now they say they have found the first genetic mutation in humans that appears to affect sleep duration rather than sleep timing. The mutation lies in DEC2, a gene that codes for a protein that helps turn off expression of other genes, including some that control circadian rhythm, the internal clock that regulates a person's sleep-wake cycle. The mutation occurred in just two people, a mother and her daughter. The women sleep an average of only 6.25 hours, whereas the rest of the family members sleep a more typical 8 hours.
To confirm that this mutation shortens sleep, Fu and colleagues engineered mice to carry the mutant form of DEC2. The mutant mice slept about an hour less than normal mice, the team reports today in Science. The finding also held for fruit flies: Mutant flies slept about 2 hours less than normal flies.
DEC2 likely isn't the whole story when it comes to short sleep. "Genetic control of sleep is going to be complex and is going to include multiple types of genes," says Shaw, who was not affiliated with the study. But that doesn't diminish the importance of this paper, he notes. "It's really an amazing piece of work."
Saturday, August 22, 2009
I am glad I got an opportunity to exit this agency and return to academia where I did not have to hide my analyses and ideas behind facades--thanks the intellectual freedom we have. (Or so I thought until I found out otherwise; but, who cares for my sob stories, right?)
Anyway, one reason why I was convinced that high speed rail will never be economically feasible without extensive--I mean extensive--public subsidies was a simple back of the envelope calculation. The calculation was about the out of pocket expenses that a family of three would incur if they drove from their home, say in Bakersfield, to the destination in Los Angeles, compared to the expenses involved with completing the same journey on a high speed train.
To take the train, there are the following explicit cost factors in addition to the fare for each passenger:
transport to the station of origin
transport from the destination station
and then the transport costs to move around in the destination city.
You add these expenses to the fares for the family of three, and it turns out to be way, way, more than the out of pocket expenses if that family had simply gotten into their car and driven. And then, add to this the need to stick to the train schedule as opposed to leaving from home, well, whenever.
Anyway, that is all water under the bridge. That is what I thought, until the recent rah-rah for high speed rail in the US. I suppose such policy ideas are like mythical monsters that never die!
It was not a surprise to me that my graduate school professor, Peter Gordon, has blogged about it--he has a long track record voicing his opposition. It was, however, interesting to note that the UK too is planning on big time expansion of high speed rail. As Johnny Carson would say, "I did not know that!"I liked this comment about the the UK discussions:
Obsessing about high-speed rail also misses the point that every form of transport has its strengths and weaknesses. There are all sorts of factors that people take into account when choosing if and how to travel, like cost, convenience, speed, comfort and flexibility. If you want to travel from city centre to city centre, trains are great for journeys of up to three hours. No check-in, no driving, just turn up and let the ‘train take the strain’. For longer journeys, the hassle of air travel is off-set by the speed (and, given the stupendous prices charged on Britain’s railways, flying is usually cheaper, too). For trips to less popular destinations, or where you need transport at the other end, the car is often the best choice.
So, to make Britain a truly mobile society, we need trains, planes and cars, and the best possible infrastructure for all three. And we need a government that is committed to the idea that mobility is a good thing rather than one that puts the brakes on our transport future.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Not for the first time, as an elected official, I envy economists. Economists have available to them, in an analytical approach, the counterfactual. Economists can explain that a given decision was the best one that could be made, because they can show what would have happened in the counterfactual situation. They can contrast what happened to what would have happened. No one has ever gotten reelected where the bumper sticker said, "It would have been worse without me." You probably can get tenure with that. But you can't win office.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Simon Johnson, the former IMF Chief Economist and now a MIT professor, does not explicitly answer the question of recession and inequality, but asks:
are we seeing the emergence of a two-track economy: one bouncing back in a relatively healthy fashion, and the other really struggling?Guess which households are healthily bouncing back, and which ones are struggling? Johnson writes:
The top 10 percent of people are going to do fine, those in the middle of the income distribution have been hard hit by overborrowing, and poorer people will continue to struggle with unstable jobs and low wages.Sounds like Johnson is saying that the recession is worsening the inequality in the US. He then adds:
The United States has, over the past two decades, started to take on characteristics more traditionally associated with Latin America: extreme income inequality, rising poverty levels and worsening health conditions for many. The elite live well and seem not to mind repeated cycles of economic-financial crisis.Welcome to the latest banana republic: USA!
In the process, these magazines are also trying to provide some hard-hitting essays like the ones you would come across in the Atlantic or the New Yorker.
This essay on America's food crisis in the latest issue of Time is a case in point:
Horror stories about the food industry have long been with us — ever since 1906, when Upton Sinclair's landmark novel The Jungle told some ugly truths about how America produces its meat. In the century that followed, things got much better, and in some ways much worse. The U.S. agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably cheap prices. But it does so at a high cost to the environment, animals and humans. Those hidden prices are the creeping erosion of our fertile farmland, cages for egg-laying chickens so packed that the birds can't even raise their wings and the scary rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria among farm animals. Add to the price tag the acceleration of global warming — our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy.
What we really need to do is something Americans have never done well, and that's to quit thinking big. We already eat four times as much meat and dairy as the rest of the world, and there's not a nutritionist on the planet who would argue that 24‑oz. steaks and mounds of buttery mashed potatoes are what any person needs to stay alive. "The idea is that healthy and good-tasting food should be available to everyone," says Hahn Niman. "The food system should be geared toward that."
Whether that happens will ultimately come down to all of us, since we have the chance to choose better food three times a day (or more often, if we're particularly hungry). It's true that most of us would prefer not to think too much about where our food comes from or what it's doing to the planet — after all, as Chipotle's Ells points out, eating is not exactly a "heady intellectual event." But if there's one difference between industrial agriculture and the emerging alternative, it's that very thing: consciousness. Niman takes care with each of his cattle, just as an organic farmer takes care of his produce and smart shoppers take care with what they put in their shopping cart and on the family dinner table. The industrial food system fills us up but leaves us empty — it's based on selective forgetting. But what we eat — how it's raised and how it gets to us — has consequences that can't be ignored any longer.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Shah Rukh Khan Detained at Newark|
Piling one irrationality onto another, the town fathers in the Sicilian town of Ficarra have collectively invested in Italy’s $165 million lottery:
”We chose numbers which were connected with the town’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary of the Assumption,” Mayor Basilio Ridolfo said. “It is our hope that, with her blessing, we will hit the jackpot.”
The Virgin Mary did not come through for last week’s drawing—but neither did any other saints. Other towns are reportedly following Ficarra’s lead, which could lead to some heavenly protocol issues.
Why is it considered more advanced to ask for a windfall through prayer, rather than through a quid pro quo like a nice burnt offering?
Hey, at least these people were one step ahead of the guy in the joke, which goes thus:
A guy goes to church, and prays that he wins the lottery.
The following week he returns and loudly wails that he did not win, and prays that he win the next time.
This goes on for a few weeks.
Until one day when he is praying, he hears a booming voice: "first buy a lottery ticket!"
The blogs at The Economist are equally interesting--the same measured tone, without any histrionics, and with that slight sarcasm every once in a while. Exhibit A:
IF, WITH Barack Obama's acquiescence, Senate Democrats drop the public plan from their health-care reform bill, that measure will likely end up looking very much like The Economist's vision for health-care reform in America. Which is odd, because I never considered this paper a bastion of socialist thought.Anyway, on the subject of healthcare reform, the same blog entry has this note:
Perhaps it's a matter of perspective. If you like the status quo, then these changes (and any change that seriously addresses the flaws in America's health-care system) are probably going to seem radical to you. But if you believe that the American system is not functioning as it should and, therefore, needs to be reformed, the changes currently on the table are actually quite moderate. Or maybe, just maybe, we're all socialists.After all this name calling, I wonder whether the few remaining socialists--mostly in American universities--will end up disassociating from that name? That will be funny to watch :-)
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Meanwhile, Charles Cooper at CBS writes:
For some reason, this story has not received as much attention as it ought to. Turns out that United States General Ray Odierno and Iraq's leadership are at odds over the timetable for the departure of American forces. How this issue gets resolved is likely to have major implications for both countries and, perhaps, the wider region.What is the "issue? It all comes down to the Kurdish angle. The Iraqi government is not too keen on any active cooperation between the US forces and the Kurds. The Kurdish situation is an unresolved one through the six years of our presence in Iraq.
Writing in the Independent, Patrick Cockburn observed that the only thing preventing the Kurds and the Arabs from fighting is the presence of US forces.
It is called the "trigger line", a 300-mile long swathe of disputed territory in northern Iraq where Arab and Kurdish soldiers confront each other, and which risks turning into a battlefield. As the world has focused on the US troop withdrawal from Iraq, and the intensifying war in Afghanistan, Arabs and Kurds in Iraq have been getting closer to an all out war over control of the oil-rich lands stretching from the borders of Syria in the west to Iran in the east.So, other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
President Barack Obama's administration is alarmed by the prospect of Iraq splitting apart just as the US pulls its troops out. But Washington can also see the danger of becoming more deeply enmeshed in the Arab-Kurdish conflict, which kept northern Iraq ablaze for much of the last century. US withdrawal also frightens the Kurds, the one Iraqi community that supported the US-led invasion. They can see the political and military balance is swinging against them just as they are faced by Mr Maliki's rejuvenated Iraqi government commanding the increasingly confident 600,000-strong Iraqi security forces. A report by the International Crisis Group concluded recently that "without the glue that US troops have provided, Iraq's political actors are otherwise likely to fight all along the trigger line following a withdrawal, emboldened by a sense that they can prevail, if necessary, with outside help."
Unchecked carbon emissions will likely cause icebergs to melt. Unchecked greenback emissions will certainly cause the purchasing power of currency to melt. The dollar’s destiny lies with Congress.Warren Buffett in the NY Times
Other than the fact that this is Warren Buffett, well, there is nothing new in this op-ed. Not well written either--way too many metaphors, and not consistent metaphorical descriptions either. He starts with greenback emissions, then sprinkles the rest of the essay with many more ....
To a large extent though, I prefer the Bill Gates approach--he does not write op-eds nor does he appear to want to pontificate. I mean, the more these guys do the talking and opinion writing, hey, even fewer would then want to know what we talkers/writers have to say :-)
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Christopher Hitchens says it best (as always):
[Now] the rot has gone a serious degree further into the fabric. Now we have to say that the mayhem we fear is also our fault, if not indeed our direct responsibility. This is the worst sort of masochism, and it involves inverting the honest meaning of our language as well as what might hitherto have been thought of as our concept of moral responsibility.
Last time this happened, I linked to the Danish cartoons so that you could make up your own minds about them, and I do the same today. Nothing happened last time, but who's to say what homicidal theocrat might decide to take offense now. I deny absolutely that I will have instigated him to do so, and I state in advance that he is directly and solely responsible for any blood that is on any hands. He becomes the responsibility of our police and security agencies, who operate in defense of a Constitution that we would not possess if we had not been willing to spill blood—our own and that of others—to attain it. The First Amendment to that Constitution prohibits any prior restraint on the freedom of the press. What a cause of shame that the campus of Nathan Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself.
the state lost about 58,000 people from April 2008 to April 2009, according to a new estimate from the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.In Florida's case, it seems to be a response to economic conditions, and nothing else. However, the state of the economy might just be the last straw for many Californians who have endured the chaos in the state for a long time. This LA Times op-ed describes the break-up between the writer and the state:
``It's such a dramatic shift from what we've seen in the past,'' said Stan Smith, the bureau's director.
``Florida's economy is, in a lot of ways, driven by population growth,'' he said. ``Perhaps more importantly, population growth is a reflection of how the economy is doing both in Florida and in the nation.''
Smith said the decline doesn't look like a trend. Instead, he sees it as a deviation from previous decades of growth upon which Florida's development-based economy relies. He also said the decrease is a ``drop in the bucket'' compared with Florida's 18.3 million population.
Smith said the last time Florida lost population, in 1946, it was because so many soldiers left the state's military bases to go home. This population loss, he said, is solely due to the bad economy.
I've been thinking about this for a very long time, and I've come to the conclusion that we should go our separate ways. I thought I loved you and it would last forever, but I was so very wrong."Exit, Voice, and Loyalty" was how the late Albert Hirschman succinctly described our responses to institutions: We might stay out of loyalty even when we sense that things are going wrong. Later, as the level of discomfort rises, we voice our opinions. And, when nothing works, we exit. We do this to corporations, to municipalities, to states and countries as well.
I know that our relationship has lasted 50 years and that we should fight to stay together, but you've changed so much that, frankly, I don't know who you are anymore!
When we first met I was young and rather naive, and I loved you unconditionally. I spent years running with abandon across your sandy beaches in the bright sunshine, playing in your beautiful parks and attending your top-rated schools, which were a national model for the other states. For 18 years or so, I can honestly say that I was truly in love with you,
We better pay attention to the "exit" numbers.
That was VP Biden's remarks back in April to launch the administration's vision for high speed rail.
So, four months later, what do we think?
First, here is Sam Staley at Reason:
Staley's bottom line is that the high speed rail plan fails as a stimulus program and does not create jobs.
For transportation investments to have a meaningful economic impact, they will need to cost-effectively improve America's ability to move goods, services, and people from one place to another. High-speed rail doesn't do that. It is an extremely costly way to achieve limited portions of these goals, and it inevitably fails as a broad-based solution to the country's transportation challenges.
In the end, high-speed rail's contribution to the economic recovery and the nation's economic productivity is being oversold. Elected officials, from Rep. Cantor to President Obama, would do a far greater service to the public's understanding of the economy if they would focus on economic fundamentals, not glitzy boutique policy programs that will inevitably fail to meet grandiose expectations they have created for them.
Ed Glaeser looks at whether the proposed high speed rail would help America's other great problems--sprawl.
For illustrative purposes, Glaeser considers the Dallas-Houston corridor, which, as he points out, is not in the Obama plan. Glaeser notes that:
Despite the lack of any positive evidence linking centralization to high-speed rail, I certainly accept that there is a great deal of uncertainty. To give rail the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume that high-speed rail will cause 100,000 households to switch from suburb to city in both Dallas and Houston. This change would create extra, annual environmental benefits of $29.7 million. These benefits would be real, but they would still do little to offset the $524 million or $401 million net annual loss discussed above.What do I think? High speed rail is so 19th century a solution for a 21st century Great Recession!
Monday, August 17, 2009
But, shouldn't economists acknowledge that they goofed up. Big time? Shouldn't the American Economics Association issue a mea culpa of sorts?
Here is Richard Posner on this topic:
In modeling the business cycle, economists not only ignored, because difficult to accommodate in their mathematical models, vital institutional detail (such as the rise of the "shadow banking industry," which is what mainly collapsed last September)--often indeed ignoring money itself, on the ground that it doesn't really affect the "real" (that is, the nonfinancial) economy. They also ignored key concepts in Keynes's analysis of the business cycle, such as hoarding and uncertainty and business confidence ("animal spirits") and worker resistance to nominal (as distinct from real) wage reductions in depressions. Lessons of economic history were ignored, too, leading to a belief that there would never be another depression, let alone a collapse of the banking industry. Even when the collapse occurred, in September, many macroeconomists denied that it would lead to anything worse than a mild recession; the measures that the government has taken to recover from what has turned into a depression owe little to post-Keynesian economic thinking; and the economists cannot agree on what further, if anything, should be done, and which of the government's recovery measures has worked or will work.
Besley and Hennessy's letter, when first published, was described in some quarters as a letter of "apology" by English economists. It was not that; nor is the August 10 letter--the latter is a denunciation of mainstream economics.
The notion of a profession's apologizing for its failure in a letter to the monarch is charming, however. It would be an apology to the nation, personified in its monarch. The English monarch does not exercise political power, but does personify the nation, and it is easier to write a letter to a person than to a nation.The English economics profession failed the United Kingdom; the American economics profession failed the United States. Not that the profession should be equated to its macroeconomic and financial divisions. The study of business cycles is only a small part of modern economics. Other areas of economics bear significantly on the study of business cycles, such as labor economics, without being implicated in the failures of response to the current crisis. But the control of the business cycle had until the present crisis been regarded as a principal triumph of modern economics and justification for regarding economics as the queen of the social sciences. We have no monarch; the President is not a personification of the nation but rather the head of the national government; there is no one to write the letter of apology to. No matter. The urgent need is for the part of the profession that concerns itself with business cycles to acknowledge its inadequacies and reorient its training and research.
First, there was all the news about how India's former president, Dr. Abdul Kalam, was not given the clearance that apparently people like him--former heads of states and governments--are given at US airports, and was frisked.
Messing up with Dr. Kalam is one thing. But, then detaining the Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan takes the issue to a whole new level. First, what happened?
Sharing his “ordeal” which he underwent as he landed at the Newark International Liberty Airport on a British Airways flight, with his fans, the 43-year-old actor said he was grilled by immigration officials.The irony, which makes this worse?
“It was very unprofessional of the airport security staff of not allowing me to use my cell phone to contact my local organisers,” he told the audience, who were literally taken aback by what they heard from their superstar.
A visibly shattered Mr. Khan said: “I have travelled throughout the world for my shooting and also as brand ambassador for major products, but I have never been treated like this before.”
But to make matters worse, the trip was also to promote a new film, “My Name is Khan,” which is about racial profiling of Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks.According to the NY Times:
Kevin Corsaro, a spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security, said on Sunday that Mr. Khan was selected for an in-depth interview, known as a “secondary inspection,” during a routine process that lasted just over an hour. He said that Mr. Khan’s checked luggage was lost by the airline, which prolonged the process.So, what happens when people in a developing country get pissed off? Burning of the US flag, of course! I suppose there are factories all over supplying American flags only for this reason :-)
Mr. Corsaro said that while he could not discuss Mr. Khan’s specific case because of privacy issues, passengers are selected for a variety of reasons: for instance, to verify their identity and purpose of travel. He said that they are not selected because of their religion.
Angry fans burned a U.S. flag in protest Sunday, a Cabinet minister suggested searching visiting Americans and an actress tweeted her outrage after Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan said he was detained for questioning at a U.S. airport.
Though U.S. immigration officials denied he was formally held, fellow Indian film stars and political leaders condemned what they called "humiliating" treatment given to Khan, a Muslim who is well-loved in a largely Hindu country. One Cabinet minister suggested a "tit-for-tat" policy toward Americans traveling to India.
Angry fans in the northern city of Allahabad shouted anti-U.S. slogans and burned an American flag.