Archive for November 21st, 2009
This interview in New Scientist is quite interesting. It begins:
Under the name Belle de Jour, Brooke Magnanti wrote about her experiences as a prostitute for a London escort agency, and her blog became a bestselling book, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, and a television series.
She has a master’s degree in genetic epidemiology and a PhD from the University of Sheffield’s department of forensic pathology.
She currently works at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health and told her agent: “if New Scientist asks for an interview, I’ll do it”. We did ask…
The US has become quite hostile to foreign visitors—not in person-to-person interactions, but in the bureaucratic travel procedures that the US, enormously fearful, has put in place after 9/11. The climate is such that foreign students are not so enthusiastic about studying in the US, which is our loss. Moreover, state budget cutbacks are hurting education, which always seems high on the list of things to cut. Moreover, though scientists are clearly essential for continuing technological development, the US as a whole is anti-science (cf. evolution, climate change).
The lab equipment is still being installed in the new life sciences school at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. But the hallways are already lined with posters heralding an early achievement: the hiring of Chinese faculty from Stanford, Harvard, and other elite institutions overseas. The mission, says Dean Shi Yigong, a former Princeton professor who is a pioneer in the study of cell death, is to build a world-class research center to "solve the basic mysteries of biology."
Shi is one of the biggest catches in a mounting campaign to lure China’s brightest minds back home. Last year, Beijing launched the Thousand Talents Program, offering top scientists grants of 1 million yuan (about $146,000), fat salaries, and generous lab funding.
The goal is to address the biggest roadblock to China’s aspirations of becoming an innovation powerhouse: an acute shortage of seasoned research scientists. Accomplished physicists, biologists, and mathematicians—who might produce technological breakthroughs and build key research programs—have long balked at low pay and a university system marred by corruption, cronyism, and lax standards. But now, China’s economic boom and surging government investment in research are making mainland university posts more attractive. A decade ago, only 1 in 100 leading Chinese scientists in the U.S. would have considered returning, says Rao Yi, a former Northwestern neuroscience professor who is dean of Peking University’s life sciences school. Today, he says, half would. "Now, there is a chance of recruiting the rising stars of Harvard," says Rao.
Higher pay helps, but returnees say the main allure is the chance to build a science program from the ground up. While U.S. labs are struggling for funds, China is expanding. Shi says he earns less in China than at Princeton, where he ran a structural biology lab and helped found a drug-discovery company. But at Tsinghua, he helped design a life sciences program with 1,500 students. So far, Shi has hired 22 scientists from the U.S. to set up labs and has made offers to an additional 15…
Check out www.373feed.com — "373" is a common telephone exchange in Monterey (mine, in fact), and the restaurants listed are from Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Salinas. Ordering dinner in from a Monterey restaurant like Fandango’s will be very nice some evening. :)
Techie types grow to admire efficiency: accomplishing the most with the least effort. Sometimes, however, it is better to sacrifice efficiency in order to increase enjoyment. Take, for example, a fine restaurant meal from the time The Wife and I were in Paris. We certainly could have wolfed down the food faster and gotten in and out in record time, but that was (of course) not the point: efficiency be damned, we wanted to enjoy ourselves.
The idea came to me while walking in my MBT shoes, which require more muscular effort (to maintain balance and stride) than regular shoes but which also make the walk actually enjoyable. And I thought of two other areas where we sacrifice efficiency to enjoyment: shaving and sex. (Imagine the guy who crows with triumph when he achieves a 30-second sex act and his determination to break 15 seconds. Wouldn’t you say he’s missed the point?)
Yesterday it was raining, and I’m not yet enjoying my walks to the extent that I’m walking in the rain. OTOH, I was very glad to get out for a walk today—same distance as last time, a little over 36 minutes.
I was pleased to see that the peony just outside my door is vigorously budding.
Here’s a view of part of my apartment building’s courtyard.
The human capacity for self-delusion never ceases to amaze me, so it shouldn’t surprise me that so many Republicans seem to genuinely believe that they are the party of fiscal responsibility. Perhaps at one time they were, but those days are long gone.
This fact became blindingly obvious to me six years ago this month when a Republican president and a Republican Congress enacted the Medicare drug benefit, which former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker has called "the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s."
Recall the situation in 2003. The Bush administration was already projecting the largest deficit in American history–$475 billion in fiscal year 2004, according to the July 2003 mid-session budget review. But a big election was coming up that Bush and his party were desperately fearful of losing. So they decided to win it by buying the votes of America’s seniors by giving them an expensive new program to pay for their prescription drugs.
Recall, too, that Medicare was already broke in every meaningful sense of the term. According to the 2003 Medicare trustees report, spending for Medicare was projected to rise much more rapidly than the payroll tax as the baby boomers retired. Consequently, the rational thing for Congress to do would have been to find ways of cutting its costs. Instead, Republicans voted to vastly increase them–and the federal deficit–by $395 billion between 2004 and 2013.
However, the Bush administration knew this figure was not accurate because Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, had concluded, well before passage, that the more likely cost would be $534 billion. Tom Scully, a Republican political appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services, threatened to fire him if he dared to make that information public before the vote. (See this report by the HHS inspector general and this article by Foster.)
It’s important to remember that the congressional budget resolution capped the projected cost of the drug benefit at $400 billion over 10 years. If there had been an official estimate from Medicare’s chief actuary putting the cost at well more than that, then the legislation could have been killed by a single member in either the House or Senate by raising a point of order. Then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., later said he regretted not doing so.
Even with a deceptively low estimate of the drug benefit’s cost, there were still a few Republicans in the House of Representatives who wouldn’t roll over and play dead just to buy re-election. Consequently, when the legislation came up for its final vote on Nov. 22, 2003, it was failing by 216 to 218 when the standard 15-minute time allowed for voting came to an end.
What followed was one of the most extraordinary events in Congressional history…