Time to do a quick update of ancillary matters. All sorts of misc stuff.
"The Administration is cutting missions of scientific space exploration and research to pay for space transportation," stated Louis Friedman of The Planetary Society. As always, under these guys, science is the big loser. Does anybody see a pattern? Please feel free to drop by the Planetary Society site and sign the petition (or join to show your support.)
Well, if government can no longer look ahead, at least some private and ad hoc groups are doing so. On Saturday and Sunday, January 20 and 21, members of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology participated in a first-of-its-kind event. About a dozen people, representing four countries on three continents, and with training in a variety of disciplines, came together for a scenario creation project via virtual presence. They began the process of developing a series of professional-quality models of a world in which exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing has become a reality. I am a member of CRN, though I was unable to participate in this event. It sounds like Global Futures Strategist Jamais Cascio and CRN Coordinator Mike Treder did a great job leading these vivid minds in an exercise that I plan to tap for ideas for my latest novel!
The urgent need for new nanotechnology policy is highlighted by breakthrough results from a recent British government funded project. For the first time ever, a group of high-level scientists assembled for the purpose of inventing something as close as they could get to the long-sought nanotechnology goal of building precise products atom by atom. The remarkably advanced projects those scientists produced suggest that the era of molecular manufacturing -- with its tremendous potential benefits and potentially grave dangers -- could arrive far more swiftly than previously imagined.
Devin Murphy clued me into this fascinating economic analysis of “econimic activity” on Second Life, or “virtual-avatar nonsense analyzed as a pyramid scheme.” And what do you expect on a frontier? Cheating and predation emerge out of human nature at any opportunity. If these people did not have a near monopoly on virtual worlds -- if VR were liberated to become an open-creative realm, the way it is when it comes to creating web sites -- then competition would alleviate such problems. It dazzles me how people can see the example of the Web right in front of them, and then forget about its lessons.
Of course, it does not help that discourse -- the exchange of cogent information -- takes place on Second Life at about the same level as caveman grunts... with apologies to cavemen,
February 22 I’ll be appearing at a conference on “Collective Intelligence Networks” near LAX, in Southern California.
Another thought provoking gem from the Progressive Policy Institute: World spending on health, according to the World Bank and the U.N.'s World Health Organization, was 10.2 percent of global GDP in 2003. This is the equivalent of about $3.7 trillion, or $500 per person. (The figure counts all money spent by governments, providers, and individuals on "preventive and curative" health services, family planning activities, nutrition programs, and emergency medical aid.) America's health bill that year came to 15.2 percent of GDP, far ahead of all competitors. So far ahead, in fact, that Americans accounted for nearly half -- $1.7 trillion of the total $3.7 trillion -- of the world's health spending.*
Now, one can already predict the cliched responses to this. Of course much of this is (the right wing answer) because we start out much richer and there is so much more care available in the US. It is also evident that (the left wing answer) there is vast healthcare inflation in the States, because the government takes almost no part in limiting price gouging or collusive market busting by powerful entities like drug companies.
Especially, there is the simple fact that medical care is obdurately immune to the corrective effects of market forces. If you or a loved one are deeply ill, you will not do normal price-comparisons when looking for hospitals, seeking “bargain” surgeons and/or other care providers. When price is no object, supply and demand are weak correctors. Hence, in most of the world’s nations, medical care has drifted into zones where socialism seems to make sense to a lot of people. Like public education, street maintenance, law enforecement and defense.
(Let there be no mistake here. One of my reasons for utterly despising the so-called “left-right political axis” has to do with the fact that, at last, we seem to have data needed in order to know what jobs government is good at and which should better be left to competitive accountability arenas. But simple-minded dogmatism infects and afflicts us, limiting our ability to be agile and re examine assumptions.)
In fact, the PPI numbers seem to reflect something fundamental. That the US subsidises the entire rest of the world by spending whatever it takes to move medical science and skills along at rapid rates. Much of that money reflects profit-driven research. And if that profit drive warps fairness in outrageous ways, in America, it also propels advances that - for example - Europeans get to exploit only a few years later, after prices have fallen. (I had personal experience with this, unable to even get an MRI in France, but paying through the nose for one here, back in 1991.) It is one more case where reflexive, indignant dogmatic-posturing simply does not accurately reflect reality OR fairness. Yes, there is more sense and justice to the European approach. But every single day thair system uses methods that have slipped a little farther down a learning curve that Americans, largely, paid for, Moreover, every day, many hundreds of people from those countries (those who can afford it, of course) climb onto jets in order to come here for treatments that are more cutting-edge than they are allowed access to, at home.
OTOH... one must always be wary of a theory that sounds just too pat! The PPI report continues:
More fundamentally, despite high spending, U.S. "outcomes" in some basic public-health indicators often remain mediocre. For example, a WHO list places the United States 30th of 192 countries in infant mortality. (Low rankings reflect in part failure to insure about 40 million people, and also failures outside health care systems per se: relatively high obesity rates, frequent road accidents, HIV incidence somewhat higher than the rich-country average, and other problems that insurers, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and pharmacists must address but can't prevent. There are also the problems inherent in absorbing fully half of the world’s total number of immigrants.) The World Health Organization lets you compare 171 health indicators across 192 countries:
I want to thank those of you who showed such interest in my posting about cell-phone autonomy and the desperate need for a second layer of operability in those sophisticated little radios so many people carry around in their pockets. It is outrageous that these seem designed to fail at the very time when we may need them most. Requiring a simple, peer-to-peer capability for passing text messages... even restricted to times when a cell tower is not available... could be the simplest step taken by our government to ensure that civilization is capable of the kind of robust resiliency displayed by New Yorkers and Bostonians on 9/11...
...instead of the enforced helplessness that was imposed upon the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I hope some of you will continue to help spread the word.