Monday, April 30, 2012

FDA Comparisons Continue

Dan Ariely continues the thought experiment - first, FDA for the software industry, and now FDA for the financial industry.

Friday, April 27, 2012

FDA Now Regulating (and Slowing) Phone App Development

For those of you suspicious of efforts to make the FDA's mission more rational and helpful to future patients (here and here), here's a story about how the agency is dramatically slowing (and making more expensive!) health-related smartphone app development. This is what we should expect more of, in more industries, as technology advances and allows more integration between different sectors. Do we really want more of this? When even the former head of an agency thinks that agency should be re-tooled, you can bet there's a real case to be made.

Monday, April 23, 2012

University of Florida: Looking Ahead to the Future

The University of Florida is eliminating its computer science department to save $1.7 million. The same university's athletic program increased $2 million from last year to this year. Clearly, this is an administration that is looking ahead to the economy of tomorrow.

James Fallows rightly points out the larger context of this decision, pointing out that the university is getting less and less funding from the state, and they're desperate. My own school (UCSD) is in the same boat as the other UC's, and as U of FL - fortunately for me, UCSD has no sports program to draw off the state's diminishing support. What's ironic is that there is literally no surer investment in a growing state economy than a good university, and yet somehow these are exactly the institutions that are getting cut.

There needs to be a clear, strong-message study or PR campaign showing how good universities = good economy. These kinds of stupid decisions are going to continue as long as the electorate values bowl wins over strong academic and professional programs.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Richard Lee of Oaksterdam University

It being 4/20 and all, this afternoon I decided to take a break and walk from my office over to Coffeeshop Blue Sky in Oakland - the outlet for Oaksterdam University. You may recall that Oaksterdam University, although completely in compliance with state law and in fact a revenue source for the city, was raided by armed Federal agents recently. (Why fight a legal battle when you can intimidate and drive out of business, right?) And when I was buying my espresso, Richard Lee, the founder and hero of the institution, happened to appear. He was kind enough to pose for a picture with yours truly:

When I asked him what private citizens could do, he named several organizations to support, among them LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and the California Medical Association, both of which are pro-legalization. The latter of course is of special interesting to me as a medical student. It's really strange that the public continues to tolerate lawyers ignoring the recommendations of medical professionals in ways that infringe their personal freedoms.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Is Gold the Best Currency?

Economists go through the periodic table to explain why gold ended up used as currency. Here is a similar approach, but the conclusion is not as inexorable as the economists state. The properties of the element are important, but don't entirely answer the question; a large amount of it is historical inertia, and our quirks as primates.

A Great Sentence: Identity and Consumption

"...Americans increasingly defined themselves by what they bought rather than what they did, and this shift of emphasis proved deeply damaging over time." From Walter Russell Mead.

This is probably at least partly driven by the rise of youth consumer culture, allowed by increased disposable income. Kids and young adults are much more likely to measure and identify themselves by bands, clothing, and recreational equipment than by their grades, college major or productive pursuits. This continues in adulthood, more clothing, luxury cars and food, and sports teams. It's not new that we want something for nothing - in this case, high status without effort or merit - but what is new is that we can think we're getting it, at least in the short-term. This also might offer an explanation for why young people seem driven to more and more obscure bands and tastes - the more isolated your taste, the more secure your position in your self-defined status hierarchy.

This is certainly not a tirade against the possibility of mass production and the commercialization of experience - this process has without a doubt improved our lives and continued to improve our lives. The side effect is that consumerism has made us need instant gratification everywhere - even in our status hierarchy - and consumption can provide for this need.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Great Get Together

Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of meeting Katja Grace and Robin Hanson in person, as well as the gracious host and several others who came to the meetup. The price of the evening was having my ass handed to me in the game Condotierre. Given my lack of facility in board games, I can console myself by saying that there is no honor to be gained by defeating the likes of me.

As I said during the evening, clearly I am trying to signal status in the blogosphere through afiliation.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Expanding the FDA's Current Model to Other Industries?

Previously I asked whether it would be a good thing to have a software FDA - a central agency that made you go through a lengthy and incredibly expensive application process to determine if the code you'd just written was good enough and permissible to sell to the public. To most people, this sounds like a stupid idea - yet this is exactly what we have in medicine. The idea of course is to keep people safe, but there's a balance. Be too generous with approvals, and people will die from unsafe medicine.

This is why a former head of the FDA has suggested not doing away with the FDA entirely, but basing drug approvals on safety, and collecting data on efficacy after marketing.

This is no longer a thought experiment, although it's not software where we're seeing a proposed expansion of the FDA model. There is now a serious suggestion to have an FDA equivalent for financial products. Read more here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Feds Raid California Marijuana Dispensary

Read about it here. If you think that you're in favor of states' rights and smaller Federal government, now is the time to sign up or shut up - because here are businesses that are completely legitimate by state law, being shut down by armed squads from the Federal government. If this doesn't bother you and you think you stand for small government, forgive us for not taking you seriously. If this doesn't bother you and you stand for reason-based laws and compassion for sick people - then you don't actually stand for those things.

Oaksterdam University dispenses medical marijuana and holds classes teaching people how to grow marijuana, and defend themselves legally. Note that Richard Lee, the founder and owner, is a completely above-board, legitimate businessman and community member. Lee led the Prop 19 drive in California, a legalization initiative which started off with a winning YES percentage and ended up getting 46%, still an amazing turnout. By the way, for a brave journalist, there has to be a story in there about how the Mexican cartels funneled money into the campaign to keep marijuana prohibition going, and their own profits protected.

And here's where the rubber meets the road. The Oakland dispensaries backed a successful measure recently to tax marijuana sales. Why would merchants do this? Because now they're part of always-broke Oakland's budget, that's why, so if something like this happens, now the Federal government is taking away Oakland's revenue base by shutting down businesses. (Again, so-called small government enthusiasts, where's your outrage? Why do we only hear crickets from the Tea Party if that's really what you're about?) So now I'm hoping that the California state government will finaly grow a pair, because the Feds are unlikely to respond to a single city's protests. Our nonsensical and tax-money-wasting drug laws are only going to be reformed by action from the states. Montana and Oregon, they're coming for you next.

In particular I want to single out the legislators from several states who wrote an open letter to the Federal government, in particular Orange County Republican Chris Norby. Thanks for taking a stand!

It's worth mentioning that lots of us are wondering what the Obama administration is trying to accomplish. Between Eric Holder, the DEA and the IRS, this administration has come down harder on medical marijuana than Bush ever did. I can't imagine they're stupid enough to think that this will get the Religious Right to think he's a-okay come November, but no other motivations spring to mind.