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... 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


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.


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.
• 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).
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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?


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.