Sunday, April 30, 2006

Men Living Longer

The NYTimes has an article this week on (horror of horrors) men living longer. Apparently the discrepancy between the life expectancy of men and women has declined from 7 to 5 years, and if things continue at this rate, life expectancy for men will equal that of women by 2040.

When I was in my twenties, I remember a friend telling me about her grandmother, that had been widowed at a fairly young age. Grandmother's friends and family kept urging her to remarry. She refused. "What do I need take care of an Alter Kacker" (Old Fart)"? Which brings to mind the Japanese phrase referring to older retired men who hang around the house - "wet fallen leaves"... (i.e., you can't even sweep them away).

The NYTimes seems to agree that men hanging around longer is not all for the good, but they still see some benefits for women. First of all, on the positive side, they say that "money seems to attach itself to men" (a great phrase IMHO), and that when women are widowed, their income (even if their husbands were retired) drops. Second... Well, there is no second. Apparently, being widowed significantly lowers a man's life expectancy, but doesn't seem to be detrimental to the woman's. Although they do think she's less likely to find herself in an old age home if her husband is still alive...

BTW, my own bias is that money attaches itself to married men and to single (not widowed or divorce) women. But in this case the Times was talking about married men.

I'm still somewhat of a romantic that believes having men around is a good thing, period. But of course, maybe I'm wrong.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Couple of Books I Liked

From my recent reading:

Memories of the Ford Administration - this is the first time I've liked a book by John Updike. A wishy washy guy tells the story of his indecisive bid to leave his wife and marry his mistress, and to write a biography about a pre-civil war president, while the impotent Ford administration rises and falls... I loved it.

Vintage Didion - a collection of essays that Joan Didion has written over the years. She gives an inside view and a philosophical interpretation of how the press (both left and right, Thomas Friedman and Cokie Roberts included) tried to "educate" America that the Monica Lewinsky story was a big deal, and that Clinton should resign even after it had all died down because he had supposedly lost the support of the American public,... Or another interesting case - the Central Park Jogger (late 80's), again press manipulation that I had been oblivious to at the time... I was fascinated.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Drug Prices

I'm fascinated by the difference between the prices of prescription drugs in the U.S. And in Europe, and my recent trip to Italy was a great chance for an update. Most prescription drugs are dispensed in Italy either without prescription, or with authorization of the pharmacist.

So here's the scoop. The difference in the price of brand name prescription drugs seems to average about a factor of six, with some having a difference of about a factor of ten. Meaning that the same medication that, for example (name of drug witheld...), costs $70 in the U.S., costs $13 in Italy. The same medication that costs $120 in the U.S., costs $11 in Italy. The same medication that costs $140 in the U.S. Costs $25 in Italy... I found only one exception, a hot new anti-cancer medication that costs $150 in the U.S., and $180 in Italy...

So, let's exclude that exception for the moment and focus on the rest. How, in a global economy, can a price differential of X6 or X10 between Europe and the U.S. Be sustained?

Well, to a certain extent it cannot, because I can go to Italy and buy my medications there. The only issue is the cost of the plane ticket.

What about purchasing on the web from a European supplier? Well, that used to be doable up to a couple of years ago, recently it's become much more difficult.

So what exactly is behind it? Well, that's a much larger subject than I can tackle on this blog, I plan to address it more broadly, but let's just say that it's a combination of (primarily) PhrMa - the drug manufacturer's lobbying group - the American medical guilds, and the arcane intricacies of drug licensing in the U.S. But in the meantime, if you happen to be in Italy, or in most other European countries, you can check this out for yourself. And stock up if you like...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

My Express Education

One of my standard I'm-more-sophisticated-than-thou lines has been that Starbucks espresso is but a poor and bitter imitation of the real thing. Real Italian espresso is strong but mild, you don't need to wince as though you're swallowing your medicine when you drink it. Starbucks espresso... you need to wince and gulp it down fast, making sure it doesn't linger too long on your taste buds. Well, now this line of mine has been harshly discredited.

But first I'll digress. For me, espresso has three functions. The first, that can be fulfilled even by Starbucks espresso - is to provide a legal high. A happy, energetic feeling that I get when I drink it around 3 in the afternoon on an empty stomach. If you haven't tried it this way, I highly recommend... The empty stomach part is very important, the espresso's effect is completely diluted if you have, say, a piece of zucchini bread to go along with it.

The second - also perfectly fulfilled by Starbucks - is an appetite suppressant. Back to 3pm, when I'd really like to have a slice, or two, of zucchini bread. An espresso seems to take that desire away, and to carry me, almost, thru to dinner.

The third function - fulfilled only by true Italian espresso - is sensory pleasure. A truly wonderful flavor. Definitely not achieved by Starbucks. And something I loved to pontificate about. Why is it that Starbucks cannot just copy Italian espresso and give us good taste along with that mid-afternoon high and stomach quietener?

Well, that was until I visited Napoli a few days ago, and discovered, to my horror, that Starbucks coffee has an actual true Italian source. Bitter, almost undrinkable Napolitan coffee. I tried in vain going to more upscale coffee shops, discussing this issue with the proprietors, talking with the man on the street. It seems that once you get south of Rome, the espresso becomes pure Starbucks.

So I can no longer sneer at Starbucks. They do have it right. At least for those southerners. Pity that we all have to suffer...