Friday, December 31, 2010

Unlocking a door can be hard work

In fact, at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois it can lead to "repetitive trauma" and that can earn one a workmen's compensation insurance award. In the past three years 230 guards, about one-quarter of the work force at the prison, have submitted claims that they have developed carpal tunnel syndrome by opening and closing locks on the cell doors.

The prison has to be a tough place to work. In the past three years more than half of the staff have collected workmen's compensation. More than $10,000,000 has been paid, including $75,678 to the warden.

Should these members of the prison staff become inmates of the prison?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Militarization of the Economy

That's what Wesley Clark, former military leader, says about the incestuous relationship that has developed between retired senior military officers and companies seeking to win Pentagon contracts. The Boston Globe has a lengthy article discussing some of the generals and their companies. Here are some claims the article makes:

■ Dozens of retired generals employed by defense firms maintain Pentagon advisory roles, giving them unparalleled levels of influence and access to inside information on Department of Defense procurement plans.
■ The generals are, in many cases, recruited for private sector roles well before they retire, raising questions about their independence and judgment while still in uniform. The Pentagon is aware and even supports this practice.
■ The feeder system from some commands to certain defense firms is so powerful that successive generations of commanders have been hired by the same firms or into the same field. For example, the last seven generals and admirals who worked as Department of Defense gatekeepers for international arms sales are now helping military contractors sell weapons and defense technology overseas.
■ When a general-turned-businessman arrives at the Pentagon, he is often treated with extraordinary deference — as if still in uniform — which can greatly increase his effectiveness as a rainmaker for industry. The military even has name for it — the “bobblehead effect.’’

The article claims that 80% of the 3 and 4 star officers who retired in 2004 - 2008 now are making money from their Pentagon contacts and military experience. Many hold voluntary positions at the Pentagon, such as chair of the Air Force Studies Group, while simultaneously trying to sell the Pentagon goods produced by such firms as Northrop-Grumman. More senior military officers realize the potential money they can make. In 1994 - 1998 only 50% of retired officers were still sucking at the Pentagon tit.

Part of the problem seems to revolve around the military character which puts senior officers on pedestals.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sounding more and more like W

"Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future," said Mr. Obama when he visited Afghanistan recently. Well, some leaders of NGOs, including the UN, in Afghanistan disagree with the president. Even the Pentagon disagrees with the president. Last month they said Afghan insurgents "capabilities and operational reach have been qualitatively and geographically expanding."

Wasting Money

It should not be a surprise to you that I think we would be better off spending money on treating drug addiction rather than putting people in jail and hoping the problem goes away. We now spend $74 billion a year on putting drug addicts in jail and $3 billion trying to treat them. This is crazy.

The AP has another article on a country that moved from a prison- to a treatment-orientation and it seems to be working. That country is Portugal. Admittedly, there are a lot of differences between the U. S. and Portugal. But here's what was found in Portugal when they changed the laws:

There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.

_ Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.

_ Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.

_ The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine — figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.

_ The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.

Some powerful results.

Friday, December 24, 2010

She was here in 1859

She being the Virgin Mary and here being Champion, Wisconsin.


The church has validated that the Virgin Mary appeared to Adele Brise three times. The church did not validate the appearance willy-nilly. They investigated for two years. This validation is only one of 386 appearances claimed in the 20th century. The church investigated 75 and validated twelve. That's not very many, about 3%. Still, one has to wonder whether the recent scandals in the church had any effect on the investigation.

One Positive Step?

A friend of mine believes that Michelle Rhee has some good ideas and we should listen to her in her new role of CEO of Students First. The video is fairly general but recognizing that education is the nation's problem, not only the problem of the younger generations, is a good start. I suspect we'll be hearing more from Students First.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Learning Math

I've reported several times on the poor results our students achieve when taking standardized tests that are given internationally. The Atlantic reports on another one of these tests. This study looks at the performance of students in individual states. Our top performing state is, naturally, Massachusetts, my state. But, we can't break out the champagne as the state ranks behind 16 other countries, including Taiwan, Czech Republic, Macao, Lichtenstein.

While many in this country think we need to spend more on our schools, this may not be the answer. We now spend more than twice as much on elementary and secondary education yet our math and reading scores remain about the same. Only three countries spend more per student than we do, yet we're still not in the top ranks.

The authors think Massachusetts is on to something and have seen more states adopting the Massachusetts methods.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

38 Years Ago

Liza Minelli appeared at the Lyceum Theatre in NYC. SHO has been running excerpts from this concert, which took place in 1972. Which of today's concerts will still be played in 2048?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The American Foreign Legion?

That's what George Wilson calls our volunteer army. Wilson argues that a draft is needed in order to give the people the ability to pass judgment on whether or not we should go to war. He points out that Congress has abdicated that responsibility. Unless we people directly experience the effects of our wars, it is very unlikely that we will say "no" to our leaders when they decide to straighten out some nation.

Get Thee to a Nunnery

Sister Marie Thornton was in a nunnery when she apparently embezzled funds while she worked as Vice President, Finance, of Iona College. How much she absconded with is a matter of conjecture; it could be as much as $1,200,000. The school is perhaps understandably not overly forthcoming about the issue.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Moving through the Panama Canal


The Luck of the Draw

Fundamentally, the cruise and, in particular, the visits to cities along the way reinforced my belief at how lucky I have been to have been born in 20th century America. Sure, like you, I've had my bad, really bad days. But when you look at how tough some others have it, you can only be grateful for how much better your living arrangements appear to be.
We visited Ocho Rios in Jamaica. Mick Jagger has a home on a hill there. Many live on the level ground in far less palatial quarters.


A couple of people live in caves. That's right, caves.

When the cruise boats come in, the people go into selling mode. The kids (and some adults) display monkeys and sloths in the hope that you'll give them some money.


And the adults really lay out the fruit and other edibles.


I was most struck by Costa Rica. While we visited only Port Limon and then only for a few hours, I did not see much difference here. There were the same ramshackle houses, the kids begging, the adults looking desperate. I had thought that Costa Rica was the beacon of Central America. It may be, but I didn't see it.

And in Aruba.......


We saw black swans. My son had seen black swans before - at a Hyatt in Hawaii. Guess where we saw the swans pictured above? A Hyatt in Aruba.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Some Memory Clips

The cruise was a time to "veg out", but some things did implant themselves in my mind. For example
Ft. Lauderdale has to be the cruise capital of the U.S., if not the world. There were about 10 ships boarding passengers when we arrived at the terminal. If each ship's capacity was 1500, there were 15,000 of us signing on to our ships. Yet, actually getting into one's cabin was not too big a deal; it took us about 30 - 45 minutes and I walk very slowly.

I traveled with my eldest son, who is up on today's gadgets, otherwise known as cell phones. He knew that our phones would not work on the ship without some adjustments AT&T, our provider, would make. So, he arranged for these adjustments. The problem was that the adjustments did not work on the high seas, they only worked in port. However, texting did work on the high seas and I found myself committing the sin of texting. I do not have large hands;I found texting a pain in the arse.

I did not take my computer as the cruise line was offering a "deal" of 55 cents per wireless minute. I was not that interested in looking at my e-mails at a price I considered usurious.

I did have my Kindle and was able to read a book I had downloaded. However, I could not download anything else until I got back to Ft. Lauderdale. It's obvious that cruise lines see technology as a profit center.


I learned that my brain has regressed in that I found it difficult to write anything without having access to a keyboard. Of course, when I started writing back in the 20th century, I wrote everything longhand and had it typed by a secretary. Gradually, I began to use keyboards but, for a long time, I would write extensive outlines by hand. Gradually the outlines became less extensive and, in fact, I ceased writing them. Now I was stuck with access to a writing device other than my hands. I was too lazy to use those hands to write. Hopefully, I would know how to really use them if there were a need to do so.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

10 Days

It's been an interesting 11 days since my last posting. Ten days of vacation and more and day 1 of recovery.

The ten days were spent cruising the Caribbean. It was my first ocean cruise; it was quite different from the river cruises we have taken. First of all, this boat was huge, 1930 people, 961 feet long. The river cruises had 150 or fewer passengers on a ship only slightly larger than the Vineyard ferry. The river cruises were more relaxing; the ocean cruise had something going 24 hours a day despite the fact that the age of the average passenger on both types of cruise was about the same - 70. As usual, I was able to do my own thing. I read 4 mysteries, visited the port towns and generally vegged out. While the mind seldom stops cranking away, this time my mind was in an another quieter world most of the time.

My major distraction was the realization that for the first time in 48+ years I was not a homeowner. I sold my house here on the Vineyard, with the closing papers being passed on my second day of vacation. Soon, I will be starting the final act. I can't say that I have yet to fully understand all the scenes that will be played in this act. The acts so far have been interesting to me and to some that I love. Maybe you'll check in here every so often to see what's happening.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Patted Down

Here I am in Ft.Lauderdale waiting to board a ship. The trip down was uneventful even though I was anticipating a problem at Logan Airport. Given all the commotion there has been about TSA's security efforts, I was expecting to be put through a minor form of hell that was worse than purgatory. Guess what? Nothing really happened. Our country is still safe from terrorists like me.

I think the ease with which I went through the procedure was due to a couple of factors. Because of a disability, I have been subjected to pat-downs for virtually all the flights I've taken in the 21st century and before. Then, the TSA agent could not have been nicer and more understanding. He explained everything he was going to do (the explanations were a tad excessive) but nothing he did was an invasion of my privacy or an affront to my sexuality.

Since I do feel that our strong focus on air travel is misplaced, I mentioned the lack of TSA attention to transportation modes which carry many more people than air. He acknowledged that the TSA does focus on air travel, however, he said that he, as a TSA agent, has been involved with preventing terrorism on other travel modes. Just two days ago he had been dealing with the transit police of a major metropolitan area.

Is the brouhaha about the full body scans, which I also underwent and did not find overly invasive, or is it due to insensitive agents?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Says it all

The following are just a few words from a report by the Afghanistan Study Group, an ad-hoc group of some experienced and bright people who have been reviewing the situation for the past couple of years. The words are few but the meaning is clear.
Although the United States should support democratic rule, human rights and economic development, its capacity to mold other societies is inherently limited. The costs of trying should be weighed against our need to counter global terrorist threats directly, reduce America’s $1.4 trillion budget deficit, repair eroding U.S. infrastructure, and other critical national purposes. Our support of these issues will be better achieved as part of a coordinated international group with which expenses and burdens can be shared.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

File Sharing is an Immigration and Customs Matter?

I don't have a strong opinion about file sharing, but I must say I find it bizarre that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has shut down some web sites because they claim these sites are illegally sharing files.

How can sharing files be a matter for Immigration and Customs, which, by the way, is part of our great protector, Homeland Security?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Inat

That's what the people in Sarajevo called their living their lives normally although there were people in the hills that were trying to kill them every day. My rough translation - F. U. You're not running my life despite the fact that I may be killed today. Roger Cohen thinks that we should be using the word with regards to the TSA. While I  argued last week primarily that the emphasis on air travel is misplaced and a doomed attempt to make us feel safe, Cohen argues that the efforts of the TSA will, if continued, jeopardize our freedom. He has a point.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kansas follows

Last week I wrote about a town in Oklahoma that drove the Westboro Baptists idiots crazy. This week I'm pleased to tell you that people from Harrisonville, Kansas, and their neighbors repeated the effort. They simply made sure that the shouts of the Westboro crowd were not heard by the family of the fallen soldier.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Guess The Journal Was Right

The FBI has begun raiding hedge funds; yesterday they raided three. While the firms were in different states, it looks as though there are ties among the firms' employees, as you would expect. The initial generator of this investigation may have been the Galleon Group case, which has already implicated Goldman Sachs.

Monday, November 22, 2010

We Thought It The Worst Day of Our Lives

jfkImage by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via Flickr
But we were still in our twenties when JFK was shot. There were many more and many worse days to come. (However, to be quite honest, there were many good days to come as well.)

Kennedy's death was, to we young liberals who had actually seen him in Boston and Cambridge, a tragedy, as the country had begun to awaken from the torpor of the 1950s. Sure, JFK's influence was more symbolic than factual but inspiring the nation is part of the president's job. In my day we have not had a president after Kennedy who could really fire up the populace. Why is that? Johnson had more clout with Congress. Clinton may have been smarter. Reagan was able to convince enough voters to be elected twice. Maybe, it was our youth but I doubt that. Connecting with the people is a skill that hardly any of our leaders have had in the past 47 years. I doubt that I'll see anyone with the necessary skills in my remaining years.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Information Is Money

The Wall Street Journal believes that there will be many arrests made of hedge funds and others using illegal insider information to trade in public companies.

Over the past few years a new division of the investment industry has started. The division provides information to investing companies. This information is normally gained from people who consult to, used to work at or still work at public companies. Much of the information focuses on upcoming mergers and acquisitions. Many major companies, including our friends at Goldman Sachs, are mentioned in the article.

According to the Journal, "authorities say (this investigation) could eclipse the impact on the financial industry of any previous such investigation".

Adultery is only for ministers

On Wednesday I reported on the Rev. Cedric Miller's demanding that his parishioners stop using Facebook as it leads to adultery. Well, guess what? The Reverend admitted in court that he participated in sexual activity with his wife and a church assistant and, occasionally, with the assistant's wife.

Beware those who know what you should and should not do, especially in matters of sex. How many times have we read of cases where those who most condemn the sexual behavior of others are themselves guilty of the same, in their words,"sin".

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Follow the Money

Was 2009 a good year for your finances? If you were a Congressman or Senator, it was; your net worth increased by 16% for the year. Almost half of our legislative leaders are millionaires; I suspect that very few of my readers are millionaires. Another ten percent or so are worth $10,000,000 or more and eight have more than $100,000,000.

I wonder where our leaders invest their money. Is it with the local bank or druggist? Or is it with the Fortune 500 companies who wine and dine our leaders?

How do you define "representative"? Our leaders certainly are not. That's probably why they are not doing the job they should be doing. They represent only themselves.

Something to brag about or to be concerned about?

A major story in yesterday's Boston Globe had the headline "Bay State 12th-graders top nation in test results". The opening paragraph seconded the headline with regard to reading and math. But if you read further, you began to have doubts as to the real significance of these results.

First, this was a pilot program in which only eleven states participated. How representative of the nation are these eleven states?

More importantly, the degree of success of these 12th graders is dicey, shall I say. Fewer than half (46%)of the Massachusetts students, the leaders in this test, were considered proficient in reading; 37% of the rest of the group was considered proficient. The same situation prevailed in mathematics; Mass.kids scored 36%, nationally the score of proficient students was 25%.

How in the Lord's name can anyone consider these results good?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Do the math

All the current concern about the deficit could be considerably allayed by a simple move - cut defense spending. It amounts to 23% of our budget and is more than the defense spending of all other nations combined. Yes, there are jobs in the defense industry that would be lost, but this loss can be more than made up by investing in bringing our infrastructure up to snuff (It now receives a grade of D by civil engineers) and by returning to an economy where real R&D is practiced.

Back in January a number of specialists in security and defense economics wrote to the Deficit Reduction Commission. Some of their recommendations were:
  • Focus on defense and deterrence rather than trying to change the world.
  • Reduce our combat power in line with today's world.
  • Bring the troops home from all over the world.
  • Have the courage to cancel expensive weapons systems whose capabilities in today's world are suspect.
  • Manage better.

What's wrong with these recommendations?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

We Must Be Safe

Do you think that we are safer because of the new regimen of body scanning at airports? Do terrorists go from place to place only by airplane? Do more people travel each day by train, bus, boat or car than by airplane? Are there more people on a cruise ship than in an airplane?

Why do we let our leaders spend our money pretending that they are making us safer? Don't all of us live in the real world where all of us will eventually die and very few of us will die from the act of a terrorist?

Facebook Leads to Adultery

Or so sayeth the Reverend Cedric Miller, pastor of Living Word Christian Fellowship Church. Over the last six months 4% of his congregation have had marital problems due to their use of Facebook, mainly connecting with old friends and lovers. The Reverend has ordered church leaders to drop their Facebook account or their leadership position. On Sunday, he "will strongly suggest" that all married couples quit Facebook.

Temptation is all around us.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oklahoma Shows The Way

The hate-mongers of the Westboro Baptist Church finally met up with some real opposition. Readers can guess that I think the "church" deserves - really, really deserves - as much crap as they get. These are the people who protest at veterans' funerals, not because they are anti-war but because they think that the deceased soldiers were protecting our homosexual nation.

The protesters were surprised when they appeared at the funeral of a soldier from McAlester, Ok. First, they were greeted by counter-protesters numbering in the hundreds. Upon leaving the funeral the protesters discovered that their tires had been slashed. Then, they found that no one in town would fix the tires. They had to have their car towed out of town.

Don't you feel sorry for them?

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Better Use of Our Money

You'll feel very sad when you read the McClatchy article on construction projects in Afghanistan. In the U.S.A. the economy sucks and the infrastructure sucks, yet we are afraid to spend money on bringing our infrastructure into the 21st century. However, we are quite willing to piss money away in Afghanistan.

And we are wasting lots of cash trying to bring Afghanistan into the 19th century. Today in Afghanistan, we are sponsoring the kind of investment we should be making in this country. The problem is that the Afghanis do not have the expertise to complete many of these projects. We are willing to accept bids that are clearly too low. We are willing to accept sub-standard work. We are willing to re-hire companies that have proven, time and time again, they are incapable of getting the job done.

This is no way to help Afghanistan or ourselves. When will we smarten up?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Better Approach

Okay, I get upset when I receive poor customer service, which is becoming the norm in this country. However, every so often a company does what it should be doing to retain customers. I've just returned from a weekend during which I rode the train. I must confess that I was expecting poor service, as I would be riding Amtrak. I was wrong. Amtrak did provide quite good service.

The first indication that something might be right came when I used the ticket kiosk. I couldn't believe it took seconds to print my tickets. Then when I was boarding the train the conductor helped with my bag. When he took my ticket he explained the 'privileges' of business class as it was obvious that I was a 'newbie'. Upcoming stations were announced in plenty of time. Explanations of planned and unplanned delays were forthcoming promptly. All in all, a pleasurable experience which I look forward to repeating.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Make The Rules

Here's an excerpt from the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges:
“a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose. A judge should not personally participate in membership solicitation if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive or is essentially a fund-raising mechanism.”
Apparently this clause does not apply to the Justices of the Supreme Court. Alito, Scalia, Thomas and who knows who else have helped raise money for causes they support.

Just to make sure they are like Caesar's wife, the Justices have exempted themselves from this and other clauses concerning ethical standards.

Lest We Forget

What I'm about to write is probably sacrilegious in 21st century America. I'm wondering why we honor veterans of today's army with the same - if not greater - fervor than we honor veterans of earlier armies. The difference is in how these veterans came to serve in the military. Before 1973 just about everyone was eligible for the draft. True, some were able to evade the draft, but, in general, most of the people with whom I grew up knew that there was a chance of their being drafted; earlier generations knew that they could be conscripted. When I was a kid, all of my male cousins were drafted into WWII and the windows of several homes displayed the fact that a Gold Star Mother lived there; she had lost a son who in all likelihood had been drafted into the military.

But today's All-Volunteer military is just that. People willingly serve in the military. It is the job they have chosen. Yes, some may have had little choice if they wanted a job, but they were not forced to serve. Other than the degree of danger, do soldiers provide more of a public service than firemen, policemen, teachers, doctors or anyone else who just does his or her job as well as they can? I don't think so. Yet, today you may go to a parade which honors the military; you'll read an op-ed or hear a pundit praise the servicemen and servicewomen. When, except when a catastrophe occurs, will you hear or see anything about the good job the guy down the street - the doctor, teacher, fireman, etc. - has done?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Better Way To Acknowledge Armistice Day

Yes, I know we now refer to November 11 as Veterans Day, but I prefer Armistice Day, which focuses more on avoiding war than the term "Veterans Day". I agree with Daniel Bendetson that we should acknowledge the importance of this day in a more forthright manner: a period of silence that we share as a group.

Bendetson is just a kid but he is starting out well.

Monday, November 08, 2010

How Soon We Forget

President George W. Bush walks across the tarm...Image via Wikipedia
Stephen Walt doesn't want us to forget just how bad a president George W. Bush was. True, Mr. Obama has fallen far short of my expectations, but he's still way ahead of W. Read Walt's list and see for yourself.
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It's hard to believe....

but some Afghan females are so fed up with their lives that they are committing suicide. Okay, that's tough to read but it is the way many of them are killing themselves that is really bad: they burn themselves. Of all the injuries people incur, burns may be the most painful. Yet, the lives of Afghan females can be so bad that fire is the only way they have of doing the deed.

This article in the NY Times is not easy to read. I used the word 'female' in the preceding paragraph because many of the victims are really not old enough to be considered women. Some are married as young as 12 years of age. In Afghanistan women really get the short end of the stick. Basically, they are stuck being slaves not only to their husbands but to the husband's family as well.

Will our occupation of the country change the lives of women there? Should it?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Very Interesting Idea

It may be that Charles Ferguson, a man of many talents, has hit upon a very good idea for this country. Like many really good ideas, it is quite simple - Obama should hire the best persons in the world for his economic team

Economic talent is resident all over the world and some of these people did not succumb to the Great Recession. Most of the people in this country who were warning us of the coming problem were also not American. Ferguson argues that most American economists are obligated to the industries they are supposed to oversee. So what can we expect from these people? He makes a strong point. Is it not a global economy? It's another reason to dump Tim.

Now What?

Foreign Policy has ten ideas as to what Obama can do to regain his mojo. The ideas come from conservatives as well as liberals. The most surprising article espouses a major cut of the defense budget. The major cut is not what surprises me as I think this would also benefit the economy considerably. What surpirses me is that the article was written by Christopher Preble, the director (no less) of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute of all places.

Some other interesting ideas:

  • Cut payroll taxes for both employee and employer.
  • Mandate that fleet vehicles use natural gas.
  • Have both the military and the state department deal with Pakistan, India and Afghanistan; now they each have a group that deals with India and another that deals with Pakistan.
  • Call for a Geneva Convention to deal with the issue of terrorists.

Not bad.

And Then There's the Issue of Pre-Sales

In September I received a telephone call from Paychex, a national vendor of payroll services. As we were not happy with our current vendor, I consented to their scheduling an appointment with us for a week later. The day of the appointment came and went without a word from Paychex despite my having called them when it became obvious that they were not going to keep the appointment. I have yet to hear from the company apologizing for missing the appointment.

Since our dissatisfaction with our current payroll services vendor continued and some of us felt like playing CYA, I contacted Paychex via their web site. It took over a week for a representative to call me. I was out when he called. I'm waiting once more for him to return my call. What are the odds he will? More importantly, what are the odds I'll consent to give him the opportunity to make a sale?

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Poor Customer Service Continues

It's time to re-order my prescription. Although I did not want to, I did re-order from drugstore.com; it was just easier or so I thought. The problems I had mentioned back in August have spread to drugstore.com itself.

I could make no progress with the web site so I telephoned the help line where I was connected to my friends at BioScrip. The fact that I was "first in queue with a wait time of less than one minute" turned into a four minute wait. Surprise! The BioScrip person I spoke to actually knew what she was doing and my order was filled with a few minutes. She was honest and acknowledged that three months after taking on drugstore.com as a customer BioScrip has problems. However, in this case I'd say the culprit was drugstore.com as its web site could not do the job.

Fallon Community Health Plan, our health insurer, provided another example of crappy customer service this week. On Monday I called with a question about a problem one of our employees was having with her policy. Despite the recorded voice stating it would respond as soon as possible, there was no response on Monday. And the same thing happened on Tuesday and Wednesday, my calls went unanswered. On Thursday the Fallon person was picking up her phone calls. We discussed the issue and she asked me to e-mail my concerns to her.

The response to my e-mail came later that day, as promised. Unfortunately, it was in the form of an encrypted e-mail. To read the e-mail, I had to supply my e-mail address and a password. Since I had never used this system and there was no way to register, I could not convince the e-mail to actually show itself in a way that I could understand. I sent an e-mail to my contact at Fallon explaining my problem.

On Friday morning I called and met the same "I'll call you back message". Later that morning I called the main number since I had not received a response. I was transferred to Member Grievances, which I would have thought would be populated with empathetic people. That assumption was smashed when a robot asked me to enter 1 or 2 or 3 for various options. What was Fallon thinking when they assigned a robot as the first person someone who had problems would "talk" with?

The supervisor of my contact could not be found. The president of Fallon was in a meeting. The person who might be able to handle my situation was on the 5th floor and the member grievance person, who was on the 9th floor, would have to walk to the 5th floor to ask that person to call me. Four hours later I had not eceived a call from Fallon.

Who pays the salaries of the Fallon president and his staff?

Do you think that maybe there might be a problem in this country in our ability to provide adequate customer service to the people paying the bills?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A great photo


from today's Boston Globe. Who knows if it's male or female? The zoo doesn't yet because the baby is being held too close by the mother.

Charles in Charge

The vote is in and Charles Oliver Cipollini has won the seat for Governor's Council from my district. He received 1,236 more votes than his opponent, Oliver Cipollini, his brother. The brothers began this contest as friends and remain so.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Figures Don't Lie

But John Ioannidis has found that they can reflect the bias of the person putting them together. Ioannidis has spent his career looking at the published results of medical studies. He thinks that as much as 90% of the published medical reports have enough problems so that one should not place much faith in them.

There are a number of reasons why he considers most medical studies flawed. Often there are an insufficient number of the right type of cases considered. Researchers don't ask the right questions in the right way. But the most common problem is bias. In his view “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”

Ioannidis is particularly struck by the number of studies whose conclusions are reversed by later studies. He looked at 49 of the medical journal articles most widely cited; 45 of these articles claimed success in the approach taken by the authors with regards to a particular disease. When 34 of these claims were retested, 14 (41%) of these were shown to be far from the success promulgated in the original articles.

However, Ioannidis is not a pessimist. The article concludes with this quote from him. “Science is a noble endeavor, but it’s also a low-yield endeavor,” he says. “I’m not sure that more than a very small percentage of medical research is ever likely to lead to major improvements in clinical outcomes and quality of life. We should be very comfortable with that fact.”

Why are they making such a big deal about it?

The mega-banks, in the form of something called the Clearing House Association, have gone to the Supreme Court - yes, our highest court - to prevent a fuller disclosure as to the details of the Fed's bailout of these institutions. The Fed supported the banker's side up to this point but has finally decided to stop appealing the judicial decisions.

What don't the banks want us to know? It was our money they took. Why shouldn't we know why they got it, how much, what they did with it, etc.?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'm Voting for Cipollini


That's Oliver Cipollini,Jr. not Charles Oliver Cipollini. Both are running for the same position - Governor's Councillor, which is basically a throwback to an earlier age when it was felt that the governor needed some advice relative to such matters as judicial nominations and probations.
Oliver is a Democrat, Charles Oliver a Republican. They are brothers. Oliver is the politician in the family, Charles Oliver, the dutiful older brother who really is rooting for his younger brother, is running to ensure that a Cipollini wins. Both faced opposition in the primary election and both won. Only in Massachusetts.

A Horse Race

When I was in the software business, there was no question what country was top dog - the U.S.A. In the 21st century that dominance is waning, as more and more often software advances are made outside of this country. In 2002 the U.S. lost its title as 'supercomputing champion'; we did gain the title back in 2004. But, it looks as though China will take the title in 2010 and will also have a second strong competitor.

It's just another indication that we have to work harder to make the same gains we made in the 20th century. Or, you could say that our empire is in decline.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Not Exactly a Cigar

It's SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Readers know that I've been an enthusiastic supporter of Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). Who will the next Special Inspector General be? What war theater will he be responsible for reconstructing?

Anyway, despite some senators pushing to throw out the SIGIR, Arnold Fields, his office has filed some interesting reports, if you think reports of incompetence are interesting.

The first report that has caught my eye was reported by McClatchy. Basically, SIGAR found that six newly built police stations were constructed by someone like me, who knows nothing about construction. As a result, the buildings feature "electrical wires strung through windows, cracks in walls, gas lines hanging in the open, windows installed at a tilt and shoddy roofing".

Hey, it's only money!

Is 16% Too Much?

Did you know that the federal government now has 73 Inspectors General? Twelve (16.4%) of them have put in writing that they are not always getting the cooperation they need from their departments. I wonder whether any of the other 61 did not want to document problems.

Readers will know that I am a big fan of Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Even he has concerns. Fifteen months ago he asked the State Department for “complete data on the cost of the contract for providing trainers for the Iraqi Police Training Program.” He has not received an answer.

What are these agencies trying to hide?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Forecasting Octopus Has Died

Paul, the octopus who correctly predicted the winners of eight World Cup games and became a 'hero' in Germany, has died from natural causes.

Democracy in Kentucky

So why shouldn't the foreclosure moratorium continue?

Barry Ritholtz has a very succinct answer:
It is a legal impossibility for someone without a mortgage to be foreclosed upon. It is a legal impossibility for the wrong house to be foreclosed upon, It is a legal impossibility for the wrong bank to sue for foreclosure.
And yet, all of those things have occurred. The only way these errors could have occurred is if several people involved in the process committed criminal fraud. This is not a case of “Well, something slipped through the cracks.” In order for the process to fail, many people along the chain must commit fraud.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Days Are Here Again...

...at least for those working on Wall Street. In 2006, compensation at Wall Street firms according to the Wall Street Journal was $117.2 billion and profits were $82 billion. In 2010 it looks as though compensation will be $144.5 (up 23%) even though profits will have declined to $61.3 billion (down 25%). How can that be? Some of these companies would not be here (or not in the shape they're in) unless we had bailed them out.

It appears as though The Street considers everyone a salesperson, as they compare compensation to revenues, not profits. Does this emphasis make them stronger companies? Isn't this what they were doing before the Great Recession - focusing only on revenue, no matter how shaky or phantasmagorical it was.

Obviously Not In It For The Long Haul

Okay, people are greedy. Wall Street types are especially greedy. But shouldn't they be at least a little concerned with how the companies in whom they have invested spend their money? It doesn't look that way when private equity firms have the companies borrow money so that they can pay dividends to the equity firms. So far this month, private equity firms have been paid $1.7 billion in dividends, while the issuing companies have added $4.6 billion of new debt. Is this the right thing for these companies to be doing?

Quality Music

I've been doing a fair amount of solo driving the past couple of days. For company, I've been listening to the radio. There is no way I would listen to any of the seemingly endless number of talk shows. So, music it was.

I was in the mood for folk music and, since I've recently gotten XM/Sirius service, I listened to the folk channel, The Village. A couple of times each hour they would feature a name I recognized; these tunes I enjoyed. However, most of the hour was filled with names I'd never heard of. I would say that half of these singers must have paid XM/Sirius to play their songs. I don't know when I've heard such terrible singing no matter whether they were singing songs I recognized or not. Still in the mood for folk music, I turned to the UMass Boston radio station and was surprised to find more of the same low calibre performances.

What has happened to the folk music scene? Why do regular listeners put up with such crap?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Overkill?

Someone really hates and fears Jeff Perry, a candidate for Congress from my district. Every other day for the past month or so I have been getting postcards, mainly from SEIU, castigating him. Now I am prompted to write this post because my screen had three anti-Perry ads. I had no intention of voting for Mr. Perry or his Democratic opponent, Mr. Keating. But, every so often you have to let people know that bombarding the electorate day after day usually does not lead to a winning candidacy.
While I've received tons of anti-Perry stuff, I have received nothing making the case for Mr. Keating. Maybe I will vote for Mr. Perry despite his positions which are in opposition to mine.

Crocodiles Continue to Make News

The latest story comes from Africa, where you would think crocodiles are not exactly unknown or unseen. But at least one person thinks that there is a market for crocodiles in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This entrepreneur boarded a plane carrying a crocodile in a sports bag. The crocodile escaped and started moving about the plane. People got a tad nervous and also started moving about the plane. In fact, they began a stampede that threw the plane off balance and it crashed, killing twenty people. There was one survivor and he told the tale. Do you believe it? It may be true as the crocodile survived the crash but was killed by a machete. Presumably, someone saw the slaughtered beast.

Dumb...and Evil

Our Big Apple correspondent has another tale from the real world of NYC. The story goes that a man broke into a young woman's home in Queens, raped her, demanded she make him a meal and then guess what? He asked for her cell phone number. Two days later he sent her a text asking her out on a date. The girl was smart enough to accept the date and have the cops accompany her. The genius will soon be going to school in jail.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Taking care of our soldiers

There is a lot of talk about honoring our soldiers and rewarding them for the work they do. At the same time, the military does have some concern for budgets and it appears as though in some situations they are thinking more about budgets than their soldiers.

Obviously, the soldiers are under a fantastic amount of stress. Some have great difficulty coping with this stress and develop problems such as sleepwalking, nightmares, nausea. It seems as though exhibiting these symptoms gives the military the opportunity to categorize these soldiers as having an "adjustment disorder".

Soldiers so categorized are discharged quite quickly; there is no medical diagnosis, there is no attempt to define the implications beyond the realization that the soldiers will be home very soon. The soldiers are not told that they will receive no help or medical benefits to enable them to cope with their problem.

Is the military doing right by these soldiers?

Gazans don't lack imagination

They dug tunnels to circumvent the Israeli blockade of importing goods into Gaza. Now - strange as it seems - they've figured out that money is to be made by exporting goods to Egypt. It seems that Egyptians love Israeli goods, particularly cows and they have no problem buying from Gazans who use the tunnels as an exporting mechanism.

Surprise!

Sometimes surprises are great, sometimes they are dreaded. Most businesses do not like surprises and it looks like the Minerals Management Service (MMS) decided that they would not surprise the offshore oil drilling companies very often.

The Wall Street Journal, which has done an excellent reporting job on the BP oil spill, analyzed data compiled by MMS with regards to inspection of deep water drilling rigs. What they found was that as the number of deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico increased, the number of surprise inspections of these wells decreased. This was particularly true with the platforms; in 2000 MMS made 34 surprise inspections of platforms, one in 2004 and none since. The number of surprise inspections of the rigs was not as bad, but pretty irresponsible; in the period 2000 - 2009, the most surprise inspections of rigs in a year was 15, in three of the years there were no surprise inspections.

How many surprises will the new MMS have in store for the deepwater dilling companies over the next year?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tim continues to do his job.

Of course, one could ask who Tim is working for - us in his role as Treasury Secretary or the banks as their friend and supporter. In the latter role Tim is proposing that the moratorium on foreclosures be lifted. Dean Baker totally demolishes Tim's proposal. Baker finds it hard to understand why anyone would possible argue for a lifting of the moratorium when new horror stories surface almost daily. Marion Wang has a tutorial on the issue at ProPublica; Tim should read it.

When will Tim return to private life?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

That Makes 5 in 2 Months

Since late August I've reported on 5 sightings in strange places of alligators or crocodiles. That seems like a lot to me, but there have been more. In NYC alone there have been 4 sightings in the two months. The latest sighting was of a 28-inch crocodile in Brooklyn. Here is a photo of the beast, courtesy of Channel 7 in NYC and our correspondent from the Big Apple.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Media at Work

It's true that I don't spend my entire day scanning all the media in the U.S., so I may have missed any reporting of the National Security Archives release of an extensive study of documents produced by Britain and the U.S. as they sold the 'necessity' of the Iraq war to their citizens. Fortunately, I do look at the Nieman Watchdog site every so often. It was there that I learned of these documents. True, they don't say much that is new if you are of the persuasion that Bush and Co. were not exactly paragons of virtue in the period leading up to the start of the war. But the chicanery is explicit - and the media has been comparatively silent.

I should preface my comments by noting that I have not read all three parts of the study. I have however read the Nieman article by John Prados, one of the editors of the study. It is damning. Here are the summaries posted by the National Security Archive:

THE IRAQ WAR -- PART I: The U.S. Prepares for Conflict, 2001
U.S. Sets "Decapitation of Government" As Early Goal of Combat
Talking Points for Rumsfeld-Franks Meeting in November 2001 Outline Policy Makers’ Aims for the Conflict and Postwar Rule of Iraq
Declassified Documents Show Bush Administration Diverting Attention and Resources to Iraq Less than Two Months after Launch of Afghanistan War
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 326
THE IRAQ WAR -- PART II: Was There Even a Decision?
U.S. and British Documents Give No Indication Alternatives Were Seriously Considered
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 328
THE IRAQ WAR -- PART III: Shaping the Debate
U.S. and British Documents Show Transatlantic Propaganda Cooperation
Joint Drafting & Editing of White Papers “Fixed the Facts”
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 330

Can Congressmen Think Clearly?

Pie chart of defense budget allocations to the...Image via WikipediaI really doubt it. But 57 of them have said that the defense budget should be cut, which is a very rational statement. However, there is an election in a couple of weeks and deficit reduction is a hot topic. What will these esteemed leaders say when the cuts involve a defense facility in their states? I'll bet they will argue that the closing of the endangered facility will harm our national defense. Will we ever have some true patriots as members of Congress?
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More of the Same from GM

2008 Chevrolet Volt hatchback (concept), photo...Image via WikipediaThe Volt was touted to we non-auto experts as the first all-electric car. Well, it seems that is not the case. To be all-electric the wheels should move only by electric power, not by gas. The Volt's wheels are moved by both electricity and gas. And the 230 mpg that GM bragged about? Tests show the number is closer to two digits, the low two digits.
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Monday, October 11, 2010

Another Cost of The Long War

I've written about both the problems of recruiting soldiers for our professional army and the problems veterans have. Suicide is a problem affecting both soldiers and veterans. This year we're seeing more suicides of soldiers than last year, which had set a record. The Army has increased the number of therapists and psychiatrists by two-thirds since 2007 and they still don't have enough. Psychological problems have now become the number one reason for hospitalizations.

And still we persist in GWOT. The name may have changed but the result is still the same - disaster for this country.

Follow the Money

McClatchy has a very in-depth article about fraud and corruption in the California National Guard. The article alleges that $100,000,000 was spent illegally and a lot of it went to officers.

Our desire to have a professional army has escalated the need to recruit and retain soldiers in all areas of the military, including the National Guard. Money is the major tool that recruiters use to make their numbers. There are, as you would expect, a number of rules that should be followed with regard to who gets how much when. The problem in California was that the rules were not followed; the wrong people got more money long after the rules said they should. It is simply amazing how cavalierly the rules were broken and how lax the auditors were. It sounds as though the bosses at the Guard would have let this go on forever if it were not for a whistle blower.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Direct Costs Are Only One Part of the Cost of Our Need to Put People in Prison

The Pew Charitable Trusts really provide a lot of information about life in the United States in the 21st century. For example, their Economic Mobility Project has just published "Collateral Costs: Incarceration's Effect on Economic Mobility". As the title indicates, there are a lot more costs than the $50 billion our states pay to keep people in prison. Here is a summary of what the researchers found.
INCARCERATION IS CONCENTRATED AMONG MEN, THE YOUNG, THE UNEDUCATED AND RACIAL AND ETHNIC MINORITIES—ESPECIALLY AFRICAN AMERICANS.
• One in 87 working-aged white men is in prison or jail, compared with 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 12 African American men.
• More young (20 to 34-year-old) African American men without a high school diploma or GED are currently behind bars (37 percent) than employed (26 percent).
INCARCERATION NEGATIVELY AFFECTS FORMER INMATES’ ECONOMIC PROSPECTS.
• Serving time reduces hourly wages for men by approximately 11 percent, annual employment by 9 weeks and annual earnings by 40 percent.
• By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.
• Incarceration depresses the total earnings of white males by 2 percent, of Hispanic males by 6 percent, and of black males by 9 percent.
FORMER INMATES EXPERIENCE LESS UPWARD ECONOMIC MOBILITY THAN THOSE WHO ARE NEVER INCARCERATED.
• Of the former inmates who were in the lowest fifth of the male earnings distribution in 1986, two-thirds remained on the bottom rung in 2006, twice the number of those who were not incarcerated.
• Only 2 percent of previously incarcerated men who started in the bottom fifth of the earnings distribution made it to the top fifth 20 years later, compared to 15 percent of men who started at the bottom but were never incarcerated.
THE IMPACTS OF INCARCERATION REACH FAR BEYOND FORMER INMATES TO THEIR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES.
• 54 percent of inmates are parents with minor children (ages 0-17), including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers.
• 2.7 million children have a parent behind bars—1 in every 28 children (3.6 percent) has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
• One in 9 African American children (11.4 percent), 1 in 28Hispanic children (3.5 percent)
and 1 in 57 white children (1.8 percent) have an incarcerated parent.
A CHILD’S PROSPECT OF UPWARD ECONOMIC MOBILITY IS NEGATIVELY AFFECTED BY THE INCARCERATION OF A PARENT.
• Previous research has shown that having a parent incarcerated hurts children, both educationally and financially.
• Children with fathers who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely than other children to be expelled or suspended from school (23 percent compared with 4 ercent).
• Family income averaged over the years a father is incarcerated is 22 percent lower than family income was the year before a father is incarcerated. Even in the year after the father is released, family income remains 15 percent lower than it was the year before incarceration.
• Both education and parental income are strong indicators of children’s future economic mobility.

Taking father-son bonding to an extreme

A candidate for Congress in Ohio, Richard Iott, likes to reenact military adventures. He has taken part in reenactments of the Civil War and World Wars I and II. He seems to especially like WWII as he has played the part of a U.S. infantryman and a German soldier. He decided to act the part of an SS member to further bond with his son. He picked a specific division, the 5th SS Panzer Divisions Wiking, that fought primarily on the eastern front and, thus, did not oppose U.S. troops; it fought the Russian communists. Howsomever, that does not mean that they were boy scouts; they were as vicious and racist as other SS divisions. Iott contends that he was only interested in reenacting the WWII experience. Why acting the part of a U.S. infantryman was not enough is a question? As is why he felt a need to support his son in backing a group that did evil things?

Dancing in the Dark

My son came home late the other night. The night was warm, the car windows were down, the radio was playing Santana. As has happened before, there was a deer 50 feet or so away from the car when he drove up. Before he shut the car motor off, the deer came closer, ears twitching as though listening to the beat and then he began to move as though dancing while the music continued. When the song ended and the car motor was turned off, the deer went back to the apple tree and proceeded to have a late night snack.

Would he have tried to sing if Callas were playing on the radio?


Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Quiet Day in Iraq

PaternĂ² - African daisyImage by ciccioetneo via FlickrIraq Today reports only 7 killed and 16 wounded.

Sorry, it's classified information

If you've read this blog more than once, you know that I think the government has too many secrets. Sure, there are things that should be classified. But, we have over 1,000 government organizations making sure we don't get classified information. The government has little faith in the American people or they use the secret classification to cover their mistakes.

The government is even monitoring judicial opinions to make sure we are safe; ProPublica has a lengthy article examining one instance of this. The article is a little dense, but it is clear that the government massaged the public record and deleted an opinion in the case of one of the forty-eight detainees who are "too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution". (Does that last phrase mean they are innocent of the charges?) They then edited the opinion and re-published it. One problem - they deleted that portion of the opinion which directly contradicted the details of the government case. A second problem - there was no indication of the editing, which, if I read the article right, is a violation of judicial ethics.

I must confess that I feel much safer knowing that the government is making sure I don't learn of things the bad people are doing or saying and the efforts we use to combat them. And, I appreciate the efforts they are making to spend our money in these tough times.

Friday, October 08, 2010

How long do we analyze and discuss the Great Recession?

David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal says we must start acting, the time for debate is over. I think he's right. Anything we do is a risk, but debating ad nauseam is, to me, a bigger risk. Life is short. Talk is cheap. We need to do something. Right, Barack?

You would not expect a columnist for the Journal to take a moderate position, but Wessel does. He proposes more stimulus - but for the short-term only - and, longer term, figuring our how to lower the deficit. What reasonable person can argue with that?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Another study of our health, Another indication that it's not as great as we think

Two Columbia University researchers released the results of their latest study on life expectancy in the U.S. They compared our country with Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom and found that our life expectancy is less than many of these other countries.

Interestingly, they do not think our problem is primarily the usual suspects - obesity, smoking, traffic fatalities, and homicide. Here's what one of the authors had to say:

"It was shocking to see the U.S. falling behind other countries even as costs soared ahead of them. But what really surprised us was that all of the usual suspects—smoking, obesity, traffic accidents, and homicides—are not the culprits. The U.S. doesn't stand out as doing any worse in these areas than any of the other countries we studied, leading us to believe that failings in the U.S. health care system, such as costly specialized and fragmented care, are likely playing a large role in this relatively poor performance on improvements in life expectancy."

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Not Competent or Not Candid?

That's the question posed by the National Commission on the BP Oil Spill with regard to our government's actions and statements during the crisis. OMB overruled NOAA as to whether the public should be told what the worst-case numbers were. You may recall that the number of gallons being discharged seemed to increase on a regular basis. The public statements hung on the 5,000 barrels per day number for quite a while; yet the "commission report says this number was an extremely rough estimate, taken from research by a federal scientist who does not appear to have expertise in estimating deep-sea oil flows". And then you have the peer review issue; the government claimed there had been a peer review of some of their claims; later the government admitted there was no peer review. Apparently, someone 'misspoke'.

Do you get the feeling the GW is laughing the day away at the idea of change taking place now?

Pay to Play

In South Fulton, Tennessee, you also have to pay to be protected if you live outside the city limits. Gene Granick claims that he forgot to pay the $75 to South Fulton which would allow the city's fire fighters to fight a fire on his property. He offered to pay the $75 when he called 911. But that also had no effect on the fire department. As a result, Grannick's home burned down although the fire men were protecting the homes of Grannick's neighbors while his home was allowed to burn and his pets die.

Municipal services have to be paid for eventually or they cannot be provided. But, one would think that the city would not have had a major problem collecting the $75 from Grannick if the fire department had performed its civic duty.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The IMF Is Worried

International Monetary FundImage via WikipediaPrior to its annual summit to be held later this week, the IMF has issued a warning that we are not yet equipped to ward off a repeat of the Great Recession. They are worried about the shadow banking system being unregulated and the "too big to fail" issue.

Do you think they have a point?

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Two Opposite Positions Agree

Rafael Correa during his inaugural speech as p...Image via WikipediaWhat does it mean when the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy agree? Both say basically the same thing about the recent activity in Ecuador: there was no coup; Correa was not in danger; it was part of his attempt to consolidate power.
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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Experiment Ethics

You've heard of the experiments that were performed on residents  - African-American residents only - of Tuskegee, Al.  In 1932, the Public Health Service wanted to study the progression of syphilis. So, they recruited 399 sharecroppers who had syphilis, gave them free meals, free medical exams, free burial insurance but not free penicillin that would have probably cured their syphilis. Then, the scientists examined their subjects as they died. Criminal behavior?

The Public Health Services' need to study syphilis was apparently quite strong in those days. They decided that they couldn't get a large enough sample in this country. So, they seem to have made a deal with the Guatemalan government. There is a suspicion we gave them penicillin. In return we were able to give syphilis to 1,500 residents of their country. That's right. We intentionally gave syphilis to our fellowmen. But were they really our fellowmen? They were prisoners, inmates of mental institutions and soldiers of a backward country. How could they be? However, we did treat these people after we had infected them. Only one died so we must have done something right. Don't you agree?

Coincidence

A minor one, it's true. A few days ago a relative whose grandchild is autistic visited me. The current issue of The Atlantic has a feature article about the person first diagnosed as being autistic. Last night I saw the move, "Temple Grandin". So, autism is on my mind.

The subject of the Atlantic article is Donald Triplett. He is now 77 and lives the life of a successful senior citizen. He golfs almost daily, he has visited 36 countries and continues to travel extensively, he is able to live alone and the author thinks that Donald is reasonably happy. Donald is successful because his parents were wealthy and were strong and persistent in seeking a diagnosis for his condition and he was lucky to live in a small town which had 'leading citizens', including his parents.

Had his parents not been as persistent in seeking the right help for Donald, he would have been treated like so many others at the time who had the same symptoms and he would have wound up in a mental institution for life.

The Temple Grandin movie was just fantastic. Claire Danes, who played the lead, was very good. The movie has won seven Emmmys. Again, Grandin probably would not have succeeded if she had a different mother or if she didn't meet the right mentor for her. And succeeded she has! Just look at her accomplishments!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Studying Insurgencies

Ben Connable of the Rand Corporation has studied insurgencies around the world since WW II. Would you believe there have been 89 in the 65 years since the war ended? His study is sobering. On average insurgencies last 10 years, but the government does not put it to bed for at least another six years and will not be able to put it to bed unless it addresses the basic grievances that fomented the insurgency. He claims that the Taliban issue emanates from grievances the Pashtun have had for centuries. Also dispiriting is Connable's finding that those insurgencies that have been able to find sanctuary in another country (e.g., the Taliban in Pakistan) eventually succeed twice as often as they fail.

The article is not one to read if you are feeling the least bit down.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Hole in the World of Financial Regulation

And it's a big hole. It's the lack of regulation in a key area - banking - of such organizations as investment banks, money market players and many of the large securities firms. These are the firms managing your 401k or your other investments.

The government backs the money you have in the typical commercial bank so that if it fails you'll get your money back, at least up to $250,000. You are relying on the collateral these organizations hold should they fail - and we saw the quality of that collateral and the management of those organizations in the current Great Recession.

Unless something is done to control these organizations better, we'll eventually hve a repeat of the current situation. Mark Thoma says we should start by setting standards for the collateral these organizations must have.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Long?

Here's what Petraeus is quoted as saying in the Woodward book: “You have to recognize that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.” Courtesy of George Wilson.

Of course you agree with this common sense - common in the asylum.