Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Worth repeating? II

Another consequence of the recent "underwear bomber" (i.e. Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab) attempt is that discussion re 'profiling' is also back in vogue. Now the problem with this is that many if not most of those calling for 'profiling' misunderstand what it is... For example, those calling for "Muslims" and other such over-broad categories to be targeted are off-base and likely to cause more harm than good. Others, much fewer in number, also call for appropriate 'profiling' - the judicious application of logic, risk factors, and specific criteria designed to shrink as much as possible the universe of subjects to be identified for increased scrutiny... Also, the use of 'behavioral profiling'

Below are reprints of a number of much older entries - the first is on the topic of profiling; the second some basic math concepts for security; the third re a reliance on "science and technology" to ensure safety; and the fourth a framework against terrorism. Reading and integrating all four might be useful in achieving a holistic view of the issues.

I. OPED2: airport "profiling" (reprint from Dec 2001)

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 there have been many discussions regarding "profiling" at airports. These discussions have been chaotic, with proponents and opponents firmly entrenched in their positions and talking past each other. The inability to have a useful and substantive discussion has mainly been due to the lack of a common agreement of what constitutes "profiling". The following is a very brief attempt to focus in on profiling, and to provide an example of a system that might be used for profiling airline passengers for increased scrutiny......

Profiling is not simply picking out a certain racial or demographic group for increased scrutiny. Besides being unethical and possibly illegal, this is also inefficient and of limited utility. The use of overly broad categories (e.g. Middle-Eastern looking males, dark-skinned men with beards, etc..) will only result in the identification of many people for increased scrutiny. This results in an increase in the dissatisfaction of the target group without a commensurate increase in real security. Profiling is the judicious use of a select group of specific criteria designed to shrink as much as possible the universe of subjects to be identified for increased scrutiny. These criteria need to be focused on the target that is to be screened for. By this means resources may be deployed effectively with a much higher probability of identification of the target, resulting in a real increase in security.

For example, the following is a system that could be used for airport profiling. Each passenger would be assigned different weights for a number of criteria based on subject demographics, travel information, and environmental factors:.

a) Demographic data:

  • Country of origin. A weight between 1 and 10 by country of origin, e.g. Saudi Arabia 10, Switzerland 1
  • Age - 18-40 +4 / >60 -4
  • Gender - Male +5 / Female -1
b) Travel information:
  • One-way ticket +4
  • Ticket purchase: >6 months prior to trip -2 / 4-6 months prior to current trip +1 /
  • No luggage +2
c) Travel History:
  • A weight between 1 and 10 by country of visit for each overseas trip in the previous 3 years (e.g. France, Germany, U.K. +10, Iran +5, Hong Kong +2, Switzerland +1, etc.)
d) Residency/Citizenship Factors:
  • US citizen > 20 years -7
  • US citizen 10-20 years -3
  • US resident > 20 years -5
  • US resident 10-20 years -2
e) Environmental Risk factors = Alert Status
  • High alert +10, medium alert +5
Each passenger would be scored by the sum of their individual factor weights and the environmental factor. A score of 21 or greater would trigger increased security measures e.g. passenger interview, body search, hand check of carry-on luggage, etc. The environmental factor allows for the level of scrutiny to be proportional to the alert level - a higher level of scrutiny resulting when the country is on alert (FBI or CIA having received credible threats of possible terrorist actions)

For this system to work it would be necessary that:

  • The criteria and weightings not be public knowledge, to prevent terrorists 'gaming' the system.
  • The criteria be updated (both the individual criteria and the weightings) on a regular basis to ensure that the system evolves with changes in the threat profile.
  • While the system should be followed as much as possible, room needs to be left for human discretion e.g. security check of a person exhibiting excessive nervousness, etc.
II. OPED4: Some basic math concepts for security (reprinted from Dec 2001)

  • Base rate fallacy:
The base rate fallacy comes into play when one ignores, or is unaware of, the very low probability of an occurrence in comparison to another. For example, consider an inspection mechanism checking for terrorists that is able to make this determination with an accuracy of 99.99% (i.e. if someone is a terrorist there is a 99.99 percent chance that the mechanism indicates "terrorist," and if someone is not a terrorist, there is a 99.99 percent chance that the mechanism indicates "non-terrorist.") Assuming that one in twenty five million passengers is a terrorist, what is the chance that a person identified as a terrorist by the mechanism actually is a terrorist? Though it may seem counter-intuitive the answer is 0.04%. How?? Let us run the numbers:

Assuming that one in twenty five million flyers actually is a terrorist, the mechanism's false positive rate means that in addition to the one person who is a terrorist, (1-0.9999)*25,000,000 = 2,500 people will also be incorrectly identified as terrorists. Thus the probability that the person identified is a terrorist actually is one is 1/2500*100 = 0.04%

Thus, though the accuracy of the mechanism is high it is very likely that the rate of false alarms would eventually cause the people running the mechanism to distrust its results. Any such mechanism (e.g. biometric identification of iris) would also be expensive, and its deployment in every airport would be a burden in terms of dollars, manpower, etc.

  • Crossover error rate:
Inspection mechanisms such as profiling or biometrics are subject to two types of errors. The first is known as the False Rejection Rate (FRR) or Type 1 Error, in which a valid test subject is incorrectly rejected. The second is known as the False Acceptance Rate (FAR) or Type 2 Error, in which the test subject is incorrectly accepted. For example, for an iris scanner a Type 1 error would occur if the machine incorrectly rejected a subject that was in the database, while a Type 2 error would occur if it incorrectly OK'd a person not in the database. As the sensitivity of the inspection mechanism is increased the mechanism will become more selective and the incidence of incorrect rejections (FRR) will increase. Conversely, as the sensitivity is decreased the mechanism will become less selective and the incidence of incorrect acceptances (FAR) will increase. The graph below shows the relationship between these variables.

III. OPED14: Science to the rescue (reprinted from Feb 2002)

Following the events of 9/11 'security' in all its manifestations has become an urgent concern of many people, who look to science and technology for help. This OPED looks at a few instances of technology that have been advanced recently as potentially having a role in making the country safer.
  • As reported in the British journal Nature, researchers at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) have found that when people lie the blood flow around their eyes increases, and so have proposed that screeners using high-definition, heat-sensing cameras could determine if someone was telling the truth or a lie. Preliminary experiments have been conducted using this technology and the findings are that the accuracy of this system is slightly higher than that of polygraphs. In the experiment the camera identified 75% of the "guilty" subjects and 90% of the "innocent" subjects. The Mayo Clinic study authors' hypothesis is that this blushing is part of the "fright or flight response", which can signal willful deception. Skeptics point to the possibility that the physiological changes could be due to anxiety and not guilt. Others have noted that the number of subjects used in the experiment is too small to determine if this truly is meaningful. However, Honeywell has patented this system, and tests will be ongoing to see if this will work in real-life situations.
  • Note: even if this system is validated and achieves the rates of accuracy stated, its use in isolation would be less than useful due to the base rate fallacy (see OPED4 for an explanation). However, as a part of a structured screening process it could prove valuable. First, profiling - see OPED2 - would reduce the population needing further screening, and this would be further reduced by use of this system, so that interview, individual search, etc. would need to be performed on a manageable number of people.
  • Another technology showing promise is using an ion mobility spectrometer to detect minute traces of explosives. The Sandia National Laboratories has developed a portal for airport use that closely resembles the existing metal detectors. As the passengers pass through the portal air flows downwards from the top of the portal. Small air jets on the sides agitate the passengers' clothing to dislodge any contamination. The airflow is then pulled into a 'screen preconcentrator' in which the large volume of air is passed through a high-density metal screen. Heavy organic molecules (e.g. trace explosives) are trapped by the screen. The screen is then heated to 200 degrees Centigrade, which converts any collected explosive traces back into a gas that is then passed to the ion mobility sensor. The net effect is that trace explosives from a large volume of air are concentrated by a factor of 100-1000 before passing to the spectrometer for detection, thus increasing the chances of detection. Experiments done at the Alburquerque airport in 1997 were positive... A throughput rate of five passengers/minute was achieved, with a false detection rate of less than one percent (information on the types or quantities of explosives this system can detect were not disclosed for security reasons.) Further refinement of this portal has been underway for several years, and it may be commercially available in the near future.
  • A problem with airport screeners is that even well trained security personnel find it difficulty to maintain the requisite level of concentration while watching X-ray scanner screens for long periods. PerkinElmer Instruments (Boston, MA) has developed a software package known as TIP - Threat Image Projection to combat this and to ensure that screeners stay alert. The software can project images of guns, knives, or explosive devices on the images of the bags that are passing through the scanners. This is used to improve the screeners' abilities, as well as to periodically check on their alertness.
  • Another promising technology is Quadropole Resonance. It is known that when explosives are bombarded with certain radio frequencies the nitrogen compounds in the explosives vibrate, and that QR scanners can then detect these vibrations. This technology is being adapted to scan trucks, shipping containers, etc. The truck or container is bombarded with low-power radio waves of specific frequencies. If explosives are present their nitrogen compounds begin to vibrate, and very sensitive radio receivers that surround the truck pick this up. A computer system can then identify the explosive present by comparing the signals captured against a database of known compounds. Since the radio waves do not effect people and are not distorted by steel shipping containers, entire vehicles could be scanned at one time.
In conclusion, numerous technologies are being developed that can help in increasing security levels. Science and technology can provide tools that may contribute to increased security and the fight against terrorism, but there is no "magic bullet". What is necessary is the deployment and use of multiple technologies to provide a systematic, multi-layered defense.

IV. OPED23 A framework against terror (reprint from Apr 2002)

This OPED attempts to demonstrate a framework against terrorism. First some background:

  • The struggle against terrorism is not "a war". While the war metaphor might seem apt given the magnitude of the endeavor, it is counter-productive in the longer run. First, although military action is a significant and integral component, a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy will also have intelligence , diplomatic, civil defense or homeland security, economic, financial , law enforcement, and human rights components in addition to the military component. Second, the war metaphor tends to imply an end point, when in reality the fight against terrorism has no conclusion and must be an integral part of society. Third, the war metaphor might make people feel that the struggle against terrorism is only the responsibility of the armed forces when in fact every citizen has a role to play. Lastly, the war metaphor twists the terms of the debate which can have unfortunate and unintended consequences - examples might be a lessening of concern about our civil liberties that result in inappropriate actions (e.g. certain parts of the USA PATRIOT Act), or a stifling of the debate that is a vital and integral part of our democratic system (e.g. when any discussion over the direction the country is taking is shouted down by people as inappropriate while we are "at war")
  • The complexity of the counter-terrorism strategy with all its different parts places a premium on coordinating the various efforts.Finally, in general the various components of the counter-terrorism strategy enumerated above must all posses the following characteristics:
    • Appropriate funding for long-term viability.
    • Multi-layered, redundant services to provide protection "in depth".
    • Utilization of people with the appropriate levels of expertise and core competencies.
    • Real-time detection and response.
    • Resilient security that is adaptive and can respond to a changing threat environment.
    • An emphasis on partnerships.
The bottom line is that the world is a dangerous place, that terrorism is here to stay, that mitigation efforts need to be continuous and ongoing, and that given the open nature of our society it is impossible to provide 100% protection. However, if a comprehensive systems approach is utilized terrorist incidents will be exceptions and the terrorist threat can be "managed"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Worth repeating?

Following the recent "underwear bomber" (Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab), discussion re airport and airline screening is again a topic du jour... As always, some folks always say, "Why can't we do this like El-Al? (or Israel)," etc. Perhaps time to trot out an "oldie but goldie," originally penned in January 2002, repeated in June 2008, seen below:

To the rescue? (reprint of OPED7 Israel - Lessons to learn?)

Annie Jacobsen,
writer about aviation security and homeland security, reports that “America is finally showing interest in adopting Israel's approach to airline safety which looks for bombers, not bombs — and won't confiscate your tiny bottles of shampoo,” see article below.

Israeli-Style Airport Security Coming to U.S.?

While, no doubt, there are lessons to be learned from Israel in this area, simply attempting to copy their methods is futile, as this blogger wrote up in 2002, see reprint below:

01/08/2002 OPED 7 Israel – Lessons to learn?

What lessons can be learned from Israel and El Al? Following 9/11 many articles have appeared in the press unfavorably comparing US airport screening and airline security with that of El Al, the Israeli airline. A similar message has been common from television pundits. It is true that that the security screening at US airports has been abysmally poor. It is also true that El Al's security is the 'best' in the business, and certain practices such as passenger profiling, the use of armed air marshals, the checking of every bag for explosives and subjecting them to decompression, the use of a professional security staff, etc. should be adopted here in the US. However, even if the will existed to adopt the same methods here in the US it is not at all obvious that it would be possible to successfully scale up El Al's security from the relatively small number of passengers that they need to screen to what would be necessary in the much larger US market. The following figures give an idea of the relative sizes of the two endeavors:

In 1999 El Al carried 1.14 million passengers worldwide, while (in 2000) US domestic airlines had some 650 million passenger emplanements. In the US in 1998 1,903 million people were screened at US airports (of whom 660 were arrested for firearms violations, and 86 for giving false information).

Thus the two tasks are magnitudes apart, something that is not addressed by any of these commentators. Additionally, given the 'hardening' of this target, terrorists wishing to strike Israel have simply shifted their terrorist actions to easier targets e.g. suicide bombers targeting discos, marketplaces, and other places where groups of people assemble.... Terrorists have penetrated Israel in spite of all the countermeasures in place. Israel's borders are 1,006 km long, the borders of the US are 12,248 km in length and in 2000 they were transited by:

489 million people (142 million by airline from overseas)
127 million passenger vehicles and 11.6 million maritime containers
11.5 million trucks and 202 million rail cars
829,000 planes and 211,000 vessels

During debate prior to the passage of the Airline Safety Act of 2001 there were differences between Democrats & Republicans, and between the House and the Senate regarding the 'federalization' of airport screening personnel. Disagreements were voiced about who could run this function most efficiently, government workers or the private sector. Unfortunately this debate was missing the point. Given the magnitude of the numbers above it is clear that while US airports and the US border need to be controlled to a greater degree than is the case at present, security can not be brought about by mere inspection but needs to be part of a larger system in depth.... Arguing back and forth about who can run this process the most efficiently is a sterile debate... unless airport and border security and screening are part of a much larger and systematic approach to security, the problems of 9/11 can happen again....

Note: Annie Jacobsen's claim to "fame" results from her claim to have witnessed a terrorist 'dry run' on Northwest flight NW 327 in 2004. Some consider her a nutjob. This blogger has no idea re what happened, but is not particularly impressed by this recent article...

Random charts

Sunday, December 27, 2009

One year on...

Random chart

Turkmenistan-China natural gas pipeline Source: Russia labors as neighbors do deals

The pattern continues II

Beyond the previous blog entry, another "dodgy military reports and/or uncritical press reprinting" issue is the one that insists on portraying the enemy as stupid. Not overtly mind you, but by periodically labeling some tactics and or weapons as "sophisticated" and thus prima facie evidence of external, usually Iranian, meddling. The April 28th, 2008 blog entry, 'Backward Iraqis', and the July 12th, 2008 entry, 'Lobbing (more than bombs)', tackled examples of this (EFP shaped charges; 2007 Karbala attack; and IRAMs i.e improvised rocket assisted mortars Note: shaped charges and IRAMs are in no way 'new' e.g. both used by the IRA in the '90's).

Recently we had a flurry of articles similar to the Wall Street Journal article, Insurgents hack U.S. Drones: $26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing Suspected, which continued this tradition/meme... Iraqi insurgents suddenly showing evidence of "sophistication," intercepting unencrypted UAV video feeds... hmm, surely foreign intervention!

OK, so this has been reported on since at least 2002 (e.g. a CBS-TV report that showed feeds from UAVs in Bosnia being intercepted...), and know from even earlier in the '90's. Other sensational language exaggerates what has happened e.g. intercepting an unencrypted, over-the-air signal is hardly "hacking", etc. But, when done by insurgents (rubes) it must be "sophisticated" and they must have had help! Great reporting!

The pattern continues

'The Joys of Airstrikes and Anonymity' argues (providing multiple examples) that after every Predator or aerial attack some anonymous U.S. spokesman will make positive claims that are uncritically reprinted by the press. Subsequently many of these claims turn out to be exaggerated or even completely untrue, but that "... no matter how many times government claims about attacks turn out to be false, the American media repeats them ..."

The June 16th, 2008 blog entry, 'Reflex', and a March 22nd, 2002 entry, 'OPED 21 "Straight talk" on Hazar Qadam', had already noted the propensity of the military to reflexively deny ever making any errors... and that after any strike with unanticipated consequences "... the Pentagon’s first reflex after any error is to deny everything, then to deny everything, then to partially admit the possibility of an error (if the evidence becomes irrefutable) while obfuscating the issue, but never to forthrightly admit that an error has been made ..." This practice of obfuscating, dare we call it lying, looks to have changed from being reactive when things go wrong, to being proactive "... and by design, there is never any debate or discussion over the propriety or wisdom of these strikes..." The press by its continued acquiescence in this process aids and abets these efforts...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Still wondering

The U.S. economy apparently has avoided the bottomless pit, and yet... This blogger had already wondered back in the June 7th, 2009 blog entry 'So what happened to...' re what had happened to the 'toxic assets' that had been blamed for the downturn... and how the economy was supposed to recover when nothing much was really being done about this "cause" of the problem...

Since then the economy grew in the third quarter of 2009 (initially pegged as at a 3.5% annual rate, which subsequently has been dialed back to a still positive 2.2%), signaling the end of the recession. Growth is expected to continue, although multiple warnings that employment will be slow to rebound continue to be made...

In August President Obama renominated Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and he was confirmed by the full Senate in December. Also in December TIME magazine picked Bernanke as the 2009 Person of the Year because, in their words, "... the main reason Ben Shalom Bernanke is TIME's Person of the Year for 2009 is that he is the most important player guiding the world's most important economy. His creative leadership helped ensure that 2009 was a period of weak recovery rather than catastrophic depression, and he still wields unrivaled power over our money, our jobs, our savings and our national future. The decisions he has made, and those he has yet to make, will shape the path of our prosperity, the direction of our politics and our relationship to the world..."

OK, so how was the economy turned around? Well, the administration shoveled cash into the system, via ARRA spending and tax cuts, "cash for clunkers," a first-time home buyers tax credit, and a variety of other mechanisms. The Federal Reserve also shoveled cash into the system (via a number of mechanisms - some overt and clear, others very obscure...), and in quantities that dwarfed anything that the administration had done. The Fed "... has responded to the evolving financial crisis both by expanding traditional Fed programs and implementing nontraditional programs. The aim of these actions is to improve credit markets through targeted infusions of liquidity and to thereby restore confidence and financial stability..." Just from 2007 to 2008 "... total assets on the Fed's balance sheet are now more than $2 trillion, more than twice the highest year-end total in its history. The doubling in the balance sheet from year-end 2007 dwarfs any other year-to-year increase (the next highest was a 60 percent increase from 1933 to 1934). As of Dec. 10, 2008, total Fed assets were approximately 15.8 percent of GDP, the highest total since the late 1940s. Fed loans as a percentage of GDP stands at 4.8 percent, near record highs, and three times what it was in the 1980s. ..." Mark to market rules were also rolled back... Beyond massive injections of liquidity this blogger hasn't found and/or read any other coherent explanation of how the economy has recovered... and so he is still wondering...

Oh well, Merry Christmas!

Previous blog entries related to this topic:

Random chart... - Nov 7th, 2009
Massive cuts? Or not? - Nov 2nd, 2009
So what happened to... - Jun 7th, 2009
Random chart - May 17th, 2009
Random chart - April 18th, 2009
Held to account? - April 16th, 2009
Automotive restructuring - April 4th, 2009
Theory vs. practice - March 30th, 2009
Random chart - March 18th, 2009
Random chart - March 12th, 2009
Random chart - March 9th, 2009
Random thoughts - Feb 15th, 2009
Rhetorical questions - Feb 11th, 2009
Better charts - Feb 10th, 2009
Random charts - Feb 9th, 2009
Random chart - Feb 8th, 2009
The high and mighty... - Feb 6th, 2009
Stimulus update II - Feb 3rd, 2009
Stimulus update - Jan 28th, 2009
Some recovery info - Jan 28th, 2009
Random chart - Jan 13th, 2009
Irony alert! - Jan 7th, 2009
Misc TARP updates - Dec 20th, 2008
Bailout/handout - Dec 13th, 2008
Recession decision - Dec 11th, 2008
Oh wow - Nov 24th, 2008
The answer? - Nov 18th, 2008
G20 - Nov 17th, 2008
Misc. financial crisis - Nov 15th, 2008
Financial Crisis misc. - Nov 11th, 2008
Goofs - Nov 7th, 2008
The money PIT - Oct 31st, 2008
Repeat question - Oct 30th, 2008
Up or down
- Oct 29th, 2008
Lest we forget... - October 27th
One possible reason... - Oct 27th
Great quotes... - Oct 27th
Thank you California and Florida - Oct 26th
The elephant (and donkey) in the room - Oct 25th
Great quotes... - Oct 25th
Say what? - Oct 22nd
Crisis unfolding - Oct 21st
Once, squared, cubed - Oct 8th
Mortgage mess - Oct 7th
Crash victims... charities - Oct 6th
Executive compensation (Section 111)Oct 4th
MOABOct 4th
Quotes… (updated) Oct 4th
Fingers crossedOct 4th
Great quotesOct 2nd
Wall Street vs. Main Street – IIOct 2nd
Wall Street vs. Main Street Oct 1st
Yet another plan (Soros) Oct 1st
Ouch – IIOct 1st
OuchSept 30th
All about CDSs Sept 30th
Genius!Sept 30th
Crisis expandingSept 29th
Great quotesSept 27th
Redefining “too big to fail”Sept 27th
Crashing the partySept 27th
Rough LandingSept 25th
Confused and nowhere to go (updated)Sept 24th
Street-wiseSept 24th
One can dreamSept 23rd
Government bailoutsSept 23rd
What it took – Sept 23rd
Truth RIP (updated 9/22)Sept 22nd
Vox clamantis in desertoSept 22nd
Finely calibrated reactionsSept 16th
Fannie and FreddieSept 10th
Fannie Mae and Freddie MacJul 24th
Mortgage meltdown (update) - Apr 1st
Mortgage meltdownMar 31st
Housing Stories III Jul 29th
Housing stories – IIMar 6th
Housing storiesApr 5th

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Misc Update

The September 26th, 2009 blog entry, 'UNSC Resolution 1887,' poured a little cold water on the overheated rhetoric re the "historic' nature of the unanimous passage of Resolution 1887 by the U.N. Security Council. The entry made several points, including that the unanimity was achieved by making the declaration sufficiently vague in key areas so that countries with differing agendas could vote for the same resolution without actually agreeing to the substance. Also that "... Although the nuclear powers agreed here to work towards "complete (nuclear) disarmament", who can doubt that this "long and arduous" journey will not be their major focus, and will most certainly be subordinated to the incomparably more important (ahem) issue of nonproliferation?..."

Issues Brief: UNSC Resolution 1887: Packaging Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the United Nations provides much more information on the "back story" - the evolution of the resolution from draft to final version, and country-by-country and issue-by-issue summaries. Its conclusion? That "... the orientation of the resolution clearly emphasizes nonproliferation goals over disarmament, in both the initial draft and the final version of the resolution. The substance of the resolution adds very little to the disarmament objectives already enunciated by the Obama administration..." and that "... Resolution 1887 demonstrates its ambivalence to the NPT review process as a vehicle for serious action. Nonetheless, the revisions made to the resolution between drafts that cater to the NNWS are indicative of the effort, albeit modest, to achieve a successful outcome at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, an endeavor with uncertain prospects for realization."

Random chart...

Source: AP Interactive Map of Climate Emissions, Indications and Pledges

BB Bold 9700 second look

The January 12th blog entry, 'BB Bold 9700' , introduced the Bold II. After almost two weeks a few further data points... The size, trackpad, and camera are improvements on the Bold 9000. The smaller size of the 9700 is nicer and does not cause any issues e.g. with ease of keyboard use. After quickly getting used to the trackpad the trackball now feels very uncomfortable and unwieldy when I use the Bold 9000. And the camera is clearly significantly improved.

On the "down" side are browsing speed, the speed of sending e-mails with attachments, and (interestingly) battery life. Browsing seems much slower. I say 'seems' because I have not attempted to benchmark the times in any way, but on every web site I now distinctly have to wait while the browser thermometer bar moves through the 'Requesting,' 'Loading Data [xK of yK],' and 'Loading Images [x of y]' steps. Ugh! Sending e-mails with attachments is slower. Now granted, the images taken with the camera on the Bold 9700 are much larger, but the speed even seems slower than before with smaller images. On the plus side, with the 9700 I do get to see the upload (%) progress, which I did not see on the Bold 9000. Finally, my Bold 9700's batter life is much worse than that of the Bold 9000. Although rated significantly better (6 hour talk time and 17 days standby time versus 4.5 hours talk time and 13.5 days standby time) my Bold's battery only lasts the day with fairly low usage. For example, on December the 20th the battery went from fully charged to needing charging in just twelve hours, with only very moderate usage - data usage, including Twitter, approximately 2 hours of web browsing (not including any sites with video or audio), no multimedia use (e.g. camera, music, etc.), and no phone calls... Hmm, perhaps the battery is defective in some way...

So, what is the bottom line? An incremental improvement, with little reason for a Bold 9000 user to "upgrade."

Great quotes

"I spent a very restless night last night trying to figure out how I could show some bipartisanship and I think I was able to accomplish that for a few minutes." - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), joking explanation of why he first voted 'no' on his own manager's amendment before changing his vote to 'yes.' The health care bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote of 60-39 (Jim Bunning (R-KY) did not vote.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

All together now...

Sometime very soon, perhaps even tonight or early tomorrow morning, the Senate will be voting on the latest version of its health care reform bill. All indications are that the Senate Majority Leader has, by dint of persuasion and the copious use of 'inducements', lined up the 60 votes necessary to close debate and bring the bill to a vote. As such passage is then assured. Below are previous blog entries about hospitals and health care, and the current "health care reform" efforts.

An orgy of self-congratulations is likely to pour forth from the administration and the Democrats in the House and Senate. It is to be hoped that no injuries are suffered during all the back-slapping and high fives that will ensue... And then comes reconciliation and final passage.

The bottom line? As argued before, this is a health insurance reform bill and not a healthcare reform bill, no matter how many times politicians dress it up as the latter. The only thing going for it is that it greatly reduces, but for some reason does not eliminate, the vast pool of uninsured. The argument that this will save money over the long term is unpersuasive. As argued, many of the mechanisms intended to result in "savings" e.g. comparative effectiveness research, reductions in Medicare "waste", etc. will probably not pan out since they will prove politically risky when the time comes for implementation (for example, in this very bill the Senate added language prohibiting the implementation of the latest mammography recommendations)... It does not address most of the issues responsible for today's health care costs. The best case scenario is the hope that Atul Gawande's parallel to the changes that occurred in agriculture pan out similarly in healthcare, though this blogger is somewhat skeptical.

Back in 1988, albeit on a much smaller scale, the Congress passed the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act (MCCA) of 1988, which was intended to reduce the risk for catastrophic financial losses in the elderly due to illness. Its passage was followed by much cork-popping and champagne drinking, until a public backlash and fire-storm led to its repeal a year later. Given all the compromises made to achieve passage here, there is some risk of a similar outcome. A best case scenario will be that this small, initial step will have to be slowly built upon over the years to come. One has to say, the jury remains out on (true) health care reform...

Some previous entries referencing hospitals & health care:

Great quotes November 21st, 2009
Health care re-form XV (RIP CER) November 20th, 2009
Health care re-form XIV (The numbers) - October 31st, 2009
Health care re-form XIII (Bad math) - October 8th, 2009
Health care re-form XII (Random chart) - Oct 1st, 2009
Random chart - Sep 25th, 2009
Health care re-form XI (Sales job) - Sep 24th, 2009
Random chart - Sep 24th, 2009
Random chart - Sep 16th, 2009
Health care re-form X (Cowardice) - Sep 13th, 2009
Tempest in a teapot - Sep 5th, 2009
That explains it... (death panels) - Sep 1st, 2009
Health care re-form IX (Apologies due) - Aug 30th, 2009
Health care re-form VIII (More nonsense) - Aug 28th, 2009
Health care re-form VII (Nonsense) - Aug 26th, 2009
Health care re-form VI (Effectiveness) - Aug 15th, 2009
Health care re-form V (The sales job) - Aug 14th, 2009
Health care re-form IV (What is it?) - Aug 13th, 2009
Health care re-form III (Why we spend more) - Aug 8th, 2009
Health care re-form II (P4P) - Aug 4th, 2009
Health care re-form I (Issues) - Aug 4th, 2009
So? - Jul 27th, 2009
Random chart... - Jul 12th, 2009
Random charts... - May 22nd, 2009
Random chart... - May 9th, 2009
Wyeth v. Levine - Mar 22nd, 2009
Financial crisis & hospitals - III - Mar 22nd, 2009
Random chart... - Feb 1st, 2009
Financial crisis & hospitals - II - Jan 27th, 2009
Random chart... - Jan 26th, 2009
Hospitals' financial update - Dec 25th, 2008
Good for the goose - Dec 11th, 2008
Studies of intererst - IV - Nov 16th, 2008
Studies of interest - II - Nov 16th, 2008
Financial crisis & hospitals - I - Nov 14th, 2008

Saving the day...

Once again on issues of major import, it is hard to tell from the reporting exactly what has happened. This blogger is referring here to the recent Copenhagen imbroglio... Was the outcome a "... meaningful and unprecedented agreement..." (per President Obama); a "... historic failure that will live in infamy..." (Greenpeace activist); a "reset" and possibly "... the beginning of a game changer in how the world looks at ending carbon pollution..." (Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress); or just the "... end of a long day, start of a long road..." (350.0rg founder)? Reactions were definitely mixed across the entire spectrum.

A certain amount of "spinning" is also going on, after all this did include a large number of political leaders from around the globe. For the U.S., the links below give the transcript of a briefing given by a "senior administration official" to reporters on the flight back to the United States. Presumably this is supposed to give an account of how President Obama 'saved the day' at Copenhagen... This blogger does not find it persuasive, in fact it reveals an incredible level of incoherence. One would expect that the President's attendance at this gathering of world leaders would be well planned, but one apparently would be wrong. For example:
  • During the meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao the U.S. "... had given some transparency language to them..." to discuss. A follow-up question revealed that this was handed over at the meeting between Obama and Wen, a meeting at the end of the last day of the conference! Apparently the arrival of Secretary of State Clinton (also, incorrectly, portrayed as saving the day with her "$100 billion fund") did not result in any preparation for the President's arrival... it's not as if China's issues with "transparency" suddenly showed up when the President arrived!
  • OK, so the above is concerning but not a huge deal. However, as the narrative by the "senior administration official" goes on, it looks like the most powerful man on the planet flew all the way to Copenhagen for an issue that might concern the fate of the entire planet, and did this all by the seat of his pants. "The President also says to staff, we should meet in a group of three with Lula of Brazil, Singh of India, and Zuma of South Africa..." Unfortunately it looked like this meeting would not occur, because "... Brazil tells us that they don't know if they can come because they want the Indians to come..." and "... we were told Singh was at the airport..." So, if this narrative is true, does this mean that the President didn't have a meeting scheduled with these worthies, and that he suddenly got the bright idea that this might be a good idea? And it looked like it wasn't going to be possible because some of them were already leaving the conference?
  • Then, apparently, as they were going to the follow-up meeting with Wen they found him with the three (Brazil's Lula, India's Singh, and South Africa's Zuma)!! Hmm. so perhaps credit for saving the conference should go to Wen and not Obama, since according to the "senior administration official" it was Wen that managed to pull together the group after the U.S, had failed to do so!
OK, so this all sounds incredibly amateurish, even putting aside the insinuations that the others might have been engaged in some sort of secret meeting, that the "at the airport" story was possibly a ploy, etc. The entire narrative doesn't make much sense, from the small details (the seating) to the larger narrative (above). Even the silly "seating" story makes no sense! Although, supposedly, "... there aren't any seats, right, I mean, I think if you've seen some of the pictures, there were basically no chairs..." it turns out that "... the President says, "No, no, don't worry, I'm going to go sit by my friend Lula," and says, "Hey, Lula." Walks over, moves a chair, sits down next to Lula. The Secretary of State sits down next to him..." So, if no chairs where were they sitting? On the floor? That would make a good picture, the President and Secretary of State both sitting cross-legged on the floor!

This blogger is really not sure what to make of this entire narrative. Even if you believe every word, does the unnamed "senior administration official" somehow feel that this reflects positively on the President? Presumably the intent is to portray the President as having pulled a rabbit out of his hat; however, this blogger would argue that it is more evidence of ineptness than of brilliant maneuvering! And if it's not an exact rendering of what happened, why would they come up with such a silly story?

White House tells amazing inside story of how the Copenhagen Accord was reached
Inside details on Obama's climate change meeting with Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Upper Mismanagement: Why can't Americans make things? Two words: business school

Hmm, to read this article U.S. manufacturing is in a parlous state, as evidenced by the fact that it "... has shed almost one-third of its manpower over the last eight years..." Apparently this is due to a dearth of good managerial talent, since starting in 1965 business school graduates increasingly opted for the consulting and financial industries; fewer managers came from production backgrounds; and business schools tended to "reflect and reinforce" these trends. Also, business schools started to get better students, but apparently this was a bad thing because they were "over-achievers" and "... motivated primarily by salary rather than some lifelong ambition to run a steel mill..."

Towards the end, the article generously opines that "... it would be ludicrous to suggest that simply changing the culture of business schools would single-handedly revive U.S. manufacturing..." Ludicrous... an excellent word... which perhaps should also be applied to the title and the entire article, it's thesis as well as its ending i.e. "... it’s hard to believe that American manufacturing has a chance of recovering unless business schools start producing people who can run industrial companies, not just buy and sell their assets..."

What a load of drivel. The underlying contention appears to be that the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment is symptomatic of a decline in manufacturing is risible. U.S. manufacturing output accounts for about a quarter of global manufacturing output. In 2009 it is valued at around $2.7 trillion, which would be equivalent to the sixth largest economy in the world.

The decrease in manufacturing employment has many causes. Chief among them is the fact that manufacturing productivity has soared, so that manufacturing output has greatly increased even while manufacturing employment has simultaneously decreased (see graphs above). Other reasons include the effects of foreign competition, the declining share of consumer spending dedicated to manufactured goods, and the increasing use of temporary, part-time workers, and contracted labor. And the trend of reductions in manufacturing employment has occurred across the world... Robert Reich's 'The Future of Manufacturing, GM, and American Workers' illustrates this point: "... Economists at Alliance Capital Management took a look at employment trends in twenty large economies and found that between 1995 and 2002--before the asset bubble and subsequent bust--twenty-two million manufacturing jobs disappeared. The United States wasn't even the biggest loser. We lost about 11% of our manufacturing jobs in that period, but the Japanese lost 16% of theirs. Even developing nations lost factory jobs: Brazil suffered a 20% decline, and China had a 15% drop..."

The article also uses the example of agriculture to point out the frivolity of gauging the health of an industry by its historical employment trends, "... In this, manufacturing is following the same trend as agriculture. A century ago, almost 30% of adult Americans worked on a farm. Nowadays, fewer than 5% do. That doesn't mean the U.S. failed at agriculture. Quite the opposite. American agriculture is a huge success story..." Should the U.S. government be supporting a return to the farm? Well then why should it attempt to "revive" manufacturing employment?

OK, in sum, a silly article, embellished with an equally silly and superficial analysis...

What Accounts for the Decline in Manufacturing Employment? CBO

Random picture

Source: The 50 Most Stunning Wall Murals From Around The World

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Skimmed milk masquerades as cream

The climate talks at Copenhagen were looking like they might end in stalemate when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew in and revived them... with a big pledge. One hundred billion dollars a year! At least that is what you might think by reading the headlines, see a few typical examples below....

If you read many to most of the articles you probably still would believe this, for example "The US is putting a 100 billion on climate change initiatives for poor nations..." or "U.S. backing for a $100 billion climate fund to help poor nations revived hopes for a deal to combat global warming on Thursday as world leaders met on the eve of a U.N. deadline for breaking deadlock," and so on. Some other articles did vaguely mention the year 2020... and that the U.S. would "participate" in the fund...

So, what did Clinton promise? Her exact words were, "... we also recognize that an agreement must provide generous financial and technological support for developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, to help them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. That’s why we joined an effort to mobilize fast-start funding that will ramp up to $10 billion in 2012 to support the adaptation and mitigation efforts of countries in need. And today I’d like to announce that, in the context of a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation, the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries. We expect this funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance. This will include a significant focus on forestry and adaptation, particularly, again I repeat, for the poorest and most vulnerable among us..."

So, the U.S. will be part of an effort to get to $10 billion by 2012... not $10 billion from the U.S. now, but part of an effort "to ramp up to $10 billion." And subsequently, will "work with other countries towards a goal" of $100 billion a year. Listening to this, can anyone really say how much the U.S. is committing to pay? And when? Hmm, some money, most of it after the current administration is out of office (even if re-elected to a second term!). This mealy mouthed "pledge" is a perfect example of this - The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a Head of State at the Copenhagen Climate Talks by @brianfit Hopefully no country bets its future on this fund... chances are good that it will melt away faster than the glaciers!

Clinton’s $100-billion Copenhagen bombshell leaves China in role of spoiler
U.S. backs $100 bln climate fund, world leaders meet
US Revives Copenhagen Talks With $100 Billion Pledge to Developing Nations
US Commits 100 Billi to Poor Nations for Climate Change

Remarks at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Quick update

The October 29th, 2008 blog entry, Science and side effects, related that the use of the drug diclofenac in livestock was responsible for almost wiping out the Indian vulture population, with attendant ill effects... Well, in 2006 diclofenac was banned and the "safe" drug ketoprofen started to be used instead.

Fast forward to today. It turns out that ketoprofen is also fatal to the vultures, and has also been killing them! Now they're moving on to using meloxicam...

By his own words...

In Uganda a first-term parliamentarian has introduced a bill to penalize homosexuality. It would make the act of homosexuality a felony punishable by seven years in prison; and the act of "aggravated" homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment. (Ed note: In Uganda homosexuality is already illegal). The bill also includes penalties for not reporting (a fine and up to three years imprisonment); those who engage in same-sex marriage are imprisoned for life; while anyone who "aids and abets" homosexuality is liable for seven years....

Condemnation, rightly, has poured in from around the world... In defense of himself and his bill Bahati has said at various times:

"You are either anti-homosexual, or you're for homosexuals, because there's no middle point. Anybody who does not believe that homosexuality is a crime is a sympathizer..."

"The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a nice piece of legislation. It is a consolidation of values of Ugandans and the country at large. It aims at holding the integrity of Ugandans high in the sky... The family is the epitome of creation. And anything that deviates from our family values is evil, unacceptable. This Bill is focusing on ways through which Uganda can keep her family values safe and sound... The divine role of man is that of procreation, a far cry from this mentality that man and man can live in the same house as husband and wife, or a woman marrying a fellow woman... Combating homosexuality is not easy. There is massive recruitment in schools—mostly single-sex schools...," and "... supporting the cause of this Bill will provide Uganda as a country an opportunity to provide leadership in this area of safeguarding the traditional family..."

What a piece of work!

Bill No 18 The Antihomosexuality Bill (text and link to original PDF)
David Bahati - Wikipedia
David Bahati - Ugandan Parliament page
Taboos Silence Opponents Of Uganda Anti-Gay Bill
David Bahati: Homosexuality is not a human right
Uganda MP Bahati defends gay-sex 'death penalty' bill

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Random charts...

Charts with some information on the U.S. use of 'contractors' in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many do not realize that 'contractors' make up the majority of the "workforce" in Iraq/Afghanistan. Addition information and charts at the source, a CRS report "Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Backgroiund and Analysis."


The May 20th, 2008 blog entry, 'Dabba dabba... done,' referenced the amazing work done by the Mumbai dabbawallas, who reunite over two hundred thousand workers with their home-cooked lunches every day. The article Mumbai Markings Enhance Service Design' and 'Decoding the Dabbawalla Iconography' help explain how this gets done with better than six sigma accuracy despite the low-literacy or illiteracy of the workers involved...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Random charts

Different "flat" projections of the globe, using a new technique, "myriahedral projections." Source: Unfolding the Earth: Myriahedral Projections, in The Cartographic Journal. From the article... "Mapping the earth is an old and intensively studied problem. For about two thousand years, the challenge to show the round earth on a flat surface has attracted many cartographers, mathematicians, and inventors, and hundreds of solutions have been developed. There are several reasons for this high interest. First of all, the geography of the earth itself is interesting for all its inhabitants. Secondly, there are no perfect solutions possible such that the surface of the earth is depicted without distortion. Finally, factors such as the intended use of the map (e.g. navigation, visualisation, or presentation), the available technology (pen and ruler or computer), and the area or aspect to be depicted lead to different requirements and hence to different optima." Jump for more...

What price glory

Last month Lino Lacedelli passed away. He was a mountaineer who gained fame by being part of the first two climbers to summit K2, the world's second-highest peak (at 28, 251 feet second to Mount Everest, but a more dangerous climb). A triumph of the human spirit? Yes, but also a rather sordid tale...

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