Friday, June 17, 2016

Personal Thoughts on the Brexit



In 1970 my postdoc advisor, Martin Karplus, considered leaving the US for a professorship in France. However, professors there were civil servants, and all civil servants had be French. Karplus' colleague at the time was Jacques Dubois, who was well connected politically, and he lobbied President Pompidou for a change in the law. Thus was the law indeed changed, but it all took too long, and Martin went back to Harvard.

Ten years  later everything was different. Europe had come closer together. Britain had joined in. As soon as I reached adulthood in the UK  I thought to myself - hup, lets get outta here, let's explore. So in 1982 I moved to France to start my Ph. D,  at the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, which, together with CERN,  was a model of how  Europe can work together to achieve greater goals.  Then, after 4 years in the States I came back to work in Saclay, as a French civil servant,  for 10 years. After that, I moved to Germany, again as a  civil servant,  a Herr Professor. Now, I can't say all this was made possible specifically by the EU - there are plenty of Swiss and Norwegians who have done the same thing.  But European integration in the broader sense, and globalization in the even broader, are indeed responsible.

BUT....

The Brexit debate is part of the ongoing worldwide tumult pitting forces of integration and globalization against those of nationalist isolation. We have it here in the States, with the immigration ruckus and both the Trump and Sanders campaigns promoting trade barriers.  I get what the isolationists are saying, indeed. Globalization has spawned income inequality in developed nations (although has it perhaps reduced global income inequality?).  And I favor a relatively restrictive line on immigration myself, although there is no xenophobia in my reasoning,  it being  simply resistance to local population growth (more on that later, maybe).

AND...

The EU has become divorced from its population. It doesn't listen to them. Its high-minded prescriptions have alienated far too many. The average Brit feels nothing good from it. It elicits no pride. It's a deeply frustrating entity. While at Heidelberg University I received an EU science grant. It was a huge amount of dosh, accompanied by infuriating instructions written in prescriptive  'Euro-babble'; the national science agency, the DFG, got far more bang for the buck in my opinion, reinforcing  my  view that the EU wastes too much money on  bureaucracy and idealistic spending. When I arrived in Heidelberg, in 1998, the Euro was being contemplated.  Juergen Siebke, the university Rektor and an economist, was very skeptical of it. 'You can't have monetary union without political union' he told me at a reception. And he was right, as the Euro debacle, Greece and fighting the recession have proven.

SO....

The UK should stay in the EU...just, but all the while scratching and clawing.  It should keep needling them, restraining them, defying them. Break a few EU laws, just as the Eastern EU countries are doing with regard to border control. Refuse flatly to pay in as much money. Be a spanner in some of the works.

But stay in.

BECAUSE..

Otherwise Scotland will leave the UK. Jobs, trade and exports will suffer. Globalization will hit even worse as the multinationals will have little incentive to negotiate with the rump of the UK. Little England will be powerless and rudderless, sinking in the mid-Atlantic. And, worst of all, God help us, all the professors in the sinking English universities will end up having to be English.



Saturday, June 4, 2016

Canoeing the Clinch River - Memorial Day Weekend 2016

Photo: Stephine Smith

Photo: Stephine smith

Nice lodge there Mr Beaver! (Photo: Stephine Smith)




Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Peter Kollman




Peter Kollman died 15 years ago today, at my age,  56.

He was a giant in our field, yet wholly unpretentious and purely enthusiastic.

And he was the subject of one of the most moving obituaries I have read, by Fred Cohen.

Here's an excerpt:

"Peter told me more than once that he had no regrets. He had the good fortune to work on problems he loved with colleagues that he enjoyed. At a time when many of us would focus on all that we had not made time for, Peter displayed a rare sense of contentment as he listened to the music he loved and sent out a few extra e-mail messages. In the last few weeks of his life, the bone pain from his tumor required morphine. When discussing mundane subjects, he had a difficult time staying focused. But, when his thoughts turned to science, he was as lucid as ever. Science clearly held a privileged spot in Peter's mind, a spot that was not subject to ephemeral or biochemical distraction."

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Healthcare in the USA (II)

Seven years ago I wrote a blog entry about Obamacare. It basically expressed a feeling - that the system in Europe, problematic as it is, at least gives one the feeling of security when it comes to healthcare. If you get ill, you go to the Doctor’s, period.  There is never any question of not being treated.

Now Obamacare has been tested I think it was an improvement on the previous situation,  with about 10 million more insures, I believe, but we could, eventually, aim to replace it. Thinking about things, in an idealistic world, the ‘individual mandate’ would indeed not exist.  That is, one should really be able to opt out of buying health insurance if one wishes. People should have the right to take a big, maybe stupid, risk, keep their insurance premium money, and not pay health insurance, even if they can afford it; just as they have the right to not insure against damage of their own car.

Now, the problem is, that if that right - to not buy insurance - is going to be given, for it to work you really have to not treat someone who is sick or injured, could afford insurance but decided not to pay for it, and doesn't have the money to pay for their treatment. You really have to leave them to their own devices, and even, if necessary, to die. And that's, of course, not what happens, even in the bad old USA.  Emergency rooms always treat patients; it’s basic compassion. And thus, a large part of the motivation for getting insurance in the first place disappears, and on top of this we get the consequences of enormous unpaid costs, medical bankruptcy nonsense  etc.


So the USA really needs to decide. Either you make insurance compulsory, as does the rest of the first world, or you don't treat people who don't get it.  Having it both ways doesn't work. Either we have the individual mandate or dispassionately insist on no treatment for the uninsured.   The US individual mandate, as in Europe, works better than the pre-Obamacare zoo. However, although I know of no precedent, the insurance-or-no-treatment model could conceivably work better, while giving people more freedom of choice. What you’d find, maybe, is that, the extra motivation might even lead to an even larger proportion of people getting insurance, and voluntarily, than they do under Obamacare. But it would be scary as hell. So guys, keep the individual mandate for now, but work to building a system where it is no longer necessary i.e., where health costs are so low  that everyone voluntarily buys insurance anyway. This requires bringing bring costs down, through increasing flexibility, introducing cross-state and international competition, dissociating insurance from employment, tort reform, preventive care incentives, analytics, targeted therapies, innovation etc. But that discussion, as they say, is another kettle of fish.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

On the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's Passing






                    Here's a modification of one of his better known sonnets;  documenting the current plight of one's favorite soccer team:

Ode to Norwich City

Shall I relegate thee on a Summer's day?
Thou art so pointless and so desperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Premier time hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of City fans,
And oft now is their bright complexion dimmed,
As every loss from win sometime declines,
By chance, with City's downward plunge untrimmed:
But thy eternal yo-yo shall not fade,
Nor gain possession of that ball thou ow'st,
Nor Ipswich brag thou wander'st in their shade,
Tho’ thy eternal shots shall hit the post,
 So long as fans can breathe, or fans can see,

 So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Palermo's Rapid Fire Prez!


Palermo FC are in Serie A, the top Italian league. Their president, Maurizio Zamparini, is a calm and patient role model. He likes to give a coach time to develop his squad, instill his playing style in the team and slowly gel together.

Their coach at the beginning of this season was Beppe Iachini, but, unfortunately,  Zamp felt he had to quickly fire him, and replaced him by Davide Ballardini, but he also had to be  axed, then Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was sadly laid off, then Fabio Viviani, who was, er,  sacked quicker than you can say Bettino Craxi, then Giovanni Bosi again, who got his pink slip post haste, too, then Giovanni Tedesco, who had to be, regrettably, also relieved of his duties, then Beppe Iachini, who also had to be, er, released, then Walter Novellino, who was thrown out of the pram a couple of days ago.

Nine coaching changes in the season, one every 4 games.

Davide Ballardini is now back for the Juventus game tomorrow.

According to Novellino "Juve don't give anything to anyone. The team is lacking organization. They're a little bit afraid".

You don't say!

At least they don't have to face the perplexed Sicilian tifosi.
Novellino says "Maybe they can find some calm by playing away from home."