25 October 2005

Bcc etiquette question

Suppose you have a friend J and he knows this other person K. You receive an e-mail that appears to be from J to K (not to you). Apparently J has Bcc'd you on this message.

Without getting into the content of the message itself, does this situation make you feel like you should treat the content of the message as private (just between you and J)?

23 October 2005


Speculation on the purpose of laughter. No worse than any other theory I've heard, I guess.

Spooky answers to weird questions are a staple of old-school science fiction stories. Isaac Asimov wrote a really bad short story about the question of laughter. I don't remember the title. Perhaps “Jokester” is the one I'm thinking of.

22 October 2005

Here's another

The National Flood Insurance Program spends about $200 million annually subsidizing insurance for flood-prone properties. (I apparently pay about $1 of that each year.) I don't see why it shouldn't be scrapped.

In the U.S. law establishing the NFIP, Congress found that “many factors have made it uneconomic for the private insurance industry alone to make flood insurance available to those in need of such protection on reasonable terms and conditions”. Can anyone tell me what these “many factors” are? Private flood insurance is available... on terms that reflect the risk of flood damage.

The NFIP sounds like a typical government insurance program. It is mandated to charge premiums that are sufficient to cover the risks, plus the administrative costs of running the program. But it certainly doesn't do this in all cases—hence the $200M annual price tag—and I can't tell if it does so in the bulk of cases or not.

It sounds like a classic case of government doing something, at a loss, that private companies could just as well do at a profit. With a private market, you'd also get the benefits of competition (on price and service). What am I missing?

Flood plains

I heard an article about the Army Corps of Engineers on NPR earlier this week.

It sounds like Army Corps of Engineers flood control projects (levees), like interstate highway projects, are often pork-barrel job programs, the kind of district-specific spending that is the basic trading currency in Congress (blah).

But unlike highways, levees cause problems. Building a levee encourages people to build homes and businesses in the flood plain below. It can affect the landscape in unexpected ways, as in New Orleans where the levees directly caused the city to sink into a bowl-like shape. And it drains wetlands, removing a natural buffer that slows flood waters when a flood does occur (and, incidentally, killing all the wildlife that lives there).

Proposed solution: drop the requirement that Corps flood control projects have to demonstrate economic benefits outweighing their cost. NPR didn't give the impression there was anything wrong with this clearly insane idea, nor did they interview any opposing interest.

To me this sounds like a program that just needs to be cut.

17 October 2005

It's not an ethical debate

More evidence that the two sides in the culture war aren't communicating. San Francisco Chronicle:

Scientists are reporting two new ways of creating embryonic stem cells without killing viable embryos[...]

In one case, embryonic stem cells were made from a genetically abnormal embryo designed to be incapable of developing. The other method was an attempt to fashion stem cells from an embryo without damaging it.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to fix. The objection is that experimenting on human embryos is an affront to their dignity. Essentially everything having to do with human embryos is off-limits by this standard, including creating them for scientific research.

The opponents of stem cell research are the same people that opposed in vitro fertilization. The only thing to do is wait.