Thursday, April 4, 2019


It's not the Internet we imagined
You can’t celebrate the web’s birthday without acknowledging its shortcomings.  There were critics of the Internet even in 1995.  They shared prescient concerns before the rise of Facebook, Amazon  and Google  and sounded alarms about the weakening of nation-states and strengthening of transnational corporations.  Some, like author Ellen Ullman, even predicted that the on-demand economy would produce antisocial behavior, since we would no longer have to involve anyone else in the satisfaction of our needs.  These points are worth remembering, and they inoculate against nostalgia.  If we want a better Internet, we can’t just look back at what we loved about the early days.
--Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic

Getting past the password
Help may be on the horizon for those suffering from "password hell."  After all, nobody likes passwords—except hackers.  Fortunately, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and others are working on password-free ways to confirm your identity and keep you logged in for weeks or months. Just the way you type or move your mouse can be a useful signal. The World Wide Web Consortium recently ratified WebAuthN, which allows websites to authenticate users with biometric information.  This would allow you to simply log in to Facebook or Gmail with facial recognition or a fingerprint scan.  The problem is, it could take a while for every app, device and website to integrate these new standards.
--David Pierce, Wall Street Journal

The real Boeing reality
After the Lion Air crash [in Jakarta last October, killing 189],  everyone—pilots, Boeing, the FAA—knew the 737 Max’s software was buggy.  Yet the FAA let the jets keep flying as Boeing worked on a fix.   This is a sign of how deeply Trump-era corruption has infected our government.   If this administration was willing to risk planes falling from the sky,  what quieter threats to our food, medicine, and other areas has it allowed to go forward?
--Jeff Hauser and Eleanor Eagan,

A generic name for the same rip-off
Drugmaker Eli Lilly bought flattering headlines by announcing that it would sell a generic version of its top-selling insulin brand, Humalog, at the discounted price of $137.35, said Elisabeth Rosenthal. Perhaps it is a “sign of how desperate Americans are for something—anything—to counteract the escalating price of drugs” that Lilly’s “seemingly beneficent gesture” was greeted with praise. It should have been a collective “Huh?” In Germany, a vial of Humalog sells for $55. 

But in the U.S., which doesn’t set drug prices, Lilly raised Humalog’s cost from $35 in 2001 to $275. The new lower-cost option is what’s known as an “authorized generic.” It’s exactly the same as the other version, only the name and packaging are different. Pharmaceutical companies do this to discourage knockoffs by other companies once the original patent has expired, and to avoid ceding more profits to middlemen who negotiate discounts to buy the brand-name drugs for insurers and hospitals. But “imagine if Apple sold a $500 phone for $250 if it was called, say, a yPhone” and didn’t come wrapped in fancy packaging. If the cost of electricity or gas went up 600 percent in 15 years, we would regard it as price gouging. Yet somehow, according to the “bizarre logic of the pharmaceutical industry,” it’s business as usual.
--Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times

Ending surprise hospital bills
A bipartisan effort in Congress is aimed at protecting Americans who get "surprise" medical bills, The legislation is the culmination of two efforts last fall to ban insurers from charging patients higher costs for seeing out-of-network providers for emergency care. It would also establish a billing standard for insurers and doctors. 

While the bill won’t protect patients who electively choose to visit an out-of-network hospital or clinic, it  reflects a growing recognition regarding unexpected and sizable charges that often seem out of the patient’s control.  A Yale study found that even in emergency-department visits at in-network facilities, 22 percent involved out-of-network doctors.  Recently, a man in Texas was billed $108,951 for a four-day stay at an out-of-network hospital following a heart attack.
--Paige Winfield Cunningham, Washington Post

Horse racing’s epidemic of death
The animal-rights activists could be right about horse racing.  Maybe the entire sport needs to be shut down.  After more than two dozen horses died in just three months at the historic Santa Anita track in Southern California, the track announced it was suspending operations while officials try to figure out what’s gone wrong. Throughout the nation, a staggering 817 horses are known to have died while training or racing in 2018; activists say the real death toll is probably 2,000. 

Why? Today, the 1,200-pound "equine athletes" that are driven to run at top speed for the entertainment of bettors are often heavily drugged to mask injuries and fatigue.  Sadly, owners and trainers are more concerned about making a quick buck than protecting animals.  Horses driven too hard can develop microfractures in their brittle legs that lead to a sudden, catastrophic leg break during training or a race, forcing trainers to put them down.  Public revulsion over the mistreatment of elephants shuttered Ringling Bros.’ circuses, and Sea World is in decline because orca captivity is inhumane.  If horse racing cannot halt the epidemic of death on its tracks, it, too, will disappear.
--Paul Newberry, Associated Press

The downside of breaking up Big Tech
***"Break up Big Tech” is a catchy campaign slogan,  but it would probably make most Americans’ lives somewhat worse.  Forcing technology companies to downsize would choke off funding for free services that people rely on, like Gmail and Google Maps, without actually increasing competition.  Nor would it substantially reduce these companies’ power over our day-to-day lives. 
--Megan McArdle, Washington Post

***[Elizabeth] Warren’s plan may be imperfect, but it has started an important conversation among presidential contenders about Silicon Valley’s growing power. That’s something that we, “the humble data-mined,” deserve to hear.
--Sam Biddle in

About that trade deficit . . .
*** The president may never celebrate a trade deficit, , but maybe he’ll learn not to hate it.  The deficit is a sign of American strength, not weakness.  The economy is the best it has been in a generation, and businesses are increasing their investment in plants and equipment. U.S. trading partners, however, are struggling.  Most of the major economies in Europe are on the edge of recession.   China’s economy is slowing as well.  This means foreign consumers and businesses are spending less on U.S. products. 
--Karl Smith,

*** The primary cause of the deficit,  is the strength of the dollar.  It’s strong because the entire world uses it as a global currency.  That feeds the demand for dollars and makes imports cheaper for us.  The only times the U.S. has run a trade surplus have been during recessions, when the world economy slowed and U.S. imports fell . If you’re really intent on achieving a trade surplus, the easiest way would be to cause a worldwide economic collapse.
--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

This isn’t what a boom looks like
The U.S. economy keeps performing worse than the experts have predicted.  I saw this laid out clearly at an economics conference in Washington.  When economists projected economic growth two years out, they were too optimistic in nine years out of 10.  The Federal Reserve has repeatedly overestimated how quickly the economy would grow, only to revise the forecasts downward.  If the original forecasts had been correct, the U.S. economy would be about 6 percent larger than it is today--that’s $1.3 trillion more in goods and services. 

Despite frequent predictions, the economy has not reached 3 percent annual growth since the financial crisis ended in 2010.  Why the stagnation?  Americans are saving more and spending less, thanks to tax cuts favoring the wealthiest, who spend a smaller share of their income than the poor and middle-class.  And there’s an investment slump as a lack of competition drives down incentives to invest in new projects.  To address this, the U.S. needs infrastructure projects, stronger safety-net programs, more aggressive antitrust policies and a more restrained Federal Reserve that stops overestimating growth and inflation.  President Trump likes to take credit for the "booming economy."  But here’s the truth that so many experts seem to keep missing:  There is no boom.
--David Leonhardt, New York Times

What is biohacking?
Silicon Valley is built on the idea that technology can optimize, or "hack," any aspect of our lives—so why not the human life span?  Until recently, anyone hawking pills or treatments that promised to restore youthfulness was considered a quack, yet a growing number of "transhumanists" are convinced that in time, human beings can be transformed through bioengineering, and that aging will be curable just like any other malady.  In light of rapid gains in gene editing, nanotechnology and robotics, some futurists expect this generation’s biohackers to double their life spans. 

Aubrey de Grey, a regenerative medicine researcher backed by tech mogul Peter Thiel, insists that someone alive today will live to be 1,000.   "It’s extraordinary to me that it’s such an incendiary claim,"  de Grey says.  Korean physician and financier Joon Yun has offered two $500,000 prizes to anyone who can restore a test animal’s youthful heart rate and who can extend its lifespan by 50 percent.  For humans, the mortality rate at age 20 is 0.001 percent, Yun figures,  "so if you could maintain the homeostatic capacity of that age throughout your life, your average life span would be 1,000."

How could that be achieved?  That’s the million-dollar question, but Harvard Medical School researchers believe they might know where to start.  Humans grow fewer blood vessels in their muscles with age, which is believed to result in the gradual breakdown of vital organs. The same pattern exists in mice.  In 2018, Harvard researchers fed mice a chemical to manipulate the gene associated with blood vessel growth and found that old mice subsequently were able to run on a treadmill 56 percent longer.

While that work continues, biohackers are transfixed by nootropics—"smart drugs,"  amino acids and other supplements that purportedly boost cognitive abilities and prevent brain aging.  The market for these self-described cognition boosters is expected to top $11 billion by 2024.
--The Week

Millennials’ misplaced grievances
By most measures, “the American Millennial is a member of the wealthiest and most comfortable generation of human beings to have ever lived on this planet,” said Noah Rothman. You wouldn’t know it from that self-pitying generation’s disdain for capitalism and eagerness to replace it with “democratic socialism.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, insists that her entire generation “never saw American prosperity.” Yet she grew up in the 1990s—a decade of “unparalleled American security” and economic growth. It’s true that the 2008 recession was a major blow for her generation, and every other.

But there were a dozen previous recessions in the 20th century, and the U.S. recovered from this one rapidly, if not without scars. Our current unemployment rate, at 3.8 percent, is the lowest in a half century. Wages are rising, and “American living standards are comparable to those of the wealthiest nations in Western Europe.” Millennials are slower to marry than previous generations and have less job security, which hurts their accumulation of income and wealth. But the overall economy is very healthy—not the “Dickensian nightmare” Ocasio-Cortez depicts. She is “the face of a generation that doesn’t know how good they have it.”
--Noah Rothman,

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