Better than painpill
Would you take a polypill? According to this article, British scientists want to combine five drugs (aspirin, folic acid, and three blood pressure and cholseterol medications) into one pill that would help protect those at risk from heart attacks and strokes. The projected benefits are incredible:
The researchers estimated that one-third of those taking the pill would get some benefit, gaining on average about 11 extra years without a heart attack or stroke.
I wonder if these results would apply in countries where there is a smaller incidence of heart attack and stroke. The article mentions some concern that taking a prophylactic like this would make individuals complacent about changing their lifestyle - certainly a problem one could imagine in the United States. On the other hand, are people really working to change their habits now?

MORE: Here is the editorial from the British Medical Journal. Apparently there is an "epidemic of cardiovascular disease" in the developing world, raising the question of how to provide the polypill to those countries.

Working out the kinks
Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday - Blogger was down, but I was a little preoccupied anyway, reinventing Szechuan chicken and learning the Soviet national anthem (you can learn it too, here).

I did want to say a few words about the so-called MoveOn primary yesterday. I know it was essentially an internal thing for MoveOn, but it was also much-hyped as the wave of the future, the first real crack at internet voting, etc. I myself wasn't even planning on voting, even though I am a member of MoveOn, because I'm still not sure who I support nin the race, but then Ruminate This pointed out that they were using approval voting, which made more sense for poor, undecided me, and I decided to check it out. On the other hand, given the parameters of the primary approval voting seemed like an awfully strange system to use, since dividing individual votes makes it much harder to reach 50% - the agreed threshhold for a MoveOn endoresment.

But when I got to the voting page, there were two questions on the ballot - one asking me to pick a single candidate, the other asking me to approve of all those candidates I would support against Bush. The catch: only the first question was accompanied by an explanation of what the vote would be used for, namely it would cound toward the 50% needed by an individual candidate to win MoveOn's endorsement. It's still not clear to me what they're going to do with the other information, but it was somewhat unsettling. As a voter, I want to know just what it is I'm voting for. This is not the NYTimes registration page we're talking about - it's presented and publicized as a legitimate voting process.

When I got back to my email account, I found something even more disturbing - they had emailed me a confirmation, including the names of the candidates I voted for. I know this is a PAC, and I'm therefore supposed to be some kind of activist, but it still seems a little strange to be sending out messages like this. It demonstrates not only the clear documentation of of my vote in their database, but a willingness to use that information for (at a minimum) practical ends. I found myself wishing I hadn't voted in the first place, wondering about how they would use my voting record.


Narrative threads
Apostropher links to this fascinating story (also here) about Incan Khipus and the strong possibility that they may be a form of recorded language, not written, but woven and knotted. This is of great interest to me beacuse of my nascent study of Aymara - it looks like many of these khipu are found among the Aymara, which may be provocative. I'll be investigating this further - for one thing there's a book at Amazon, although maybe it's a little dated?

Scrimp and save
Nathan Newman has a post demonizing the 401(k) program; basically his argument is that allowing these savings to exist tax-free not only takes away a huge chunk of potential government revenue, but it encourages the savers to lobby congress for tax cuts so that when the accounts mature, they won't have to pay as much. I've never thought about this second problem before - I suppose you could solve it by passing a law the freezes the tax rate at levels from the deposit year, but that would add a lot of complexity to the system. I guess I don't have a satisfactory answer, but I will say that we don't need skewed incentives like these for citizens to be gaming the tax system.

But the first complaint - the idea that tax-deferred savings is taking a huge chunk of government revenues - seems a little short-sighted. Americans have a serious savings problem - we don't save nearly as much as the Japanese or even the Europeans. On a macroeconomic level, this means a huge current account deficit, because as a country we spend more than we make, which forces us to borrow from other countries to finance our spending. The 401(k) program doesn't just serve individual savings needs - it also creates huge incentives for Americans to save, which helps keep that current account deficit down. Yes, the deficit is already enormous, but think how much bigger it would be without a 401(k) program! So, yes the government might have more revenues and less debt if there were no program, but there would also be substantially more foreign ownership of American assets.

Let's see some ID
Indianapolis is going to start accepting the Mexican matricula consular as a valid form of ID, tremendous news for the numerous Mexican immigrants in the area. Even more than other cities in the midwest, Indianapolis has experienced a massive wave of Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants in the past few years, and this is a sign that the city is finding creative/assertive ways to serve that new population. The fact that these Mexican ID cards are not accepted by federal and most state agencies makes life that much more difficult for Mexican immigrants, who have to find some way of establishing their identity before there's any hope of legal resident status or citizenship. This obviously won't change residency requirements, but it will create an environment where immigrants are more likely to seek social services or deal with the authorities - a huge problem for illegal immigrants without valid identification.


Atalji makes his move
Is this more of Vajpayee's legacy-making? I had thought he was an outgoing PM, but now that I look at the Indian press I'm totally confused on the issue - apparently he's referred obliquely to his own retirement on a couple of different occasions, but there doesn't seem to be any consensus about what's next for the old man.

Suman Palit's concerns aside, I think this can only be a good thing for stability in the region. Indo-Pak relations are getting cozier by the day, and bringing China (a far less interested party) to the table will introduce new negotating avenues for India and Pakistan - it will no longer be a zero sum game.

Hot pursuit
This is a little bit frightening:

US military forces crossed into Syria and engaged in a shooting match with border guards last Wednesday after destroying a caravan that was suspected of carrying Saddam Hussein or members of his family, Defense officials said Monday.

The incident occurred near Qaim, a town close to the Iraqi-Syrian border, when U.S. ground troops sought to examine a string of vehicles that had been attacked by an AC-130 gunship and Army helicopters. Five Syrian soldiers were injured in the confrontation after the air attack, the officials said. It was unclear who fired first or how the confrontation developed.

I don't think the Bush admin really wants a war in Syria, and it's true that they've expressed their willingness to pursue Saddam into Syrian territory. Still, engaging Syrian troops doesn't seem like a very good PR move. I wonder what kind of play this got in the Arab press. The article continues:
The hunt for Saddam has grown more urgent lately with growing unrest in Iraq. Since May 1, 19 American servicemembers have been killed by enemy fire, including nine this month. Some U.S. officials have said the fact that Saddam may be alive has emboldened attackers and made other Iraqis fearful of cooperating with rebuilding efforts.
This is some pretty classic rationalization - they can't honestly believe that Iraqis are still afraid of Saddam two months after his regime collapsed, with American forces swarming all over the country, can they? If Iraqis are irrational enough to be running a resistance on Saddam's behalf now, would they really stop if he were found dead? The fact of the matter is, Iraqis aren't resisting American troops because of Saddam; they have their own motivations.

Cooking clinic
Does anybody have some good advice about cooking tofu? Mostly I want to put together some simple Asian sauces and stir frys, but I can't stand tofu when it breaks into little pieces. I was thinking of lightly frying it beforehand, but maybe there's a better way?

Do it for the children
BigOldGeek apparently took almost 20 hours to finish the new Harry Potter, which isn't as fast as some I've heard about, but still demands... admiration? As someone who hasn't read any of the books or been to any of the movies (and he writes children's opera? you say) I can't really speak to this particular obsession. But I will mention a children's book I have been obsessed with, and which I read even more quickly. The book is Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien, which entered my mind recently and stayed there until I picked up a copy and read it - cover to cover - last night. What a beautiful little story, and at the same time how bizarre for a children's book! I won't spoil the plot for you, but it's an existential masterpiece that I highly recommend. So if you're one of the children not fortunate enough to get a copy of the new Harry Potter this wk (and it sounds like you can blame BigOldGeek for this...) then go pick up a copy of Mrs Frisby - it certainly can't be any less imaginative.

Anything but French
Just finished with my first day of intensive Aymara - should be a pretty interesting way to spend my mornings this summer. There's nothing quite like the giddiness that comes with learning the first few words in a new language, with all the crazy sounds you didn't know you could make and the obscene politeness of all the little dialogues. I'm not sure how useful Aymara will be for my study of public policy, but maybe I can at least squeeze a trip to Bolivia out of it. We'll see.

Aymara is an agglutinated language, which means words are built on the spot from different particles that change meaning, depending on the grammatical context. The vocabulary is of course totally unrelated to anything I've ever studied, except for the occasional Spanish borrowing. The phonology doesn't seem too difficult - the hardest thing is this class of plosive/glottalized consonants, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.

I was actually hoping to find a way to study Uzbek, which is probably a little more justifiable given my career path, but unfortunately it seems to be a little late to find a good program. Getting to Uzbekistan as an English teacher seems even more difficult, since there are usually classes you have to take. Maybe next year!

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