“DDT Saves Lives, Environmentalists Take Lives”

LaiferLanceMalariaFighter.gif  Connecticut hedge-fund trader, and malaria-fighting activist and philanthropist.  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

Inside of a year, and working with George Ayittey of the Free Africa Foundation, Mr. Laifer’s efforts have spawned five "malaria-free zones" in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.  Expansion to Ivory Coast and Benin is in the works.  He adds that he has the financing to roll out additional zones this year but — ever the searcher — first wants to assess what’s working and what isn’t.  If all is going well, "next year I see us doing something like 100 villages."

Mr. Laifer says a future focus will also be DDT, the pesticide used by Americans and Europeans in the 1940s to win domestic fights against malarial mosquitoes.  Indoor spraying of DDT is by far the cheapest and most effective way to control the disease.  One South Africa province employing DDT saw malaria infections and deaths drop 96% over a three-year span.

Yet Rachel Carson-inspired environmentalists have convinced many public health agencies that the chemical is dangerous.  African nations, fearful that lucrative European and U.S. markets might ban their agricultural exports, make do with less-effective DDT substitutes.  Though DDT, like any chemical, can be harmful in high doses, there’s no evidence that using it in the amounts needed to combat malaria has any ill-effect whatsoever on humans.

Mr. Laifer’s been unable to spray DDT in any of his malaria-free zones.  "It’s the best thing in our arsenal," he says.  "We have a prodigious supply, it’s cheap and we know it works.  Our world leaders need to legalize DDT, and people in America need to get mad about this. . . . We need to have people walking around with signs that say, ‘DDT saves lives, environmentalists take lives.’"

 

For the full commentary, see:

JASON L. RILEY.  "Malaria’s Toll."  Wall Street Journal   (Mon., August 21, 2006):  A11.

 

(Note:  the ellipsis is in the original.)

Distorted Incentives in Medicine


  Source of book image:  http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061130298/The_End_of_Medicine/index.aspx

 

The problem right now, as Mr. Kessler sees it, is that we fight the "big three" — cancer, stroke and heart attack — with treatment rather than early detection.  Cancer cells and blood-vessel plaque can be handled much more easily in the early stages, but we spend most of our money on the later ones.  More than 80% of health-care dollars are paid by insurance companies and the government, and neither is especially interested in detecting disease when it first appears.  Doctors, regulators, researchers and payers of all kinds are locked into what Mr. Kessler calls — a bit ungenerously — the "cholesterol and cancer conspiracies."

A complicated system of mutual dependency distorts the incentives.  "The FDA is like the FCC and Big Pharma is like the regional Bells" is what Mr. Kessler hears from Don Listwin, a former Cisco executive who now heads the Canary Foundation, a Silicon Valley-based effort to promote preventive medicine.  In other words, in medicine as in telecom, the big players end up exploiting regulations more than opposing them, if only to preserve their monopolies.  The Food and Drug Administration — understandably but narrow-mindedly — wants "cures" for cancer and other diseases.  Thus tens of thousands of chemicals are screened, only a handful make it even to Phase I trials, and by the time a new drug is approved a billion dollars has been spent.  Even then the new drug may help only 10% of patients.

Yet if someone were to invent a device with a wide, preventive usefulness — say, a nanotech implant that would spot the proteins that indicate the first minute presence of cancer — it would have to go through the same process of billion-dollar testing.  Since the government and insurance companies are reluctant to add anything to their repertoire of coverage — and since such a device would be targeted at the much broader pool of people who are not sick — research might well stall in its earliest phases for lack of reimbursement-funding.

 

For the full review, see:

WILLIAM TUCKER.  "Bookshelf; The Art of Navigating Arteries."  Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 18, 2006):  D6.

 

A full reference to the book reviewed, is:

Kessler, Andy.  The End of Medicine:  How Silicon Valley (and Naked Mice) Will Reboot Your Doctor. HarperCollins, 2006.

 

Welfare Reform Increases Number Employed

WelfareSingleMotherTrends.gif Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 — Ten years after a Republican Congress collaborated with a Democratic president to overhaul the nation’s welfare system, the implications are still rippling through policy and politics.

The law, which reversed six decades of social welfare policy and ended the idea of free cash handouts for the poor, was widely seen as a victory for conservative ideas.  When it was passed, some opponents offered dire predictions that the law would make things worse for the poor.  But the number of people on welfare has plunged to 4.4 million, down 60 percent.  Employment of single mothers is up.  Child support collections have nearly doubled.

“We have been vindicated by the results,” said Representative E. Clay Shaw Jr., Republican of Florida and an architect of the 1996 law who was vilified at the time.  “Welfare reform was one of the most successful policy changes in our nation’s history.”

 

For the full story, see: 

ROBERT PEAR and ERIK ECKHOLM. "A Decade After Welfare Overhaul, a Shift in Policy and Perception." The New York Times (Mon., August 21, 2006):  A12.

Money Buys Happiness, and Governments Tax It Away

We are . . . all constantly reminding each other that "money doesn’t buy happiness."

Economists aren’t so sure.  They note that people with a lot of money tend to express a higher subjective happiness than people with very little.  According data from surveys by the National Opinion Research Center, for example, people in the top fifth of income earners are about 50% more likely to say they are "very happy" than people in the bottom fifth, and only about half as likely to say they are "not too happy."

There is, however, generally very little change in the average level of happiness in populations getting richer over the years.  For instance, the percentage of the U.S. population saying it was "very happy" in 1972 was exactly the same as it was in 2002:  30.3%.  Social critics of "consumerism" explain this by claiming that what makes rich people happy is not money per se, but rather the fact that they have more of it than others — so if everybody gets richer, happiness remains unchanged.  The critics go on to say that income differences lead to unwholesome feelings of superiority, so taxes can improve our moral fiber simply by bringing us closer to the same income level.

Perhaps you’re unconvinced.  In fact there is another explanation for unchanging happiness levels over time which is rather less supportive of income redistribution.  As incomes rise, so generally do levels of government revenues and spending, and there is evidence that these forces work against personal income on the overall level of happiness.  For example, a $1,000 increase in per capita income is associated with a one-point decrease in the percentage of Americans saying they are "not too happy."  At the same time, a $1,000 increase in government revenues per capita is associated with a two-point rise in the percentage of Americans saying they are not too happy.  In other words, not only can money buy happiness, but it may be that the government can tax it away as well.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ARTHUR C. BROOKS.  "Money Buys Happiness."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., December 8, 2005):  A16. 

Power to the People


VogtleCoolingTowers.jpg Cooling towers at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia.  Source of photo:  the online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


A long, and informative cover-story in the NYT, discusses the costs and benefits of nuclear power.  My read is that, on balance, the considerations in the article favor nuclear energy.  Here are a few passages from near the end of the article:


(p. 64)  Gary Taylor, . . ., the C.E.O. of Entergy Nuclear, says he believes a doubling of the number of nuclear plants around the world is inevitable, both to satisfy energy demands and to counter global warming.  As Taylor puts it:  ”The reality is, what is scalable in the time frame that addresses the issues?  If it isn’t this technology, I don’t know what it would be.”  Diaz, the former head of the N.R.C., told me he sees a similarly bright future for nuclear.  ”The world is going to go nuclear, because they do not have any other real alternatives,” he says.  I met plenty of other engineers within the industry who went even further.  Their feeling about nuclear power is close to evangelical, in that they seem to approach the technology with moral certitude while being loath to acknowledge any of its many negatives.  Would that include the utility executives who will ultimately decide if — and what — to build?  I’m not sure it would.  To those I spoke with in the uppermost ranks, nuclear power isn’t a belief system.  It’s a business.  And to them, what might come out of, say, Vogtle Units 3 and 4 — the waste and the power and the profits — would be nearly identical to what comes out of Units 1 and 2.

At least that was my conclusion in Georgia, where Jeff Gasser, the Southern Company’s chief nuclear officer, took me through a long tour of the plant.  He was smart, meticulous and intensely committed to the obscure safety protocols that go on at nuclear power facilities.  Most of all he was forthright about the advantages and disadvantages of the nukes business.  When we went to visit the spent-fuel pool in Vogtle, where the used fuel-rod assemblies are stored under 20 feet of protective water, Gasser let me know that we would die if we pulled one of the fuel assemblies out of the pool.  ”We would receive, before we could get to the exit door a few feet away, a lethal radiation dose,” he said.  I quickly had to check the radiation dosimeter I was wearing — another legal requirement of the N.R.C. — to see if I was already glowing.  (It read zero.)  ”The communications people hate it when I use words like ‘lethal’ and ‘irradiated,’ ” Gasser continued.  ”But the fact is, there is no perfect way of generating electricity.  There are byproducts for every type.”  Like many others, he went through the positives and negatives of coal, gas, solar, wind and nuclear.  In his opinion, he added, with Vogtle’s engineering, redundancy of safety systems and its trained operators, it was a safe, reliable and efficient way of making electricity.  That was his sales pitch.

We had already passed through the containment buildings, where the reactors heat the pressurized water.  So Gasser took me through the turbine building, an enormous room the size of a soccer field, where the steam turns the fan blades.  Eventually, we went out a back door into the sunlight.  The deafening sounds of turbines and machinery subsided to a dull thrum.  We removed our earplugs and walked over to a small forest of electrical transformers, our backs to the plant.  The electricity from the turbines inside comes out here, Gasser explained, its voltage is transformed, and it is then put into the grid.

Gasser made a pushing motion toward the green hills before us.

”Once the power is sent out of here, it can go everywhere,” he explained.  And I could see that it did go everywhere.  The high-tension wires stretched away from where we stood, in several directions, through deep cuts in the pinelands, as far as I could see.

 

For the full article, see:

JON GERTNER.  "Atomic Balm? ‘   The New York Times Magazine, Section 6  (Sunday, July 16, 2006),  36-47, 56, 62 & 64.


Canon Prospers By Ignoring the ‘First Mover Advantage’

CanonHV10.jpg  Canon’s new HV10 high definition camcorder.  Source of image:  the NYT article cited below.

 

In the dot-com era, many believed that in each niche, the future belonged to the company that got-in, and got-big, first.  Sometimes this was called the ‘first mover advantage.’  There are many counter-examples.  Here is one more:

(p. C1)  Next month, Canon will release the world’s smallest and least expensive high-definition tape camcorder, a one-handable beauty called the HV10.

. . .

This image-quality business, as it turns out, is the new Canon’s specialty.  Talk about being blown away the first time you play back your recordings — let’s hope you have a sturdy couch.

Several advances are responsible for the brilliant picture quality.  First, Canon has paid extra attention to two of the most important aspects of HD recording:  focus and stability.  Because the high-def picture is so sharp and so wide, moments of blur-(p. C11)riness or hand-held jitters are far more noticeable and disturbing than in regular video.

So the front of the HV10 bears a special external sensor that, when you change your aim, handles the bulk of the refocusing extremely rapidly.  A standard through-the-lens focusing system does the fine tuning after that.  Together, these two mechanisms nearly eliminate the awkward moment of blurry focus-hunting that mars other camcorders’ output.

. . .

. . . , by entering the high-def camcorder market a year and a half after its rivals, Canon has played the same conservative waiting game it once used with digital cameras and camcorders.  Its goal, of course, is to watch and learn as the pioneers get all the arrows in their backs.

If the HV10 is any indication, the company is off to a very good start.

 

For the full review, see:

DAVID POGUE.  "A Head Start On the Future Of High-Def."  The New York Times  (Thurs., August 10, 2006):  C1 & C11.

 

“Al Gore’s Penguin Army”

Source of screen capture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZSqXUSwHRI

 

"Al Gore’s Penguin Army," a funny satire of Al Gore’s movie "An Inconvenient Truth," has been posted to the popular YouTube web site.  A bee’s nest of folk are agitated that this satire may have been created by someone with some tie to an oil company.  My response:  who cares?  (Don’t those who produce oil for us, have the same right to free speech that the rest of us have?)

View the video at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZSqXUSwHRI