Have a great Christmas, everyone!
I had to buy something at Yuppie Mall yesterday—you know, the one that counts Neiman Marcus as an anchor tenant. I try to avoid malls at this time of year, not so much as a rejection of the commercialization of Christmas, but mostly on account of my extreme disdain for saxophone-based Christmas medleys. You know, those “jazzy,” Kenny G-style improvisations on “Silver Bells” issuing from hidden speakers so numerous that the reverberating sounds have no locatable source other than inside your head? The kind of tunes that make you want to go on a murderous rampage? Right.
Well, as I was leaving Yuppie Mall, to my incredible surprise, my favorite Christmas carol ever came on the PA: John Gardner’s adaptation of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day. I stopped in my tracks. Since when did shopping mall PA programmers develop such good taste? (And an appreciation for completely indiscernable time signatures?)
Could this be a comeback for choral music? Last month, I was a little startled to hear the opening measures of Vivaldi’s Gloria in the bathroom at Hong Kong International Airport.
|Chinese food in China. Even with such failures as chicken feet and fish heads floating in the soup, it’s considerably tastier over there.|
|Hong Kong’s giant displays of Christmas lights. Campy but spirited!|
|Media coverage of Tiger Woods. Seriously, who cares?|
|Christmas: coming too soon?|
|Blogging. Who has time?|
I’m traveling to Hong Kong and China this week, so I won’t be reachable by telephone.
For my running program, this has been a year of firsts: In January, I bought my first MP3 player since 1999 and started running with music. Music! But music doesn’t make you faster. My inner engineer decided that more data was needed. A few months ago, Garmin released the FR60, the first product that correlates foot-pod accelerometer and heart rate data in an agreeable-looking digital watch. I know several people who are fans of the similar Nike+ system, and I’ve often wondered about these foot pods—are they at all accurate? Garmin’s literature promised “98% accuracy,” which is good enough for me, so I bought one.
Turns out, Garmin lies. My first run with the watch was a huge letdown: the instantaneous pace readout, the main feature that led me to purchase the product, was indicating more than 1 minute slower (per mile) than I believed I was running based on old-fashioned estimation. That would represent an error of more than 12%. To check my sanity, I borrowed a fancier watch that uses GPS, not accelerometer data, to calculate speed. I did a quick jog/walk with both products and correlated the data shown here: GPS speed (Forerunner 305) in blue, foot-pod speed (FR60) in red. Sure enough, my speed estimates were more accurate than the watch readout! But I was surprised to see the correlation improve dramatically during walking.
While Garmin makes no effort to call out its necessity, the FR60 offers a calibration procedure to improve the foot-pod accuracy. Will calibration improve running-speed accuracy at the expense of walking? We’ll find out in part two.
Look what I found on that half-finished roll of film that’s been sitting in my Leica since August!
I am reading another biography of Theodore Roosevelt. It is 1902, and the American people are outraged over secret reports of atrocities committed by American soldiers against the insurrectos in the Philippines (under American control since the Spanish-American war). Particularly revolting is the use of the so-called “water cure,” which inflicts a suffering which “must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown.” Furious, President Roosevelt orders Secretary of War Elihu Root to send a cable to the Commander of the Philippines Army:
THE PRESIDENT DESIRES TO KNOW IN THE FULLEST AND MOST CIRCUMSTANTIAL MANNER ALL THE FACTS… FOR THE VERY REASON THAT THE PRESIDENT INTENDS TO BACK UP THE ARMY IN THE HEARTIEST FASHION IN EVERY LAWFUL AND LEGITIMATE METHOD OF DOING ITS WORK, HE ALSO INTENDS TO SEE THAT THE MOST VIGOROUS CARE IS EXERCISED TO DETECT AND PREVENT ANY CRUELTY OR BRUTALITY, AND THAT MEN WHO ARE GUILTY THEREOF ARE PUNISHED. GREAT AS THE PROVOCATION HAS BEEN IN DEALING WITH FOES WHO HABITUALLY RESORT TO TREACHERY MURDER AND TORTURE AGAINST OUR MEN, NOTHING CAN JUSTIFY OR WILL BE HELD TO JUSTIFY THE USE OF TORTURE OR INHUMAN CONDUCT OF ANY KIND ON THE PART OF THE AMERICAN ARMY.
The book was written in 2001, years before the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” would enter the public conscience. Fast forward to 2009. Former Vice President Dick Cheney explains American policy on FOX News Sunday:
I knew about the waterboarding. Not specifically in any one particular case, but as a general policy that we had approved… It was a good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well.
What a difference 107 years makes.
Washington’s various schemes for “health care reform” have dominated the news for months now. Everyone seems to think that health care could be done better, but the industry is so complex and so full of outspoken stakeholders that the signal-to-noise ratio of public discourse has become unbearably low. Rather than seek out the facts, I tune out. Just figure something out, okay?
David Goldhill’s September cover story in The Atlantic provided an invigoratingly fresh perspective on the problem. He proposes some really great ideas, but most importantly, he redefines the problem. Here I summarize (sometimes with direct quotes) some of the most salient points from the first half of the article:
Health care does not equal health. With the best of intentions, we accidentally created a “heavily regulated, massively subsidized” health-care system lined with all the wrong economic incentives. “Incentives that emphasize health care over any other aspect of health or well-being. That emphasize treatment over prevention. That disguise true costs. That favor complexity…” Federal spending on health care outstrips education by a factor of 8. How, he asks, does a society determine that $100 billion for health care will make us healthier than, say, $25 billion for better nutrition?
Health insurance is not health care. “How often have you heard a politician say that millions of Americans ‘have no health care,’ when he or she meant they have no health insurance? How has a method of financing health care become synonymous with care itself?” Most forms of insurance are designed to protect the customer from the costs of rare, unanticipated events—like a car crash. But we have become strangely comfortable with the bizarre idea of using health insurance to pay for everyday medical expenses, even when expected long in advance.
Government is not good at managing cost reduction and fostering competition. Existing government plans, such as Medicare, have failed to control costs because they equate costs with prices. “Cost control is a feature of decentralized, competitive markets, not of centralized bureaucracy—a matter of incentives, not mandates.” Ad-hoc price control creates unforseen incentives on the types of services hospitals and clinics want to offer and the fields of practice chosen by young doctors. Furthermore, the strange relationship between insurers and health-care providers creates a muddled system of pricing and discounts which does not work in favor of reducing costs for the patient—because the patient, in our system, is not the consumer.
Americans my age have never known a different system. It’s good to question your assumptions.