Back to: Holding pattern | Forward to: Insufficient data

Five reasons to envy the French

1. Atomic-powered nearly-supersonic trains

You can keep your jet pack and food pills; one sign we're living in the right century is the TGV V150, a train so fast that at top speed the wheel rims are nearly going supersonic. Take a peek at this video (if you're impatient, the money shot is at 9 minutes and 35 seconds in) and remember: it's nuclear powered! (France gets 78.8% of its electricity from nuclear reactors — the highest proportion of any nation on Earth.)

2. Vacations!

Five to eight weeks of vacation time per year is normal for French employees, along with twelve statutory holidays. Until recently they were also working for 35 hours per week. Not so much use to self-employed workaholics like me, but if you work to live rather than living to work, you get an extra few years of leisure time over your career.

3. World's best healthcare

That's according to the World Health Organization. France has a universal healthcare system that costs 30% less per capita than the US system and delivers better outcomes than the US system provides for those who can afford it. Oh, and it's 77% state funded; what insurance companies there are, are non-profit mutual societies. While the UK's NHS is leaner and cheaper, the French system is better.

4. Did not invade Iraq

That whole "cheese-eating surrender monkey" thing is a canard: when George Bush and Tony Blair tried to convince Jacques Chirac to join them in taking down Saddam Hussein he told them where to stick it because, prior to his career as the Republic's #1 Crook, he was a captain in the French army during the Algerian War. Unlike Bush and Blair, he knew from personal experience exactly how easy a western occupation of an Arab state wasn't going to be. Nor was he impressed by the whole Gog-Magog thing. Which is why France didn't pour billions of euros and hundreds if not thousands of lives down a fruitless rat-hole.

5. Cheese!

(Am too busy salivating to eulogize.)

Commenters: your challenge is to come up with five good things to say about a country that you do not, and never have, lived in.

289 Comments

1:

Yes, but the downside is that they speak French. :)

2:

And as George W. Bush allegedly[*] said, "The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur."

[*] According to Snopes, this is a fabrication. Spoil-sports.

3:
Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six varietes de fromage? - Charles de Gaulle.
(took the accents out to cope with fucked up utf-unaware comment box)
4:

Reasons not to envy the French (*)

4. They elected a would-be GW Bush while the real thing from the US and the english variant were slowly shown the way out.

2. Once in power, this would-be GWB slashed the 35 hours week with his motto "work more to earn more". Now people work more, but no one earns more (except for the Prez who voted himself a 172% pay raise).

3. Healthcare is on the way out too, thanks to their prez. During his campaign he kept saying how great it would be if the French had health insurance like they had in the US. He was also promoting subprimes and mortgages ("the French should get more credit, look how well it serves US citizens"). I'm surprised he did not yelp Drill, baby, Drill! I think he will in his next campaign.


(*) Disclaimer: I am French.

5:

The French story doesn't check out very well. The Guardian (!) mentions towards the end of the article "we have calls out to check this with professor X". Is this what passes for journalism these days?

In any event, the decision to invade Iraq was overdetermined, it's silly to isolate a single factor. One factor I rarely see mentioned is that Saddam authorized a serious and well resourced plot to assssinate Bush 41 and familly in Kuwait in 1993. http://bit.ly/aI9yDL (They found the bomb and arrested sixteen). Not surprising that Bush 43 entered office with a strong desire to dislodge a man who attempted to assassinate his father.

6:

Yes, but here in the U$A we have more billionaires! We're fine with people dying outside of hospitals as long as someone, somewhere is getting rich. Full speed ahead and devil take the hindmost!

In all seriousness, it is hugely depressing to be reminded that, as the richest nation in the world, we have a pretty piss poor quality of life when compared with, oh, most any other 1st world nation.

7:

The "no word for 'entrepreneur'" thing is implausible because it's so clearly a corruption of Reagan (allegedly, or more likely not) saying the Russians had either "No word for 'freedom'" or some unidentified cold-war hack saying they had "no word for 'detente'"

Oldest reference I can find for the meme: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1987-05-02/news/8701280297_1_fallacy-word-russians

8:

You forgot the retirement age at 60...

9:

* Grinds teeth and waves Zimmer frame in direction of your indecently young retirement age *

10:

The vacations are great. Of course for a significant number of french people, especially young people, actually being able to get a job in the first place is rather more unlikely than in a lot of other "first-world" countries.

Like healthcare, that the benefits are great isn't the whole story if a significant chunk of the population isn't entitled to it.

11:

Would you rather be unemployed in France or the US?

12:

I will say one nice thing about France in addition to what you've listed. The people are generally quite nice if you don't treat them like a bell-hop. Must be all that vacation time and free health care.

13:

The healthcare here is fantastic. I spent six weeks in hospital in a single room during my last pregnancy and the only bill I had at the end was a small phone bill.

There's a lot of choice too, from your GP upwards. You can also choose between public and private hospitals as long as they're conventionée (signed up to the state system).

Prescription drugs are cheaper here too compared to the US. Even the ones that the State doesn't reimburse you for.

Admittedly, I live in rural Brittany and the large cities will be different but here at least, another great thing is the sense of community and the place that family has in everyday life. Children are accepted and treated with respect. As a result, they are usually very well behaved. There's also a basic assumption of honesty here that disappeared from the UK - even the rural parts - a very long time ago. Everyone looks out for each other instead of only looking out for themselves.

I have no intention of ever moving back to the UK.

As for as other countries go:

I admire the Scandinavian countries for their approach to maternity and paternity leave. I also admire their open outlook on sex and the human body.

14:

Just wanted to add:

People around here also seem to live a very long time. Our house was previously owned by a woman who was 97 this, she's now living in a retirement home. There are lots of people around who are over 80 and still very active.

15:

Five Reasons To Envy The Germans*

1) An engineering & industrial sector that produces stuff that other people actually want to buy

2) Seriously undervalued (in the Anglosphere at least) countryside and historic towns

3) Also did not invade Iraq

4) A national football team that performs better than the sum of its parts (and doesn't lose crucial games on penalties)

5) Sausages and beer


[*] Per the rules I don't live in Germany, but I do live with a German[**]

[**] Actually she's lived in the UK nearly all her life, but still

16:

"You forgot the retirement age at 60..."

The average person can retire at 50 in the UK (and footballers and ballet dancers at around 30 IIRC).

What, you want a viable retirement income as well?

17:

ITYM 62.

(And 67 if you want a full pension and you didn't start work at 18, or like me you started work in some other country).

18:

Fred, the assassination attempt may have been fabricated by Kuwait in an attempt to encourage US engagement on their behalf -- there's certainly no shortage of regional actors who, in the 90s, found the USA to be a conveniently manipulable tool for settling local grudges.

And even if the assassination attempt was genuine, it must be said that -- while I have no problem with GWB taking a very dim view of an individual who may have commissioned a hit on his father -- it's a disastrous error to base large scale foreign policy on a personal grudge.

19:

You can normally only take retirement benefits from a registered UK pension scheme from age 55 these days - it increased from 50 on 6 April this year.

20:

@Fred: ("The French story doesn't check out very well. The Guardian (!) mentions towards the end of the article "we have calls out to check this with professor X". Is this what passes for journalism these days?")

The original paper is available here: http://www2.unil.ch/unicom/allez_savoir/as39/pages/pdf/4_Gog_Magog.pdf

21:

While the French were oh-so-righteously avoiding the Iraq war, they were:

- getting cheap conflict hardwood from Liberia: http://www.globalwitness.org/media_library_detail.php/881/en/international_timber_company_dlh_accused_of_fundin

- bombing the crap out of Cote d'Ivoire's: http://www.democracynow.org/2004/11/9/french_forces_destroy_ivory_coast_airforce

- slaughtering peaceful protesters in Cote d'Ivoire: http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2004/11/9/140522.shtml

22:

But... but.... hating the French is a national pasttime!

23:

Oh, Charlie! Ma Petit Chou-fleur! You had me at atomic powered trains!

24:

Fraser@11:
Would you rather be unemployed in France or the US?

You appear to be making a strange assumption that I was defending the US.

I live in the UK, and whether the french do or don't have "nicer" treatment of the unemployed, I honestly don't know, I'd rather not be unemployed in any country.

Either way, it has nothing to do with the fact that the many perks that french employees get has a downside - not everyone is eligible because they have severe unemployment problems, often cited as being because french employers are reluctent to increase the workbase because it's so hard to reduce it again if things don't work out, or the employee turns out to be moderately incapable (as opposed to criminally incapable.)

Those perks have a price attached, the people in work probably mostly think it's worth paying, but I'd imagine you'd get a different opinion from the people who've been struggling since to get a job since they left school.

Nothing is black and white, and employers no doubt overemphasize the problem, but the fact that there's no such thing as a free lunch ought to make it obvious that there's a trade-off of some kind.

In answer to your question though, to be out of work in the US with enough savings to last me the one, two, three, six, whatever months until I get another job; or to be out of work without enough savings to last me for the 1, 5, 6, 8, 25 years to get a job in france?

That's really the question, if I'm out of work I want to be in the country where I'm going to get back into work fastest, because I don't actually like being unemployed. (Or to be exact, the country where I can get into nicest work within the time limit before I run out of money.)

Sorry, that turned into a rant. :P

25:

Russia:

5. Largest country on the face of the earth. Most extensive forest reserves (big enough to get seriously lost in) and a significant share of the world's fresh water

4. Siberian tigers.

3. Rulers know the secret of the Amber Room.

2. A bigger Laundry than the British.

1. Tunguska event.

26:

It is not at all clear that the benefits of the French high-speed rail system outweigh its costs. Even if HSR makes sense in France, that doesn't mean it would make sense in the US.

The WHO's ranking of the French health care system as the world's best was based on highly contestable political measures. The only actual health-related metric was disability-adjusted years of life expectancy, which doesn't tell you anything meaningful about health care system performance.

27:

Jamestown, you're American, aren't you? Hence your preoccupation with the US.

Here's a big hint: I'm not American. And I don't give a flying fuck about whether high speed rail makes sense in your country. You are not the centre of the universe.

28:

Scotland

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties (Well that's three I suppose)
Princes Street
The Great Glen
The Edinburgh Fringe
Oban

I could go on...

29:

Charles, I was rebutting your claim that HSR and the French health care system are reasons to envy the French. In fact, I'd contest the other three items on your list too.

30:

New Zealand:

1) You did the scenery in LOTR didn't you? Lots of that is just there when you go round the corner again. OK, some was custom built and/or cgi but most of New Zealand is gloriously beautiful.

2) They told the Americans to stick their ships when the Americans wouldn't promise no nukes. It's not that I'm passionately anti-nuke nor anti-American but a country that stands by its principles that clearly is good by me.

3) I did mention the scenery didn't I? But seriously... volcanoes, hot springs, 90-mile long beaches, glaciers and fjords. All in a couple of islands.

4) Almost 100% self-supporting for energy from renewable resources already.

5) Supporting the national side in the national game means wearing a black shirt. Ex-theatre techie still surgically attached to black clothes here... but it helps.

I could add more (pissing of Aussies with jokes about West Island for example), the wacky flora and fauna, the fundamentally good relationships between the Pakeha and the Maori, Waitomo Glowworm Cave and so on, but they'd be my top five.

NOTE: I nearly emmigrated to New Zealand. But I have never lived there sadly.

31:

Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

(I am tempted to add derailing to the moderation policy as grounds for censorship. But maybe it's covered by generic trolling.)

32:

@Rama -- thanks for the URL to the original article; it was interesting reading. Truly two leaders with dramatically different cultural sets. As a Northern-European-American whose maternal ancestors (LaMar) fled France in the 1600's to flee persecution of Huguenots, it is also amusing to see how exotic protestants seem to be in France. As if Chirac had dropped Cthulhu into conversation with Bush. "Quick! dial up Miskatonic U!"

@Charlie -- seems likely, though, that Bush 43 believed Kuwait assassination story; if I remember correctly, Laura Bush may also have been on that trip. I have often thought that law and human imagination give too little weight to attempted crimes; if an assassination had occurred, it would have been a historical calamity.

In any event, the Gog & Magog thing, like the WMD rationale to invade Iraq, was more likely a poorly thought out bit of advocacy for a decision that had already been taken on three grounds: 1) oil 2) putting "boots on the ground" 3) squelching defiance.

33:

Trains: there are exactly -two- high-speed passenger trains which have ever made back their capital cost and turned a real profit.

Paris-Lyons, and Tokyo-Osaka.

Every single remaining TGV-style train has been a subsidy-eating rathole flushing capital down the loo.

Look, nothing is free. Every investment has an opportunity cost. When you use money for A, you're not using it for B,C,D, etc. The trains haven't even paid off as much as putting the money in bonds would do.

And the cost of the trains is not merely the cost of setting them up and running them with money taken by force from someone else, -it's the foregone income of alternative investments- for that money.

This cost is paid in unemployment and reduced incomes, usually by those at the bottom of the heap; the young, the poor, immigrants.

(The nuclear power stations, OTOH, were probably a good idea. But the French have more nuclear power because in France it's harder to stop the bureaucrats and technocrats doing what they want. Or to put it another way, the political class is more insulated from popular pressures, something that has both up and down sides, to put it mildly.)

"you get an extra few years of leisure time over your career."

-- and other people live on the dole and rot in banileus and never get their feet on the ladder at all.

You may note that the French are phasing out the 35-hour week.

If you make it more expensive to hire people -- and these absurd holidays and the 35-hour week are prime examples, along with things like restrictive work rules, high payroll taxes, bureaucratic barriers to firing, "workers' rights" etc. -- then -fewer people will be hired-.

This is why the Eurozone countries have added virtually zero net new jobs over the past generation, particularly if you don't count the black economy.

Anything which makes the labor market more rigid hurts, again, those at the bottom of the heap.

It favors older people who already have jobs at the expense of the young, the poor, immigrants, and so forth.

This is automatic. It's like gravity or the inverse-square law.

34:

Oh, Canada:

1. National Health Care

2. Access to very nearly all the U.S. has to offer

3. Toronto is SOUTH of Minneapolis

4. Poutine!

5. "The Canadian" - VIA Rail Canada's service between Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia.

35:

Have you ever actually been to France?

I've spent a week or longer in four different hospitals here so far, once for life-saving emergency surgery while on holiday here. The other three times were as a resident.

The standard of care here is very high. For example, during a pregnancy, all the routine visits are covered at 100% and after a certain point in the pregnancy, everything is 100%. Compare that to the US where many women have to forego prenatal care due to the expense and yet more get into serious debt due to the costs of just giving birth.

Mutuelle cover is very cheap compared to US health insurance and no preauthorisation is required for treatments. If the treatment is one that the State will pay for - and pretty much everything is - then the mutuelle will pay up automatically. No forms to fill out or anything, it's all done through a 'Carte Vitale' which has the details of your health care rights on a chip.

Now, I would suggest that US readers sit down for this next bit, I don't want to be responsible for any head injuries should you faint from shock. Mutuelle cover for my family of four, including dental and optical cover was about 80 euros a month. And we have pre-existing conditions etc. - not that they want to know about those. Last year, our income (my husband has a factory job that gets just above minimum wage and I don't work) was low enough that our mutuelle cover was paid for by the State. This year we get help to pay for the mutuelle, 200 euros a year for the adults and 100 for the chidren. Oh and when we had a third child, she was added to our cover free of charge.

36:

Sure, taunt me with countries I can never visit. Mister I travel all over the world to sci-fi conventions for my job.

Sadly, we shall never see that much nuclear power or trains here in North America. The politics and the distances just won't allow it. Even at top speed that train would take all day to get across North America, and that's with no stops. Maybe when gas in the US costs $6+ a gallon (about 1EU per liter) but not until then.

I've worked as a contractor doing IT (Y2K project) at a nuke plant. They're very safe, and security is wild. Got the full tour and everything. Second weirdest job after the slaughterhouse.

Most people who get all anxious about nuclear power forget that all the management and workers live right next door to the reactor. They're very careful about safety. I wish all the green energy no CO2 crowd would be willing to also accept nuke plants as a solution.

37:

I'd like to add No. 6 to the list of "reasons France is great"- Le Tour. As long as we can get past the drug controversies of the 80s and 90s it is still the arguably the greatest endurance event ever invented.

38:

Five reasons to envy Iceland:

1) First country in the world to have a head of government in a same sex marriage.

2) Enacting laws to become a haven for journalism and free speech on the Internet.

3) Geothermal energy everywhere: hot water piped to your house and geothermal pools all over the place.

4) Some of the most SFnal scenery in the world - lava floes that were used for lunar astronaut training.

5) Roads take diversions around rocks because the "hidden folk" live in them.

I'm not sure I could actually live through an Icelandic winter but it's a fantastic place to visit.

39:

Emma,

I don't find anecdotes very persuasive. If you look at metrics that actually measure the things health care systems do (diagnose and treat diseases and disorders), I think you'll find the US health care system compares favorably to the French one. One example of such a metric is cancer survival rates.

40:

Think it must be the Netherlands for me:

1.) The Dutch people. I remember when a UEFA cup match was on in Birmingham (this was back in the 90's) and the local constabulary were expecting trouble from the incoming Tartan Army. The "Orange Horde" from the other direction had secret weapons to keep the peace though: "Ah - you are a Scotland fan! Have a beer!". For one night the city was filled with very drunk football fans who were no trouble at all.... I mean what other country has people who can pacify a drunken Glaswegian out for a fight just by being friendly!

2.) Marine engineering - they seriously rock at it.

3.) Cheese. My wife and I spent an afternoon doing a touristy guided "cheese tour". And seriously considered going back the next day.....

4.) No bloody hills!

5.) They have big cities that don't feel like big cities. I'm not sure why, but think it must me something to do with the architecture.

41:

@33:

Trains: there are exactly -two- high-speed passenger trains which have ever made back their capital cost and turned a real profit.

Paris-Lyons, and Tokyo-Osaka.

Every single remaining TGV-style train has been a subsidy-eating rathole flushing capital down the loo.

IIRC, from the Wright brothers to the present, there has been more money invested in commercial airlines than there has been ROI. So by your logic, we scrap the airlines, yes?

How about automobiles? If you include the roads, the wars necessary to subsidize cheap gas, etc, I don't know if that industry has turned a profit either. Certainly over the next hundred years gasoline is going to become much, much more expensive.

The bottom line is, there's a lot of vital activity to which you can't directly associate profits but which nevertheless are just that - vital activity. I'm assuming you don't disagree that the American military machine has yet to turn a profit? :-)

42:

Except it only does it for those that can afford it.

Except in France having emergency surgery for something like a ruptured appendix doesn't bankrupt you unlike in the US (if you're one of the millions in the US with in adequate insurance).

Except that you don't have to get visits to the ER pre-authorised by an insurance company.

Except that there are no policies of rejecting genuine claims in order to increase profits.

Except that there are no policies of picking over someone's medical history when they become seriously, and expensively, ill in order to find something that will enable the company to wriggle out of paying up.

43:

Just a plug and a restatement: The French seem to have really gotten their act together when it comes to nuclear energy. They would seem to be a fine example to emulate here in the U.S. Of course, the long odds are that the folks in these parts will simply reinvent the wheel rather than admit that someone else has done it first.

44:

And another thing,

most of my post was not anecdotal but factual information backed up by real life examples. The benefits and costs that my family has experienced are the same for everyone here.

45:

Not to hijack the thread, but . . . why do France and England seem to be the desired destination of so many tourists? Myself, if I ever get the chance, I want to check out Budapest. A city which, imho, is severely underrated as a tourist attraction. But then again, what I want to see might not be typical either - I'd like to check out the ancestral von Neumann manse (assuming it still exists) for starters :-) Same for Erdos too, of course.

46:

I do have to pose one question: if the French are so sure nuclear power is safe, why are so many of their reactors on their north coast so that if they should ever go bang, the fission products will probably get blown over England? 8-)

47:

When a project is made by a private for-profit business, roi/profit is a fine way to measure its success. When, however, it is made by a government or heavily backed by a government entity, then externalities come into the picture much more heavily, and profit becomes much less important.

Any business running a rail line that wasn't making its money back year to year would change it up or shut it down. Governments have the luxury of, in effect, spending the money they're not losing on the rail line on the purchase of providing transportation services to their citizens.

Losing money on rail lines run by the government is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, or indicative that the rail lines should not be built.

48:

Going to France was a revelation. I said to myself "Oh! This is what it's like to live in a civilized country." Going to Japan I had a similar revelation: "Oh! This is what it's like to live in a modern country."

1) The shinkansen is super fast and it is so smooth, you can't tell how fast you're moving unless you look out the window. Shiny zoom.
2) Surprisingly pleasant, walkable, livable neighborhoods.
3) Vending machines everywhere. It's very easy to get used to having unsweetened green ice tea whenever and wherever you want it.
4) Traditional culture and architecture is still everywhere, even in the most modern cities. The line between old and new is fractal and infinitely complex.
5) Hello Kitty will smite you with the powers of her vast white forehead if you don't agree!

49:

s/not losing/losing

50:

The Tokyo-Osaka high speed train doesn't exactly make a real profit. It appears so on the books, but that's only because the system effectively went bankrupt when it was built, and was "bought" for about ten percent of its value in real estate. Add in the regulatory restrictions on short-haul airline flights (illegal to compete with the Tokyo-Osaka train route), and the costs get even worse.

France has a similar problem with TGV. Sure, they run the train on one route with what looks like a profit, but they do that by having the track owners (RFF) lose massive amounts of money. RFF, a different organization, is 28 billion euros in debt, made a "profit" for the first time just last year, and is going to increase charges to SNCF to pay for maintenance and increased costs. SNCF is now losing money, and is trying to get a subsidy from the central government to cover its losses. They're also going to lower costs - by running lower speed trains instead of the TGV.

When you allow for actual sunk costs (using normal accounting practices instead of "hide the losses"), the Japanese and French high-speed systems are huge money losers. Darned shame.

I love high speed trains, but I'd rather have a whole lot of middle-speed trains (100 MPH on average) that run reliably, cheaply, and comfortably. Yes, even in the US.

51:

For "didn't invade Iraq", try some websearches on queries including terms "TotalFinaElf saddam chirac benoit galloway".

You could argue that the world's biggest financial scandal, dwarfing Enron, actually brought about the war itself.

52:

The concept of profit or loss is not particularly useful when it comes to large scale infrastructure as:-

1) It fails to capture externalities. If a line (or bridge, road etc) make local businesses more profitable (and they generally do - just look what happens to real estate prices) then that also is a return on investment
2) The double entry system work very well for short dated transaction in small systems, were money may be thought of as a store of value and treated as a stock. On a larger scale and over greater length of time this approach breaks down as money is not really a store of value but merely are transmission/intermediation mechanism between assets. A return on such terms can only be computed relative to the alternatives and in a world of output gaps that generally means nothing. ie would the French be better off if instead of building the TGV they had the workers sit at home instead.

53:

I highly recommend reading about the Credit Mobilier financial scandal. The American pot makes a nice set with the Japanese and French kettle.

54:

@37: Yes, Le Tour de France ain't bad, but being in the centre of the universe and all, I've got to admire the Badwater ultramarathon even more. It's from Badwater in Death Valley (-282 ft/-85 m elevation) 135 miles/215 km on foot up to Whitney Portal(8360 ft/2548m).

And that's without the publicity of Le Tour, and with the wonderfully nonsensical American health care system, as implemented in the problematically solvent state of California (where they are cutting back on the park staff who maintain the race route). So if you get sick or hurt running this particular monster, you're SOL. Now that's endurance.

I'm waiting for someone to chime in about the joys of living in Kiribati, personally.

55:

I wonder if the high speed trains in China are profitable or could be? Of course, in China it's probably impossible to tell but it seems like geodemographically they should be.

56:

Glen, the price of gas here in the UK is between US $6.50 and US $7.00 per US gallon. Has been there for a couple of years, modulo the occasional spike to $8-9/US gal (mostly down to exchange rate fluctuations).

57:

Pfft. You have to take such metrics with a pinch of salt. Cultural issues can have startling effects on healthcare outcomes -- ones that you might not expect.

For example: the UK has significantly worse cancer survival figures than France/Germany. Why? It turns out that it's not the quality of treatment -- the problem is that the "stiff upper lip" causes a lot of older men to grit their teeth and ignore the warning signs because they don't want to cause a fuss/be a nuisance. And by the time they stop ignoring the signs it's too late.

58:

I'm still not sure why people don't get the inherent benefits of nuclear supersonic trains. Profit? Pfft. Nuclear trains.

Posting from Budapest, where I haven't exactly lived, just been here a lot with my wife:

(5) Reasonably priced, effective health care, unlike the United States. (Jamestown, either you've never been sick, or never left the US, or likely both, but trust me, son, you don't know what you're talking about.)

(4) A language that makes your brain work. None of that namby-pamby Indoeuropean pablum you relax with at home.

(3) The food.

(2) Oh, dear Lord, the food.

(1) The food.

I'm not kidding. It's not what it used to be (thanks to EU ingredients watering down the good stuff from the countryside) but the food here is to die for. Sure, the fat may take a year off your life, but believe me, the tradeoff is so worth it.

scentofviolets, the closest I've come to seeing anything ancestrally von Neumann here is his statue at the technical university. I'm not sure the family had a manse here, but I'll see what I can find out. As for Erdõs, he was peripatetic.

I did always find it cool that my wife almost had a class from Rubik Ernõ... (He was teaching at the university when she attended.) Also that her dad and my uncle were in Korea at the same time. Not on the same side, but at the same time.

59:

OK, let's try, somewhat randomly, Denmark.
1. The best cycle paths in the world. Bar none. Huge numbers of people cycling. That's fabulously healthy, both physically and mentally.
2. Big bridges! A truly epic civil engineering construction programme has given them amazingly ambitious bridge/tunnel fixed links between all of their major islands and right on to Sweden, and they're building a bridge right across the sea to Germany too.
3. A firm belief in openness and honesty, in common with the other Scandinavian countries.
4. Fantastic modern design. My parents had Danish armchairs in the 70s that still look radically fashionable today.
5. Wikipedia gives lots more reasons: the world's highest level of income equality; the happiest place in the world three years running; the second most peaceful country in the world; one of the least corrupt countries in the world.
Why don't I live there...?

60:

I totally agree that cultural factors are vitally important to differences in health between national populations. Which is why trying to rank the health care systems of different nations on the basis of crude measures of national health status like average life expectancy is so misguided.

Emma, the U.S. cancer survival rates I am referring to are the rates for all Americans, not just for Americans with health insurance (or whatever other group you mean by "those that can afford it").

61:

I only have anecdotal info, aside from the rash of suicides reported last year in France Télecom but they seem to have some sort of unhealthy workplace culture going on. My friend is a high school teacher doing a years exchange in Spain and she's been unmercifully dicked around in several petty ways, for instance she only finds out if she's staying in a different country on the very same day the school year starts in France.

Years before my French cousin decided to move to Spain because the stress was literally killing him - he's always been a big heavy set lad and when he arrived he was skinny as a rail, like a cancer patient.

62:

Actually if you look at a map of French reactor sites only four of them are on the Channel coast. They use seawater cooling loops like all of the British nuclear reactors do (the only British power reactor to use lake cooling was decommissioned a while back). The rest of the French reactor fleet are sited well inland using rivers or lakewater for cooling (I understand the Mediterranean is too warm to be used for efficiency reasons).

63:

Roy,

The French are hoping that any "accidents" with their power plants will take out the English.

Or any of their other neighbours.

Nothing like empty radioactive land for expanding your vinyards into ...

(hey - there's one for a new Merchant Prince...)

64:

As a kiwi, I wish 4) was right! However, about 60%-70% of our power is renewable (dependant on various seasonal factors), and the rest is fossil fueled. The usual NIMBY's (wind) and anti-science zealots (nuclear) have prevented us from getting our electrical generation CO2 emissions down to zero.

65:
I totally agree that cultural factors are vitally important to differences in health between national populations. Which is why trying to rank the health care systems of different nations on the basis of crude measures of national health status like average life expectancy is so misguided.

But if this is the line of argument you want to take, how can anyone maintain that, for example "The U.S. has the best health care in the world"? This smacks of the sort of denialism that makes it impossible to rate and rank any set of national health care systems.

66:

The French did invade Iraq, just didn't do it last time. I was there, they fielded a division as part of the US XVIII Airborne Corps which penetrated deepest into Iraq. A fact that Americans seem to forget.

67:

Great Britain:
1. Charlie Stross
2. Cory Doctorow
3. Peter F. Hamilton
4. Neal Asher
5. Stephen Baxter
--

68:

The issue of which country has the "best" health care system is a ultimately a political question, not a scientific one. There is no right or wrong answer.

Even if "best" is understood to refer only to empirical, measurable outcomes of health care interventions, the question is enormously complex and any serious answer would require analysis of lots of data on the effectiveness of each health care system at preventing, diagnosing and treating a vast array of diseases, disorders and disabilities.

69:

1. Wine. 'nuff said, even if Rioja is in Spain.
2. Bread. In all it's glorious french variations from the baguette to the croissant.
3. Food. Not any particular kind of food, but the fact that the French treat food as a thing to enjoy and to mythologise, not as a mere source of calories and nutrients. Food in pill form was the future to most of the Western world in the '50s - the French would have been disgusted at the thought.
4. Paris. The world had to have some place to store its collection of self-important artistically challanged wannabes, and France stepped up to the plate with Paris. Happily, they still have Lyon to act as their real cultural centre :-)
5. The most successful European military of all (with the possible exception of the Swiss, who had to be made to sign a treaty saying they wouldn't bully the rest of Europe and would only send their soldiers outside of Switzerland to guard the Vatican). Yes, there are the jokes, but they're made by people who weren't intelligent enough to study their history. In the past thousand years, the French have kicked more bottom than any other nation. And while all the rest of Europe sniggers, France goes on sailing around in its nuclear-weapon-equipped aircraft carriers...

70:

A bit of background material for non-Usians: the national dialogue has gone is that it is unarguably true that health care here costs a lot more than in just about every other country. At which point the usual apologists step up to the plate and insist that this is because "The United States has the best health care system in the world!"

Well, if that's the case, where's their proof? The problem with most of these apologist types is that after making these sorts of pronouncements, they then expect you to prove them wrong. Actually offer proof for these statements, do some research, offer up metrics that most reasonable people can agree on? That is to laugh. Much easier to demand that the burden of proof go in the opposite direction - and they get to decide what is "convincing". If you suspect I've had more than a few of these very frustrating conversations, you'd be correct.

71:
Even if "best" is understood to refer only to empirical, measurable outcomes of health care interventions, the question is enormously complex and any serious answer would require analysis of lots of data on the effectiveness of each health care system at preventing, diagnosing and treating a vast array of diseases, disorders and disabilities.

That being the case then, it's sufficient to note that the cost of health care in the U.S. is way out line with what it is in other countries. That being noted, the question then is how to cut costs.

72:

That's funny, because the word entrepreneur actually comes from French. I generally agree with the idea of that statement though.

73:

Cutting US health costs....sigh!

Here's the deal: our ineffective system is propping up a good part of what's left of the Ohio economy.
One of those little problems with democracy is that when you institutionalize inefficiency, it starts supporting families. Of voters. And it also makes people rich, and they buy influence.

Still, the US system is goofy. I know a number of people who work in hospitals, and the thing is, they can't tell their patients how much something is going to cost. They don't know themselves. No one knows, because until the insurance company and the hospital have negotiated after the care has been delivered, the cost of that care won't be determined.

Rationalizing this system is, in theory, easy. The problem is, a lot of people have been hired over the years to negotiate the system I just described. What are you going to do with them? A national health care system could be run with about 20 percent of these people (the paper pushers, not the care providers), and if we nationalized, 80 percent of a large number of people would be out of work and very upset.

And, of course, ideologically, we are committed to preserving the so-called free market, even when it doesn't work as well as the alternatives, as I think we've demonstrated in health care.

74:

For a healthcare system, diagnosis and treatment are epiphenomena.

They are what I do for a living, and I like doing them, and they are not unimportant, but there are reasons why the French get better results than the US from their healthcare _systems_. The NHS gets high efficiency _of utilisation of doctors, nurses, beds etc_ .

If you are buying a healthcare system (as one country did from a friend of mine - another story) then what you want to buy is something very like disability or quality adjusted life years. The NHS sells QALYs quite cheaply.

Australia:-

1. It isn't full.
2. It grows more food than it eats.
3. When they get round to it, there is anything one could reasonably ask for setting up fission power and desalination already there, and the option of doing something terribly clever with the hot bit in the middle.
4. Healthcare is good, but inefficient enough to be a good cross between effectiveness and convenience.
5. The weather's quite good.

75:

Yes, the US spends more on health care than other countries. That doesn't mean it's spending too much.

76:

I'll play:

5 reasons to envy the UK:

1. Fresh Dairy Products. People don't know when they're living in paradise. The rest of us simply can't get double cream. Or clotted cream. Or that amazing high-butterfat double cream from the dairy co-op in Raglan, in which my spoon stood up like the sword in the stone.

(And no, that ultra-pasteurized shelf-stable sludge that pops up in expat shops the world over is not the same thing.)

2. The Good Beer guide; or, good pubs. Or, rather, the fact that the UK needs about 1.5kg of fine print, updated annually, to provide brief listings of the pubs where you can get a good pint of real ale (and often a decent lunch, which enters into the matter). The fact that the ale is usually low-alcohol enough that I can have a pint and not need a nap afterwards is also relevant. Where I live, you often can't get a beer below 6% alcohol, and there are frequent entries in the 10-11% range.

3. Cheese. You may mention France, justly, in this regard -- but a good Cheddar (produced from fresh unpasteurized milk, bandaged in linen to control its moisture level, and aged properly) is one of the finest cheeses in the world. In its country of origin, it's also readily available and reasonably priced.

4. Rights-of-way. There are lots of other places in the world where you'd be laughed at if you maintained you had a right in law to walk across private land, even if people have been walking across it for ages. In (at least) parts of the rural UK, they signpost rights of way. With waterproof boots and warm clothes, you can hike all kinds of places without having to get an organization to buy the path you want to walk on. It's an elegant solution to balancing land use policy. And you don't have to walk down the middle of the road all the time.

5. Unarmed policing. What better way to prove that you mean it about governing by consent of the governed? Very gutsy.

77:

@75:

Yes, the US spends more on health care than other countries. That doesn't mean it's spending too much.

That may be. But the burden of proof is on you to show that this is the case. And since you've just disallowed a broad range of measures, I'm curious as to why you would think that the U.S. doesn't spend too much money on health care.

78:

I think Tim@52 has it right on rail finances - a lot of the benefit goes to local users, businesses and residents rather then the operators. Infrastructure's like that, and using business accounting as a measure of worth is therefore extremely risky.

The surrendermonkey thing's just bizarre - for better or worth, the French government and people seem really happy with the principle of using force to resolve geopolitical issues. Korea? Check! Vietnam? Check! (Started it, in fact) Gulf 1? Check! Suez? Check! The fact that the French government thought Gulf 2 was a bad'un should really have been more widely noted. Personally I'd say the French were better and wiser friends to the US on this one than the British government were.

79:

But the burden of proof is on you to show that this is the case.

I have no idea why you think so. I would say that if you want to replace the US health care system with a different system, the burden is on you to show that your proposed change would be an improvement.

80:

@79:

But the burden of proof is on you to show that this is the case.

I have no idea why you think so. I would say that if you want to replace the US health care system with a different system, the burden is on you to show that your proposed change would be an improvement.

Huh? That the proposed changes will actually lower costs? Well, implementing single payer or some variant to reign in costs certainly seems to be the consensus opinion of the economists. Past that, I don't know what you're asking for.

Otoh, if you want to claim that the costs here are higher because the outcomes are better, the burden of proof is definitely upon you. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is: you make the claim, you defend it. That's the way all good science is done :-)

81:

Nice. I reposted "Gog and Magog" to FB (as part of my general campaign to not wind up with Random Paul as my next US Senator).
Reason #6: they get to speak French.

Chris

82:

I haven't made any claim about why the US spends more. I have noted that US cancer survival rates are better.

It seems obvious to me that if someone wants to make a drastic change to the nation's health care system, the burden lies with them to show that that change would produce a net benefit, not merely that it would save money. You'd certainly save money if you traded in a Mercedes for a Hyundai, but that doesn't mean you'd be better off.

83:

@82:

I haven't made any claim about why the US spends more. I have noted that US cancer survival rates are better.

You'll notice that I haven't made any claim for why the U.S. spends more either. Merely that it does, and I want to bring this cost in line with comparable developed countries.

And why would you bring up cancer survival rates? You just said that measures like these are crude and unreliable. Are you taking that back?

It seems obvious to me that if someone wants to make a drastic change to the nation's health care system, the burden lies with them to show that that change would produce a net benefit, not merely that it would save money.

Really? So are you then saying that policies designed to lower costs would result in a lower quality of health care? By what criterion would you know?

In any event, that's not the way the game is played. The question isn't "How do you know that lowering costs won't effect the quality of health care?", any more than the question is "How do you know that aliens observing us from their hidden Moon base won't take cutting costs as a signal to begin immediate nuclear bombardment?" You most definitely do not get to throw up a million and one objections of the "how do you know" type, and then declare yourself "unconvinced". Demanding otherwise is either being ascientific, or else the mark of a troll(at which point, I would imagine you might find yourself esorted off the premises, not that I'm presuming to speak for mein host. But the tolerance for right-wing trollery here has not, historically, tended to be very high.)

So is that what you're asserting? That containing Usian health care costs - perhaps by going to a single payer system - will result in a lower quality of health care?

Well then, let's see your evidence. Let's see what measures you are using as proxies for quality of health care. You know the drill.

84:

How about Taiwan:

1. Everyone is polite and friendly to a fault. (This does require some testing involving observers of different appearance to me, because it *might* be because I'm pasty Anglo-saxon stock.)

2. High speed trains! This doesn't put them on a par with Japan and France by itself, but the Taiwanese HSR as at 2009 was slightly more pleasant than the shinkansen in 2007, and substantially more so than the TGV in 2006. (Against that, you only have one HSR line to worry about, vs the multiplicity the French and Japanese have to deal with.)

3. The food! People will fly to Taiwan for the weekend from Hong Kong just to eat. And that's not just because they don't like dim sum...

4. The world's second tallest building, with the fastest lifts, and a yearly contest wherein a nonagenarian Taiwanese chap gets to run up 82 floors without dying.

5. Betel-nut beauties. You've got heaps of high-technology, Hello Kitty ferris wheels on top of enormous shopping malls, a great big pile of treasure 'liberated' from mainland China in the 1940s, and you still have time to get women to dress up as scantily as possible and sell stimulating (but disgusting) teeth-staining betel nuts to long-distance lorry drivers. The government is taking steps to remove this somewhat embarrassing industry, but there's at least one highly amusing film inspired by them.

Of course, there's the constant worry that China is going to roll over the Strait some time and push everyone into the sea, if you haven't been killed by an overstimulated taxi driver or a phalanx of scooters, a typhoon or an earthquake first. But still, the trains! The scenery! The food! The incredibly cheerful people!

85:

Posts like this make me sigh about how much I want to leave.

Cool things about Canada. I'll outdo you, I'll do six! Actually, wait I lied, seven.

1) Publicly administered, non-employment-coupled healthcare system

4) Canada is one of those rare countries where abortion is not a matter for criminal justice law. None of the "partial birth abortion" that exists in the US.

5) The mandated minimum wages in all provinces are higher than the mandated minimum wages in most US states, and some of them are higher than any mandated minimum wage in the country except maybe that in San
Francisco (there's a patchwork of towns and cities with "living wage" requirements that can be ignored by firms that don't work for the state. Some US states *have* no minimum wage law.)

6) Actual sick leave law. Federal level 12 weeks of job protection (unpaid) for sickness, starting 14 days after you begin a job. In the US, there is no such provision. Can't seem to find the sick leave requirements for Québec, I know some provinces mandate paid sick leave.

7) The CBC. Except for the contracts setups that keep them from reissuing old stuff like Nightfall.

86:

Possible derail in reply to arguments above about high speed rail (public transit) and public healthcare, feel free to delete, but I'm having "someone is wrong on the internet" pains:

People keep arguing about how things don't turn a profit and that thus means said things have no reason to exist.

Because of course improving peoples' quality of life and potentially reducing the speed of global warming don't matter. An awfully large number of cost benefit analyses never seem to consider the long term nor do they include results that cannot be measured in currency, but only in statistics.

87:

Val @85 -- a minor clarification re US minimum wages. There is a federal minimum wage law covering all states, though individual states may have higher (not lower) minimum wages. While I'm on the subject, many US state and federal laws exempt many broad classes of workers from both minimum wage and overtime requirements. Is Canada's minimum wage coverage also more complete than the US's?

88:

And why would you bring up cancer survival rates? You just said that measures like these are crude and unreliable.

No, I said that life expectancy is a crude measure for ranking different nations' health care systems. So crude, in fact, as to be basically worthless.

So are you then saying that policies designed to lower costs would result in a lower quality of health care?

No, I didn't say that. Whether a policy that lowered costs would also lower quality would depend on the policy. Cutting the number of mammograms in half would certainly lower costs, at least initially, but it would also probably lower the rate of detection of breast cancer.

I think I'm done with you. You don't respond to what I actually write. You respond to strawmen misrepresentations of what I write. I tire of repeating myself and correcting you.

89:

As an Aussie, could I offer some clarification here:

Firstly, in regard to "it isn't full" - yes, Australia isn't as densely populated as some of our neighbours, and certainly not as densely populated as many European countries. However, there's a reason for this: we don't have the climate or the resources (in terms of arable land) to support a population much denser than the present one. In terms of carrying capacity, it's more likely that Australia actually *is* "full", and has been for at least a decade or two. Not that this is any reason for us to be denying refuge to refugees, in my opinion, but that's a different argument based on cultural hypocrisy and honesty and a bit long to get into right now.

Secondly, while we may be growing more than we eat right now (and might I add we're doing this without subsidising our farming sector? USA and EU take note!) this isn't likely to be the case in about another decade. We're already being affected negatively by global climate change, the entire country is in water *debt*, and we've no likelihood of altering this Any Time Soon.

Thirdly, with the weather: it depends where you are and what time of the year it is. Dorothea McKellar has famously described Australia as a land of "droughts and flooding rains" and it looks like global climate change is just intensifying this (oh goody). We're getting more droughts, they're lasting longer, they're happening at closer intervals, and they're making the ground more water-resistant, so when the rains *do* come along, floods are much more likely as a result. All of this means most capital cities (where the majority of the population lives) have been on permanent water restrictions for at least the past decade, and we're looking at things getting worse.

Our healthcare system *is* better than the US one (but that's not saying much, let's face it), but the simplest measure to improve it is the one which isn't likely to be taken (increasing the wages and improving the working conditions of all the nursing staff in said system).

90:

Val@86

If you think you have a serious cost-benefit analysis showing that French HSR has produced a net benefit, taking into account all internal and external costs and benefits, including your proposed "quality of life" benefit (I'm not sure how you would even measure that), I'd love to see it.

I think France's HSR system has more to do with national pride and showcasing the nation's technical abilities than with rational transportation policy. A bit like the Concorde.

91:

@88:

And why would you bring up cancer survival rates? You just said that measures like these are crude and unreliable.

No, I said that life expectancy is a crude measure for ranking different nations' health care systems. So crude, in fact, as to be basically worthless.

Well, actually, you said this:

I totally agree that cultural factors are vitally important to differences in health between national populations. Which is why trying to rank the health care systems of different nations on the basis of crude measures of national health status like average life expectancy is so misguided.

And what did Charlie just say:

Pfft. You have to take such metrics with a pinch of salt. Cultural issues can have startling effects on healthcare outcomes -- ones that you might not expect.

For example: the UK has significantly worse cancer survival figures than France/Germany. Why? It turns out that it's not the quality of treatment -- the problem is that the "stiff upper lip" causes a lot of older men to grit their teeth and ignore the warning signs because they don't want to cause a fuss/be a nuisance. And by the time they stop ignoring the signs it's too late.

Iow, your cancer survival rate is a crude measure for differences in quality because of cultural factors.

Now, do you have any evidence that cost-containment measures in U.S. health care will lead to worse health care outcomes? If you don't, then all you're doing is trying your hardest to shift the burden of proof and hoping someone will bite. I'm guessing that few here will take the bait because most of us have had some sort of scientific training. Why do I suspect that this is a deliberate, willful strategy? ;-)

In any event, your performance thus far has convinced no one, and doesn't appear to be designed to convince anyone. If you want to claim that we've somehow "failed" to prove anything to your satisfaction, well, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

92:

@88:

So are you then saying that policies designed to lower costs would result in a lower quality of health care?

No, I didn't say that. Whether a policy that lowered costs would also lower quality would depend on the policy. Cutting the number of mammograms in half would certainly lower costs, at least initially, but it would also probably lower the rate of detection of breast cancer.

I think I'm done with you. You don't respond to what I actually write. You respond to strawmen misrepresentations of what I write. I tire of repeating myself and correcting you.

Actually, I've been on-point when I've responded to what you've written, and with more patience than you probably deserve. In any event, you don't have any evidence that reigning in health care costs in the U.S. will result in a reduction in quality, and I suspect most people here feel zero obligation to accede to your demands for proof that it won't.

93:

The US wins on some cancers but by no means all, which suggests that there isn't really that much of a relationship with cost except at a very crude level.

You also mentioned metrics and data. The WHO did that and rated France as #1 across the board.

The UK recently came top of a large study of end of life care.

94:

In any event, your performance thus far has convinced no one, and doesn't appear to be designed to convince anyone.

Considering that it is you, not I, who seeks drastic reform of the US health care system, I think you should be more concerned about your own performance. If you seriously believe your "prove that single-payer wouldn't be better" challenge is a winning argument, I think you're going to continue to be disappointed. Health care reform in the U.S. is done for the foreseeable future, and that reform has served to entrench our existing private-insurance-based system.

You have -- yet again -- misrepresented what I wrote about the significance of cancer survival rates, but you're just not worth the effort.

95:

@94:

In any event, your performance thus far has convinced no one, and doesn't appear to be designed to convince anyone. Considering that it is you, not I, who seeks drastic reform of the US health care system, I think you should be more concerned about your own performance.

About four or five years ago, my daughter's mother went in for surgery for a gouty toe and was in hospital for less than 48 hours over two days. She was billed something like $80 for three paper hospital gowns, or over $25 per gown. And this is a reasonable cost?

Another story: my best bud had to take a trip to the emergency room when he accidentally hacked into himself doing yard work this last weekend. His wife drove him in to the emergency room after cleaning the wound on his upper leg and applying a pressure bandage (duct tape is cool.) After waiting almost an hour in the mid-afternoon, he was seen for no more than 20 minutes absolute tops, and the doc gave him about twelve stitches for a cut that turned out to be less than five inches long. The bill came to over $630.

Again, this seems to be excessive, and I don't see how putting a curb on these overcharges is going to hurt anyone. If you feel otherwise, make your case.

If you seriously believe your "prove that single-payer wouldn't be better" challenge is a winning argument, I think you're going to continue to be disappointed. Health care reform in the U.S. is done for the foreseeable future, and that reform has served to entrench our existing private-insurance-based system.

You have -- yet again -- misrepresented what I wrote about the significance of cancer survival rates, but you're just not worth the effort.

Well, given that all I did was quote you, I don't think that's really possible. And since I didn't say "prove that single-payer wouldn't be better", I'd say that if anyone is misrepresenting other people's words, well, it's not me.

In any event, since you can't tell me why costs are so much higher in the U.S., well, sorry, but I'm going to want to cut those costs since there doesn't seem to be any good reason for them to be so high.

96:

The US wins on some cancers but by no means all

This table presents data showing that Europe outperforms the US on 5-year-survival rates for only one of sixteen cancer types. And even for that one type, the European advantage is small. For three types, the rates are about the same. And for the remaining twelve types, the US outperforms Europe, in most cases by a wide margin.

Yes, this is Europe and not France. France in fact does much better than the European average (not surprising given its much higher health care spending). But the US outperforms France too.

As for the causes of the differences in the survival rates, see this article. Quote:

The differences in survival are due to a variety of reasons, Dr. Verdecchia and colleagues write. They include factors related to cancer services — for example, organization, training, and skills of healthcare professionals; application of evidence-based guidelines; and investment in diagnostic and treatment facilities — as well as clinical factors, such as tumor stage and biology.

Training, skills and investment in diagnostic and treatment facilities are most definitely related to health care spending.

97:

Dominica
1) Citizenship for sale and cheap
2) Carribean weather
3) Easy flights everywhere via Miami
4) Extradition - what's that?
5) Inexpensive property

Downside?
Ex-pats live at the whim of the ruler. The day the government changes, everything may go out the window. It's a nice respite but you always need another bolt hole . . .

98:

Are you trying to be a troll?

US healthcare is stupidly out of whack with rest of the world, and the outcome is worse than most of the developed world.

The US government spends more (in terms of the GDP of the country) on health than the UK does. Then the insurance industry spends the same again. So the US spends twice as much on a less efficient system with a lower average life expectancy.

My healthcare is great, I've got a job and my employer spends the $8k necessary to cover me, and I pay the remaining $5k until I hit a cap where the insurance pays the rest.

If the doctors didn't spend 50% of their time filling in forms to get reimbursed, I think the costs would fall a bit, no?

And Obama completely failed to do anything significant as that fvck Lieberman is run by the inurance companies in Connecticut.

99:

You do appear to be trolling. You'll say that life expectancy is a bad metric but then pull out raw data on cancer rates.

You ignore international studies which cover huge amounts of data.

My favourite is your comment that France does well but spends more. It still spends significantly less than in the US. Nor do you consider that you might survive 5 years but you might so be bankrupt.

The US system is broken. It astounds me that anybody who lives here doesn't see it.

100:

I'm with Charlie on France but I've lived there.

Germany then. Manufacturing base, good work life balance, high respect for the engineering as a profession, great beer and fantastic pork products.

101:

I'm surprised in the spirit of Charlie's original request that no one has brought up the old canard:

In heaven, they have French food, English manners, German efficiency, and Italian style.

In hell, they have English food, French manners, Italian efficiency, and German style.

(Although having visited two of those four countries, I would attest that the negative cliches did not hold.)

102:

Funny, I would have thought raunchy sex would have made the list!

103:

@90: I think France's HSR system has more to do with national pride and showcasing the nation's technical abilities than with rational transportation policy.

It's not just about the trains. France is also proud of Airbus, justifiably. It has a great network of roads and is a fun place to drive around. It has truck stops (relais routiers) that serve fresh seasonal local foods and local wines at rock bottom prices. It has a very fine canal system. And then there is bicycling -- the Tour de France is going on right now. Transportation is awesome in France. Maybe it's irrational, but they act like transportation should be convenient and pleasant and fun.

104:

I'm just going to throw in a few items in support of good old blighty, seeing as I've been away from there for a while now:

The NHS - might not be as good as the French healthcare but at least it's available to everyone. Having lived in a couple of countries where there is no free healthcare, _even for children_, I now value the NHS rather highly.

Unarmed police - it's quite an unpleasant shock for me to see a policeman with a gun, it generates fear at a low level and is a constant reminder of being somewhere 'foreign'. I just can't justify a reason for an ordinary policeman to be armed with a killing weapon at all times.

105:

Italy

1) Food... in glorious variety.
2) Wine. Even more so
3) The women
4) The women
5) The women

106:

The reason you stated for France not joining in the invasion of Iraq may be legit; But there were other reasons. Do you remember oil-for-food? France was getting oil from Iraq, and key officials were being bribed, so they had an interest in keeping things as they are and keeping Saddam in place.

107:

Belize:

5. One of the world's lowest population densities.

4. Commonwealth member.

3. World's 2nd largest barrier reef.

2. Tropical climate.

1. Reasonably unknown / unspoiled.

108:

Backing up 41: yes, in 2002 the world air transport industry lost more money than it had made from 1903 to 2001. And as far as I know, the US interstate highway system and the UK motorway network simply go on from year to year making higher and higher losses. I don't think they've ever had a single quarter of profit, in fact...

In hell, they have English food, French manners, Italian efficiency, and German style.

Having been to all four countries, I would say that this is 75% wrong or at least obsolete. English food is pretty good at the top end now. Some of the most courteous (if slightly formal) people I've ever met are French. And the Germans are, increasingly, a damn sharp-dressed nation.
I've still never had a meeting with an Italian who turned up on time, though.

109:

Afghanistan

1. Vibrant political scene. The times are a-changin'!
2. Excellent mineral economy. Plenty of mines, after all.
3. Lots of pretty poppy flowers.
4. Plenty of easy-to-identify westerners (who speak English). You have about 4 years to learn the local language.
5. A reasonably decent cricket team.

110:

Here's my answer to Charles' challenge in the post - I variied it a bit by taking five things from five countries (I never lived in):

1. India: the closest combination of real otherness, democracy and some elements of British tradition that can be found on earth

2a. Denmark: the first country to invest massively into wind power (to power the nice high-speed-trains in Europe outside of France)

2b. Denmark, again: a country that actually pays students for attending university

3. Iceland, for the things mentioned somewhere above

4. Italy, because the coffee really makes a difference

5. New Zealand for some rather progressive political inventions

111:

Well, one would like to believe that overall higher live expectancy includes live expectancy with cancer and without it. But what does he knows, really.

112:

(Oh, and I forgot UK for the BBC)

113:

While the UK's NHS is leaner and cheaper, the French system is better.

IIRC the NHS is the third biggest employer in the world, after the Chinese PLA and Indian state railways. And the French system is more expensive and more bloated than that?!

In accordance with the challenge:

~ Denmark ~
1. Bacon
2. Lego
3. Their epic Jew-smuggling operation during WW2
4. Danish girls
5. Rolligans - anti-hooligans who show visiting football fans Danish hospitality. It's difficult to stay angry at the other lot when they're throwing you a welcoming party. ;)

I like the Danes.

114:

You forgot:

6) France is a secular republic - even if some French people go overboard, to my mind, in using this as an excuse to oppress brown people.

and

6) Germans really care about democracy and human rights.

Here's mine:

Norway

1) Can drink all night in the summer*

2) Setting itself up as a giant pump storage scheme for NW Europe.

3) Rendered rich by oil, but unlike pretty much every other country I can think of, not ruined by it.

4) Has a holiday to celebrate the constitution.

5) That brown cheese which kind of is cheese but isn't.

* Costs a bit, though.

115:

Shouldn't that be "center of the Universe?" Just a friendly spellcheck from across the pond... I'm joking so please don't yell at me.

116:

there are exactly -two- high-speed passenger trains which have ever made back their capital cost and turned a real profit. Paris-Lyons, and Tokyo-Osaka.

You know what? This comment could really benefit from links or citations that validate its claims!

It would also demonstrate intellectual honesty and commitment to real debate if you were to mention that these are the two oldest such routes, and have therefore been operating long enough to amortise their construction costs. I would think it fairly trivial that if you build something, you amortise the cost over its design life.

Having taken the implicit decision to allocate all the operating-level surplus to capital amortisation, at some point every such project will become profitable so long as it covers its costs at the operating level. Also, it will be "a money loser" every year until the happy day comes.

It may just take some time. The UK is full of railway civil works that we built in the 1840s and are still using, so there's no hurry:-)

To put it another way, let me define my own accounting rules and I'll give you exactly the results you want! Look how well it worked for Enron.

Further, RFF exists (like Network Rail in the UK) because the European Union ordered everyone to separate the accounts of their rail infrastructure and operations in the early 1990s. This was intended to facilitate competition, and was used in the UK as an excuse to privatise the railway for ideological reasons.

However, as this was also the run-up to the creation of the Euro, there was pressure to manage down figures for government debt across the EU, and one way to do this was to shuffle as much of it as possible into the books of things which weren't technically part of the government. (My favourite was when the Austrian government sold three lakes in Carinthia to the Federal Forestry Commission, which borrowed the money from the government, and under the Maastricht rules the Government booked a €3bn reduction in net debt.)

Sensibly, the French didn't saddle the operating company with this, but rather the infrastructure holding group. RFF's debt reflects, as well as ongoing capital investment, an assignment of historic national debt that might have had some vague connection with a railway in the most creative imagination of the Finance Ministry.

Another reason to be French: preferring economic activity and capital formation to finance.

117:

"IIRC the NHS is the third biggest employer in the world, after the Chinese PLA and Indian state railways. And the French system is more expensive and more bloated than that?!"

Yes. The NHS is such a large employer because, in Britain, it is most of the health care sector. Other nations don't tend to have this sort of monolithic system, they'll have privately-run hospitals, not-for-profit insurers, private healthcare companies that employ doctors and run hospitals, doctors who are essentially small businesses on their own, charities, state-level health schemes, and so on.

2% of the English working-age population works for the NHS. By comparison, 11.1 million people in the US are in the healthcare industry - that's 12.4% of the total working-age population.

Bloatedness is a different issue. The French system's more expensive than the British one, certainly, and presumably therefore also employs more people (I don't have figures easily available) but it produces much better results.

The statistic to remember with the US health system is that, in proportion to the population, the US federal government alone spends more than the UK government on healthcare. In other words, if the US government were to switch to offering NHS-level treatment, then
a) everyone who is currently paying for private health insurance could stop doing so
b) everyone in the country could have a massive tax cut
c) the country's overall health would improve.

118:

I'll second 84's comment about Taiwan. I lived there for two years. It's only since I've been back in the UK I've realised how unstressed I was my whole time there. I'd be inclined to include a few caveats, but that's another discussion; the UK seems so grey, drab and stressful in comparison. The food; oh god, yeah, the food is unbelievable. And CHEAP. I don't recall ever being a place with such a high standard of living. I would point out however that the 'betel nut beauties' are really more of an out-of-town phenomenon, catering as they do to roadside stops for truck drivers; it might be more accurate to say that the Taiwanese are the most annoyingly attractive people in the world, full stop.

119:

It has truck stops (relais routiers) that serve fresh seasonal local foods and local wines at rock bottom prices

I really don't feel that "their truck stops will sell you cheap alcohol" is an unalloyed benefit, to be honest...

120:

Admnistrative notice

I see Jamestown didn't get the message in comment #31.

They're now banned for trolling/derailing.

(I didn't write this posting to start a flame war about the US healthcare system.)

Reason I didn't do this earlier: I'm recovering from a nose/throat bug, went to bed early, and slept late.

121:

Scotland:
1)The right to roam - you can walk pretty much anywhere you like, so long as it's not somebody's garden and you're not damaging crops or frightening the wildlife. (In theory, you could even take a stroll across the St Andrews golf course just as Tiger Woods is teeing up at the same hole - in theory.)
2) Europe's largest onshore wind farm
2) Victorian/Edwardian hydropower - which is till working very well
3) The scenery
4) The UK's only Dark Skies Park
5) Our habit of peeing off those eejits down in London.

123:

I mostly lurk on this blog, but for once I have something to add to the debate above:

via my family connections, I know about four Irish doctors who have done work in the United States medical system, and they came back utterly appalled at what they say. 'Private medicine is a swindle, give us your money but stay healthy' is one quote I remember well. Then there was the guy who saw a lad with shotgun wounds being turned away from A&E because he didn't have insurance. . .

Bizarrely, our morbidly obese minister for health here in der Republik of AAAARGHland seems to want to imitate the American system.

124:

#121 @Val, thank you!!

Ref France (6) - Wine!! More wine!! Still more wine!!

5 things about a nation I've never lived in, Japan:-

1) They invented the "very high speed train".
2) They don't believe in the Elvin Safety culture!
3) Sake
4) Sashimi
5) Manga and Anime!

125:

@ Victor "[UK] Rights-of-way" - they even go through the middle of high school grounds, like the West Mendip Way here, a route that a few miles further back (or on) also skirts round Cheddar, home of Cheddar, as you can see from the map here; I used to live at Bradley Cross on that map, a mile out of Cheddar, and the route passed by our back garden and on through fields (and right now I am only about four miles away).

126:

Edwardian/ Victorian hydropower? Where are you thinking of? Most of it that I am aware of was built in the 20's and after the war, including all the large scale stuff and the supply for the Aluminium smelter at Fort William.

127:

Five things about a nation I've never lived in, South Korea:

1. One of the most wired countries on the planet.
2. Hangul, one of the most logical alphabets on the planet.
3. Turtle ships!
4. Korean entertainment (their soap operas get watched all over east Asia, including Japan)
5. Kimchi

128:

Possibly the Falls of Clyde scheme? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falls_of_Clyde_(Waterfalls)#Hydro-electric_power

I'm sure there are some older "micro-generation" schemes in the Highlands too.

129:

To critics of HSR in the USA - it doesn't need to make a profit to be of value to the economy and citizens.

The airlines could never make a profit if they had to buy and run airports. Auto companies and highways/roads? Would never make a profit. Not even close.

There are massive built in subsidies to other modes of travel that you are ignoring. Kind of like the poster who is grasping at thin straws by cherry picking criteria to prove that the USA health system is working.

130:

I'd agree Jim. In fact, I'd go further and suggest that "infrastructure projects" are a net benefit to the national economy whenever they provide an economic stimulus that exceeds their costs to build and maintain (include deals not otherwise done, benfits to 'goods in transit', people economically active to build, run and maintain the project...)

131:

Oh, Japan has the Health and Safety culture okay - it's just a wee bit different. For example, if there are roadworks, however trivial, there will be someone employed, with hi-vis vest, hard-hat, boots and a bright or lit stick to ensure that the roadworks are both visible to drivers, and to make sure pedestrians pass safely. You will be accompanied as you pass!

Building sites - our hotel room in Tokyo looked over one. Everyone had more safety equipment than I've ever seen, and there were marshalls at each gate who dealt with both trucks delivering Stuff to the site, and pedestrians passing by (see "roadworks" above). And the site is safe because everyone working there wants to do their job to the best of their ability, which includes not killing or injuring other people. Themselves, not so important, although they know their families would be very ashamed if they knew they'd died as a result of not doing their job properly.

Let's replace it with "every job, however menial in our eyes, is important, and they see no problem employing someone to do something we'd consider to be make-work".

132:

I don't want to sound unduly critical, but according to the wikipedia article you link to, that plant was built in 1927, a whole 17 years after the end of the Edwardian era...

Am I being too pedantic? Answers on a postcard please.

133:

Here's a surprise: Five Reasons to Envy Ethiopia.

Never lived there, but my adopted daughter did (for nine months), and I spent time there last year. Sure, they're one of the poorest nations on one of the poorest continents, but finding Five Reasons to Envy them is not so hard:

5. The cradle of civilization? Home to the first humans? Depends on how you define those things, but there's no denying Ethiopia has a history that pre-dates most anything on the planet. As a result, Ethiopians have a sense of place (and national pride) that's deeply rooted, yet they neatly avoid the chest-thumping nationalism of the USA and Europe.

4. Warm, friendly people. Despite traveling as part of a group of spoiled, overfed Americans (one unfortunately vocal soul couldn't get past the lack of a national wireless data network), the Ethiopians were friendly, warm and very "real." My wife and I were invited to eat dinner at the home of someone we met - a steel shack where his father was born and still lived - and they shared one of the best meals I've eaten.

3. They're Gorgeous. Ethiopian woman are uniformly stunning. Simply put, it's a nation of supermodels. Most can blind you with a smile (as can my daughter). That's all I'm saying.

2. Home to a man (fairly) described as "the white, Jewish Father Theresa." Rick Hodes is an American doctor who has spent 20 years in Ethiopia - most of it helping children. I met the guy while over there, and he's certifiable; a sort of Jewish Hawkeye Pierce without the cynicism. Send a few bucks his way, and you'll sleep better.

1. I've never been to a place that made me appreciate what I had more than Ethiopia - yet I can't wait to return.

134:

In a not-entirely-ironic way I'm going to have a crack at Belgium - though there is an element of trying to persuade myself that the hours of my life I'll never get back spent in the buildings of the European Commission weren't entirely wasted...

1) Never mind nuclear trains, or bullet trains. Having spent a lot of time on the rail networks of Europe, Belgium has the cheapest, most frequent, reliable train service I've come across.

2) Belgian chocolate

3) Leffe. And Mort Subite. And Kwak... and I could go on...

4) Spa Francorchamps. As a life-long motorsport fan, this is the finest ribbon of tarmac on this earth

5) Their cycle lanes and routes - outside of the cities at least, are as good as any I have come across

135:

5 things about a planet I've never lived on, Mars:-

1) Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system.
2) Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system.
3) Dust storms
4) Polar caps
5) Irritating neighbors are never closer than about 58 million km.

136:

"5 things about a planet I've never lived on, Mars:-"

Yeah, but I hear the health care on Mars is terrible.

137:

'the health care on Mars is terrible'.


Aaaand . . . we have a winner!

138:

the Tokyo-Osaka high speed train doesn't exactly make a real profit. It appears so on the books, but that's only because the system effectively went bankrupt when it was built, and was "bought" for about ten percent of its value in real estate.

This may come as some surprise, but really a lot of presently-profitable enterprises exist only because a bunch of optimistic bozos blew a lot of money building them (or building the first few instances of them) and then went bankrupt.

It's sort of a tradition, from the canals and first railways on through to the dot-com boom and crash and recovery. Investors often don't make their money back, the stuff they paid to build gets sold to people who can make money from it, life goes on.

As someone earlier said more clearly, "profitable" in an accounting sense is not the only measure of whether a project is worthwhile.

139:

Likewise subsidized public transportation of any kind doesn't need to make money to have a nett economic benefit. Traffic jams do not economic wealth...

140:

#2 is great until you live there and are trying to get a permit or application from their arcane Brazil-esque (movie not country) bureaucracy only to find the office closed on a Tuesday for no explicable reason other than it's Ste. Marguerite's dogs birthday.

And here's another reason NOT to envy Scotland right now: Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

141:

How much does climate count for habitable and civilized real estate? When people ask me where I would prefer to live, I usually say anywhere but the South. If they look at me funny, I tell them it's not a prejudice thing, it's just that I'd far rather be too cold than too hot. If I'm the former, I can always dress up, pull on a sweater, gloves, etc, even if I'm indoors. If I'm too hot? I can only peel down so far.

So I'll go with someone else's recommendation and go with Canada. Please don't disabuse me about my notions of cold :-)

I find this interesting because it's been my experience here in the U S of A that people tend to prefer hotter climes than cold as they get older, and, well, I'm getting older. Still, I have absolutely zero desire to move to Florida or Arizona. Was this just a cultural preference, or is there something to it?

142:

A well-timed post as I moved to France today, down into the rolling hills of le Gers.

On a related note, I would like to tell Google "no you are not smart ignoring my Google account settings, browser language settings and everything else that says I want English UI, and switching everything I touch in Google-land to French simply based on my IP address."

143:

Re 120: good move Charlie. I had a flame for Jamestown's threadjacking half-written in my head when before I saw you'd banned him. Best you removed me from that temptation.

Someone's kindly covered my home country (New Zealand) so I feel obliged to speak of why I envy the UK:


1) History lies deeply. There is immense style in having a castle tower over the a city, of old and ancient buildings and streets.

2) Easy, cheap access to the rest of Europe. You can pop over to Bolonga for a long weekend, spend a week's holiday in Vienna, take a ferry to Amsterdam, take a train to Paris. I glow radioactive-green with envy.

3) Active literary and media culture. People read and write good, intelligent things and that is largely appreciated and supported by a long-established publishing industry.

4) Right of way and walking holidays.

5) Eccentrics. Who are like Crazy People only well-mannered and more intelligent.

144:

argentina

1.) beer is so cheap about a dollar a liter
2.) so much meat... any restaurant where they keep bringing out more delicious animals till you tell them to stop is alright by me.
3.) good looking people. dont know how they stay so trim after as far as i can tell all they eat is meat. oh yeah their pizza is great too.
4.) some of the best trout fishing in the world and hardly anyone around to compete with
5.) nap time. its fun to see 80 year olds out past midnight cause they all got naps in.

But just like the us and france as well, Argentina has a shady history of fascists and treating other countries like shit, see paraguay and uruguay. Oh yeah and Mr. Stross i like France as well but the no iraq war thing i dont buy. They love imperialism just as much as other western governments. Iraq just wasnt in their interest. i dont think it had anything to do with their governments high moral standards. But saying that, like everywhere around the world what the government does and thinks does not represent what most of populous thinks. People are generally nice the ruling classes, not always so much.

145:

Austrailia:

1. Fantastically underpopulated
2. But where it is populated, it's very civilized
3. Excellent Wine
4. Excellent Beer
5. And they own the island of Tasmania -- the most weird and wonderful place I've ever visited.

146:

I see that Meg Thornton replied to someone else who had posted that Australia was underpopulated...

Meg: As a person who spent half his young life living on a US midwestern farm, I'd say that Australia's coastal land is tremendously underutilized. Which is GOOD thing, mind you (because a midwestern farm is pretty bleak, unless you're a soybean or corn plant). But you folks could easily support 60 million people on the vast swaths of undeveloped land I saw driving from Sydney to Melbourne. Nowadays, I happen to live in California, where we grow rice in the almost-desert. I don't think that's a good thing, mind you -- and I'm glad that Australia hasn't promoted such idiocy -- but the fact is, if you folks down under put your mind to it, you could easily support a much larger population. Yes, I hear you trembling at the unmitigated gall of a Yank telling you that your country could support many more people -- but I think it's a myth that you folks are promulgating among yourselves to keep your immigration policies tight. Keep up the good work!

147:

where we grow rice in the almost-desert. I don't think that's a good thing, mind you -- and I'm glad that Australia hasn't promoted such idiocy

Unfortunately, Australia does make bad use of its water in some areas (rice and cotton production).

148:

"Yeah, but I hear the health care on Mars is terrible."
True, but the high speed rail system does make a profit.

149:

"But you folks could easily support 60 million people on the vast swaths of undeveloped land I saw driving from Sydney to Melbourne."

You must have been out here before the most recent drought - or during the few weeks after there had been a flood.

There is only enough fresh water in Oz to support the current population, a massive increase (20 ==> 60 million) would require they adopt a lifestyle similar to that of the previous invaders.

150:

5 good things about every country:

1) The women are amazingly attractive;

2) They do tasty things with chicken;

3) The people are mostly very friendly;

4) The history is fascinating if you like that sort of thing;

5) There are beautiful places for walking.

151:

And here's another reason NOT to envy Scotland right now: Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

*Searches under bed.*

Nope, he's not hiding there. Dammit! These cancer-ridden Libyan ex-spooks are clever.

(Seriously -- aside from the fact that he clearly didn't do it and was fitted up by the CIA -- the trial was a travesty -- the whole song-and-dance surrounding his release has no impact on Scotland whatsoever. It might turn out to be a career-ending move for one particular local politician, but that's about it. You might as well declare one particular reason not to envy the USA right now to be the non-existence of Socks the Cat.)

152:

scentofviolets@141 -- The desire for Florida seems to be largely confined to suburban residents of snowy regions. My guess is that it's not the cold that gets to them so much as the snow removal. I've known a number of people who either retired to Florida from New England/Michigan/Chicago, or who spend summer north and winter in Florida. Every time I've asked, shoveling snow gets mentioned.

Arizona seems to be more a fallback destination for people who are frightened by the cost of housing in Florida, or who want a dry climate instead of a wet one. Both these states also have no state income tax, which is attractive to people who believe that other sorts of tax can't possibly be higher to compensate.

153:

AAargh: I knew our genial host had gone native, but sucking up to the Auld Ally like this is surely a step too far?

I'd put in a bid for Scotland just on the basis of a greasy haggis supper smothered in the sweet brown sauce they used to do in Edinburgh chip shops. If only the pretty, lumpy bits weren't denied to human habitation by the Highland Midge.

I'd add the Brussels Strippacours (sp?) http://www.cromwell-intl.com/travel/belgium/comic-book-art/ to the glories of Belgium. (Though our very own Bristol is catching up thanks to Banksy and his chums) And Mussels and chips. And (a theme coming through now?) the potato museum. And all those wonderful Art Nouveau buildings.

Don't think I've seen anyone mention Catalonia? If only for Barcelona, with Gaudi and that bizarre milky drink and tapas and street culture and roquefort flavoured ice cream and a major shopping street/promenade where you can get high fashion or live chickens according to your need and piles of spooky "Shadow of the Wind" locations tucked away a couple of turns behind the main streets and a circus built around Franco's gift of a church and frothy illuminated musical fountains and flamenco and ...

Yep: Catalonia edges it.

154:

But I've gotten off-track here, really. Let me return to our host's initial request once more:

5 (non-health-related) reasons to envy Canada:

1. Two languages. This obviously causes trouble too, but the possibility of starting a conversation in French, then bailing out if my appalling language skills aren't up to the job, is really wonderful to me. For you annoyed Francophones out there, this makes me more likely to use French than I would be otherwise, giving me valuable experience in doing it correctly.

And I envy Canadians both for having the chance to learn two languages early on and for having a really obvious way to apply that knowledge.

2. Cheap and available English(UK) and French books. Canada gets UK editions of stuff that's not being released in the US -- but sells those books at prices comparable to US book prices. Likewise for French-language stuff. I'm pretty sure this is a combination of no VAT plus proximity to the US.

3. Canadians. I _know_ I must be suffering from selection bias, but how is it that everyone in your country is smarter than average? And musically/artistically talented besides? Is it the water or the CBC or Stompin' Tom Connors, or what?

4. Trains and the Mounties. Look it up if you don't see how these go together.

5. One- and two-dollar coins. Speaking of things the USA can't get done properly, which no other nation seems to have much trouble with.

155:

I think the key to the situation is the medical evidence. He was supposed to be near to death, and has lived longer than anyone, at the time of his release, claimed to expect.

Well, medicine can be like that.

But it should be possible for an experienced medical professional to review the records and say whether or not that expectation was supportable.

Never mind the question of guilt. There is this concept called mercy, and I gather that it is mentioned in the Bible alongside justice. (Proverbs 21:21 comes up in Google, and isn't it interesting how the New American Standard Bible replaces "mercy" with "loyalty" in the translation.)

Anyway, it doesn't surprise me that the guy is living longer than expected, just taking into account the change in his environment. And the American posturing--they're trying to tie it to a BP oil deal--doesn't really surprise me either.

156:

@Dave Bell: See also, Ronnie Biggs. Strangely enough, medical practitioners who treat patients with essentially no power to question their diagnosis or go elsewhere, and who are paid by the same organisation charged with punishing their patients, have worse care outcomes than real doctors. Who knew?

157:

Also, short cancer prognoses have a skewed probabiliy distribution, as Stephen Jay Gould pointed out.

158:

Feorag, I'll conceed to someone who's been there on whether or not the Japanese do "Health and Safety", but that's not what I said. I said that they didn't do "Elvin Safety"; the @ss-hatted approach to H&S that says that a line-painting crew can't remove roadkill to the roadside becauce they've not done the "how to lift dead wildlife with a shovel" training course. Relevant link - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-10650160

159:

I happen to be in France staying with English friends who have retired to live in Normandy. They are certainly convinced of the French lifestyle's superiority and seek to convince me on every occasion ("Look how cheap the houses are here!")

Unfortunately the atomic train video won't play here on YouTube ("This video contains content from lgl_tf1, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.")

C'est la vie...

160:

#132 Guthrie, I was under the impression that the "Edwardian era" ran from Victoria's death until the "Abdication 'Crisis' ", which would place the end of the era in 1936.

161:

Normally it's just used to refer to the reign of Edward VII, which was 1901-1910. The Abdication involved Edward VIII; you had a good deal of George V in between the two Edwards.

162:

A lot of people find that cold worsens joint and muscle problems (things like arthritis), which are much more prevalent in the elderly; when the temperature difference is also the difference between finding it ridiculously painful to get out of bed and being able to look after yourself, you come to like warm :)

163:

Terrible health care? Nonsense, obesity isn't a such a major problem on Mars due to the lower gravity! ;-)

164:

Cheers Ajay; I'll conceed the point, with the note that my knowledge of British historu post-Waterloo sort of goes "Boer War, Death of Victoria, WW1, General Strike, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany (Second cause of WW2, with the Treaty of Versailles as the 1st), modern".

As I originally said though, I'm certain there are "micro generation" schemes dating to 1880 .. 1910 on some of the Highland estates.

165:

Kinlochleven was constructed in 1907, so definitely falls into the Edwardian period. (And also makes for a rather strange experience on the West Highland Way as it comes just after the longest proper wilderness stretch of the walk.)

166:

Both sides in the health care subthread claim that the burden of proof is on the other side. This is a a familiar trick.

Burden of proof only applies when the debate is *adjudicated*, in which case there are *rules* that determine where the burden of proof falls.

You can't put the burden of proof on your opponent in a *discussion* simply by saying so. It would be great if everyone would remember this in online discussions.

167:

re: Chrisj's reply to scentofviolets:
Also, as I age, I find that temperatures below 0 C cause my skin to itch and my knuckles to crack and bleed. Temps above 25 C and high humidity are preferable.

5 reasons to envy Venezuela

1. Climate of Caracas is absolutely perfect
2. Caribbean coastline AND mountains
3. Varied cuisine with influences from many cultures
4. Fascinating flora
5. Oil (also a reason to pity Venezuela)

168:

Charlie, thanks for that "derailing" link - uncomfortable but very educational reading.

169:

The McDonald-Ares-Express or the Greg-Bear-Slantline?

170:

Re: Fred Zimmerman 165:

Bet you can't prove that :)

171:

The high speed rail on Mars may not lose money, but the canal system went bankrupt a while back.

172:

#164 - Thanks for the support; I'd part forgotten about the Kinlochleven ally smelter, and part not realised it was that old! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinlochleven

173:

Mexico. I visit the in-laws there as often as we can afford. I miss my father-in-law - he's cool.

5) Amazing scenery. From the mountains to the beaches.

4) Wonderful people. You hear about the crime, but just folks are wonderful to deal with.

3) Mexico City. Yes its a sprawling mess, but its so goddamned alive some times.

2) National Anthropolgy Museum.

1) The food. I'll bet it would top the Bulgarian stuff and I'm not talking about the Tex-Mex crap that is so often Mexican food. Think regional variations - Yucatan tamales are delicious, as are others (my wife and I are still trying out recipes).

On the downside, the US is right across the border...

174:

Generally true, but I can't agree with the CBC bit. I don't watch TV, but CBC radio is pretty (in)famous for having the most inane, stereotypically liberal programming ever. They also seem to have the longest range transmitters, so in rural areas they are often the only thing on(at least in BC). A few days ago i was driving through a rural area with my friend and I had forgotten my Ipod, so he said to switch on the radio. I said no, the only thing available will be CBC. He said "How bad can it be?". I switched the radio on and there was a program about "My mother's Jewish-Lesbian-Wiccan wedding".

175:

@152, @162, @167:

A lot of people find that cold worsens joint and muscle problems (things like arthritis), which are much more prevalent in the elderly; when the temperature difference is also the difference between finding it ridiculously painful to get out of bed and being able to look after yourself, you come to like warm :)

My grandmother moved to Arizona after her husband died for "health reasons". IIRC, the hot, dry air is supposed to be good for respiratory ailments, everything from emphysema to tuberculosis to allergies. But anyway, a lot of people also find that heat is not so good for them either as they age. Maybe it comes down to how much time someone is accustomed to spending outside?

Also, I suspect there are (large) differences between cold in Oregon or Missouri, cold in Canada, and cold in Russia. I'm willing to concede that I might not like Siberian winters so much :-)

176:

@166:

Both sides in the health care subthread claim that the burden of proof is on the other side. This is a a familiar trick.

Burden of proof only applies when the debate is *adjudicated*, in which case there are *rules* that determine where the burden of proof falls.

Blink. With all due respect, that's Just Not So. If I claim that time slows down for objects in motion, or that there are an infinite number of twin primes, the burden of proof is on me to prove that these claims are true, not on anyone else to show they are false.

Heh. For that matter, if I'm Scrooge McDuck and my three nephews come to me for money to start up a company, I'm going to ask them how they expect their business to work and to back it up with facts and figures. If Huey, Dewey and Louie tell me that I have to prove that their business won't work or else I have to give them the money, guess what I'm going to say?

I got caught up in that thread derailment not because of the subject, btw, but because of this rather elementary point. It's a tremendously important one for good science and good math.

177:

I got to go to Belize in college, to work on an archaeological dig. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, from the beaches right up to the mountains and rain forest!

178:

Six great things from a place I really regret I'm never going to get to visit.

1. Rivers, lakes, rainfall, electical storms, coastlines, mountains, and every kind of Earth geography, done in orange.

2. Romantic dim lighting.

3. No need for a pressure suit, unlike certain other worlds I could mention (ahem).

4. Global warming not a problem.

5. Take a trip above the clouds and see a GREAT HUGE RINGED GAS GIANT in the sky, with a half dozen moons dancing around it.

6. No for-profit health insurance companies.

179:

OK... I nominate the US, which I have visited a number of times but have no real desire to live in.

1. The wide open spaces, dramatic scenery (that is to say more accurately synergisticly with point 2 and the road system, open spaces and dramatic scenery that is readily accessible). The road north from Las Vegas, and more generally Nevada outside Las Vegas are my favourites.

2. Cheap motels. We are getting these in the U.K. now, but of course are cheaper in the U.S. Safe, clean, characterless, what more could you want?

3. NPR. This is probably going to surprise people and I am probably going to be in a minority here, but despite all the good things about the BBC, I vastly prefer Morning Edition and All Things Considered to the equivalents on Radio 4 (empty and pompous) and Radio Bloke (vile). [Actually, thanks to Peter Allen who is a proper old school journo, the afternoon drive-time show is OK, to be fair]. In general I find NPR rather admirable.

4. Volunteerism. It is easy, and probably right, to be suspicious of big ticket philanthropists, but I suspect there is a lot more small scale volunteerism / philanthropy than there is here [obviously the downside is that some of this is necessary because of failings in the welfare system]

5. Vietnamese and Ethiopian Food. We don't have nearly enough of either here.

180:

What precisely does respecting diverse non-traditional lifestyles and belief systems have that makes CBC "liberal"?

Methinks your eye for politics has a log stuck in it, never mind a mote.

181:
What precisely does respecting diverse non-traditional lifestyles and belief systems have that makes CBC "liberal"?

Isn't that one of the hallmarks of "conservative" -- not respecting any other lifestyle or belief system? Or is that only in the US?

(I realize there are other facets of "conservative," even in the US, but the lack of respect for difference seems to be a large part of it. Now, this is my politics showing, I realize that, so feel free to correct me.)

182:

The current (Conservative Party of Canada) government views the CBC a bit askance, as do their partisans. To be truthful, these days CBC journalists do appear to take some grim pride when stating in a piece that government sources did not return their calls for comment... and some of the CBC's original content is formulaic pureed cultural drek. However, to say that the organisation is Left on that basis is an overstatement; may anyone claiming this have their cellphone haunted by the revenant spirit of Lorne Greene.

(Disclaimer: I am a regular listener of CBC Radio One.)

-- Steve

183:

It is probably worth reminding metatron (and others) at this point that yr. hmbl. crspndnt. is a politically correct pro-choice forty-something British media professional who drives a Volvo, eats organic, reads the Guardian, is married to someone who does gay sex health education charity work, and votes for the most left-wing of the major British political parties -- all of which are way to the left of anything on offer in the USA, insofar as the current Conservative prime minister is some way to the left of Barack Obama.

184:

there was a program about "My mother's Jewish-Lesbian-Wiccan wedding".

Sounds interesting - would like to listen to that. Is it online anywhere?

185:

@183:

It is probably worth reminding metatron (and others) at this point that yr. hmbl. crspndnt. is a politically correct pro-choice forty-something British media professional who drives a Volvo, eats organic, reads the Guardian, is married to someone who does gay sex health education charity work,

Hmmm, yes, . . . but are you a liberal? :-)

One of the few pieces of good news about the good 'ol U S of A is that while most people do not self-identify as "liberal" or "progressive", their opinions (the majority opinion!) are very much those associated with "liberals" on a lot of issues. And if you look at only people under the age of 65 (read, the people who aren't very likely to die over the next couple of decades), the distributions for "liberal" policies become even more lopsided - for example a majority of those under the age of 65 favor same-sex rights, iirc the stats correctly.

The Kids are Alright.

187:

Perhaps I didn't clarify my comment, that kind of stuff is pretty much ALL I've ever heard on CBC radio. Some variety for all tastes would be in order for a national radio station. I don't mind alternative lifestyles, but those guys come across like a bad parody of everything Liberal.

Otherwise I prefer Canada to the US even though I live close to the border and visit often.

188:

Lol it may be true, I just switched off after hearing that phrase and said "Told you so" to my friend.

189:

@40: [The Dutch] have big cities that don't feel like big cities. I'm not sure why, but think it must me something to do with the architecture.

Take a solid look at Dutch urban planning. They lay out cities and neighbourhoods for multiple modes of access (car, public transit, cycle, foot). They plan entire communities — urban planning includes making certain that you can walk somewhere to buy groceries, rather than having to drive to a big box store somewhere.

I don't think it's so much the architecture as the approach — everything is designed to fit together, and the community is planned as a place where people will live. It's rather like Swedish industrial design: form and aesthetics are part of the design process rather than add-ons.

190:

@55: I wonder if the high speed trains in China are profitable or could be? Of course, in China it's probably impossible to tell but it seems like geodemographically they should be.

The Shanghai Airport maglev isn't, at least on paper. OTOH, it was built as a prototype to get experience with the technology (which will be used for a long-distance route), so one would have to include that in the economic calculations as well.

A big official reason for building rail in China is that passenger travel is increasing (as incomes rise) and it is less polluting than air travel.

191:

Damn, I was going to do Norway. I'd like to add

6. The scenery. My God, the scenery. Slartibartfast earned that award.
7. Some of the best hiking and rock- and ice-climbing in the world.
8. They have the right to camp wild written into their Constitution.

192:

A lot of the Chinese infrastructure seems to be based around "jobs for the boys" (where boys == somebody high up in the Party with a cement factory) as evidenced by the Shanghai maglev - fast it may be, but it doesn't actually take you to Shanghai, but to somewhere half an hour away. Similarly the planned Hong Kong Guangzhou high speed rail will go to somewhere 45 minutes away from Guangzhou, the planned road bridge between Hong Kong and Macau will be inaccessible to most drivers, and the Macau-Zhuhai rail bridge was not built strongly enough to take the weight of trains.

Pollution - I'm not sure that it's taken that seriously yet. This is the same government that two years ago likened the smog in Beijing to the mist you get in the bathroom when you're having a shower...

193:

Actually the health care on Mars is excellent. Think about it:
Annual cost $0.00
Outcomes: No deaths from any kind of disease.

What more could you want?

194:

Outcomes: No deaths from any kind of disease.

Yeah, but cr*p accident recovery rate...

195:

Let's ignore the political question for the moment, and focus purely on distance. I'll agree that something like, say, LA to New York renders air travel well superior to trains. Those sorts of distances, it's very hard to beat something that moves at upwards of 900 km/h. (okay, maybe 7-800 km/h; let's stick with 900 km/h as a working figure.)

But consider a different approach. LA to San Francisco. Or New York to Washington, DC. Trips where you're looking at 2-300 miles or so (or about 500 km). At those sorts of distances, the flying time will be overwhelmed by the time it takes to taxi the aircraft from the terminal to the runway (and the other way at the other end); the time it takes to checkin (and pickup luggage); and - in some cases [I'm thinking in particular of my home town of Melbourne, Australia, where the airport is well away from the CBD] - the time it takes to get from the city to the airport. That means that the slower, on paper, train at 200 km/h becomes very competitive with air travel at 900 km/h.

And then you get into the whole convenience factor: being able to hook up cheap wireless Internet; no bending over for security; and so on. I won't even think about talking about the relative merits of powering trains with electricity (presumably from nuclear, wind, or solar) compared with aircraft with hydrocarbons.

You have to be careful, in other words, to frame the high speed rail debate in ways that take advantage of air travel's problems. I wouldn't think about taking the train from Melbourne to Perth, for example; I'd fly. But if there were a high speed rail link from Melbourne to Sydney, arriving in Sydney three hours after leaving Melbourne? No question. I'd train it.

196:

A few things.

First of all, wouldn't the wheel rims contact the rails at exactly the speed of the train (~Mach 0.5) instead of being near-supersonic? That's still 160 meters/second for the speed record, mind you, and a bit of math (v^2/r) reveals tangential acceleration at the rim is well over 5000 Gs. I'm surprised the wheels didn't actually start flying apart.

Second, to address the fellow who bitched about rail profitability: very little transport has paid its way when all costs are taken into consideration. Air travel depends on air traffic control and airports (bought by taxpayers), road travel counts on the highway network (ditto), so why the hate for rail? Is it perhaps because the costs are immediately visible, as opposed to hidden supports for other modes? Or is it because the best rail is in other countries and so subtly un-American? Let's not forget the subsidies for oil, in both foregone taxes and unpaid externalities.

Third, a point about nuclear trains: each TGV trainset takes between 8 and 12 megawatts at full beans. Assuming SNCF runs half their 400 trainsets at any given time, that's about 2 gigawatts, or the output of two nuclear plants running flat-out.

197:

First of all, wouldn't the wheel rims contact the rails at exactly the speed of the train (~Mach 0.5) instead of being near-supersonic?

Good grief no - that'd be extremely messy, and rather noisy. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near two pieces of metal sliding over each other at 0.5 mach.

No, the way a wheel works is that the part in contact with the surface is momentarily stationary relative to it. The axle point travels at the speed of the wheel. And the top point of the wheel travels at twice that velocity - that's Mach 1.0 in this case.

But you knew that.

198:

The Chinese are building rail for pretty much the exact same reason there are rail lines going out of Amsterdam that have 5 tracks all operating at maximal utilization - IE: Because it is nessesary. The key selling point of rail over air for China is simply the vastly higher capacity to move very large numbers of people - the sizes of the cities involved, and the projected and actual increases in traffic between them are such that the planners in the CCP are not making a choice between air or rail, they have simply concluded that airtravel on this scale is just not feasible. Too many people, and too many goods to move, so they are going to reserve scare airport capacity for international travel and keep domestic traffic on the ground.

199:

178:3. No need for a pressure suit, unlike certain other worlds I could mention (ahem).

True, but given that the surface temperature is cold enough to liquefy methane, visitors should be sure to wrap up warmly, and a woolly hat is essential.

200:

#195 - A fair point. Given the correct track and signalling infrastructure, "conventional" rail like our old HST (marketting name InterCity 125) could match the city centre to city centre times of air up to about 300 miles, based on 30min city to airport, 1hr checkin/security, 1hr flight (flight may well be a turboprop or something like an Embraer 145), 10 mins walk to transport, and 30 mins airport to city centre. Now add 30 mins for baggage reclaim if required.

201:

"Or is it because the best rail is in other countries and so subtly un-American?"

Actually America does do rail really well, or at least the one thing rail does profitably: moving large amounts of bulk materials that don't have to get anywhere quickly over very long distances. The American freight railroads are doing very well indeed.

The geography (size) of America meant that pretty much as soon as anything faster (air) or more convenient (cars) came along, passenger rail was doomed. It's only in recent years that the technology to make passenger rail faster has come along which makes it viable in some parts of the US.

But only some parts; this side of very high-speed maglev "rail", you won't be seeing any transcontinental high-speed rail in the US. Even if it cuts journey times to say 1/3 of what they are now, you're still looking at an overnight trip to get from one coast to the other. Air travel would need to return to being orders of magnitude more expensive to be unable to compete with that.

It's also worth noting that whilst the US's current flagship passenger rail, the Acela, ain't no TGV, it's still faster (135mph - albeit in only a few places) than *any* domestic rail we have in the UK, including the shiny new "Javelin" trains (125mph) we have down here in Kent.

202:

I love the concept of "scare airport capacity"...

Could you elaborate on that one? ;-)

203:

Firstly, you're wrong about the Acela. The train sets are rated for 135mph, but they never go that fast -- in fact, there's a short stretch between Boston and NYC where the signalling allows them to get up to 125mph for about 10-20 miles, and that's it. For the rest of the journey they average about 90% of the speed of the ECML.

Secondly, I keep hearing the objection about coast-to-coast HSR in the Continental United States being that it'd take at least an overnight trip. (250mph trains, non-stop: we're talking 12 hours.) However, there's a very old rail technology that would be a perfect match for such routes and which makes it practical: the sleeper berth.

I've travelled by sleeper within living memory (in fact, I've got a couple of sleeper tickets lined up for the end of this month, to get me from Sydney to Melbourne). It's a refreshing way to travel, as sleeping hours are usually dead time -- and if you can put the bunks aboard a 250mph HSR train, you can cover 1600-2000 miles while you sleep.

Now, flying trans-continental in the US is not something you do on a return day-trip basis -- for most routes going coast to coast entails flying at least two sectors via a hub somewhere in the middle. The minimum journey time is a little under 6 hours if you have the good fortune to do it in a single sector, but time spent changing planes and time on dog-leg sectors adds hours to the experience; last time I did it, the journey took around 12 hours of wall-clock time (although to be fair I broke it on a friend's spare bed in Chicago overnight).

Anyway: the point is, flying coast-to-coast takes a minimum of 8 hours (including check-in time and a single sector) and more likely 8-12 hours. At the end of which, unless you can afford first class or a bizjet, you are so wiped out you need to crash in a hotel room.

I think high speed sleeper trains can probably compete with that, if you allow them to run at upwards of 200mph for most of the time with relatively few stops. They're not competing with the pure flight time, but with the actual journey time for the traveller, including time spent on secondary activities (getting between transit hubs and home/destination, dealing with the TSA, recovering from being squished into a tiny seat for hours). Because, when you get down to it, what's the difference between spending 20 hours on a sleeper train and arriving refreshed, and spending 10 hours in airports/on an airliner and another ten hours sleeping off the after-effects?

204:

By "only in recent years [has the technology come along]", I assume you actually mean "quite a few decades have passed since [the technology became available]". The Intercity 125 (intended as a stop-gap while teething problems with the much faster APT were sorted out) and TGV date back to the 1970s; the Shinkansen is even older. Even the slowest of those will get you 300-400 miles faster than a plane. (No good for transcontinental, or getting to Texas from the Canadian border, certainly, but plenty fast enough for a major east-coast trunk connecting Boston, New York and Washington. Oh, and Philadelphia, and...)

Trains in the UK are limited to 125mph because of the state of the infrastructure. There's plenty of rolling stock that could go faster, if only it wasn't running on badly made track that's been cheaply relaid along lines built before Victoria took the throne. Unfortunately properly relaying old lines would be expensive and require shutting down large chunks of the network for months at a time, which isn't practical. Building new ones is unreasonably expensive and politically awkward.

205:

I'm pretty sure that the Acelas do at least 135mph through Kingston, Rhode Island (the station nearest my m-i-l's house) - or at least the signage there claims they do. I don't think any British domestic service is scheduled to travel faster than 125mph, although some can exceed that to make up for lost time. I wouldn't doubt you that the Acelas' average speed between Boston and Washington is lower than that of the ECML though.

I'm not convinced that sleeper cars would make a huge difference. Admittedly we've only experienced the Paris-Barcelona "Trenhotel" but it was very uncomfortable at speed and did not allow any sleep. We cancelled our sleeper reservations home from Venice to Paris and instead took a day TGV from Milan to Paris and stayed overnight there. Maybe we had a bad-un, but we've no plans to take a sleeper train again, even though my wife really hates flying.

There's also the issue that a lot of trans-con travel is business travel, which is very often solo travel. Back in the day travellers were happier to share sleeper cabins with random others to make it affordable. I think modern expectations or at least perceptions of security and personal space would make that less attractive now.

Oh, and whilst the TSA hasn't got its talons into Amtrak *yet* the auguries are not so good: you are supposed to present photo ID when booking and boarding now - yes photo ID to board a *train*. Admittedly in practice they often don't check - back in April we bounced up and down the North East Corridor between Bostom, Rhode Island, New York and Philly over a couple of weeks and only actually had to present ID once.

206:

I rode on a 1970s production shinkansen trainset in 2007 -- it had an LED panel displaying the speed in the dining car (220km/hr was the highest speed I saw recorded on it). This was the fastest (and only) bullet train in the 70s -- the dining car had an on-board kitchen which was no longer in use when I encountered it. Nowadays there are trolley dollies serving ekiben and Sapporo beer to customers instead. This train is now classed as a Kodama, the slowest of the three current Shinkansen types. The fastest shinkansen (the n700 Nozomi) currently runs at 320km/hr over large stretches between Tokyo and Osaka and there are plans to put 340km/hr services on the same tracks.

The track, power delivery and signalling infrastructure has been improved greatly sonce the 1970s but since the shinkansen roadways are completely separate from regular commuter/intercity and freight rail is was possible to upgrade the lines gradually rather than having to take massive chunks of essential infrastructure out of service for months at a time, a big plus compared to the mixture of high-speed rail and intermixed regular/freight services that most other countries settle for, reducing the average running speed of their high-speed rolling stock.

207:

I'd agree with Charlie about the desirability of sleeper trains; I used to do Glasgow - Euston on the sleeper regularly. Typical trip:-

Arrive Glasgow Central maybe 22:30, board, change into PJs, and read for half an hour (no Charlie Stross books back then though ;) ), sleep until woken by steward with coffee and biscuits about 06:30, shave and roll off train about 07:00, have breakfast and go to meeting.

208:

Hmm, but what are the chances that your sleeper train won't include stops and/or a second or third leg to get where you really want to go?

If a sleeper train went from, say, Raleigh to Seattle, it would sure beat a flight with a stopover in Minneapolis or Atlanta. But I'll bet that on some hypothetical high-speed rail network one would still need to get to a major hub (DC, Atlanta, etc) before boarding a sleeper heading for the west coast. If both the train and plane trips have multiple legs, then I think the equation starts to shift back in favor of planes, particularly if you're someone who doesn't sleep well on trains (I have traveled by sleeper train in several European countries).

209:

@176 - good point, I agree with you on the importance of standards of proof in science and math as well as in law, but think we are talking past each other to some degree.

1. In both your cases, there is an "adjudication" mechanism.

If you want scientists or mathematicians to believe a proposition, the burden of proof *is* on you to satisfy the requirements for proof, which are well (if tacitly) understood by practitioners.

If you are a bank, of course you can put the burden of proof on the loan applicant: you are the adjudicator (although constrained by law and regulation to fair lending practices.

This is an online discussion vaguely about policy. There is no one to adjudicate it (except possibly Charlie). Thus, in my view, meaningless for party A or party B to assert that the counterparty has the burden of proof.

2. The other issue is how truth is different from proof.

In law, proof is about a preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt or some other standard. The falseness of some parts of a conviction may be trumped by arguments about the importance of finality or the immateriality of the error.

In science, even if I make an argument that satisfies the standards for proof, I might still turn out to be wrong in light of new experimental evidence or a broader theory of the phenomenon.

Math and logic are uniquely? powerful in that the techniques for proof seem unassailable: once it is proved, it is true.

My argument is that it's both wrong and pointless to hijack the concept "burden of proof" to try to win an argument in the ultimate fuzzy forum.

210:

But I'll bet that on some hypothetical high-speed rail network one would still need to get to a major hub (DC, Atlanta, etc) before boarding a sleeper heading for the west coast.

Need not be a problem: you get on at A at 7 pm and settle in; at 9.30, another five hundred miles down the track, it stops to pick up more passengers; then goes overnight and arrives at various destinations on the other coast at, say, 8 am, 10 am and 11 am. No need to crossdeck onto another train, if you plan it right. That's another advantage of train travel. If you were really clever, you could even break up the train mid-journey and send different carriages to different destinations. Can't do that with a 767.

211:

Is Switzerland too obvious a place to say good things about? Technically, I lived there for a few years when I was ickle, but I was hardly up to forming opinions of it back then. But in my visits recently, I have observed:

1. The closest thing to true direct democracy I can think of. Referendums are written into the constitution — if enough people ask for it, then a referendum must be held. On the downside, some pretty nasty stuff has passed this way (see minaret ban), but on the upside, it means that people are politically savvy and active.

2. Incredibly tasty, and relatively cheap, local food. (Cheese and chocolate, yes. But also amazing bread, meat, etc.)

3. A policy of armed neutrality. Sitting by and minding your own business seems to have worked out pretty well for them. Why don't we give that a go?

4. CERN

5. 89.1 on Yale's Environmental Performance Index; second only to Iceland. And only 4% of power generated from conventional sources.

212:

ok, not on topic...but what would happen if you used the big twin telescope down in chile to look at Jupiter, and used SCORPION STARE through it?
would the great red spot OPEN??????

213:

"If you were really clever, you could even break up the train mid-journey and send different carriages to different destinations."

I've sometimes wondered if you couldn't (in principle, hard to see it working in practice) take that idea one stage further: repeat the process over and over again, shuffling the entire train at each stop, and in the limit you wouldn't, say, ever take a succession of trains from A to B to C to D you'd just join the carriage at A that was going to D (rather than, say, the ones that were going to E, F, G or H).

214:

213: I think it's tricky because most stops don't have sidings and marshalling yards, which you'd need for any serious reshuffling. The most I've seen in the UK is trains that join up with another train midway, or the reverse - trains that split in half midway, with the front carriages going off along a different branch line from the rear carriages. (The latter caused some alarm to foreign friends of mine who became convinced that this was going to happen while the train was in motion, after the fashion of a rocket separating from its first stage.) That only works, too, with trains with self-contained engines, like the Sprinter trains. Otherwise you'd need a spare locomotive, which would also be complicated.

215:

Oh bloody hell, you're absolutely right. In my defence, it was late at night after 12 hours straight of machine code.

216:

When I visit Japan I regularly catch an overnight sleeper train between Tokyo and the south. The service is called the Sunrise Seto/Sunrise Izumo. It's actually two trains which join up/split (depending in which direction it's going) at Okayama near Osaka. I have video of the two sections meeting up at the platform at night in Okayama station -- it takes about five minutes for the efficient Japanese railway workers to open the connecting doors at front and back and link up the sections. One section of the train comes from Takamatsu on Shikoku island and the other originates at Izumo on the north coast of Honshu. On the way down from Tokyo the train splits in the same way in the morning at Okayama at about 06:30, just in time for me to catch an early-morning shinkansen down to Hiroshima or (more likely) Onomichi.

Note that the overnight trains in Japan run on regular JR tracks, not shinkansen track as that is taken out of service for maintenance and repair between midnight and 6:00 a.m. every day.

217:

That's one of the reasons coding 12 hours straight is too often a bad idea. You get tired, your brain starts making truly stupid mistakes and, due to an equivalent of the Dunning–Kruger effect, you don't realise.

If the code's fizzing in your head, trying to get out, that's one thing. But I've been bitten by getting to that stage where I achieve negative work. Nowadays, if I'm feeling no longer sharp, I leave for home: my employers get more out of me that way.

Yes, I was fairly sure you were suffering from a major brain-fart.

218:

I'm surprised no one has tackled China. I've only visited, and probably wouldn't want to live there, but:

1. Widespread national optimism/confidence
2. Soft sleepers (vis a vis trains...)
3. Bao dze
4. Tiger Leaping Gorge (see it before they drown it!)
5. The Terra Cotta Army

Plenty of negatives, too, but those would be off-topic.

219:

@scentofviolets - Forgive me, please forgive me...

'...after her husband died for "health reasons".'

Reminds me of a conversation in the restaurant at the end of the universe. Unless Charlie can get a story idea out of it.

220:

Denmark without any doubt

- Danish girls (sounds macho but they're really so cool)
- Beer (Carlsberg and Tuborg)
- Rugbrod : The bread is incredible
- Beautiful countryside with thatched roofs (straight from Bilbo, you can't help looking out for elves)
- A great social system (low unemployment, great healthcare, dynamic job market)


As for France : Yuck ! It's strikes and rants all the time.

221:

"(The latter caused some alarm to foreign friends of mine who became convinced that this was going to happen while the train was in motion, after the fashion of a rocket separating from its first stage.)"

Such a practice was not uncommon in the UK back in the late 19th / early 20th centuries. "Slip coaches" would be detached in motion as an express approached an intermediate station with a brakeman aboard being responsible for ensuring the slip coach stopped at the platform from where it'd be moved by a shunting loco before the next train was scheduled. On the return journey the slipped coaches would be reattached while the train was stationary, less fun but more practical.

The Great Western were particularly fond of "slipping" and IIRC the practice didn't fully end until the early 1950s, after nationalisation.

222:

Since we are on the subject of trains and good things to say about Canada, the VIA Rail trip from Vancouver is STUNNING in terms of the scenery it passes through and rail is the best way to see it. Quite cheap too. I heartily recommend it it for anyone coming that way.

223:

I forgot to add from Vancouver to Edmonton.

224:

Roy, as it happens, the small stretch of near top-speed Acela travel that Charlie mentioned is, in fact, in the general vicinity of Kingston. Elsewhere, it's slower; in fact, actual rail travel times on the Acela aren't really a whole lot faster than the service run by the Pennsylvania Railroad on the same routes sixty years ago.

BTW, even at those slow speeds, sleeper service between Boston and Washington would still be a very inviting proposition --- if it hadn't been cancelled in 2004. (I managed to get in once before then, and enjoyed it very much.)

That said, one combination of rail tech under discussion here would, at least, require changes: the high-speed trainsets that I'm aware of, and even the Acelas, are all semi-permanently mated; splitting them up mid-route would require a whole lot more work than decoupling regular low-speed cars. (Or significant re-engineering of the transets themselves to make it less work.)

225:

Apparently the last British train to slip a coach was on the Western Region of British Rail, 10th September, 1960, at Bicester North.

226:

Until a few years ago there used to be a train that divided at High Wycombe (ie stopped and the front part went on while the rear stayed behind) but that no longer happens - I understood this was due to health and safety issues over trains "shunting" with passengers on board, so imagine "slipping" would now be strictly forbidden. (Interesting Fact: High Wycombe is on the same line as Bicester North).

227:

We did Toronto to Vancouver last year. An expensive 4 nights on a train, but a trip we won't forget. I imagine it's a bit like what it must have been like taking a transatlantic voyage - you really get to know the other people you travel with.

(Though the fact that two fellow travellers in our coach happened not only to come from the same English city as I spent many years in, but actually from the same street as I used to live on - well, it was no surprise to us that we then bumped into them in multiple different places in Vancouver after the journey finished.)

228:

@219:

@scentofviolets - Forgive me, please forgive me...

'...after her husband died for "health reasons".'

Reminds me of a conversation in the restaurant at the end of the universe. Unless Charlie can get a story idea out of it.

Well, that was the official line at family gatherings :-) What actually happened was he smoked and drank and ate himself to death. German immigrant who crossed the waters in '37 I believe and fond of his cigars, schnapps, schnitzel, etc. with that classic turnip-shaped body.

As a mostly vegetarian who runs six miles a pop, doesn't smoke and rarely drinks, I'll probably live thirty or so years longer than he did. But I'm wondering if I'll have as much fun. I think you've got to figure in those sorts of payoffs in your favored country. A culture of abstemious and cool people versus a culture that places a premium on eating drinking and laughing as it were.

229:

Okay, since we've already covered all the other bordering nations, I give you: reasons to like Luxembourg

1) They gave the world Hugo Gernsback and Robert Schuman

2)Thanks to Radio Luxembourg, nobody will ever again forget how to spell Keynsham (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Batchelor)

3) Excellent food

4) Supernaturally gorgeous scenery: you keep expecting a Disney heroine to come nipping around every corner

5) They survived Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns, Napoleon, the House of Orange, multiple German occupations, the Battle of the Bulge, and five winning Eurovision entries

230:

I think that Raleigh-Seattle is going to be a nightmare trip no matter how you do it. When I used to have to, I worked out that the door-to-door travel time Seattle-Raleigh was longer than my door-to-door London-Seattle travel.

But for Seattle-Portland-SF-LA-San Diego, I'd be sorely tempted. I could see doing an overnight to SF with a sleeper down, meetings and then back, rather than the 6am flight down and a 8pm flight home.

We just did a weekend in Chicago, between the 120-90 minutes at SeaTac, the 4 hours in the air, the ride from O'Hare, we were looking at 7-8 hours door-to-door for what would be a 10 hour city to city train ride at 200mph.

I used to do a fair amount of London-Paris by train, and that was a significant time saving over flying, even back in the days when London-Folkstone was basically held to 45mph.

231:

Some of the commuter routes around London do a variation on that. To get to certain destinations you have to board a certain part of the train, which gets left at a station and then goes on to a different destination.

To be fair, it's bloody confusing to be on them.

232:

Ajay @210 (and others) -- in the US, the Lake Shore Limited and the Empire Builder trains each split and rebuild the consist for exactly that reason. In this way, the Empire Builder can leave from both Portland, OR, and Seattle, and combine into one train for the haul through Montana, etc. Similarly, the Lake Shore Limited splits off one sleeping car and some regular carriages to go to Boston, while the bulk of the train heads to New York City.

Further back in the mists of time, Amtrak and its predecessors ran a sleeping car service between Boston and New York City. No, it didn't take 8 or 10 hours to get to New York -- they just dropped off the sleeping cars at a platform in New York and let the passengers sleep until morning, while the rest of the train went on to Washington. The return service the next evening picked up the sleeper for the trip back.

And sleeper service between Boston and DC was wonderful. You'd board the train at around 9PM, go to sleep, and disembark into the early morning sun about 3 blocks from the Capitol. So much nicer than trying to get out to the airport, hanging around, etc.

So sleeper service is by no means impossible or unattractive. It can be expensive -- but so can a night in a hotel. Doing it right does require enough equipment and money to keep things running, though -- a chronic problem for Amtrak.

233:

As a resident of the Midwestern US I'd almost kill for train service to link some of the more "major" cities in the area. Minneapolis, Mn to Omaha, Ne for example. Hops that are just inconvenient enough to make driving a pain but not long enough to justify a plane ticket. Because while I'd love to take a plane and not have to sit in a car for a 12 hour round-trip I refuse to pay $650+ to get out of it. $200 and 7 hours in a passenger car, that I could go for.

234:

>41: IIRC, from the Wright brothers to the present, there has been more money invested in commercial airlines than there has been ROI. So by your logic, we scrap the airlines, yes?

-- let 'em go bust if they can't make a profit, sure, why not? Whoever picks up the pieces will have to have a better business model, and if airline travel can't pay its way, screw it. Throw the cards in the air and let them land where they may.

>Certainly over the next hundred years gasoline is going to become much, much more expensive.

-- gasoline may, -fuel- almost certainly will not. Note that gasoline is much cheapter now than it was in 1910. In fact, almost everything material is cheaper now than it was in 1910; petroleum, coal, wheat, iron, you name it.

The only thing consistently more expensive is human labor.

Consequently and barring catastrophe on the asteroid-impact level I expect everything, in the long run, to get cheaper except some positional goods like space in downtown San Francisco.

>I'm assuming you don't disagree that the American military machine has yet to turn a profit? :-)

-- on the contrary, it's been a big profit center. The whole of the US is conquered territory taken by force, for example, and we've done very well indeed out of that.

We have a State in order to kill people, blow up their shit, beat them up, lock them in iron cages, and intimidate them by threatening to kill, blow up, beat and cage. Not that those things didn't go on before the invention of the State, but the State does them better.

That's what government is for. Everything else is at best gravy, more commonly rent-seeking extortion.

235:

55: I wonder if the high speed trains in China are profitable or could be?

-- since most of them are still under construction it's impossible to tell technically.

But the answer is "no, to a high order of probability". If nobody else can make high-speed trains pay, why should the Chinese?

China is to a large extent a gigantic Potomekin village. The growth rates are high... but then, so were the Soviet Union's for a long time. The USSR outgrew the US for 50 years. It didn't end well.

Granted, the Chinese process isn't quite as much one of "pseudo-development" as the Soviet, and real assets have been created (not least human capital), but there are severe problems just starting to hit.

236:

47: Losing money on rail lines run by the government is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, or indicative that the rail lines should not be built.

-- well, yes it is. You're making an implicit assumption that the government has a magic cost-free money well in the basement.

Every penny the government spends (and spends, and spends, year after year) on the money-losing train is taken away from someone else, directly or indirectly. So if it's put into a commercial enterprise (which a railway certainly is) that loses money, you've just reduced the overall efficiency of the economy.

As for externalities, this is used far too broadly. The incentive structure for a government project is usually based on political imperatives; ie., vote-and-influence buying, if not outright corruption.

237:

75: Yes, the US spends more on health care than other countries. That doesn't mean it's spending too much.

-- actually, yeah, it does. The whole Western world is spending too much.

Specifically, we're spending too much -collective- (tax) money on people in the last 6-18 months of their lives. IIRC, that's about half the total US health expenditures, or pushing 10% of GDP, twice the defense budget. It's insane.

Most of the modern drop in mortality occurred between 1890 and 1950, and was due to public health measures (a genuine externality), higher standards of sanitation, and better nutrition.

Those are what eliminated infectious disease as a major cause of death, and which shifted us from a pattern in which people died at all ages to one in which people mainly die when they're old.

Since then we've mostly spent increasing sums on keeping very old, very sick people alive hooked up to tubes and monitors for a few more months, or at most years. We're not -curing- their problems, we're just prolonging the process of dying.

Meanwhile we're robbing the productive part of the population (making family formation more expensive, essentially) in order to sustain those too old to work, fight or breed. Eating the seed corn, in other words.

When my mother got cancer (at 76) they told her she could live another year or so with radical radiation and chemotherapy. She replied (in part): "I've lived as long as people live, and I've never had to bury any of my children. I'm old, I'm tired, it's time to go. Give me morphine."

If rich old people want to spend -their own money- on prolonging their lives a little longer, fine. But damned if I see why society-as-a-whole should do so for the rest of us.

Wants are infinite, resources finite, and living means setting priorities. You get old and then you die.

238:

But damned if I see why society-as-a-whole should do so for the rest of us.

Because that's what a society does.

We don't leave our old out to die anymore. We've outgrown that.

239:

As for externalities, this is used far too broadly. The incentive structure for a government project is usually based on political imperatives; ie., vote-and-influence buying, if not outright corruption.

"I think the government should build a railway line from A to B."
"No, you'll never be able to charge enough in tickets to make the money back. That's why there isn't a private-enterprise line."
"Ah ha, as the government, we've got much lower borrowing costs than private industry. And cheap, rapid transport between A and B will help the economies of both cities grow over the long term. A bigger economy means a bigger tax base for the government, so we won't lose out. Private industry could never capture that in ticket prices."

"Ah, that sounds like an externality. I don't believe in externalities."
"Right."
"We should build a freeway instead."
"..."

240:

France vs USA:

I don't know of many Ethiopian restaurants here, but for someone working in the 13th arondissement the presence of Vietnamese food is taken for granted.

(A great place to eat Vietnamese food in France is in Guyane, the Hmong villages in the Amazon rainforest do pretty good Pho. Colonialism leaves strange relics).

241:

Ref all the comments on coupling/uncoupling trains, I guess I'm the only one who's passingly familiar with services Glasgow-Birmingham(West Midlands, not Alabama)-Bristol,Avon in the 1990s?

At this time there was a Glasgow - Penzance sleeper train, which dropped cars at Birmingham (New Street) and Bristol (Temple Meads) on the way South, and picked them up on the way North. Also, when the trains arrived at New Street (heading North, the procedure was reversed for South-bound trains), the service was heading NE on approach, hauled by a diesel locomotive. This loco was uncoupled from the East end of the train, and replaced with an electric loco at the West end. The train then left heading NW!

242:

#237and238

IMO both posters have a point. Dave is correct that we should not condemn people to death "just because they're old", but SM (real) Stirling is also correct that we should not keep old people who are compus mentus alive and in pain just because we can. In point of fact, when my father was all but immobile (I would say bedridden except that with the use of 2 healthcare workers and a crane he was getting a change of room and lying/sitting position twice daily) and in hospital with pneumonia, my Mum, Dad, sis and myself all agreed on giving the hospital a "no heroic measures" directive, which they did honour.

That said, I think voluntary euthanasia is a whole other blog entry in itself.

243:

Knowing the history of SMS's comments in this forum back to the Bloxsom era, voluntary euthanasia is a charitable assumption.

244:

Thanks mate; if we're ever at the same Trout or con (my real name's Ken O'Neill; for some reason Charlie's blog won't let me post as anything other than my Cheeznet name, and it's not the only one does this) I'll buy you a drink.

245:

My opinion of SMS's relationship to the reality-based community hasn't really shifted in 15 years, but if anything could shift it, it's this:

"We have a State in order to kill people, blow up their shit, beat them up, lock them in iron cages, and intimidate them by threatening to kill, blow up, beat and cage. Not that those things didn't go on before the invention of the State, but the State does them better. That's what government is for. Everything else is at best gravy, more commonly rent-seeking extortion."

So it's thse government functions that are _not_ immediately coercive and exploitative which are defined as 'rent-seeking extortion'. Love it.

Back on track (and very apposite for the US West) the economics of LGVs work very differently from the classic C19th mixed traffic railroads. 1840-1960, a new railway line raises land values along a nice wide corridor. An LGV, though, stokes them up in a circle near the stations, but depresses them along the corridor. Not so good.

246:

Five or six years ago, I used to commute into Cambridge from the Norfolk direction. On the way home, an eight-carriage train would pull in from London, then divide, with the rear four coaches going back to London and the rest going on to Norfolk.

The London destination was King's Cross.

The Norfolk destination was King's Lynn.

Cue much confusion amongst tourists and other infrequent users of the train, made worse by the quick turnaround - you only had a couple of minutes to figure out which half you needed, work out where on the platform it started, fight your way through the recently-disembarked crowd and get on.

In two years I think I encountered every possible variant of "I didn't realise the train was splitting", "You mean King's Lynn and King's Cross aren't the same place?", "I thought both halves went to London" and "I didn't know which half went the right way". The words varied, but the plaintive tone didn't...

247:

@Chris: Well, the experience with the HST program in the UK showed a lot of "corridorisation" along the Great Western, and also the ECML. Of course, that was assisted by the fact that the timetable let you get to most intermediate stops with one cross-platform transfer.

I suspect that geography is probably destiny here - it worked like that along the Great Western because there are reasonably-sized towns about 30 mins apart. (But that's partly because the railway was built.)

248:

246: same thing happened (and I think may still happen) on the Glasgow-Fort William/Mallaig train. Great fun if you are on one half and your luggage is on the other...

249:

Southeastern split trains at Faversham, with half going to Dover and half going to Ramsgate and they are usually pretty good at making sure it's clear which bit is going where, with announcements and the guard doing a ticket check before Faversham to identify people who are in the wrong bit. One of the few things Southeastern does right!

250:

Ajay, I used to live in a town on that line, and the train only started being split (at Crianlarich) when proper loco-hauled trains were replaced by diesel multiple units.

251:

ajay @ 210 and others - This train-splitting, multiple-independently-targetable-carriages business has been common on trans-European routes for ages. As a 15-yo in 1973 travelling solo from Ostend to Graz I was always worried I was on the wrong bit.

Here's a specific example - a couple of years ago I took a night train from Budapest to Sighisoara in Romania (birthplace of Vlad the Impaler) - nine hours, not a sleeper unfortunately. I got to the station and my coach, Kocsi 422 ("coach" comes from Kocs, a Hungarian town where they were made) wasn't part of the train waiting at the platform. I asked a ticket man and he parked me with some other travellers at a point where two coaches were coupled.

Sure enough within seconds the train split at that point and there was some shunting. The carriages on the incoming train from Vienna were going several different places: some were terminating in Budapest; some were detached and attached to another engine to go off to Belgrade; my coach 422 plus a couple more were shunted in and added to what was left, mostly to go to Bucharest but with some to split off later and head to Sofia.

So the train is an amorphous beast involving various coaches coming from or going off to various cities in at least five countries (Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria).

Requires a fair amount of organisation of locos and carriages - including on-train passport control - and it shows why you need to get a reservation and stick to your specified coach at least.

Incidentally, I nearly didn't get off at Sighisoara - I misread the time, and the platform doesn't (or didn't) have useful signs on the platforms or on the station building (which was being redeveloped) to tell you where you were. The only sign I saw (I walked along to check) was on the ends of the platform canopy where the train driver could read it easily, but not the passengers!

252:

"coach" comes from Kocs, a Hungarian town where they were made

I did not know that. Very interesting.

253:

@ ajay 252 - my Shorter Oxford says the full form was originally "kocsi szeker", meaning "Kocs cart"; so with kocsi now meaning coach, "coach cart" is kind of tautologous.

I suppose it is like "kleenex" meaning tissue when originally it was Kleenex Tissue, or "hoover" meaning vacuum cleaner when it was originally Hoover Vacuum cleaner... though in those cases, corporations like Kleenex, Hoover, Google and Sellotape protest about this lax usage.

254:

The problem with not treating people in the "last year of life" is that then you can be sure it will be the last year of life, my grandmother had very severe cancer when she was 65 with doctors giving her a 20% chance of survival.

She got some very new(at the time) and expensive radiation therapy and now she's 75 and working in the garden every day.

I'm sorry for your own mother, but the fact is SOME people DO recover from quite severe cancer(even if most don't) and you cannot condemn people to death just because they are over 65 and past tax-paying age(not to mention that they've spent their entire life paying those taxes).

255:

Half the stuff in my house is Made in China, I don't think anyone had anything Made In the USSR back in the days.

There's no comparison.

256:

"I don't think anyone had anything Made In the USSR back in the days. "

I'm sure that's nearly true, but not 100%. My grandfather was the proud owner of not one but two Moskvitch cars in the mid 1970s. (I think in the end he cannibalised one for spares, maybe that's why he bought two...)

257:

Amtrak has sleepers. When I couldn't fly again yet, I took a Superliner to Chicago (then another to MPLS), but I couldn't afford any of the sleepers. The regular seats were almost completely reclinable and had plenty of room, so it wasn't bad, except that I couldn't go up to the cafe and had to ask the conductor to bring food when he had time.

258:

BTW, nade in the USSR stuff is very popular and has a good name in USA these days.

Guess what I'm talking about. Yep. The only things which the part of the world that endlessly proclaimed they were "fighting for peace" manufactured.

259:

HST vs TGV: once you start building yr LGV*, you have to avoid built-up areas and intermediate destinations. It's very different from legacy rail, which goes through cities and towns by default. You can build in a couple of comedy stops on the way, but it doesn't half cost you, and it's not especially popular, given that the majority of the trains will not be stopping, merely blatting past the bottom of the garden at 200mph.

*By the way, checking out that video of the French train that kicked all this off, I was massively impressed not by the power involved - it's just amps and they are cheap - but by the quality of the permanent way. At 350mphs, which is faster than a flat-out Spitfire, you really don't want the track to deviate from true at all. They should have had a camera on the alignment crew when they broke the record, not the driver.

260:

No, you just make sure all your HST intermediate stops are brief, two minutes or less like the Japanese shinkansens do. This requires an absolute adherence to schedules, of course. You protect the houses in urban areas built near the tracks with blast walls to stop the windows blowing out as the train goes past at 200km/hr; in most cases the HST tracks will be on elevated sections to further reduce the blast effects and noise. You do NOT have level crossings or other such foolishness and preferably you have totally dedicated rights-of-way and tracks for the HST and don't route-share with commuters and regular short-haul "express" services as they will foul up the tight scheduling you need to guarantee high average speeds.

If you do HST right you can have a train like the n700 Nozomi super-express service between Tokyo and Hakata which averages 234km/hr for the 5-hour 1180km trip including nine (brief) stops at major stations such as Nagoya and Osaka on the way.

261:

begin rant/

One of the things that really and truly gets me angry is seeing people with clear psychotic symptoms and the associated movement disorders being on the streets in the richest part adn most liberal part of the richest big nation.

Yes, San Francisco left me in full rant mode.

The problem is not that the docs will not see them US Federal law requires ALL emergency rooms to see anyone, regardless of ability to pay. (Which is also medical ethics from day one. Docs soak the rich and treat the poor at cost or below cost).

The reason the are on the street is because human rights lawyers consider that holding and treating people coercively, as practised in the civilised world, is against the Berkeley Version of their constitution.

/end rant

You can't blame Bush for the trial lawyers. They vote Democrat, the scum.

262:

Quoting VIA Rail as one of the good things of Canada, now it is from somebody who hasn't been anywhere else. I'm sorry.

Montreal to Ottawa is 200km and takes 2 hours. For reference, Paris - Lille is 230km and it take 1 hours platform to platform (or was in 2004, last time I did it as part of my daily commute).

Montreal to Toronto is 6 hours by train, Paris to Lyon is a slightly longer distance, it took 2.5 hours in 1981 when they opened the TGV.

Also count what transportation mode you can take to go from Paris airport. Both are serviced with train, including one direct to dowtown from CDG. In Canada there is only one city like that: Vancouver.

Note: I'm French, in exile in Canada.

263:

Thou shalt not kill, but needst not strive
Officiously to keep alive.

264:

"1180km trip including nine (brief) stops at major stations" Er, yes - that's a stop every 120km. So all the towns in between these major stops get no value from the LGV.

265:

Oddly enough the small towns do get good service from the shinkansen in Japan... The Nozomi is only one of three services running on the dedicated shinkansen track. It stops at major population centres such as Nagoya, Osaka and Hiroshima but it bypasses the smaller stations such as Mihara or Fukuyama. The slower Hikari/Hikari RailStar service "fills in" by stopping at the medium-sized population centres such as Fukayama as well as the bigger stations, allowing a Nozomi passenger with a through-ticket to get from Tokyo to their final destination in two hops if they want to save some time and not ride the Hikari all the way.

The third and slowest shinkansen service is the Kodama and it stops at all stations on its route. It is equipped with older-generation bullet trains and can only (only!) manage a top speed of 220km/hr. What slows the Kodama up the most is that the trains sit in a station for ten minutes every four or five stops to allow a Nozomi or Hikari to blow through to leapfrog the stopping service (the Hikari does the same kind of stop but more rarely). This leapfrogging operation requires the shinkansens maintain an exact schedule to prevent knock-on delays in other services. This is something the Japanese are very good at.

My favourite place in Japan is a town called Onomichi, population 150,000 down on the Seto Sea. It has a shinkansen station but only Kodamas stop there as the passenger traffic doesn't justify even Hikari service, much less Nozomi.

266:

The reason the are on the street is because human rights lawyers consider that holding and treating people coercively, as practised in the civilised world, is against the Berkeley Version of their constitution.

Cite please.

I thought it was because both Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher closed all the large residential care mental health care facilities in the 1980s under a bizarre idea that they were old fashioned and that people ought to be treated in the community.

In the UK she even called it care in the community. So out when a few dozen large, open, psychiatric long term care facilities like Whittingham in Lancashire, and in came... well, actually nothing. The communities in question didn't have facilities for that many people and most of them, without a base of operations ended up on the street.

While the Victorian asylums were vile places, by the 1980s I'm assured that the remaining hospitals were nothing like them. They were, however, very expensive to run.

267:

The WashPost happened to have an article yesterday about Virginia's continuing state facilities for people with developmental disabilities. We have 16 facilities total that include mental health.

268:

Actually.. Japan.
All Charlie's points, and yet more

Trains.. ditto.
Nuclear power.. check
Longest life expectancy.. beat that!
Constitution explicitly disavows war as an instrument of national policy!
Japanese food!

And yet more..
Longest continuing monarchy.. all in the direct male-line of descent... 127 emperors and counting!
Japanese swords! Ninjas! Shiruken! Karate AND Judo!
Nintendo Wii AND Playstation!
Robots!

269:

Egypt:

1. Low cost of living. Relative wealth is the part of money that makes people happy. Hire a personal driver and highly qualified assistant; you can afford it!

2. Enormous quantities of the most valuable natural resource of the region: WATER

3. Seems posed for a breakthrough with new leadership coming in. Ideal place for starting a new business--there is so much to be done.

4. Delicious chicken (of course)

5. Amazing history

270:

@Robert Sneddon: Ooh, could you expand on why Onomichi is your favourite? I was there in April, but the weather was dismal (chilly, grey, damp) and I was suffering through one of the worst days of a seriously nasty cold, so I didn't get a very good feel for the place. What did I miss?

Japan's one of the countries I've lived in, so the rules bar me from listing its good points as a home - so here's one very compelling reason to *visit* Japan instead: if you're on a tourist stamp, you're eligible to use a Japan Rail Pass. A week's worth of (Hikari and Kodama) shinkansen travel, and local trains too, for not much more than a return from Tokyo to Kyoto. Fantastic!

271:

Ah, Onomichi... It's kind of weird for a Westerner like me to fall in love with a pretty ordinary sort of town in Japan like Onomichi but it happened.

I got to know the place from an anime, of all things, a series called Kamichu! First time I went to Japan in 2007 I determined to visit the town where this series was set, and when I got there it was just like the anime only more three-dimensional. I've been back a few times now.

I tend not to do the regular tourism thing, visiting the pro-tourism places and although Onomichi is popular with Japanese visitors it's not a magnet for foreigners the way Kyoto or Hiroshima is. Any time I stop by I'm pretty much the only Westerner there and that's sort of a nice feeling.

We may have seen each other as I was there a couple of times in April this year -- were you at the Minato Matsuri on the weekend of the 24th and 25th perchance, with the street Sansa competition and the open-air bandstand? If you saw a gaijin oyaji-san with tied-back hair, a greyish beard and glasses then that was me (tabun).

272:


What is this "fun" of which you speak?

See, being a veggie/daily workout type myself, I thought the other end of the spectrum was people who, er, believed in the Singularity and uploading minds and stuff. No one told me about them having actual fun.

Does this mean Charlie is having more fun than anyone else on Earth?

273:

Quoting VIA Rail as one of the good things of Canada, now it is from somebody who hasn't been anywhere else. I'm sorry.

As someone who has covered the majority of the Shinkansen lines, and a few of the LGV routes, I have to restate that Via Train #1 is pretty damned stunning.

The other VIA trains, sure, I wouldn't want to rely on those. But none of us mentioned those, we only mentioned The Canadian.

274:

A french are so courteous...

Me being one, considered yourself invited to my house if you ever come near Lyon.

275:

VIA Rail is second priority on all the lines it travels, after the freight. And almost all crossings are level crossings, so the trains can't get up too much speed. (Yes, people are silly enough to park on the tracks while they take a picture etc.)

And most of the stations are no longer in the middle of the city, but shunted off in some out-of-the-way industrial area.

So VIA isn't really a good way to get around Canada. It's not too bad, but it's not great.

276:

Ah, OK, thanks. So Onomichi's pretty much what it appears to be - and, like anywhere else, probably a much nicer place to explore when the sun's shining and you're not feeling like death warmed up.

I don't think our paths crossed; I was there earlier in April - Onomichi was the 15th, I think. I was travelling with a friend, and we'd have stood out - two foreigners, one with long hair and a ginger beard.

Missing the matsuri is a pity, but par for the course. We spent a week in Tokyo and a week travelling around by train, and did a splendid job all over the place of narrowly missing matsuris, demonstrations of horseback archery and so on.

Outside Tokyo, if anyone's interested (and I realise this has ended up somewhat off-topic), the places I like the best are Naoshima, Tsuwano and Kagoshima. Naoshima and Tsuwano are tourist magnets for the Japanese but, again, not so much for westerners. Naoshima's an art-filled island in the Seto Inland Sea; it's a beautiful, peaceful place, and one of its museums is my favourite contemporary art museum anywhere. Tsuwano is a little samurai town in the mountains of western Honshu, with a district of surviving samurai houses and an extensive network of roadside streams full of monstrously large koi carp. Kagoshima... Kagoshima's in south-west Kyushu, so it's a long way off the tourist trail, and it has an active (but low-key) volcano just off the coast. I'm a sucker for volcanoes, as long as they're not disrupting my travel plans.

277:

I just missed you in Onomichi as I was there overnight on the 14th of April, leaving for Kobe early on the morning of the 15th. I usually stop by in Onomichi more than once when I'm in Japan, decompressing from the crowds and the concrete of the big cities. Yes, I do have a JR Pass and I abuse it something chronic -- overnight trips on the Sunrise Seto between Kansai and Tokyo are a good way to not waste a day travelling and also save on hotel room nights.

A friend visited Aso, a town in an active volcanic caldera in northern Kyushu. It looks like someplace you might enjoy visiting if you're into volcanoes.

278:

Ok, I love your moderation policy. Personal, straight to the point and let's you know who you are and what you think. Can't say I'm on board with your entire ideology, but I respect how you put it out there.

Anyway here's my county and Five Reasons:

Brazil:

1. Brazilian - Portuguese - You've got to love what sounds to me like Spanish and Italian swirled provocatively together.

2. Carnival - The madness and insanity of a culture and religion colliding together to create a cacophony of excitement.

3. Caipirinhas - Does it get better than your favorite local fermented liquid thrown together with tropical fruit and sugar?

4. Rio and Sau Paolo - Old world meets the new world with a heaving mass of humanity pouring out around you.

5. The attitude - Enjoy the day, because tomorrow you will surely die.

279:

I will choose Japan as my country.

1: They haven't been in a war since ww2.

2:They are the leaders of electronic hardware development. You get the newest gizmos first.

3:Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms, kimonos, geisha & sake.

4: Their metro system, runs like clockwork.
A 2 second delay is unheard of.

5: Shaolin monks!

I'm from Denmark.

280:

Hi Charles,
you forgot a few points:

- The stinking public debate on French identity

- Projects to censor the internet and/or ban users like in China (Hadopi, Loppsi)

- Deportation of the Gypsies ("When they came for the Gypsies, I said nothing, for I wasn't a Gypsy...")

- According to Forbes magazine, France only comes 44th among the best places to live.

281:

Forbes' target market is American bazillionaires. Of course they'd grade France as a crap place to live! Many of the benefits are best framed in terms of a relatively low Gini coefficient, and for folks at the extreme end of the income distribution curve, that's highly unattractive.

For the rest of us? Things are Different.

On internet censorship; read up on ACTA or the UK's Digital Economy Act, or the Australian net censorship.

For race/nationalism, I see nothing particularly worse than the toxic immigration debate in the USA.

282:

Saudi Arabia:

1. You have a realistic chance of becoming a princess if you are a girl and marrying one if you are boy.

2. Free public education through graduate school, free health care and a social welfare net to die for with no taxes.

3. Almost no dogs.

4. Sports events are almost never canceled for rain or snow.

5. No drunk drivers.

283:

I know I'm breaking the rules here, but I want to stand up for my new home as a place many would not consider. I've been living here in India for almost 4 years now and let me give my five reason's for one of my favorite places to live.

1. The people here are incredibly wonderful. I've been to much of the world and very rarely do I come across a place where so many people are just genuinely happy. I know this sounds like it would not be true, but it is.

2. Every year brings about a nearly whole new society. When I came here, women did not drive a motorcycle and almost always sat side-saddle on the back, now it is almost the opposite. Groups segregated by caste and language, but now gather by team. Workplace politics dominated promotion. These are now very different.

3. India seriously challenges everything you ever thought about right and wrong. Many of my friends are very happily married in arranged marriages. But, traditions that are malevolent are going away and were never really as prevalent as many in the west think.

4. India is modernizing, but not really westernizing. It's nice to see a new way to think about old ideas.

5. The belief in the future is amazingly intoxicating. I think it is less important where you are, but more important is where you are going. So even if tomorrow in India is not as good as yesterday was in the west, it will be better than it was in India yesterday. India is still growing in double digits and despite horrible drought and flooding a couple of years ago, the major problems of the 70's seem to be behind it.

I'd also like to hear somebody talk about Thailand. Another of my very favorite places, and I'll second Ethiopia.

I am beginning to ramble now, but studies have shown that the closer to the equator you live, the more in the present, as opposed to the future or past, you live. Also, it is very hard to be unhappy with the present. It's a common anti-depression or anti-anxiety technique to think only of the present.

So that's my $.02 cause someone stole the cent sign.

284:

Being German and having just come back from a kind-of-vacation from France (GFs parents), there are a few things I have to add to this.

First, the TGV. As someone who is used to the German HVT (the ICE) I positive loathe the TGV. Yes, it's faster than the ICE, both in test conditions and in regular service, and it's running a little bit more quietly, but by Jove, it's awful. I'm about 1.95m (that's 6 foot 4 for the colonials), and for me the interior of the train is very cramped. The dark color scheme employed in the interior does not help, either. I'd have to measure this to be sure, but I think the ceiling in the coaches is lower, too, which leads to the next point: there is hardly any storage space above the seats. The amount of baggage one can put above is small, compared to the ICE.

In short, if you're a manager traveling first class with a small laptop bag, the TGV might be a fine train, and an alternative to flying. If you're a second class traveller with some baggage, use something else.

While we're on the topic of the French railway system: over there it is considered absolutely normal that the platform a train arrives at (or departs from) is known only 20 to 30 minutes in advance. To me this is stunningly unfathomble. Every train station in Germany has plans denoting the arriving and departing trains (printed on paper, valid for a year), which include the platforms these trains will use. And nonewithstanding changes due to unforseen events, these plans are reliable. The SNCF is able to make trains run at 350km/h, but does not know where they will arrive? Please.

Vacations. Yes. Almost everyone seems to go on vacation at once, which is quite a lot of fun, traffic wise, and leads to rows of shops and other "service infrastructure" simply being closed for weeks on end.

No comment about the health care, since I was lucky enough never to need any while in France.

The cheese is fine, though :)

285:

"In answer to your question though, to be out of work in the US with enough savings to last me the one, two, three, six, whatever months until I get another job; or to be out of work without enough savings to last me for the 1, 5, 6, 8, 25 years to get a job in france?"

I'm too lazy to google it, but I believe that the media umemployment duration in the USA is pretty freakin' high. The old rule of thumb was one month of searching for every $10K in salary; since then the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has hit us. I don't know what the ratio of open positions to job seekers was back when that rule of thumb was set, but we're currently running something like 5 job seekers for each position in the USA.

286:

46 Roy

I am not sure if anyone has replied BUT

nuclear reactor efficiency is directly determined by the difference between input and output temperatures (this is called Cornot's Law and was invented in the early 1800s by a French engineer).

So for example US reactors on the coast of New England are a couple of percent more efficient than ones on the Gulf Coast.

Or as they say 'Thermodynamics. It's not just a good idea. It's the law'.

We can get cynical about this (think the British reactors in Scotland eg near John O'Groats-- Dounreay) but you do put your reactors on the coast with the coldest water.

The biggest demand centres are in northern France so the reactors need to be close for load balancing and line capacity reasons.

And so they have to be where they are-- in northern France, and preferrably on the coast for the cooling water. Put them on rivers, the water is warmer and you have problems with heat pollution of the water (bad for fish).

During the drought in 2003 many of the inland French reactors, on rivers, had to shut down because of low water levels.

287:

Scotland

1. scenery and moderate climate (albeit midges). Perfectly positioned for global warming. Only the English think Scottish weather is at all extreme. Enormous potential wind power resources-- Scotland could be self sufficient in energy even post oil.

The Scots are actually putting special incentives in to install ground source/ geothermal heat pumps which are a particularly efficient form of heating.

2. people - dry sense of humour, love of a good craigh.

3. education - higher levels of educational attainment than elsewhere in the British Isles.

4. history - the place breathes it.

5. Gaelic culture - the words, even in English, and the music and dance.

I would add Edinburgh and Glasgow, 2 fine cities by any measure. Edinburgh the city of the 18th century, and Glasgow of the 19th, with so much of their peaks preserved.

Whether the Scottish welfare state will survive the onslaught of the Coalition government is a moot point.

288:

Don't forget the IRN BRU and deep-fried haggis

289:

Arrived rather late to this, because I just got home from the place I want to talk about :) I've lurked on this blog for ages, never posted before though.

Five reasons to envy Poland:

1: The scenery. I've never seen so many trees in my entire life; a friend of mine told me Poland is sometimes referred to as "the lungs of Europe."

2: The people are mostly friendly and go out of their way to help you. If you ask for directions, you could be held up for twenty minutes while they volunteer information about places to visit, things to see, etc.

3: The FOOD! There's an old joke that goes, 'A Polish cook can make gourmet soup from a rusty nail' - until you go there, you'll have no idea how true that is!

4: The exchange rate. At the moment, there's four zlotys to the euro. You can travel across an entire city by taxi for around a fiver, to give but one example. All the more reason to go there now, before they join the Eurozone.

5: The people are very, very good-looking.

Specials

Merchandise

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 19, 2010 2:16 PM.

Holding pattern was the previous entry in this blog.

Insufficient data is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda