Month: February 2010

Why is tomato juice so popular in airplanes?

Is it?  With Germans, at least. There's now been some research supported by Lufthansa:

Bei dem im Flugzeug herrschenden niedrigen Luftdruck steigt die sogenannte Geruchs- und Geschmacksschwelle – Kräuter, Gewürze, Salz und Zucker müssen höher dosiert werden, um wahrgenommen zu werden. Man rieche die Speisen und Getränke "als hätte man einen Schnupfen", sagte Burdack-Freitag der Zeitung. Salz werde 20 bis 30 Prozent, Zucker 15 bis 20 Prozent weniger intensiv geschmeckt.

During a flight, everything tastes quite a bit weaker, as if you had a cold.  You might think die deutschen would turn to Sichuan Chili Chicken, but no…Tomatensaft!

I thank Herr Rothschild for the pointer.

Hallucinators are more likely to heed high status voices

Here is the abstract:

This study examined three factors hypothesised which influence compliance to harm-others command hallucinations. The factors investigated were the perceived power of the commanding voice, participants' perceived social rank in relation to the commanding voice and to the others. Thirty-two male participants were recruited from forensic services. Participants were identified as belonging to one of the two groups: compliers or resisters. Semi-structured interviews and questionnaires were administered to participants. Beliefs, that the commanding voice was more powerful than the self and of a higher social rank than the self, were associated with compliance. There were no significant differences between the two groups on perceptions of social rank in relation to others. The significant findings of this study can be understood in terms of the relationship an individual has with the commanding voice and which are congruent with cognitive models of hallucinations.

For the pointer credit is due to BPS Psychological Digest.  They also offer up this bit on how Republicans look more powerful or at least are perceived as such.

Clarification on health care

Over at Twitter, Matt Yglesias asks:

Do rightwingers really believe that US health insurance has no mortality-curbing impact?

I don't speak for "right-wingers," but I'll say this:

1. I genuinely don't know what to believe.  And I often toy with the idea of an "innovation-maximizing" health care policy, so that future coverage is more effective.

2. I am commonly excoriated by people (not Matt) for not supporting government-subsidized universal health insurance, yet few if any of these people grapple seriously with the best evidence.

3. I live in a country where the extension of health insurance is a major issue, and a major budgetary issue, yet much of the discussion is in an evidence-free zone.

4. I don't view it as incumbent on me to come up with the final answers in this debate or even a provisional stance.  It's incumbent on the people pushing coverage plans to make the case for what they are doing and so far they haven't.  I do recognize that medical bankruptcy is a separate set of issues and that greater coverage will significantly lower financial risk.  That said, the appropriate response on the health issue is not to change the topic and start talking about bankruptcy.

My original post is here

How many people die from lack of health insurance?

Megan McArdle has an excellent post on that question and here is her column.  Here is one startling bit:

To my mind probably the single most solid piece of evidence is this:  turning 65–i.e., going on Medicare–doesn't reduce your risk of dying.  If lack of insurance leads to death, then that should show up as a discontinuity in the mortality rate around the age of 65.  It doesn't.  There are some caveats–if the effects are sufficiently long term, then it's hard to measure, because of course as elderly people age, their mortality rate starts rising dramatically.  But still, there should be some kink in the curve, and in the best data we have, it just isn't there.

And this:

The possibility that no one risks death by going without health insurance may be startling, but some research supports it. Richard Kronick of the University of California at San Diego’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, an adviser to the Clinton administration, recently published the results of what may be the largest and most comprehensive analysis yet done of the effect of insurance on mortality. He used a sample of more than 600,000, and controlled not only for the standard factors, but for how long the subjects went without insurance, whether their disease was particularly amenable to early intervention, and even whether they lived in a mobile home. In test after test, he found no significantly elevated risk of death among the uninsured.

I agree with her conclusion:

Intuitively, I feel as if there should be some effect.  But if the results are this messy, I would guess that the effect is not very big.

Predators and multiple marginalization

Abraham Rosenwald likewise encountered a bewildering array of different groups in the forest after he escaped from Tartak [a concentration camp in Poland].  First, he encountered Bolek, who would not take his group of Jews since they had no weapons.  A second partisan group robbed them of their few possessions.  To live, "we went to the fields and gathered potatoes.  The peasants ambushed us and beat us up."  A third group of partisans murdered one of Abraham's companions, Israel Rosenberg, because they coveted his clothes.  In one village they encountered a fourth group of partisans, whose commander would not let them join but nonetheless gave them some grenades for self-defense.  Members of a fifth group of partisans robbed them once again, but this time the commander returned the stolen goods.  A sixth partisan group agreed to take any Jews with prior military experience but subsequently murdered them.  Abraham was finally allowed to joint a seventh group, from whom he received rifle training, but he became separated in escaping a German encirclement.  An eighth group, led by "Piotor," allowed Jews to join but only to perform menial work, not fight.  And the Jews were not allowed to stay with Piotor when he crossed over to the Russian lines.  At this point, Abraham encountered Shlomo Einesman, who had left his hiding place.  Einesman suggested the others return to that hiding place with him, since he had sufficient money.  Instead, Abraham persisted in going east and this time made it across to the Soviets.

That is from Christopher R. Browning's new book Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp.

Sentences to ponder

The topic is consumer protests over price hikes for eBooks and here is one response:

“The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing,” said Douglas Preston, whose novel “Impact” reached as high as No. 4 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction best-seller list earlier this month. “It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.”

Here is the article; I giggled when I read that.  Here is a short biography of Douglas Preston.

Thomas Friedman proposes a new rate of marginal transformation

So here is my new rule of thumb: For every Predator missile we fire at an Al Qaeda target here, we should help Yemen build 50 new modern schools that teach science and math and critical thinking – to boys and girls.

The full article is here.  At those prices, how many missiles does the Yemeni government want fired?  The Yemeni median voter?  (Is there a single dimension in Yemeni politics?  If so, what is it?)  The average Yemeni teacher?  By the way, how would we feel if each al Qaeda attack came with 50 new madrassas?

I usually think that building schools — in the absence of other, complementary inputs — doesn't help much.

We are told:

America’s last great ideological foe, Soviet Marxism, produced its share of violent radicals, but it also produced Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – because it believed in science, physics, math and the classics of literature. Islamism is not producing any Sakharovs.

Is the problem lack of school buildings?  Is there a recipe for building a modern state and capitalist polity in Yemen?  I'm all ears.  The conclusion is:

…please, let’s end our addiction to oil, which is what gives the Saudi religious ministry and charities the money to spread anti-modernist thinking across this region.

Didn't the Saudis radicalize to a greater extent when their oil income fell?  Will nailing the Saudis help Yemen, given Saudi Arabia is one of their main trading partners? 

When I am blogging this material, you know I have too much time on my hands at home.  I'm not usually this grumpy but I've been locked up for days.  Here are related comments.

Early globalization

The Greenlander belonged to a Paleo-Eskimo culture called the Saqqaq by archaeologists. On the basis of his genome, the Saqqaq man’s closest living relatives are the Chukchis, people who live at the easternmost tip of Siberia. His ancestors split apart from Chukchis some 5,500 years ago, according to genetic calculations, implying the Saqqaq people’s ancestors must have traveled across the northern edges of North America until they reached Greenland.

Here is the full article.  Call me crazy, but I've long been a (partial) fan of John Bailey's Sailing to Paradise: The Discovery of the Americas by 7000 B.C.

The culture that is Japan, snow removal edition

Robot Snowplow from Japan Eats Up Snow, Poops Out Bricks.


It has a camera and GPS.  Here is a further report from Japan (remarkable detail at that link):

One protective measure against snow and ice for railroads and roadways is the "slush removal system" that hydraulically transfers collected snow that has been removed from the railroad tracks or roadways and deposits it in a river. Also, there is the "sprinkler snow melting system" that melts snow by sprinkling water on the road surface.

Here is a longer study of geothermal snow melting systems.  Here is a discussion of numerous other Japanese snow treatment and disposal technologies.  Here is a report from Tsuruta:

In town several additional unique ways of dealing with this snow exist. A concrete-contained stream runs under downtown sidewalks, covered by hinged, lightweight metal grates. People who have access to this “river” can shovel their snow into the running water, sending it floating to the nearby Sea of Japan. Around the nicer homes in town (luckily, including mine) pipes spray a constant stream of hot water onto snow, quickly melting it.

Still, the snow can gather, breaking the delicate branches of Japan’s carefully tended trees and plants. The solution: wooden cages and bamboo teepees, odd-looking sights.

The abundance of snow in Japan spawned a bewildering variety of shovels with distinct shapes and purposes. Most are plastic. There are wide shovels for moving large quantities of snow; there are smaller shovels for weaker shovelers; there are shovels with handles and shovels without; there are shovel-sleds designed to allow the user to push a large load of snow a long distance; there are also metal shovels for breaking up hard-packed snow.

The shovels come in a selection of neon colors: green, yellow, purple, orange, and blue – some marketer’s feeble attempt to make snow-shoveling fun. Shovels cost from five to thirty dollars. Most people own at least two different types, selected by need.

I like this from Japan (ultimately) too — Bohemian Rhapsody!