Chernobyl May Have Caused No Long-Term Increase in Cancer


Source of book image:

(p. C11) . . . Andrew Blackwell, a journalist and self-described “sensitive, eco-friendly liberal,” deserves praise for producing an environmentalist book that avoids the usual hyperventilation, upending stubborn myths with prosaic facts.
. . .
His Geiger counter convulses on a visit to the abandoned areas around Chernobyl, but Mr. Blackwell reacts soberly. While the initial disaster provoked a justifiable public panic, it also inspired scare-mongering from groups like Greenpeace, which claimed that the fallout would cause 270,000 cancer cases. He points to a study commissioned by the United Nations concluding that, after an initial spike in thyroid cancer, “no measurable increase has yet been demonstrated in the region’s cancer rates.” The author is also sure to irritate certain readers with the claim that “paradoxically, perversely, the accident may have actually been good” for the local environment, since the evacuation created an accidentally verdant nature reserve.

For the full review, see:
MICHAEL C. MOYNIHAN. “A Guided Tour of Catastrophe” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 26, 2012): C11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2012.)

The book being reviewed, is:
Blackwell, Andrew. Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places. New York: Rodale Books, 2012.

“The Only Benefit of War Rationing”

(p. 538) The only benefit of war rationing, of which I am aware, is that an alert entrepreneur invented the bikini so as to conserve on the textiles that were then hard to come by for civilian use.

Shughart II, William F. “The New Deal and Modern Memory.” Southern Economic Journal 77, no. 3 (Jan. 2011): 515-42.

Poor People Want Washing Machines

The wonderful clip above is from Hans Rosling’s TED talk entitled “The Magic Washing Machine.”
He clearly and strongly presents his central message that the washing machine has made life better.

What was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution? Hans Rosling makes the case for the washing machine. With newly designed graphics from Gapminder, Rosling shows us the magic that pops up when economic growth and electricity turn a boring wash day into an intellectual day of reading.

Source of video clip summary:

The version of the clip above is embedded from YouTube, where it was posted by TED:

It can also be viewed at the TED web site at:

(Note: I am grateful to Robin Kratina for telling me about Rosling’s TED talk,)
(Note: I do not agree with Rosling’s acceptance of the politically correct consensus view that the response to global warning should mainly be mitigation and green energy—to the extent that a response turns out to be necessary, I mainly support adaptation, as suggested in many previous entries on this blog.)

“It’s Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible”

(p. 284) “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” Walt Disney once said. That was the type of attitude that appealed to Jobs. He admired Disney’s obsession with detail and design, and he felt that there was a natural fit between Pixar and the movie studio that Disney had founded.

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

EU Costs Britain $238 Billion Per Year According to Congdon Report

FarageNigelEnemyEU2012-12-08.jpg “Nigel Farage has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A7) Strasbourg, France  THE floor of the European Union’s cavernous and mostly vacant parliamentary chamber here is hardly known for its lively debates. At least not until Nigel Farage, the Brussels-bashing leader of Britain’s fastest growing political party, gets up to speak.

The vast majority of the European Parliament’s 754 members, as they process the torrent of rules and regulations that Europe bestows upon them, are not inclined to question why they are here. The pay and perks are generous for those elected to five-year terms in low-turnout elections throughout the European Union’s 27 member countries. And the mission — to extend the sweep of European federalism — is for most a shared one.
But for Mr. Farage, who has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, Strasbourg has become the perfect stage to disseminate his anti-European Union message by highlighting the bloc’s bureaucratic absurdities and spendthrift tendencies as well as by mocking with glee the most prominent proponents of a European superstate: the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy. “I said you’d be the quiet assassin of nation-state democracy,” Mr. Farage has declared, as his target, Mr. Van Rompuy, squirmed in his seat just opposite, “and sure enough, in your dull and technocratic way, you’ve gone about your course.”
. . .
Last year, in net terms, Britain paid $16 billion to the European Union. But according to a recent study by the economist Tim Congdon, himself an Independence Party member, if the cost of regulation, waste and misallocated resources is included, the annual cost of membership rises to $238 billion a year, or about 10 percent of Britain’s economic output.
Perhaps the most egregious example of this profligacy is the spot where Mr. Farage has found fame: the European Parliament. As most of the legislative work is done in Brussels, the building is in use just three days each month. Analysts estimate that it costs taxpayers about $250 million a year to transport each month 754 members of Parliament, several thousand support staff members and lobbyists to this French city.
Mr. Farage lights another cigarette and shakes his head. “I just would like for my grandchildren to read some day that I did my part in saving my country from this lunacy,” he said with a sigh.

For the full story, see:
LANDON THOMAS Jr. “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; An Enemy of Brussels, and Not Afraid to Say So.” The New York Times (Sat., December 8, 2012): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2012.)

The Tim Congdon report mentioned is:
Congdon, Tim. “How Much Does the European Union Cost Britain?” UK Independence Party, 2012.
(Note: the report calculates a total cost of about 150 billion British pounds, which when converted to dollars is equal to the $238 billion reported in the article, at an exchange rate of about $1.587 per British pound.)

Why Health Care Costs So Much in McAllen

(p. 235) Atul Gawande lays out “The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas town can teach us about health care.” “It is spring in McAllen, Texas. The morning sun is warm. The streets are lined with palm trees and pickup trucks. McAllen is in Hidalgo County, which has the lowest household income in the country, but it’s a border town, and a thriving foreign-trade zone has kept the unemployment rate below ten per cent. McAllen calls itself the Square Dance Capital of the World. ‘Lonesome Dove’ was set around here. McAllen has another distinction, too: it is one of the most expensive health-care markets in the country. Only Miami–which has much higher labor and living costs–spends more per person on health care. In 2006, Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per enrollee here, almost twice the national average. The income per capita is twelve thousand dollars. In other words, Medicare spends three thousand dollars more per person here than the average person earns.”

Gawande as quoted in:
Taylor, Timothy. “Recommendations for Further Reading.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 231-38.

The full Gawande article can be viewed online at:
Gawande, Atul. “Annals of Medicine; the Cost Conundrum; What a Texas Town Can Teach Us About Health Care.” The New Yorker 85, no. 16 (June 2009): 36-44.

A later Gawande article, that asks why the health care system cannot be run as well as The Cheesecake Factory, can be viewed online at the link below. (Spoiler alert: I haven’t read this article yet, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the feedback and incentives provided by the free market.)
Gawande, Atul. “Annals of Health Care; Big Med; Restaurant Chains Have Managed to Combine Quality Control, Cost Control, and Innovation. Can Health Care?” The New Yorker 88, no. 24 (August 2012): 52-63.

Does Washington Want “to Regulate Everything That’s Warm”?

TaylorMikeDisplaysGasLogSet2012-12-01.jpg “Mike Taylor displays a gas-log set at Acme Stove in Rockville, Md.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A8) Rett Rasmussen sells gas-log sets, which use a “dancing flame” design that his father invented more than 50 years ago to replicate a cozy wood fire.

They are just for decoration, he says. But as the season approaches for families to gather around the hearth–real or fake–Mr. Rasmussen and other makers of hearth products are having a flare-up with the Department of Energy. The federal agency says it has the authority to regulate the log sets as heating equipment, though it isn’t proposing any changes now.
The issue “just hit us out of left field,” said Mr. Rasmussen. His company of about 50 employees–Rasmussen Iron Works Inc. of Whittier, Calif.–has spent at least $20,000 to fight any regulatory change, he says.
. . .
Judge A. Raymond Randolph expressed sympathy for the industry, saying that an object is not a heater simply “because it makes the air around it warm.”
“I don’t understand that as a matter of pure English,” said Judge Randolph, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush. He added: “That’s like saying a match is designed to furnish warm air. It’s designed to furnish a flame.”
H. Thomas Byron, a Justice Department lawyer, said it was “rhetorical hyperbole” to suggest Washington wanted to regulate everything that’s warm.   . . .
Mr. Rasmussen, who says the family business has struggled in the weak economy, monitors the case closely. “We’re alive and kicking, but it’s not what it used to be, and when you have to fight your government, it’s hard to see where it’s going to get back anywhere near where it has been,” he said.

For the full story, see:
RYAN TRACY. “Hearth Makers Get Hot Over Regulations.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., October 23, 2012): A8.
(Note: ellipses and bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 22, 2012.)
(Note: in the third paragraph “he says” appeared in the online, but not the print, version.)

“Did Alexander Graham Bell Do Any Market Research Before He Invented the Telephone?”

(p. 170) After the Macintosh team returned to Bandley 3 that afternoon, a truck pulled into the parking lot and Jobs had them all gather next to it. Inside were a hundred new Macintosh computers, each personalized with a plaque. “Steve presented them one at a time to each team member, with a handshake and a smile, as the rest of us stood around cheering,” Hertzfeld recalled. It had been a grueling ride, and many egos had been bruised by Jobs’s obnoxious and rough management style. But neither Raskin nor Wozniak nor Sculley nor anyone else at the company could have pulled off the creation of the Macintosh. Nor would it likely have emerged from focus groups and committees. On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: italics in original.)

“Planning Is Crap”


Source of book image:

(p. C8) As Mr. Wooten recounts, obstacles abounded from a municipality bent on redesigning New Orleans while the city was still in crisis. Neighborhoods from middle-class Lakeview to the devastated Lower Ninth Ward began to fear that the city they loved didn’t love them back.

“Planning is crap,” said Martin Landrieu, a member of a prominent local political family, at a meeting of Lakeview residents. “What you really need is the cleaning up of houses . . . . Where are the hammers and nails?” Yet five months after Katrina, a city commission called Bring New Orleans Back presented an ambitious plan to restore the city that included converting neighborhoods that had heavy flooding into green space. The commission also imposed a temporary moratorium on rebuilding there. Residents would have to show that their communities were viable or risk being planned out of existence; they were given four months.

For the full review, see:
CARLA MAIN. “After the Waters Receded.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 4, 2012): C8.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)
(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 3, 2012.)

Health Care Costs Can Be Lowered by Less Waste and More Cost-Reducing Innovation

(p. 234) Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin and David Cutler discuss “The Two Trillion Dollar Solution: Saving Money by Modernizing the Health Care System.” “Two sorts of savings are possible in health care. The first is eliminating waste and inefficiency. The most commonly cited estimate is that 30 percent of the money spent on medical care does not buy care worth its cost. Medicare costs per capita in Minneapolis, for example, are about half those in Miami, yet Miami does not have better health outcomes. International comparisons yield the same conclusion. . . . Second, reform might stimulate cost-reducing innovation instead of the continuous cost increases that accompany current innovation. For nearly 20 years, scholars have argued that generous reimbursement policies for medical care have led to innovations that almost always increase health care costs. Changing that dynamic by investing in research about what works and rewarding health care providers who choose efficient treatments could have a dramatic effect on cost growth. . . . Reducing costs by 30 percent will take time and effort, but it is not inconceivable over the long term. Experience in the health care sector and other industries suggests that cost reductions on the order of 1.5-to-2.0 percentage points per year are within reach.”

Buntin and Cutler as quoted in:
Taylor, Timothy. “Recommendations for Further Reading.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 231-38.
(Note: ellipses in original.)

The Buntin and Cutler report is:
Buntin, Melinda Beeuwkes, and David Cutler. “The Two Trillion Dollar Solution: Saving Money by Modernizing the Health Care System.” Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, 2009.

With Scorned Ideas, and Without College, Inventor and Entrepreneur “Ovshinsky Prevailed”


“Stanford R. Ovshinsky and Iris M. Ovshinsky founded Energy Conversion Laboratories in 1960.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) Stanford R. Ovshinsky, an iconoclastic, largely self-taught and commercially successful scientist who invented the nickel-metal hydride battery and contributed to the development of a host of devices, including solar energy panels, flat-panel displays and rewritable compact discs, died on Wednesday [October 17, 2012] at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He was 89.
. . .
His ideas drew only scorn and skepticism at first. He was an unknown inventor with unconventional ideas, a man without a college education who made his living designing automation equipment for the automobile industry in Detroit, far from the hotbeds of electronics research like Silicon Valley and Boston.
But Mr. Ovshinsky prevailed. Industry eventually credited him for the principle that small quantities or thin films of amorphous materials exposed to a charge can instantly reorganize their structures into semicrystalline forms capable of carrying significant current.
. . .
In 1960, he and his second wife, the former Iris L. Miroy, founded Energy Conversion Laboratories in Rochester Hills, Mich., to develop practical products from the discovery. It was renamed Energy Conversion Devices four years later.
Energy Conversion Devices and its subsidiaries, spinoff companies and licensees began translating Mr. Ovshinsky’s insights into mechanical, electronic and energy devices, among them solar-powered calculators. His nickel-metal battery is used to power hybrid cars and portable electronics, among other things.
He holds patents relating to rewritable optical discs, flat-panel displays and electronic-memory technology. His thin-film solar cells are produced in sheets “by the mile,” as he once put it.
. . .
“His incredible curiosity and unbelievable ability to learn sets him apart,” Hellmut T. Fritzsche, a longtime friend and consultant, said in an interview in 2005.

For the full obituary, see:
BARNABY J. FEDER. “Stanford R. Ovshinsky Dies at 89, a Self-Taught Maverick in Electronics.” The New York Times (Fri., October 19, 2012): A23.
(Note: ellipses and bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 18, 2012.)
(Note: in the first sentence of the print version, “hybrid” was used instead of the correct “hydride.”)