Beauty of Gray

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Even the Europeans don't like the International Criminal Court

Not a lot to say on this one that the article doesn’t say for itself. The US has been opposed to the International Criminal Court, alleging that US soldiers could be vulnerable to prosecution under its rules. Given the way that many seem to define as “war crimes” anything the US and Israel do, this is a reasonable concern, in my opinion.

European nations, on the other hand, have pooh-poohed this notion, basically saying “trust us, we’d never do anything like that,” while the US has remained justifiably skeptical.

Now, however, it turns out that the Europeans are themselves a little concerned with what they have wrought. And they’ve used a loophole in the ICC treaty to sign a bilateral agreement with Afghanistan exempting their peacekeeping forces from the possibility of prosecution by the ICC. Or, to put it another way, when it comes to their own soldiers, they don’t think the ICC is such a good idea after all. Or, to put it yet another way, the Europeans are brazen hypocrites, and think what’s good for the goose isn’t really necessary for nice gander like themselves.

This pretty much shows the ICC for what it is—a blatant power grab by the EU, and attempt to seize power through bureaucracy, hiding behind the shield of the claimed moral high ground. They want to make everyone, and the US in particular, give them ultimate judicial authority, and are essentially using peer pressure to try and convince us this is a good idea. “All the civilized, moral nations are doing it.”

No thanks. We’ve seen the UN and what a colossal mess of corruption and posturing despots it is. We’re stuck with that, but would rather not repeat the mistake, compounding it by giving the ICC tremendous power. And, it turns out, the very Europeans who criticize the US for not signing it also think it's a really bad idea. They're just not honest enough to say so.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:34 PM

Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Great articles

This month's Technology Review is just chock full of goodness. Head on over there and sample.

Start with this article explaining why software is so bug-filled. The answer: it's your fault! (Sort of--the constant consumer demand for new features combines with lack of planning and the sloppy coding encouraged by compilers combine to keep your code filled with thousands of bugs.)

The solution? Sue their asses and make them pay! Once Microsoft has to start paying for the billions of dollars in damage caused by security holes in their programs, and productivity lost by the craashes, they'll start writing code that works. (And the same goes for the other compaines who are all just as bad, according to the article.) It's an interesting idea; these sorts of lawsuits have gotten a bad rap, and do have some real problems, but they are a break on negligent corporations. An alternative idea is better programming tools and methodolgy--the article reports that up to 80% of the cost of developing a program is due to the debugging process. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a little more work up front in the planning cycle could save lots of money on the back end.

When you're done with that, check on this neat article on the economics of wind power. There supposedly is a new turbine design which will make wind power more cost competitive with fossil fuels, but I'll believe that when I see it. That particular promise has been made enough times in the past that I'm skeptical. On the other hand, the article points out that it's mainly economics that's holding wind power back, at this point. There are problems with energy storage that will prevent it from being the main source of electricity, but in Europe where fossil fuels are so much more expensive, wind power is becoming a significant player. The future might lie with offshore wind farms, which are out of the way and don't use up valuable acres or provide eyesores.

Then check out this article exploring how trends in population growth and energy efficinecy, if continued, mean the future of the world actually looks pretty bright. The scoop: population looks set to level out around 10 billion, while the energy cost per dollar of GDP continues to decrease at 1 or 2 percent per year. If this keeps going, energy efficiency will catch up with population growth before the end of the next century, and we can raise everyone's standard of living without consuming any more energy than we do today.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:40 PM

Genetic science and insurance

There’s a thought provoking post by Paul Orwin over at Turned up to Eleven on the subject of genetics and its possible impact on insurance. This is one of those hovering issues that occasionally gets noticed, maybe with an article in the New Republic, but never really captures people’s attention. However, it has the potential to really transform the medical insurance business in the US, and through it the entire medical field.

The basic idea is simple. Insurance is a system which is designed to spread risks around in a large population. It distributes cost in cases where there is uncertainty. The exploration of the human genome has the potential to substantially reduce the uncertainty involved in many diseases—any which have a genetic component. The lower the uncertainty, the less any insurance system works.

Consider a limiting case, where a home inspection can determine with 100% accuracy if your house will burn down. In that case, if you know it won’t, there’s no incentive for you to buy insurance. This means that the entire cost of home replacement is thrown back on those whose houses burn down, since no-one else would buy insurance. So the whole system breaks down—insurance no longer distributes risks and costs.

It’s easy to see how this can apply the medicine. If diseases can be linked to the presence of specific genes, then a genetic test can determine an individual’s chances of getting those diseases. Those with lower risks would want to pay less for insurance, which leaves more cost to be borne by those who are likely to suffer from the disease.

The problem is that most individuals can’t afford to pay for the treatment of a serious disease, such as cancer. But if people can identify their own risks, those with lower or no risk of certain diseases would opt out of insurance plans or demand lower premiums, shifting more and more of the actual cost of treatment onto the sick. But the sick can’t afford this, so they end up getting inadequate or no medical service. Mortality goes up. Plus, with less money being spent on treatment, there’s less incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop new treatments, and the pace of medical advance slows. As a result, the whole society suffers.

So what’s the solution? One idea is not to allow genetic tests like those described. But it’s hard to see the morality in enforced ignorance. If you have the risk of certain diseases, shouldn’t you know about it? If you know you’re likely to die of a heart attack early, you would live your life differently.

A second idea is to allow individuals to take tests and learn the results, but to deny insurance companies access to the results. But this shows a shallow appreciation of the problem. This approach is based on the flawed premise that the problem would be from evil insurance companies plotting to deny coverage to high risk patients. Which they might, but the driving force also goes the other way, from consumers up, rather than from the insurers down. (which is how I described the issue above.)

It seems to me there are only two solutions. One is to accept the higher mortality rates that go with the inability of many to pay for medical care, but to try and use federal research funds to keep research moving ahead. This could help future patients, but doesn’t do any for those dying in the present.

The other possibility is some form of direct government involvement, either through regulation of the insurance industry (which would be hard to do, since once again consumers can drive the problem with their own action) or through an expansion of government provided health care to cover the conditions affected by genetic testing. The idea of a large government run HMO program is not especially appealing, and there are certainly problems with it, but I don’t see any other way to cut the know on this problem.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:18 PM

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