Wednesday, April 18, 2007

This will go on your permanent record

Did you know that the Federal Government keeps databases on everybody's drug prescriptions? I didn't. The Virgina Tech shootings brought out this fact, according to Glenn Greenwald who quotes ABC news:
Some news accounts have suggested that Cho had a history of antidepressant use, but senior federal officials tell ABC News that they can find no record of such medication in the government's files. This does not completely rule out prescription drug use, including samples from a physician, drugs obtained through illegal Internet sources, or a gap in the federal database, but the sources say theirs is a reasonably complete search.
So, it turns out that despite the tradition of doctor-patient confidentiality, your entire drug history is recorded and available to any agent of government who is curious about you. And who knows who else can access this data?

You are entitled to see what data credit agencies have collected on you. There needs to be a similar law for government dossiers.

And apparently it's a good idea to avoid taking any prescription drug unless you want the world to know you're taking it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes

Farewell Kurt Vonnegut. Plainspokenness never sounded so good. Bob Harris observes:
I also think somebody should be comparing the amount of airtime Vonnegut’s passing is getting compared to the death of Anna Nicole Smith. I believe the ratio might provide an exact, scientific, numerical measure on our misplaced priorities.
Hm, well, Google can serve as a standin here for "airtime". We'll limit it hits in the past day, which is reasonably fair, since Kurt's only been gone about that long, and yesterday was a big news day for Anna Nicole. If anything, this is probably giving Kurt an unfair advantage, as is the use of the internet over broadcast media.

Google news hits for Kurt Vonnegut in the last day: 995
for Anna Nicole Smith: 6,354

So our cultural misplacement index can be rated as 6.4.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Ninja Convention

Not really, but close: The 8th Annual International Breachers Symposium. The cost is $250, but I imagine if you really belong there you can always avoid the fee by rappelling down from the skylights.

Wow, there is a whole industry devoted to this kind of thing. Not that surprising I guess, every organized human activity has its meetings and vendors and glossy brochures. It's mildly new and surprising that military, police, and spook industries have their affairs opened up to the public on the web. Living in a progressive-urban-liberal bubble you tend to imagine these sort of things off at a distance, but everything is one click away these days.

I Am You

I'm reading Douglas Hofstadter's new book I Am A Strange Loop, and hope to review it here soon. One of the works he references (skeptically) is I Am You, by a philosopher named Daniel Kolak who I hadn't heard of before. Apparently Kolak's thesis is that there is exactly one person in the universe and we are all him/her/it. This is a strange idea but one that occurred to me years ago as a possible consequence of reincarnation.

Actually, this is an old idea that has occurred to many, from the writers of the Upanishads to Wittgenstein and Freeman Dyson, so it isn't that weird.

I recall a passage from Illuminatus:
"If all is one, then all violence is masochism."
"Yes, and all sex is masturbation."

But it's too easy to do reductio ad absurdums to this, and I admire anybody who would devote themselves to such an easily-mockable idea. I'd like to check out his book but it's $300 on Amazon, out of my price range for something of only whimsical interest. But when I thought about it, I realized that I didn't need to read the book since if its thesis is true, I've not only already read it, I've written it.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Keep on Rocking in the Free Market

A blog devoted to using song lyrics to teach economics:
Big Yellow Taxi was originally written and performed by Joni Mitchell but covered by many other artists such as Bob Dylan, Amy Grant, and the Counting Crows. What trade-offs can you find in the lyrics? Define opportunity cost and give at least three examples found in the song. Finally, many of the problems mentioned in the song could be addressed through the assignment of property rights and an exploration of externalities. Explain how properly-defined property rights create incentives to minimize externalities.
I suppose this is what Mick Jagger would be doing if he had stayed at the London School of Economics.

[link fixed a year and a half later]