Dynamist Blog


Rocket Man blogs a semi-defense of the French government's handling of the heat crisis:

Tragedies like this happen from time to time, but what amazed me about this article, Chirac squirms over heat 'massacre' was the assumption that these deaths were somehow the governments fault.

President Jacques Chirac vowed to fix shortcomings in France's health system Thursday as he battled mounting public anger over his absence and government inaction during a record-breaking heatwave earlier this month that may have killed up to 10,000 people.
Since most heat related deaths are due to dehydration, what was the government supposed to do, force people to drink more water? What rational person would expect the government to protect them from the weather?

He suggests an answer.


Man Without Qualities blogger "Robert Musil" picks up on a couple of new gross and disturbing angles on the French heat wave deaths. What amazes me about these angles is that they're coming from the French government. Bloggers, who would probably otherwise blame the lack of air conditioning, are just repeating them.


Here's an example of the sort of policy that has made California a place where it's hard to do business and even harder to buy a house. There's a reason Arnold keeps talking about regulation, even though regulation would seem to have no direct effect on the state budget crisis. People are leaving the state because it's too expensive and too hard climb the economic ladder. And by "people" I don't just mean native-born people. I keep meeting immigrants--the incredibly ambitious (and so far quite successful) Vietnamese guy who owns my nail salon, the Mexican guy who sold me my new cell phone--who left Southern California for Dallas because it's easier to live and do business in Texas.


I caught the VH-1 special on Warren Zevon Sunday night, which reminded me just how much I've loved his music. It's a great legacy and makes me grateful we live in a world where recording can preserve his performances. I'm buying his new CD on my Borders visit. Here's a nice article on him from the Associated Press (via MSNBC.com). And here's a piece I wrote about the wonders of recorded music.


Buzz Bruggeman (again) points me to this pretty comprehensive San Francisco Chronicle survey article on the various strategies businesses are using to make money (or try to make money) with Wi-Fi. All could work. Or some. Or none. Trial and error is the only way to figure it out.

I'm blogging from the Westwood Borders, which proclaims itself "a t-Mobile hot spot," but has with no chairs, only OK t-Mobile reception (a neighboring network comes in stronger, but needs a password), and a balky server. It's a Not So Hot Spot, I'm afraid, though better than dial-up. Unfortunately, there's a conflict between the third places strategy and a substantial homeless population.


Listening to President Bush's speech today, I found myself sympathizing with Josh Marshall's post on the problems of a vaguely articulated cause. The problem isn't that Bush is inarticulate, though he's no great speaker. The problem is that the administration deliberately obfuscates about who and why we are fighting. A "war on terror" is like a war on tanks--it's a war on a tactic, not an enemy. If al Qaeda had hit the Pentagon with a missile rather than a civilian airliner, that attack on a military target wouldn't have been an act of terrorism, but it would have been an act of war. And there's no reason to think al Qaeda wouldn't have used a missile if it could have.

Because the administration won't say bluntly who and why we're fighting, it tends either to step on its own strategy or to mislead the public about the reasons for U.S. actions. No, I don't think the Bush administration "lied" about weapons of mass destruction; Occam's Razor suggests that officials were in fact worried abou that threat. But I think the administration overemphasized the importance of WMD, compared to other reasons for intervening, to placate the State Department, the "international community," and the Saudis. Getting rid of Saddam reduces the chances of Islamicist terrorism on American soil, but not merely by ending his WMD programs, whatever their status.

I'm sympathetic to the diplomatic reasons for not spelling out certain goals, such as the pressures a U.S-friendly Iraq puts on the Saudis. But Bush's vagueness is maddening to people who are paying attention and confusing to people who aren't. (Unlike Josh, I'm neither a Wilsonian nor a Bush basher--I voted for him once and expect to do so again--but that doesn't mean we can't agree about this.)


Judging from the reader mail, there seems to be widespread misunderstanding of my comments below about French socialism and the heat deaths. I was not referring to the French health care system, which I know little about, but to the general structure of society, economy, and government. We are forever being told by Europeans, led often by the French, that the heavy involvement of the state in European life promotes solidarity and protects the weakest members of society--as opposed to the way evil American individualism leaves everyone to die in the street (OK, so that's a slight exaggeration, but not much). In an emergency, however, evil American individualism looks pretty good. People don't sit around waiting for the authorities to take care of things, which in this case would mean checking in on their elderly parents while they go on vacation. But then we don't take vacation as seriously as the French do, another one of our supposed failings.

Emmanuelle Richard writes:

I hope this horrible French death toll will make France realize how ridiculous it is to shut down for the month of August, and I hope it teaches politicians in power that, no matter how painful it is, the sacred vacation should sometimes be brutally interrupted (the alarm bells, sent from doctors and nurses in the field, were ignored for a long time). When a large proportion of employees in nursing homes are away, when the ministries and other decision-centers are ghost-offices, when the hospitals are even more understaffed than usual, that's the kind of tragedy you get.

People certainly relied too heavily on the State, like they often do, instead of taking the matter in their own hands but I wouln't blame socialism. Southern European countries like Spain and Italy also suffered from the same heat, with much less tragic results, probably because generations live closer (if not together) and care for each other. Germany's good response to this crisis is widely credited to a federal program (financed with a new tax) that provides at-home care for the elderly, as well as the high number of young volunteers in nursing homes thought the civil service.

For some American critics to gleefully condemn the French health care system seems over the top. While old folks shamefully died in France during this crisis, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. remains relatively high -- quite shocking actually for such a prosperous country. This rate is often used as an indicator of the general level of health in a country.

The infant mortality rate in the U.S. is a tough problem, one that enormous resources of thought and money have been focused on, with limited success. It probably does reflect a certain amount of evil individualism--not because prenatal care isn't funded by the state, because it is, but because the responsibility for taking advantage of that service is ultimately that of the pregnant woman. If she doesn't want to go to the doctor, the authorities won't make her. All they'll do is run ads asking her to do so.


I'm a little late to this subject, but isn't it interesting that the fabled solidarity of French socialism leaves old people alone to die from the heat as the whole country goes on vacation at the same time? Yet that seems to be a consensus view of what happened. From the USA Today report:

BRUSSELS — More than 10,000 people, most elderly and living alone, may have died in France during this month's blistering heat wave, French health officials said Thursday. The revised estimate would make it one of the worst such disasters in modern history....

The estimated death toll has risen steadily in the past week, even as the mercury has dropped. On Aug. 14, the number of dead was estimated to be up to 3,000. Three days later, the figure was put at 5,000. On Thursday, the minister for the elderly, Hubert Falco, said "most probably" 10,000 people died from temperatures as high as 104.

The number of heat-related fatalities is 10 times as large as the record 1,021 recorded in the USA in all of 1995. The figure also dwarfs the losses this summer in Italy, where news reports estimate 2,000 died; Portugal, where an estimated 1,316 died; and Spain, where at least 100 died.

Most of the people who succumbed to the heat were elderly and living alone in apartments that typically do not have air conditioning. Critics turned on the French themselves for going on vacation while leaving aged relatives alone.

"These dramas again shed light on the solitude of many of our aged or handicapped citizens," Chirac said.

At least they have solidarity about when to take vacations--none of that evil American individualism and workaholism.


Even if they don't offer Wi-Fi to customers, restaurants have a lot to gain from the clever use of Wi-Fi. From today's NYT report on how businesses are using the technology to improve customer service:

In efficiency and customer relations, restaurants may have the most to gain from Wi-Fi. Wireless hand-held devices save waiters trips to the kitchen, allowing more time with customers. Errors are reduced because the printed order tickets received in the kitchen are easier to read than the average waiter's scrawl.

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