Energy efficiency is not particularly exciting. But it is among the best hopes for a quick fix on emissions in the US, and it's another area where Denmark has made significant progress. Improved building codes lowered the overall cost of heating Danish buildings 20 percent between 1975 and 2001, even though the amount of space that needed to be heated in homes and buildings expanded by 30 percent over the same period of time, according to the Danish Energy Authority.

It's not like we don't now about the value of improved efficiency in the US. The McKinsey study on the value of greater efficiency has been cited repeatedly in recent months. It includes a litany of potential benefits that could come by simply making our building stock less wasteful. Energy use in buildings accounts for 40 percent of our fossil fuel use and, thus, 40 percent of our emissions. More than half of that is used on heating and cooling, and much of that leaks out thanks to woefully inefficient construction.

The McKinsey report found that investing in energy efficiency measures for the nation's buildings has the potential to reduce energy consumption 23 percent by 2020, save up to $130 billion a year, cut emissions of 1.1 gigatons, and create 900,000 new jobs. That would put us well on our way to the carbon dioxide emissions reductions being discussed in Congress, for one, and would save Americans a heck of a lot of money. What's not to like?

Andy Kroll had a good piece on the front page yesterday explaining the problems that America's looming shortage of non-specialty doctors could cause for health care reform. Here's the gist: 

If primary-care medicine in the US were a patient, its diagnosis would be grim. The first responders to illness and pain, who can spot and treat chronic conditions in their early stages, primary-care doctors are in greater demand each year. In 2006, just more than 250,000 primary-care doctors practiced in the US—by some estimates, that was about several thousand to more than 7,000 less than the demand. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects that by 2025 the demand for primary-care doctors will have soared to nearly 320,000 doctors nationwide, a 29 percent increase from 2006 and the most for all types of physicians.

Andy explains that "part of this supply problem is financial"—primary care docs make much less money than specialists. Do you know why that is? After all, basic economics should tell you the opposite—if primary care doctors really are in short supply, they could charge more, and they would make more. Except that the American health care delivery system is not a free market. Far from it. It's a system dominated by a single payer—government spending on Medicare and Medicaid—that hugely affects prices throughout the system. The amount that Medicare and Medicaid pay has a huge effect on doctors' bottom lines. And Medicare and Medicaid don't pay based on results. They don't pay based on supply and demand. They pay based on how "hard" a procedure is. Slate health care columnist Darshak Sanghavi explained how this works last month:

Spc. Jesse A. Murphree, Destined Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), greets his 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team comrades returning from deployment in Afghanistan, on the flight line at Aviano Air Base, Italy, July 22. Murphree lost his legs in an improvised explosive device attack in the Korengal Valley, near Ali Abad, Afghanistan, Dec. 27, 2007. (US Army photo via army.mil.)

Need To Read: October 7, 2009

Today's must-reads:

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Chart of the Day

Good news for haters of the nanny state: New York City's new law requiring calorie counts on chain restaurant menu boards doesn't appear to be making any difference.  In fact, it might be causing people to eat more.

The full study is here.  Results are below.  The researchers chose 14 fast-food outlets in low-income NYC neighborhoods (Newark was a control group) and interviewed a few hundred people both before and after the calorie labeling law went into effect, asking them if they'd noticed the calorie counts and if they'd changed their selection because of it.  Then they got receipts from each respondent so they could find out what they'd actually purchased.

The results were pretty dismal: only about half the respondents even noticed the calorie counts and only 15% said they influenced their choice.  But the receipts told an even more dismal story: overall, people actually purchased more calories after the law went into effect.  The results aren't statistically significant, though, so basically all the researchers can really say is that the law (so far) hasn't had any effect.  The only glimmer of good news is that among people under 35, respondents who noticed the labeling did seem to cut back a bit.  No other subgroup showed any effect.  So who knows?  Young people probably respond to this kind of thing more quickly than older people, so maybe it's just going to take some more time before all this stuff sinks in.

Instead of fighting the Taliban, why not encourage them to run for office? Tell them to form their own political party, and they could officially govern many of the local Pashtun areas already under their control. Think of it: "Vote Taliban in 2010."

That’s one of the proposed solutions offered in a Financial Times op-ed on Tuesday with some fresh ideas on how the West can best exit Afghanistan. In a bloody conflict where tangible solutions are as rare as authentic election ballots, the op-ed’s authors—Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's former ambassador in Washington, and Anatol Lieven, a professor at King's College London—offer Western leaders some food for thought in avoiding a disastrous exit, and a framework for withdrawal that hasn't figured much into US debates on the issue.

Mother Jones's San Francisco office is located right downtown, on a fairly calm street near the financial district. So when I stepped out for my lunch break today, I noticed there was an unusual amount of commotion just a few doors down. As in, three fire engines, a couple dozen police cruisers, tons of yellow tape, and three helicopters hovering above. Some of the surrounding buildings had even been evacuated, but despite this, about 50 other people stood casually on the sidewalk, snapping pictures with iPhones and Blackberries, just 100 feet away from several fully-equipped firefighters.

Curious, I wandered closer and one of the firefighters told me a suspicious looking man had been seen holding a loosely wrapped package very gingerly. The man gently placed the package into a newspaper vending box, closed it, and walked away. San Francisco is famous for its eccentrics, but just to be safe, the San Francisco Bomb Squad used a remote control to move a robot toward the package to X-ray it for any dangerous materials. About 10 minutes later, the firefighters' walkie-talkies buzzed in unison. They had been informed that nothing was found.

The three helicopters buzzed away and policemen took down the yellow tape, opening the street again. As I walked back to the office, I passed the bomb squad standing around the robot. One of them glanced at me, looking cheerful he didn’t have to deal with a real bomb, and asked if I’d like to take a picture of the hero, “Wall-E”. Naturally, I said yes. Wall-E may not be exactly DARPA material, but hey, the little guy got the street open again in 10 minutes. Maybe they should order a few of him for the TSA.

(UPDATE: Looks like McNaughton's site is down from excessive traffic. But check out this parody version. And, as a commenter below points out, there's also a haiku contest to be had regarding the painting.)

For as little as $130, fellow Americans, you can take home a canvas reproduction of this beauty of a painting depicting your country's noble roots. "One Nation Under God" is a new piece by artist Jon McNaughton of Utah, who says he got his inspiration from a vision he received during the 2008 elections.

Front and center, the painting features Jesus Christ, creator of the heavens and earth and bearer of the US Constitution. (A few online wags have already compared the likeness to that of Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn.) At his feet on his right you have the good guys—the farmer, the Christian minister, the US Marine, the handicapped child, the black college student, the schoolteacher who vaguely resembles Sarah Palin. You also have the young white man who represents the rising generation.

On the other side—Jesus' left side—is another set of characters, including a professor holding a copy of Darwin's Origin of the Species, a politician, a lawyer counting his money, a liberal news reporter, and a Supreme Court Justice weeping over Roe v. Wade. Oh, and who could forget Satan lurking in the shadows.

Third Intifada?

The Mideast news world is abuzz with talk of a possible third intifada, with Al-Jazeera, Ha'aretz and the Guardian all quoting senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereka's accusation that "Israel is lighting matches" in Jerusalem.

After intermittent rioting, stone throwing and rubber bullets, Jordan has asked Israel to close the area around Haram al-Sharif to non-Muslims, which has been closed in the past when tensions were high. Though conditions aren't as bad as they could be, experts warn that stalled peace talks and lingering ire over January's Gaza War (complete with damning UN report) could be incubating another uprising. The timing could be better: the second, or Al-Aqsa Intifada (named for the mosque at the center of the current controversy) began nearly nine years ago to the day, and observant Jews are flocking to the nearby Western Wall for the festival of Sukkot.

Al Jazeera:

"There were Palestinian worshippers who turned up for morning prayers. They were told by the police force that anyone under the age of 50 would not be allowed through," Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said.
"There are [at present] about 7,000 Jewish worshippers attending a prayer, a blessing at the Wailing [Western] Wall, which is just at the foot of the Haram al-Sharif.
"This is one of the three times during the year in which Jewish worshippers are told to go to Jerusalem and pray."

Support your local starving journalist! Buy a newspaper. Like Slate's recent "Buy One Anyway" video says, "I won’t even skim the headlines, but it’s good to know that a copy editor in Nebraska will have something warm to eat tonight." Right. Just imagine all the things you'll be able to do with your next newspaper, no reading required:

1. Keep veggies fresh: Use newspapers to line vegatable drawers in your refrigerator. The newspapes will absorb moisture and reduce smells.

2. Dry your shoes: Crumple up newspapers and place inside wet shoes or boots to help soak up excess moisture.

3. Clean up an oil spill: Use newspaper to clean up a small oil (or gas) spill on the floor of your garage. Newspapers are absorbent and will reduce the chance of a permanent stain on your garage floor.

4. Ripen tomatoes: Works like a paper bag. Wrap the fruits individually in a few sheets of newspaper. Be sure to thoroughly wash before eating.

5. Iron clothes: Stack newspapers, slip into pillowcase, and make surface as level as possible. Use as temporary ironing board.

Via AltUse.com