Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Weekly Links, February 9, 2008

1.) In another of an ever increasing series of possible “brain enhancements,” a recent study at Columbia University Medical Center has shown that stimulation 2.) Medical Tourists!?! In a report from Al Jazerera, more and more Americans are heading abroad for cheaper drugs, operations, and services unavailable in the U.S. Watch online Part 1 and Part 2.

3.) More stimulated brains! A Columbia University Medical Center research team has found that a certain brain region can be stimulated to reduce the cognitive deficits of sleep deprivation. Stellar.

3.) Wal-Mart for President? An article from the New York Times describes how the economically, technologically, and numerically huge Wal-Mart is starting to act more and more like a government. While the current presidential campaign reflects the fact that the U.S. (and its people, I hope!) as a nation is struggling with issues like the increase in oil prices, an economic recession, health care, the environment, energy usage, etc., so is Wal-Mart. Concerned about publicity and worker treatment, Wal-Mart has enacted large reforms to better itself (better its image?). For example,

*As the federal government debates how to wean the country from its addiction to oil, Wal-Mart just announced it would require suppliers to make major appliances that use 25 percent less energy within the next three years. *

While Congress wrings its hands over higher health care costs, Wal-Mart vowed to save companies $100 million this year by processing their prescription drug claims. (It already sells generic versions of prescription drugs for just $4, well below the national average.)

Sounding like a politician, the chief executive of Wal-Mart, H. Lee Scott Jr., said in an address to employees two weeks ago, “We live in a time when people are losing confidence in the ability of government to solve problems.” But Wal-Mart, he said, “does not wait for someone else to solve problems.”

In Wal-Mart we trust? After years of criticism that it was a poor corporate citizen and miserly employer, maybe.

*The company’s transformation from a laggard to a leader on issues like health care and the environment can arguably be traced to two epiphanies. The first was that a wave of negative publicity threatened to alienate consumers and block the opening of new stores. *

[…]

The second epiphany? Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, discovered that doing good was, in fact, good for business. That was the lesson of Hurricane Katrina. Wal-Mart’s rapid response — truckloads of water and food, much of it reaching residents before federal supplies — won it widespread admiration.

All of this encouraged Wal-Mart to think bigger. If the company was such an effective problem solver — more effective, at times, than the federal government — why not tackle the big issues of the day?

[…]

*Certainly, Wal-Mart’s efforts are savvy business decisions with a profit motive — it’s making money on the health care services it markets and green products it sells, for instance. But that is not considered such a bad thing. *

[…]

  • “Wal-Mart is trying to assume the responsibility that their size confers on them,” said Len Nichols, health economist at the New America Foundation, which supports universal health coverage. “It’s a challenge to the government to step up to the plate.”*

4.) Fuck Anything That Flies: Bisexuality, Fruit Flies, and the Causes of Sexual Orientation. This is a very courageous and thought-provoking piece oscillating between arguments and evidence for innate sexual orientations and arguments and evidence for acquired, learned or constructed sexual orientations.

5.) A taste for the taste? Or a taste for the price? A recent study has shown that people sampling different wines labeled with different prices preferred the more expensive wines than the cheaper ones. Specifically, when the same wine was labeled once at a higher and another at a lower prince, people choose the more expensive as their preferred and, moreover, brain scans proved this subjective preference as connected to certain firing in one region in the brain. Going cheap might even mean you’re missing out of some culinary fireworks? Or maybe it means we need to do more studies about those college munchies so well caressed by a 2 dollar shake?

Quote of the Week:

“It is too easy — and too partisan — to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush,” wrote a man who could hardly be blamed if he did, Al Gore.