Monday, November 24, 2014

Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Are Hot Air

That's the subtitle of an article by Andrew Basevich. Here are the assumptions:

* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence. 
 * The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest. 
 * Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies. 
 * The interests of the United States and Israel align. 
 * Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

Do you have to read the article to agree with him? When will we start living in the real world and forget "American exceptionalism?

Printing a gown

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Unlocking your car

Tapeworm in the brain

For four years a man in England was having problems with his head: headaches, memory problems, strange olfactory hallucinations and seizures. After many scans the doctors found an unidentified mass in the patient’s brain that appeared — after repeated scans — to be moving from one side of his head to the other. When they removed the mass, they found a 10 cm long parasitic tapeworm, known as Spirometra erinaceieuropaei. It is very rare; only 300 human patients have been identified as victims since 1953, and only two of those victims were in Europe.

They really don't know how the tapeworm entered the man's brain but think it came from contaminated food or water or burrowed in through the skin.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Fed's role

Yesterday, William Dudley, the president of the NY Fed appeared before the Senate Banking Committee. Naturally, many of the senators did a fair amount of grandstanding. But I thought the following comment from Dudley about the Fed's role said a lot, “It is not like a cop on the beat. It’s more like a fire warden.” 

Most cops on the beat would know more about what's going on than the fire warden who appears after the fire has started.

Operation Resolute Support

That will be the official name of our work in Afghanistan next year. And there will be work. It seems that Obama is escalating our role in Afghanistan, at least through next year. 

In May, Obama said that we would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

I guess he's changed his mind and now our troops will also carry out missions against the Taliban and other groups. Plus, our air force will not be quiet; it will be able to use our jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

Knowing the important things

From a Duncaster correspondent

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Give thanks you're not in Buffalo

Terrorism numbers

I don't know much about the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) other than it has offices in Australia, England the U.S.; it has been producing the Global Peace Index for eight years. This year they have also produced the Global Terrorism Index. There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism; IEP uses the definition agreed upon by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland: "the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation."

As we all know, terrorism is on the upswing. 2013 saw a 61 percent increase in deaths from terrorism globally. Since 2000, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of deaths caused by terrorism. Last year the index recorded 17,958 deaths from terrorism in 60 countries, the leaders being: 

  • Iraq — where 2,492 incidents in 2013 left 6,362 dead. 
  • Afghanistan — where 1,148 incidents left 3,111 dead. 
  • Pakistan — where 1,933 incidents left 2,345 dead. 
  • Nigeria — where 303 incidents left 1,826 dead. 
  • Syria — where 217 incidents left 1,078 dead.

The U.S. had nine attacks and six deaths. The United Kingdom had a high number of attacks (131), but most of these were small-scale attacks in Northern Ireland and left only three dead. The IEP finds that only four terrorist organizations — the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qaeda — had asserted responsibility for more than 66 percent of the deaths.

Goodbye, Doctor. Hello, Insurance Company

Drs. Hartzband and Groopman have a very challenging op-ed in today's NY Times. The title is How Medical Care Is Being Corrupted. They argue that insurance companies have created incentives and disincentives that might cause a physician to override the needs of an individual patient by doing what is best for the general population.

One example they use: "doctors are rewarded for keeping their patients’ cholesterol and blood pressure below certain target levels. For some patients, this is good medicine, but for others the benefits may not outweigh the risks. Treatment with drugs such as statins can cause significant side effects, including muscle pain and increased risk of diabetes. Blood-pressure therapy to meet an imposed target may lead to increased falls and fractures in older patients". If doctor's don't comply, they will receive less compensation and, perhaps, a lower rating on various web sites.

Doctors are also beginning to be told what medicines to prescribe, as more and more insurance companies are offering their recommendations to doctors. Are you aware of many drugs which do not specify side effects or recommend conditions which should not be using the drug?

The companies are assuming that we are at a point in time when we have mastered the ills of man. Merck assumed that Vioxx would take care of many types of pain; at least, they held that assumption until the product was taken off the market.

I think Hatrzband and Groopman make a good case. But, are they just upset that the doctor is no longer in control?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Where did the $2.5 billion go?

The recent GAO audit of the SEC found “In fiscal year 2014, SEC recorded approximately $3.7 billion of new disgorgement and penalty accounts receivables. As of September 30, 2014, SEC’s disgorgement and penalties accounts receivable balance, net of an allowance for uncollectible amounts, was $381 million. SEC’s custodial revenue collected from disgorgement and penalties and transferred to the general fund of the Treasury during fiscal year 2014 was $825 million.” Adding the $825 and $381 one gets $1,206,000 billion. Yet the SEC collected $3.7 billion. So, where did the $2,494,000 go? Was it all uncollectible

This 'missing money' is not a new phenomenon. Almost every year the GAO reports that the SEC needs to clean up its act when it comes to the proper handling, collection, disbursement and financial reporting of penalties and disgorgements it is supposed to be collecting from violators of securities laws.

Say it isn't so

Two major manufacturers of chocolate, Mars and Barry Callebaut, think we will run out of chocolate by 2020, only six years away. Last year we ate about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than were produced. The two manufacturers guesstimate that by 2020 the gap will be 1 million metric tons (a fourteen-fold bump). 

But are they trying to justify price increases, smaller sizes or lower quality? Or, are they right? Chocolate production has been negatively affected by drought and disease over the past few years. And it does take years to develop a chocolate tree.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Improve your memory. Meditate

A young Jain monk pulled off quite a memory feat before 6,000 people in India. Over six hours people spoke to him with the express purpose that, at the end of the six hours, he would be able to recite back everything they said in sequence. He had 500 phrases or numbers to remember. And he did remember all 500 items in sequence. 

He attributed his skill to meditation, something Jain monks are really proficient in.  His leader claims that the young monk has committed more than 20,000 verses of Jain scripture to memory, and he has also been able to retain as many as 800 random items in order.

Ask your doctor

I don't know how many times I've heard that in the past few days when I have been watching more television than normal. It is just amazing how many ads there are for drugs, many of which I've never heard of. The ads all feature attractive people doing a wide variety of activities. They also do comply with the FDC rule to list the side effects. However, it's really hard to understand what those effects are as there is so much else going on in the ad at the same time. 

I assume that these ads are effective, as the pharmaceutical industry spends $3 billion a year on them. Some doctors are complaining that people insist that they’re suffering from a disorder. One doctor's comment: “I could not convince many of my patients that the marketing they were hearing about Vioxx was maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks.” Vioxx is no longer on the market as it was proven dangerous to one's health.

A classic quote from November 17, 1973

There's a drought in California

But still the state has allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation. Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity and protected by the EPA.

Australia as the United States

Niall McLaren is an Australian psychiatrist, author and critic. He is worried about his country. It is moving more to becoming like us vis-a-vis Islam and terrorism. You should read his article in Truthout. While his subject is Australia, it also describes the U.S. Some excerpts:
  • There is the very clearest historical correlation for anybody who wishes to look at it: the more foreign intrusion and disruption there is, the more the locals will react with animosity. The more people's legitimate aspirations are suppressed by brutal, Western-backed autocracies, the more traction extremists gain. That is, of course, the definition of extremism: somebody beyond the edge of legitimacy, somebody adopting harsh views and methods that the great majority reject. But when the majority of people feel crushed, ignored and oppressed and believe their courteous requests to be left alone have achieved nothing, then an increasing proportion of ordinary citizens will say: "Break out the weapons." That is inevitable. If a foreign country occupied my homeland and oppressed us (and don't say it already has), then I too would eventually reach the point of exasperation. I don't see anything unpredictable or immoral about that. Did it not happen in 1776?
  • The so-called, undeclared "war" we have been dragged into is the product of self-righteous, panicky people with an exaggerated sense of persecution and no ability to look objectively at history. That is, they are paranoid. Because of their bizarre views, paranoid people cause trouble, then they deny responsibility and use the victim's defensive reaction to justify further aggression. That is exactly the position of the West vis-a-vis the Muslim world.
  • That's the polite interpretation; the harsher view is that Australia's Liberal government has latched onto a so-called "humanitarian duty" to push back against ISIL, ignoring other humanitarian needs just because this will distract people from its woeful budget and bind our country more tightly into the Five Eyes axis. I'd feel safer if we went back to being a sunburned country that nobody gives a damn about.