Elsewhere on the Interweb (6/24/08)

Presh has a great post on game theory and voting power using nominations to the Israeli Supreme Court as an example. Take homes:

Here is what you can take away when creating your own voting structures:

1. Vote size does not equate to voting power
2. Smaller voters can still hold great power
3. Voters can increase power through voting blocs
4. Raising a majority might not diminish the power of a voter or bloc

Astronomers have nailed down the exact date of the events described in the Odyssey by Homer -- the non-mythical ones anyway -- by looking closely at astronomical references in the text:

The scientists first created a rough chronology of events depicted in the "Odyssey." First, 29 days before the supposed eclipse and the massacre of the suitors, three constellations are mentioned as Odysseus sets out from the island of Ogygia, where he has spent seven years as a captive of the beautiful nymph Calypso. Odysseus is told to watch the Pleiades and late-setting Boötes and keep the Great Bear to his left. Next, five days before the supposed eclipse, Odysseus arrives in Ithaca as the Star of Dawn -- that is, Venus -- rises ahead of the sun.

Finally, the night before the eclipse, there is a new moon.

Also, the messenger of the gods, Hermes, is sent west to Ogygia by the king of the gods Zeus to release Odysseus and then immediately returns back east roughly 34 days before the eclipse. The researchers conjecture this trip refers to an apparent turning point of the motion of the planet Mercury. (Mercury was the Roman name for Hermes.)

Backward planet

Mercury completes its orbit around the sun in just roughly 88 days, compared with the year it takes Earth to do so. This means that Mercury and Earth are somewhat like two cars moving along separate lanes of a racetrack at different speeds. The effect of these motions is that Mercury occasionally appears to go backward or retrograde in the sky from our point of view, Magnasco explained. This happens for roughly three weeks at a time, about three times a year.

The scientists then searched for potential dates that satisfied all these astronomical references close to the fall of Troy, which has over the centuries been estimated to have occurred between roughly 1250 to 1115 B.C. From these 135 years, they found just one date satisfied all the references -- April 16, 1178 B.C., the same date as the proposed eclipse.

Scientists propose using the hormone oxytocin as a drug to boost confidence and limit shyness. Yes, a drug besides alcohol... I remain somewhat skeptical that the drug will have no side-effects. Oxytocin is a lot like the hormone vassopressin -- which causes you to retain water. At high doses, there may be cross-over effects that limit its usefulness as a drug. (Hat-tip: Razib)

Kevin, M.D. echoes what I said last week. The problem with health care in this country is a primary care shortage, and you can't fix it without paying for it:

How did we let primary care slip so far? The key is how doctors are paid. Known as "fee for service," most physicians are paid whenever they perform a medical service. The more a physician does, regardless of quality or outcome, the better he's reimbursed. Moreover, the amount a physician receives is heavily skewed toward medical or surgical procedures. A specialist who performs a procedure in a 30-minute visit can be paid three times more than a primary care physician using that same 30 minutes to discuss a patient's hypertension, diabetes or heart disease. Combine this fact with annual government threats to indiscriminately cut reimbursements despite rising office and malpractice costs, physicians are faced with no choice but to increase quantity to maintain financial viability.

Primary care physicians who refuse to compromise quality are either driven out of business or to cash-only concierge practices, further contributing to primary care's decline.

Medical students are not blind to this scenario. They see how heavily the reimbursement deck is stacked against primary care. Whether they opt to become a specialist or a primary care physician, they graduate with the same $140,000 of medical school debt. The recent numbers show that since 1997, newly graduated U.S. medical students who choose primary care as a career have declined by 50%. This trend results in emergency rooms being overwhelmed with patients without regular doctors.

Furthermore, if the Democrats' universal health care proposals come to fruition, the primary care system will be inundated with at least 45 million newly insured patients. As Massachusetts is finding out in its pioneering attempt to provide universal coverage, our system is not ready for this burden. Universal coverage is useless without primary care access.

Read the whole thing.

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