Archive for April, 2009
Been recently fascinated with learning more about health care, reading a lot of Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn, catching up on essays by the likes of Paul Krugman and Atul Gawande. And the best thing I’ve read so far is this wonkish-but-accessible interview with health care policy super-couple Uwe Reinhardt and Tsung-mei Cheng. The interview teases out a number of distinctive policy critiques and ideas that aren’t surfaced in most of the layperson-friendly health policy lit I’ve come across, like this point about the oft-derided drug company profiteers:
If you look at total drug company profits in a given year, of every retail dollar sale, drug companies who manufacture the stuff get 75 cents. And of that, they make 16, 15 percent profit. So if you multiply that out, we have about $220 billion in drug sales; that’s about, say, $25 billion in profits. Now, that is a lot; you can buy two Princetons for that. However, if you then divide $25 billion through $2.2 trillion in national health spending, you get 1.2 percent; that is, drug company profits are 1.2 percent of total national health spending.
This was from Frontline’s excellent “Sick Around the World” documentary, where they profiled the health care systems of five developed countries and compared them to the US system. See also: Frontline’s follow-up, “Sick Around America.” (Note: T.R. Reid, the correspondent on “Sick Around the World,” refused to participate in “Sick Around America” after he found that the producers shafted the option of single-payer health care in the final edit.)
Jonah Lehrer + Allison Gopnik on baby brains:
The hyperabundance of thoughts in the baby brain also reflects profound differences in the ways adults and babies pay attention to the world. If attention works like a narrow spotlight in adults — a focused beam illuminating particular parts of reality — then in young kids it works more like a lantern, casting a diffuse radiance on their surroundings.
“We sometimes say that adults are better at paying attention than children,” writes Gopnik. “But really we mean just the opposite. Adults are better at not paying attention. They’re better at screening out everything else and restricting their consciousness to a single focus.”
This (in bold) is the money-quote, though:
Gopnik argues that, in many respects, babies are more conscious than adults. She compares the experience of being a baby with that of watching a riveting movie, or being a tourist in a foreign city, where even the most mundane activities seem new and exciting. “For a baby, every day is like going to Paris for the first time,” Gopnik says. “Just go for a walk with a 2-year-old. You’ll quickly realize that they’re seeing things you don’t even notice.”
I can confirm that this is true.
Also, peep this graph charting synaptic activity + density according to age (via Mind Hacks):
Apparently, that’s where the real action is: contra Lehrer’s article, baby brains don’t actually have more neurons than adults, but way more (and way denser) synapses (aka the connections between neurons).
Also, just to free associate on the whole synapse thing: I had knee surgery a few weeks ago to repair a torn quadriceps tendon, and I’m in physical therapy now. Part of my PT involves attaching electrodes to my thigh to induce my quad to flex (this is called “reeducating the muscle.”).
Anyways, it is always weird to confirm that we are just made out of meat, and that if you run enough electrical current through a muscle, it’ll react whether or not your brain tells it to. That’s all your brain is — an extremely powerful + nuanced router for electricity.
There’s a lot to process here, but it’s worth it: BLDGBLOG’s post about disease and urban planning is the most interesting thing you’ll read all day.
The roots of modernism in sanatorium design. Office space built around the transmission properties of the common cold. Settlers of Catan: Outbreak Edition. Doctors holding seminars in the sewers of Paris.
Like a little virus in its own right, this post will take up residence in your brain. It’s made all the more satisfying for seeing its roots — early symptoms — over on @bldgblog.
This Is How a Public Intellectual Works TodayTM.
Copyblogger lays out some guidelines for producing engaging podcasts or other audio recordings. Please note that if you maximize every suggestion, you wind up with a perfect episode of Radio Lab. This seems like a halfway-decent validation of their merit.
Something Walter Benjamin said has interested me for a while now:
If centuries ago [writing] began gradually to lie down, passing from the upright inscription to the manuscript resting on sloping desks before finally taking itself to bed in the printed book, it now begins just as slowly to rise again from the ground. The newspaper is read more in the vertical than in the horizontal plane, while film and advertisements force the printed word entirely into the dictatorial perpendicular.
— One Way Street (1928)
If Benjamin’s right, then this is a reading revolution that’s still underway — expanding from film, advertisements, and newspapers to television, computer, and telephone screens. Even though we’re using all these different devices, they just might be participating in this dyad of vertical vs. historical reading.
I’ve become something of an amateur anthropologist of how people read — watching people read books or papers or from their phones or laptops in public places — but I’m curious: how do you read?
* What kind of device(s)?
* Where is your body?
* Where is your reading material?
* How do you prefer to read?
* How do you read most often?
* Where/how is it hardest for you to read?
* What are your reading surfaces — desks, tables, a bed, your own body?
* Do you use any prosthetic aids — glasses, something to raise your laptop upwards?
* How did you read as a child? Ten years ago? What’s changed?
Send pictures or movies even! Images of reading!
Guillaume Apollinaire, “La Jolie Rousse [The Pretty Redhead]”:
Here I am before you all a sensible man
Who knows life and what a living man can know of death
Having experienced love’s sorrows and joys
Having sometimes known how to impose my ideas
Adept at several languages
Having traveled quite a bit
Having seen war in the Artillery and the Infantry
Wounded in the head trepanned under chloroform
Having lost my best friends in the frightful conflict
I know of old and new as much as one man can know of the two
And without worrying today about that war
Between us and for us my friends
I am here to judge the long debate between tradition and invention
Between Order and Adventure
You whose mouth is made in the image of God’s
Mouth that is order itself
Be indulgent when you compare us
To those who were the perfection of order
We who look for adventure everywhere
We’re not your enemies
We want to give you vast and strange domains
Where mystery in flower spreads out for those who would pluck it
There you may find new fires colors you have never seen before
A thousand imponderable phantasms
Still awaiting reality
We want to explore kindness enormous country where all is still
There is also time which can be banished or recalled
Pity us who fight always at the boundaries
Of infinity and the future
Pity our errors pity our sins
Wow, super podcast find — on Apple Hot News, of all places. The Year Was 1959, a series of lectures (w/music) on a single year (but what a year) in the history of Jazz. Georgia State professor Gordon Vernick starts with three of my favorite records ever: John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come. (The two other great albums that people usually talk about are Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.)
When you look at 1959, it’s almost impossible to believe that it would be rock and roll (plus folk and ballad pop) that would chart the musical revolution. Rock was stagnant and jazz was endlessly inventive ten times over. Such a delight to listen — this one year is an education in music itself.
Virginia Heffernan has a blog post up about comments and how generally awful they are, especially on big news websites. I think her observation is fair, and raises a good larger question: What’s the future of comments on the web? I think they’re pretty broken right now, especially at scale. They’re not really conversations at all; they’re a cross between an old-school web guestbook (people merely registering their existence) and a black hole (scraps of text flung into the void, never to be seen or heard from again).
But, let’s not talk about it here.
I left a comment on the post, and I think you should do the same. Snarkmarket readers know something about commenting; I think we’ve got some of the best commenters around, and together we have some of the best conversations.
And there’s something delightfully meta about this post about bad comments having the best comments ever.
P.S. I believe, broadly, in the value of moderation, but man, it’s annoying that my comment is not posted over on the NYT yet. If you don’t see it, wait a few minutes. Not a few hours, I hope.
If you’ve got twenty-five minutes to listen to two smart + funny people talk about Marcel Duchamp, Ezra Pound, comparative literature, American poetry, and French philosophy, give this podcast a whirl. It’s by two of my teachers (and friends, and readers), the poet Charles Bernstein and literary critic Jean-Michel Rabat