Monday, 27 April 2009

Health care: still in the Dark Ages

I was struck by the following extract from The Economist's special report on health care and technology:

A report by the Institute of Medicine estimated that up to 100,000 Americans are killed each year by preventable mishaps such as wrong-side surgery, medication errors and hospital-acquired infections—a larger number than die from breast cancer or AIDS.

Sometimes such errors can be prevented without fancy technology. It helps to write “not this leg” on a patient's left leg before surgery on his right leg.

What a sad comment on the state of modern health care. And in the country that spends the most money on it, too.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Bigger and better tax havens

An article in The Economist (see original article) describes how an Australian researcher named Jason Sharman tried to register anonymous companies and open bank accounts for them in 45 places around the world. He was successful in 17 cases, 13 of which were OECD countries, including the USA and the UK.

In these cases, the bank can't reveal the owner of an account to any inquisitive government, because the bank doesn't know. So these accounts are safer from investigation than those in a traditional tax haven, where personal identification is normally required.

The USA is particularly attractive in this respect because there you can apparently get tax-free interest on your untraceable riches.

I pass on this useful tip to any of you who may be wealthy enough to consider taking advantage of it. However, bear in mind that you shouldn't believe everything you read, even in The Economist. There may be hidden snags.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Read it again, Sam

I'm a habitual rereader of fiction. Now that I have a reasonable stock of books in the house, I'm frankly more likely to reread an old book than to pick up a new one. I have some books that I've reread dozens of times in the course of my life.

For me, it's the same as replaying recorded music. Everyone replays favourite music, but some people seem to read novels only once. Apparently the attitude is that they want to be surprised by the story, and after the first time they're not surprised any more.

I read fiction to enjoy the images, the scenes, the characters. On the whole, I feel more comfortable not being surprised by the story; though in any case I'm unlikely to remember all the details of the plot from one reading to another.

The memory of a book that I've read soon fades. My memory of it is like listening to someone whistling a tune, compared with playing the record; or watching a blurred image of disjointed parts of a film dubbed into another language, compared with watching the DVD in English. Every now and then I want to re-experience the original in high fidelity.

When I think of reading a book, I don't usually want to read just any book; more commonly, I want to reread a particular book, because that's what I'm in the mood for. If I pick up some book I haven't read before, I'm unlikely to be in the mood for it; I may not even like it at all.

Nevertheless, I do read new books every now and then, when I feel willing to experiment. It helps if I've read other books by the same author, because then I know roughly what to expect.

If I feel doubtful about reading a new book, I find a good way to evaluate it is to read the beginning, read the end, and dip into the middle—though I've noticed when doing this that it tends to horrify other people.

Um, don't read anything into the date of this post: it's not intended as April foolery.