Friday, December 03, 2004


From Alex Tabarrok:
Laser eye surgery has the highest patient satisfaction ratings of any surgery, it has been performed more than 3 million times in the past decade, it is new, it is high-tech, it has gotten better over time and... laser eye surgery has fallen in price. In 1998 the average price of laser eye surgery was about $2200 per eye. Today the average price is $1350, that's a decline of 38 percent in nominal terms and slightly more than that after taking into account inflation.

Why the price decline in this market and not others? Could it have something to do with the fact that laser eye surgery is not covered by insurance, not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and not heavily regulated? Laser eye surgery is one of the few health procedures sold in a free market with price advertising, competition and consumer driven purchases.
Hmmm ...


Sure you may remember Rudolph and Frosty, but how about these forgotten gems?
The Lost Star Trek Christmas Episode: "A Most Illogical Holiday" (1968)
Mr. Spock, with his pointy ears, is hailed as a messiah on a wintry world where elves toil for a mysterious master, revealed to be Santa just prior to the first commercial break. Santa, enraged, kills Ensign Jones and attacks the Enterprise in his sleigh. As Scotty works to keep the power flowing to the shields, Kirk and Bones infiltrate Santa's headquarters. With the help of the comely and lonely Mrs. Claus, Kirk is led to the heart of the workshop, where he learns the truth: Santa is himself a pawn to a master computer, whose initial program is based on an ancient book of children's Christmas tales. Kirk engages the master computer in a battle of wits, demanding the computer explain how it is physically possible for Santa to deliver gifts to all the children in the universe in a single night. The master computer, confronted with this computational anomaly, self-destructs; Santa, freed from mental enslavement, releases the elves and begins a new, democratic society. Back on the ship, Bones and Spock bicker about the meaning of Christmas, an argument which ends when Scotty appears on the bridge with egg nog made with Romulan Ale."

Noam Chomsky: Deconstructing Christmas (1998)

This PBS/WGBH special featured linguist and social commentator Chomsky sitting at a desk, explaining how the development of the commercial Christmas season directly relates to the loss of individual freedoms in the United States and the subjugation of indigenous people in southeast Asia. Despite a rave review by Z magazine, musical guest Zach de la Rocha and the concession of Chomsky to wear a seasonal hat for a younger demographic appeal, this is known to be the least requested Christmas special ever made.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


According to the International Crisis Group ten "conflict situations" deteriorated in November. How many of these have you heard of:
Ten conflict situations deteriorated in November 2004 according to the December edition of CrisisWatch. The rigged 21 November presidential runoff elections in Ukraine sparked mass protests and left the country in turmoil. Cote d'Ivoire took a dramatic step backward, with government planes breaking the ceasefire in the north, 19,000 fleeing to Liberia, and French destruction of the Ivorian airforce in retaliation for air strikes that killed nine French peacekeepers. The Democratic Republic of the Congo came under repeated threats of invasion by Rwanda as Kigali worried about rebels in eastern DRC. Despite positive movement in peace talks between the Sudanese government and southern rebels, Darfur experienced increasing violence. The situations in Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo, Nepal, Serbia & Montenegro and Uzbekistan also worsened in November.
As someone who prides himself in keeping up with world affairs, I have to confess that I am clueless as to what the specific crises are (and why they are worsening) in the Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, and Uzbekistan. That's five out of ten for those keeping score at home. I am equally clueless about the areas in which the group sees improvement in 11/04:
Four countries saw their situations improve in November 2004. Macedonia's referendum on decentralisation failed to attract the minimum turnout, signalling approval of plans for new local government boundaries introduced under the Ohrid peace agreement. Iran pledged a full, if temporary, suspension of uranium enrichment, allowing more time for further negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue comprehensively. Ethiopia's parliament approved a government plan to accept "in principle" a disputed boundary commission ruling on the town of Badme, reversing a position that had stymied peace with Eritrea. And Burundi?s peace process got back on track.
Burundi had a peace process? Who knew? To know this I would have to know that Burundi had a war, something that I suppose might be expected after the genocide of the 1990s but I certainly don't know any details.

Where are Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea et al? They're lumped into the "unchanged" category; here's the list:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Basque Country (Spain), Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chad, Chechnya (Russia), China (internal), Colombia, Cyprus, Egypt, Georgia, Haiti, India (non-Kashmir), Indonesia, Iraq, Israel/Occupied Territories, Jordan, Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Mauritania, Moldova, Mozambique, Myanmar/Burma, Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan), Nigeria, North Korea, Northern Ireland (UK), Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan Strait, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor Leste, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Venezuela, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe
Is there anywhere left that isn't troubled by conflict?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


While reading through an old Akira Iriye essay I stumbled across the following prediction by John Hobson (one of the first scholars to write about imperialism) more than a century ago:
It is at least conceivable that China might so turn the tables upon the Western industrial nations, and, either by adopting their capital and organizers, or as is more probable, by substituting her own, might flood their markets with her cheaper manufactures, and refusing their imports in exchange might take her payments in liens upon their capital, reversing the earlier process of investment until she gradually gained financial control over her quondam patrons and civilizers.
Anyone who notices all the "Made in China" labels at Wal-Mart and who has paid attention to the tumbling dollar and the fact that China owns a good chunk of the U.S. national debt would have to think that Hobson may have got it right.


of Libya taken by Michael Totten can be viewed here. Tripoli seems depressing but Ghadami is striking (if apparently empty).

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


is already making an impact in East Asia (for text and analysis of the act, see here). It is encouraging more North Koreans to defect:
Word of the U.S. North Korean Human Rights Act has spread quickly among defectors in China, Russia and other countries, as well as to citizens in the communist state, a nongovernmental organization says.

Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea who has spoken with people in China recently, said news of the bill may encourage North Koreans to defect or refugees to seek asylum when previously they would have been "less inclined to do so."
And it is dividing the NGO community as they differ over the political implications of the act:
The bond between various NGOs appears to be unraveling because of the controversial act.

Based on U.S. human rights laws that preceded the Iraq conflict, the North Korean bill is a pretext for war, said Lee Seung-yong, who represented aid group Good Friends.

But not all NGOs attending felt so bitterly about the act, though many had suspicions that it was pushed through by hawks in Washington who favor a regime change in North Korea.

"We don't believe in vilifying North Korea, like what the U.S. is doing," said Park Jeong-eun of the Center for Peace and Disarmament.
and as they compete for the cash that the act provides:
NGOs will get a boost from the U.S. Congress since the act provides for $20 million annually to efforts related to North Korean defectors.

But Hong fears competition for funding will hurt relationships between NGOs and new groups will form to try to get the money.
The act and the reactions to it also highlight the dramatic shift in basic foreign policy orientation of both "liberals" and "(neo) conservatives":
Peters, who intertwines his work with Christian missionary efforts, has not changed his approach to helping North Koreans in the last 15 years. Years ago society labeled him as liberal, leftist and even a socialist, but now he's being lumped in with neoconservatives.
All this and the act hasn't even officially taken effect yet.

I have no first-hand knowledge but if I had to guess, I'd say that the act is having precisely the impact its creators intended.

Monday, November 29, 2004


As any North Korea-watcher well knows, the DPRK has generally been less than cooperative with most NGOs and humanitarian aid organizations who have sought to monitor the delivery of their assistance to ensure that it reaches the intended audience. With this in mind, the Eugene Bell Foundation announces some good news:
This delegation found that EugeneBell's system for delivering supplies has finally won wide acceptance within North Korea's medical establishment. The "EB System," also includes regular site visits by Korean-speaking monitors to each enrolled institution, an equipment maintenance and repair program, and periodic reports on equipment and medication usage by local care-givers.

This fall, the delegation was able to make all the necessary site visits, confirmed that almost 100% of all donations reached their proper destinations, repaired all broken equipment at the institutions visited, and collected essential data from local healthcare givers. "We now have a proven capacity to deliver individualized 'packages' of assistance to any enrolled medial facility and to make the follow-up visits needed to insure that the 'system' continues to run smoothly and transparently," said Linton. "An efficient, effective and transparent delivery system is essential if medical assistance is to advance beyond basic medicines," he added.

"This exciting new breakthrough, the fruit of several years of serious effort, has come in the middle of a standoff over North Korea' nuclear program,"Linton noted. "This suggests that EugeneBell has now reached a point where its work need not be held hostage to diplomatic tensions. Clearly, now is the time to begin providing real help to local hospitals."

Keep up the good work!


is on a roll. Check out her unscheduled appearance on Pat Robertson's CBN in which she defends the stranglehold of the powers of darkness on American universities (as well as her Second Amendment rights). See also what happens when "intellectual diversity" and poetry reading combine (it ain't pretty).

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