put up girders underneath the bridge in order to "solve" this problem. The tragedy of suicide and this ineffective and inane "solution" to the problem inspired Page to write "War On Drugs". I'm guessing that "drugs" here refers to antidepressants, but I'm not sure. I'm not a diehard Barenaked Ladies fan, but I consider this song to be one of their finest.

Coincidentally, over the weekend the body of missing MIT student Daniel Mun was found in the Charles River right underneath the Massachusetts Avenue bridge.



They say that Jesus and mental health
Are just for those who can help themselves
What good is that when you live in hell on earth?
The very fear that makes you want to die
Is the same as what keeps you alive
It's more trouble than your suicide is worth

Won't it be dull when we rid ourselves of all these demons
Haunting us to keep us company?
Won't it be odd to be happy like we always thought we're supposed to feel
But never seem to be?


3.02.2004

Detroit Country Day refuses to forfeit basketball titles 

Although the Michigan High School Athletic Association has retroactively ruled Chris Webber ineligible for high school basketball because of his ties with booster Ed Martin, Detroit Country Day refuses to forfeit the three Class B state basketball titles it won with him.

It should be noted, however, that DCD is a fairly respectable school in its own right, not just a basketball factory. After all, they narrowly lost to my West Bloomfield High School quiz bowl twice in the same tournament in 1993 (once in pool play, and again in the championship game). That felt so good.

3.01.2004

You couldn't sky even if you were shot out of a cannon 

Here's a beautiful Page 2 article devoted to heckling.

LOTR finally receives its due 

Eleven for eleven. Wow.

I'm still a little annoyed at the ending in the movie, though.

(mild spoiler alert, though I really hope everyone's seen this movie by now...)

In the movie, Frodo pushes Gollum and the ring into the volcano. In the book, Gollum fell into the volcano while he was celebrating without any impetus from Frodo.

I think there might be some point about human fraility, evil sinking under its own weight, or something like that in Tolkien's ending that ends up being slightly butchered due to this change in plot.

Iraqi Governing Council ratifies constitution 

NY Times article here.

Here's an interesting passage from the article:



The governing council members agreed to compromise language on several difficult issues, the Iraqi officials said. Islam was to be designated "a source" of legislation, not "the primary source," as had been demanded by several Muslim members of the council.

That compromise, which had been one of the most intractable areas of disagreement, was finessed when Iraqi leaders agreed to insert language prohibiting the passage of any legislation "against" Islam, Mr. Qanbar said.



I'm not exactly sure what this means; I just hope that similar legislation "against" Christianity, Judaism and other religions is also prohibited.

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