Friday, July 31, 2009

Mental health break

Misc updates...

The April 16th, 2008 blog entry, Truth or ?, looked at the DOD's deployment of a hand-held “lie detector” for battlefield use in Afghanistan, the PCASS, or Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System. One of the issues raised was the base rate fallacy problem... This problem , counter-intuitive to most, is an important hurdle that screening technologies would have to somehow overcome... A recent article, A scanner to detect terrorists,points out the problem of the base rate fallacy. (Note" my base rate fallacy article also briefly looked at the false acceptance rate, the false rejection rate, and the crossover error rate, see diagram above)

The June 14th, 2008 blog entry, Swimming "downhill", looked at the Speedo LZR. At that time the swimsuit, just introduced in February 2008, was the 'ne plus ultra' of swimsuits, and folks were predicting a) that a number of world records would continue to be set/assisted by swimmers using the LZR, and, b) the other manufacturers would have to go back to the drawing board...

Fast forward to July 2009, and both these predictions have come true. FINA finally decided to ban some of the newer, more advanced suits, effective April 2010. At a recent meet Phelps was beaten in the 200 meter freestyle by German Paul Biedermann. Biedermann was wearing one of those (to be banned) suits, a 100 percent polyurethane swimsuit made by the company Arena. Phelps, possibly due to contract obligations, was still using last year's wondersuit, the LZR Racer from Speedo.Phelp's coach, Bob Bowman, threatened to withdraw Phelps from all international competition unless the suits were banned immediately. Apparently he is upset that things are getting out of hand, and that the technology is diminishing the value of world records! Curiously, he was not concerned on these counts this time last year, when his swimmer was one of those that were advantaged. What a wanker!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Great quotes...

"J’ai commis un péché en lançant des attaques contre le régime syrien. Je corrigerai ma relation avec la Syrie à ma façon... Bien que nous avons accusé dans le temps la Syrie d’avoir assassiné l’ancien premier Ministre Rafic Hariri, aujourd’hui je ne sais plus qui est l’auteur de ce crime. Le tribunal spécial pour le Liban (TSL) est devenu comme un cauchemar pour certains Libanais... Le Liban a toujours été un point de lien entre l’Occident et l’Orient. Le Liban n’est pas un pays mais un message, pour moi le Liban représente le dialogue, la démocratie, la diversité et le développement."
- Walid Jumblatt.

Accused of being a weather vane, master of disguises, serial flip-flopper, political chameleon, etc. Jumblatt continues the process of flip-flopping from his previous position (itself a "change" fgrom the one before). Some of the words he has shown contrition for (aimed at Bashar al-Assad) "... oh tyrant of Damascus, you ape unknown to nature, you snake from which even the snakes have fled, you whale vomited by the ocean, you wild desert beast, you creature that is only half-man, you Israeli product at the expense of the corpses of the South Lebanese, you liar and arch-killer in Iraq, you criminal blood-shedder in Syria and Lebanon”

Walid Joumblatt : Je ne sais plus qui a tué Rafic Hariri

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Random picture ... Happier days?

Picture Source: ISNA

Ahmedinajad and Khatami, presumably in happier times...

Random chart...

The greenhouse burden (considering CO2, N2O, and CH4) exerted by various plant- and animal-based diets... Source: Diet, Energy, and Global Warming

Monday, July 27, 2009

Random chart...

Source: ECDC Interim Risk Assessment: Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Pandemic


A few weeks ago there were a spate of articles that the health care industry was spending "$1.4 million a day" lobbying the Congress. Now, from About $2 Million Daily Spent on Health Care Ads "As lawmakers and the president wrangle over the details of health care reform, interest groups across the political spectrum are taking to the airwaves in response to the numerous proposals coming out of Washington. Media expert Evan Tracey speaks with Ray Suarez about the ads."

Apparently we are supposed to be appalled by this...
Usually this blogger can be counted on to reflexively 'tut, tut' about the money spent to buy access and influence, and to sway legislation. However, this time not so much, and for multiple reasons:
  • First, this blogger is unsure about the numbers. The earlier articles had "the health care industry" (or "major health interests" per another article) spending $1.4 million a day. This more recent article states that "the health insurance industry" spent $35 million in 1993 and in 1994, and that "health care reform advertising" spend this year (which appears to encompass all the players in health care reform plus the political parties as well) has been $45 million and is "approaching $2 million per day." . OK, so these numbers don't add up... two million dollars a day sounds outrageous, but how does that square with $45 million so far this year?? Was that amount spent over a 20-day stretch even though we are approximately 200 days into the calendar year? Was nothing spent on the other 180 or so days? Or is it actually per day i.e. at least approximately $300 million so far this year?
  • Second, all of these articles are remarkably lax regarding who is spending the money. Reading them and much of the accompanying commentary one could be forgiven for concluding that "health insurance industry" and "health care industry" are one and the same. In matter of fact they are not. The health care industry comprises a number of different groups, with differing interests, including the health insurers, the pharmaceutical and other medical/surgical supply companies, the provider organizations (i.e. hospitals, nursing homes, etc.), and the health professionals (i.e. the physicians, etc.). and, very importantly, in many ways their interests are often opposed. For example, the hospitals often find themselves playing a zero sum game with the insurers; ditto the health professionals and the insurers; and sometimes even the health professionals and the hospitals. So, go ahead, add up the sums these various groups are spending, to get a big number that sells stories... while ignoring the fact that many if not most of these expenditures cancel each other out!
  • But it's a lot of money you splutter! Hell, yes, it is... However, given the stakes involved is this any surprise? And, despite what some might have you believe, not all of this is done for base motives! A lot of this spending is defensive in nature, as none of the groups can afford to leave the field of battle open to the other groups without paying a heavy price, and finding that the system has been reformed on their backs! The main villains here are the politicians, who have set up the rules of the "game" by which all parties are playing! Sure, every so often a politician will decry the influence of money, but who exactly is it all aimed at? Yup, them, and they have their hands in every pocket... And, if you look closely, often the ones fussing are the ones most 'on the take.'
Bottom line: Let's a) have some greatly improved reporting, and, b) would it be possible to focus on the important details rather than just going for the easy (but meaningless without the accompanying detail) '$x million a day' soundbite? Yes, it is more work but it would be greatly appreciated...

Legislating under the influence
Familiar Players in Health Bill Lobbying
About $2 Million Daily Spent on Health Care Ads
Health Care Battle Takes to the Airwaves

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Misc updates...

Needed: vultures...

Photo credit: Radio Sai

The October 29th, 2008 blog entry, Science and side effects..., discussed a couple of the side effects of the massive vulture die-off in Bombay and India. One example was a huge surge in the population of wild dogs, resulting in an increase in rabies deaths among the population. According to this article, Is Decline in India’s Vulture Population Linked to Spread of Rabies in Humans? the Indian government has launched a plan to sterilize eight million stray dogs over the next ten years...

Needed: new legislation...

Picture source: Wikipedia

The March 29th, 2008 blog entry, Medellin, covered the SCOTUS decision in Medellin v. Texas, which allowed the state to go ahead and execute Jose Ernesto Medellin (who had been convicted of the rape and subsequent murder of two girls). Medellin had argued that the police had not informed him of his right (pursuant to the Vienna Convention) to have the Mexican consulate notified of his arrest. In an oped last week in the New York Times, "Lawlessness North of the Border", John B. Bellinger III (a lawyer, was the legal adviser to the State Department from April 2005 to January 2009) argues that the Obama administration should "seek narrowly tailored legislation that would authorize the president to order review of these cases and override, if necessary, any state criminal laws limiting further appeals, in order to comply with the United Nations Charter." Good luck with that! It is unlikely that the Obama administration will move on this issue - although it may be the right thing to do, you know that the "soft on crime" attacks would immediately begin, and the administration is unlikely to risk political capital on this issue...

Needed: outrage leading to action... (and a sense of perspective)

Photo source: Let's See Change

Apparently the "Skip Gates affair" has shocked... shocked... some, who are lamenting that the U.S. apparently is not post-racial, the election of Barack Obama as President notwithstanding... An example is one Lawrence Bobo... Now this blogger can't say that he has any idea at all who this gentleman is, other than that he has written an article on the incident, What Do You Call a Black Man With a Ph.D.? This blogger, for one, was not shocked that racism still exists in the United States. What he is shocked about, nay appalled, is that the folks like Bobo and many others are surprised, and acting as if this is a revelation! Are they so oblivious, wrapped in their academic coccoons? Almost four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans the truth about what appears to be a series of racially motivated killings that occurred in the area at that time has not been full uncovered... and in fact is not even seriously being investigated.
Mr. Bobo, please read this article, "Katrina's Hidden Race War', find a true sense of outrage, write opeds, and petition the administration to do something to have this seriously investigated! Skip Gates is an erudite and well-spoken person, who is listened to and who has a friend in the White House. Please also get him engaged in this effort. Oh, and bye the bye, how about an explanation re why this does not outrage you as much as your friend's minor (in comparison) inconvenience...

Random picture...

A picture from the Tour de France 2009, which wrapped up with a win by Alberto Contador today... See this and a number of other fantastic photographs at The Big Picture's 2009 Tour de France.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Such concern...

"... Syria says it will not redraw its borders with Lebanon until Israel withdraws from the Shaba Farms area, Syria's ambassador to the UN has made clear. The Syrian representative, Bashar Ja'afari, sent a series of letters to the UN stipulating that Syria considered the defining of a future Syrian-Lebanese border, especially regarding the Shaba Farms, unfeasible until Israel withdrew from the entire area, the Israeli-Arab news Web site Al Arab reported Sunday....

"In general, the Syrian regime does everything it can to prevent the reduction of tensions and greater stability between Israel and Lebanon. It's a matter of stirring the pot whenever they can," said Gerald Steinberg, head of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University. ...

"The Syrians use the issue of the Shaba Farms because they want the international community to think that Israel is a border violator, so they'll do everything to reenergize the issue," said Dan Diker, senior foreign policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Diker believes that viewing the conflict as a matter of borders is a misconception, and that it should be approached as a matter of Israel's right to exist...

... it is believed that Syria's goal in attempting to reclaim the Golan Heights, including Mount Dov, is to enhance its own image among other Middle Eastern nations and to set an example regarding what can be obtained in negotiations with Israel...

There is an Israeli interest in reducing the level of tension with Lebanon and removing as many sources of conflict from the table as possible without sacrificing its vital interests. The Israeli government will carefully calculate the cost benefits on a number of different issues, but it's not in the Israeli interest to have the Shaba Farms become part of Syria," said Steinberg..."

From: Syria won't redraw border with Lebanon

Where to start with this article? Those damn Syrians... plotting and working to prevent a reduction of tensions between Israel and Lebanon, while Israel's only wish is to reduce tensions between the two countries? Hmm, Israel threatening 'all Lebanon' if Hezbollah becomes part of the Lebanese government ... just some friendly neighborhood joshing. Those damn Syrians... falsely portraying Israel as a "border violator," as if that would ever happen. Those damn Syrians... trying to insinuate that they can "set an example regarding what can be obtained in negotiations with Israel"... Oops, that last one is a message that Israel has been pushing for many years.. However, when the Syrians do it... those damn Syrians!

Israel Warships Cross Suez In Possible Iran Signal
Tough words, but Israel-Hezbollah fight unlikely to happen soon
Israeli warplanes Renew Violation of Lebanese Airspace
Israel enters Lebanese airspace
LAF: Two Israeli fighter jets violate Lebanese airspace

Great quotes...

"I think the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed McCain" - White House Press Secretary Gibbs, somehow inserting this gem of a non-sequitor into a Q&A re the President and his comments on the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest kerfuffle.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Random charts

Charts related to Venezuela and drugs - the first showing that U.S. -Venezuelan counter-drug cooperation has been declining while (second) the volume of drugs transiting Venezuela has been increasing, and (third) the destinations for drugs transiting the country... Source: this GAO report (39-page PDF)

1TB external hard drive

From Cavalry Products, the CAUM Series of 3.5 inch external hard drives. I purchased the 1TB model CAUM3701T0-B, (for specs see below). Unboxed, put on stand, powered up, and connected to the desktop via the USB cable. The drive was immediately recognized, and before one has time to say "presto!" you have 931 GB available for immediate use (1,000,202,240,000 bytes). Backed up the desktop using ViceVersa PRO software (backed up 31.17GB, completed in 1 hour, 12 minutes, and 21 seconds)

This will probably date this blogger, but he remembers when he purchased his first CF card, at over $900 for an 8MB card. Yes, that's flash rather than disk drive, but at the time the thought of being able to get one terabyte of storage for under a hundred dollars (including shipping costs!!) was about as likely as tourists in space!! And now we have both...

Note: Per the sticker on the box, the hard drive is a Hitachi (have not opened to confirm...)

Features & Specifications:
  • 1TB 16mb cache 3.5" hard disk drive
  • Plug and play for Windows 2000 and newer (pre-formatted to NTFS)
  • USB 2.0 (USB 1.1 backwards compatible) interface
  • Transfer rate of 480Mbps (USB 2.0)
  • LED-illuminated front bezel
  • Aluminum case with exceptional heat dissipation
  • Friendly, unlimited, domestic, and free customer/tech support beyond limited warranty
  • Dimensions: 7.8” x 5” x 1.3”
  • Weight: 3.5 lbs
  • Exceptional heat dissipation without a fan for near-silent operation. Durable, with state-of-the art shock absorption. Stylish enclosure features an illuminated face, constructed of solid aluminum, keeping the hard drive operating at a safe and cool temperature while protecting the data within. Its stackable design ensures a clean and uncluttered workplace.

Package Includes:
  • 1TB 3.5" 16MB cache hard drive inside an aluminum USB 2.0 enclosure
  • USB 2.0 cable
  • Stand
  • Power adaptor
  • Quick start guide
  • One (1) year manufacturer’s warranty
Systems Requirements:
  • Available USB port
  • Mac OS 9.x or newer, Windows 98SE / Me / 2000 / XP / Vista or newer

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Charts of interest...

Good magazine has a nice infographic (small extract above) showing the amount of HMO contributions to U.S. senators here... A must see.

Chart showing the number of weekly attacks in Afghanisatan over time, from an article by the Economist, Into Taliban Country: America’s “surge” in Afghanistan begins—and allied tactics change

A chart of some results from the latest Latinobarómetro poll (taken end-2008 in 18 countries across the region and published exclusively by The Economist), showing the percentage of respondents in Central and South American countries that consider themselves either "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with how democracy works in their countries... See the article, The Latinobarómetro poll: Democracy and the downturn. Note the response for Honduras (given the recent 'coup/restoration of democracy' (your choice).

Chart showing the market downturn for the current recession, as compared to previous recessions. Chart and some commentary found at Bear Turns to Bull? from

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fast forward to today...

The August 12th, 2008 blog entry, Everything takes more time..., observed how long it was taking for Lebanon to put together a cabinet, and that in general political things take much longer there given the need to build coalitions, etc. Fast forward to July 2009... Lebanon is waiting while a cabinet is put together! Is That a Silver Bullet In Your Pocket… ("We’ve entered the third week of deliberations over Lebanon’s next cabinet lineup, and there is no end in sight. Hariri has paid more house calls than a 19th century doctor in typhoid season, and yet for all we know, there isn’t even agreement on the most basic issues, like the number of ministers accorded to each side." ) considers the reasons for the difficulties and delays...

The July 15th blog entry, La nounvelle "union", wished the new UPM (Union Pour la Mediterranée, or Mediterranean Union) well, but was skeptical re if the initiative would really prove successful. Fast forward to July 2009.... It is one year later, the initiative has achieved no breakthroughs, and is not living up to its potential...

Europe: A Year On, Sarkozy's Euromed Struggles

The January 9th, 2008 blog entry on Benazir Bhutto noted that her family had called for a U.N. inquiry, similar to the Hariri inquiry (!), and wondered if they really understood the pig-in-a-poke that they might be getting if their wish was to be fulfilled. An August 10th, 2008 update entry noted that (see c) the U.N. had agreed to conduct such an inquiry. Fast forward to July 2009... a three-member commission has been tasked with the inquiry, the members being Heraldo Munoz (Chilean Ambassador to the UN), Marzuki Darusman (a former attorney general in Indonesia), and Peter Fitzgerald (a veteran of the Irish National Police). The commission only has a six-month mandate, and it is to be hoped that this period will suffice (as opposed to the apparently interminable Hariri investigation).

3-Person Commission Of Inquiry Into Assassination Of Former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto To Begin 6-Month Mandate 1st July 2009
UN probe team calls on Zardari

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mental health break

Both pictures taken with a BB Bold

Random chart...

Source: U.N. World Drug Report 2009

Random chart...

Source: WSJ Senators Consider Curtailing Hospitals' Tax Breaks

"Senators working on health-care legislation are considering provisions to pare back the billions of dollars in tax breaks enjoyed by U.S. hospitals. More than half of the 5,482 hospitals in the U.S. are nonprofits that don't pay federal, state or local taxes..." Read the rest here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Random chart...

"A new poll finds that around the world US foreign policy continues to receive heavy criticism on a variety of fronts, even though in 13 of 19 nations most people say they have confidence in President Obama to do the right thing in international affairs.

The US is criticized for coercing other nations with its superior power (15 of 19 nations), failing to abide by international law (17 of 19 nations), and for how it is dealing with climate change (11 of 18 nations). Overall, views are mixed on whether the US is playing a mainly positive or mainly negative role in the world"

Source: Though Obama Viewed Positively, Still Much Criticism of US Foreign Policy: Global Poll

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mental health break...

Les Masques - limited edition set of watches with masks from countries from different continents (Mexico, Japan, Papua New Guinea, and The Gabon) by Vacheron Constatin... Exquisite! You have to visit the site.

Random picture...

Picture source/credit: Said Khatib/AFP
Apartment building in Rafah, Gaza.

Random chart...

Phillip Morris International cigarette brands... Source: June PMI CFO presentation at the J.P.Morgan Global Tobacco Conference. Interesting 72-slide presentation on pricing, market share, etc.

(French: Smoking kills. German: Smoking can be deadly)