Friday, October 31, 2003

Starving Children in Plain Sight: A letter to the NY Times

Starving Children in Plain Sight
Obviously, far more scrutiny is needed of caseworkers, of the lack of auditing of adoption subsidies and of the failure to mandate annual medical checkups for adopted children. The cause of abused youngsters needs far more from New Jersey than more emaciated poster children.

The NY Times editorial page responds to a horrific story of child neglect by advocating annual medical exams for adoptive children, presumably to detect abuse. A reasonable proposal, but inconsistent. The call should be for annual state sponsored exams of all children to detect abuse, neglect, and poor parenting. Certainly NYT editorial writers are very busy parents, and may be prone to leave the children with sitters. They may deserve particular attention. If one wishes to conserve resources, perhaps the exams should be limited to children at a higher risk of abuse or neglect. Poverty, poor character (politicians), two income families -- all possible leading indicators for neglected children. Let us brook no delay in implementing this proposal.

John Faughnan MD, MS
parent of three adoptive children
I rather doubt the NY Times will print my emailed letter, they never have before.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

DeLong on Health Care Economic Policy

Semi-Daily Journal
My two years spent working part time on health while at the Treasury convinced me that being a health economics policy guru was like being trapped in the 11th circle of Dante's hell. The problems are just too complex. The uncertainties just too great. And I do not have any of the answers.

Now that's honesty. There's been a recent jump in payor (insurance) company mergers recently, allegedly because the pool of insured people continues to shrink. As the pool shrinks, costs and risk sharing push mergers. Somewhere the train jumps the tracks, but I don't know what year it will be.

In a somewhat related vein, Dr. Lagace had this to say about a shortlived double residency in psychiatry and family practice: "It's like playing Russian Roulette with two bullets". Dr. Lagace is a family physician (so am I). As physicians respond to economic incentives by bailing out of both family practice and psychiatry, look for the next event to be a "crisis" of health care delivery in primary care and mental health. (Actually mental health services have been in the dumps for years, but Republicans figure the madhouses will handle those problems.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Bush Nazi Connection: Irrelevant and distracting

Conason on "Bush-Nazi" story
There are many unflattering terms that can and should be used to describe George W. Bush. He is, among other things, a truly bad President. But neither his offenses, nor the Republican Party's politics of personal destruction, can justify using such tactics against him. Imputing Nazi sympathies to the President or his family ought to be beneath his adversaries.

Odd that this has gotten traction. There's nothing here -- GWB's grandfather made some dirty money and was a good senator later on. Makes The Shrub seem more Kennedy like I suppose.

My dark suspicion is that Karl Rove wants to keep this story alive because it's silly, and it lets Bush act aggrieved. Time to forget it and talk about Bush's real failings.

Tribal engineering in Iraq: NYT

Victory in Iraq, One Tribe at a Time
There are about 10 large tribal federations in central Iraq, but there are hundreds of subgroups, each with its own sheik. He is the leader of the people, and in return for his services -- mediation, arbitration, attracting government services to the tribal area -- he is respected and obeyed.

New efforts ought to be made to persuade the sheiks to assert their influence and help keep the peace. The easiest would simply be to hire the sheiks and their tribesmen -- putting them on salaries and allowing them to spread the wealth among their people. In addition, sheiks in areas where coalition soldiers and oil pipelines are coming under frequent attacks should be told that the only way their tribes can receive luxuries -- extra government services, construction aid, easy access to senior officials in Baghdad %u2014 is by making sure that there are no attacks against coalition soldiers in their domain.

If a sheik refused to cooperate, not only could his perks be withheld, they could be given to a neighboring sheik. This would eventually pit the uncooperative sheik against his own tribesmen, who would see that he was not serving their interests. If this weren't enough to get the sheik into line, it wouldn't be too difficult for the coalition to enact 'regime change' on a small scale: almost every tribal leader has rivals within the group who covet his position.

... Amatzia Baram is professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Haifa in Israel and a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

I doubt tribes are quite so easy to manipulate, but this is a concrete suggestion. It sounds very British, and somewhat reminescent of US Special Forces activities in Afghanistan.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Cybercrime in Brazil and Beyond: A deeper significance

Brazil Becomes a Cybercrime Lab
The country is becoming a laboratory for cybercrime, with hackers - able to collaborate with relative impunity - specializing in identity and data theft, credit card fraud and piracy, as well as online vandalism.

Education + access to knowledge + lack of alternative opportunities + intellect + youth = cybercrime. In Russia add in "organized crime" for a slightly different spin.

That equation means that youthful (re: "developing") nations with dysfunctional economic systems will be fountains of cybercrime.

Wait until they become fountains of biohacking.

Maybe we need to rethink our approach to the world?

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Remaking the World: Bush and the Neoconservatives

Remaking the World: Bush and the Neoconservatives
America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Ivo H. Daalder, James M. Lindsay. Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2003, 238 $22.95

Days before the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom this past March, a well-known intellectual close to the White House walked me through the necessity and promise of the coming invasion. Whatever rancor it caused in the short term, he said, would pale in comparison to the payoff that would follow. In the months and years to come, Iraqis who had suffered under Saddam Hussein's tyranny would write books and testify to the brutality of the regime, the bankruptcy of the Arab nationalism that stood idly by while they suffered, and the improvement of their lives. That testimony and the reality of an Iraqi state where basic human rights were respected would shatter the anti-Americanism that fills the Muslim Middle East and start a wave of change that would sweep over the region.

A terrific overview of the Bush ideology, taken from a review published in Foreign Affairs and reprinted in the New York Times. There is no doubt that our foreign policy reflects GWB's vision, and his unwavering course. History will tell if his course is more like that of Churchill or more like that of the captain of the Titanic.

BBC NEWS | Technology | IP addresses are set to run out in 2005

Tackling the net's numbers shortage
In the early days of the internet, it seemed improbable that all of the four billion available IP addresses would be used, but that is exactly what is happening.

Every mobile phone, PC and server has an address which, like a phone number, needs to be dialled when it is accessed over the web.

But as more people log on around the globe, the available number of IP addresses is dwindling.

A taskforce of experts hope to solve the problem by creating what is called IPv6 and would provide 64 billion extra IP addresses.

I suspect the journalist did the math correctly, but an editor made the mistake. The number is 64 billion billion billion. More significantly, IPv6 was created years ago and has been implemented in several test cases. I think both OS X 10.3 and XP SP1 include IPv6 support.

This is the personal ID number of science fiction fame. At birth one will be assigned an IP address -- certainly appearing on one's hospital id bracelet. That number replaces SSN, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. Names are merely a changeable label, the number persists. Never reused, it most likely goes to the grave with the person. Post-mortal derivative avatars may apply to inherit the number, but they'll probably have to make do with their own. Pre-mortal avatars will certainly have to get their own numbers.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Bush: the clueless president

On High-Speed Trip, Bush Glimpses a Perception Gap
CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 23 Minutes after President Bush finished an hourlong meeting with moderate Islamic leaders on the island of Bali on Wednesday, he approached his staff with something of a puzzled look on his face.

'Do they really believe that we think all Muslims are terrorists?' he asked, shaking his head. He was equally distressed, he told them, to hear that the United States was so pro-Israel that it was uninterested in the creation of a Palestinian state living alongside Israel, despite his frequent declarations calling for exactly that.

It's been pointed out that Bush doesn't read very much and never has. Evidently no-one tells him very much either.

It pays to be pretty and telegenic: The stories of Lynch and Johnson

Ex-POW's Family Accuses Army Of Double Standard on Benefit (
AUSTIN, Oct. 23 -- Shot through both legs and held prisoner in Iraq for 22 days, Army Spec. Shoshana Johnson returned home in the spring to a difficult convalescence that lacked the media fury and official hype that attended her friend and comrade in arms, Jessica Lynch.

Depressed, scarred, haunted by the trauma of her captivity and at times unable to sleep, Johnson walks with a limp and has difficulty standing for long, according to her parents.
And now that Johnson is on the verge of her discharge from the Army, insult is being added to her injury, they say. While Lynch was discharged as a private first class in August with an 80 percent disability benefit, Johnson, set to leave in the coming days, learned last week that she will receive a 30 percent disability benefit from the Army for her injuries.

The difference, which amounts to $600 or $700 a month in payments, has infuriated Johnson and her family. They have enlisted Jesse L. Jackson's help to make their case to the news media, accusing the Army of a double standard, insensitivity and racism. Lynch is white; Johnson is black.

It certainly pays to be telegenic and pretty, being white probably helps some too. The story illustrates the interaction between our government, our institutions, and the political machine. If only there were a sense of shame in our modern culture ...

Thursday, October 23, 2003 - Exclusive Access -- I wonder why? - Top Stories - U.S. Forces Find Major Weapons Cache
Nice work by US forces and Iraqi helpers. Interesting angle though is Fox's exclusive access. I've been wondering if Fox has signed on to Rumsfeld's propaganda project ...

Rumsfeld seems unfazed by leaking of his memo ...

With a Smile and a Joke, Rumsfeld Defends Iraq Memo
Pressed about the leak of a memo in which he questioned progress in the war on terrorism, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld brushed aside questions today with a wry smile, saying that defense secretaries were not instructed, upon taking office, to 'cage your brain and stop thinking.'

This week newspapers published the memo, which Mr. Rumsfeld had sent to senior staff members. In it, the defense secretary, known for his relentless focus on positive achievements in the war on terror, used tough and unsparing language.

It is noteworthy that there is little speculation on who leaked the memo. I suspect the topic is avoided because Rumsfeld himself leaked the memo, or at least auhtorized the leak. It smells like a lateral move in his internecine warfare.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

The last days of privacy: CAPPS II

PBS | I, Cringely . Archived Column
Assuming that the airline is able to gather all 39 data points, under CAPPS-II they will be automatically reported to the TSA, which one might assume would compare the data to a terrorist profile. But before that happens, CAPPS-II uses the 39 data points to gather even more information about you from commercial and government databases. Some of this is confirming for accuracy the data already provided in the idea that a real terrorist would probably lie. Some of it is to dramatically expand the TSA's profile of you and me. To do this, they'll look at our credit reports, our credit cards and bank accounts. Using data from the Internal Revenue Service, if available, they'll confirm our employment and income. They'll check immigration and look for outstanding warrants through Interpol and the FBI. And they'll compare this information to that of our traveling companions and to the information for all other passengers on that plane in the assumption that we might be working together while appearing to travel separately. Eventually, we'll be rated on a red, yellow, green scale, and those of us lucky enough to get the green light will find it remarkably easy to get on an airplane. This rating and perhaps other information about us, will be held not just at the TSA but also in the computers of the four major reservations systems.

Predictable and inevitable. If it has to be done, there should a lot of resources bugeted for correcting errors, protecting use, setting up appeals, punishing misuse, etc. etc.

Does ANYONE imagine that Bush will handle this well? Does anyone trust them not to misuse this data? Will criticism of the Administration move one from a "green" to a "yellow" or "red" rating?

Better not get any traffic tickets ... if you want to fly ...

This is one of Cringely's best. He goes beyond the ugliness of CAPPS II and provides a concise outline of one approach to the new age of high tech terrorism. This approach assumes that terrorists will succeed, but that it's possible to mitigate the consequences of their success. So we really can't prevent people from getting weapons on a plane (or at least we don't want to pay what it would cost to prevent it), but we can prevent them from using the plane as a weapon -- by fortifying the cockpit door. (If one understands that much of our aviation security screening is really to reassure passengers rather than to increase security, then a lot of things make more sense.)

Friday, October 17, 2003

The US economy could boom again?

Ricardo Caballero of MIT believes that the U.S. was in the middle of a generation-long shift to a richer, higher capital-intensity growth path when the NASDAQ crash occurred--and that there is no reason to think that the United States cannot grow in this decade at the same boom-time rates at which it grew in the late 1990s: Home US: ...the correct comparison instead is between the current capital-output ratio and the long-run equilibrium ratio under plausible conditions. If we follow the latter strategy, and assume that private saving remains at its (recent) historical levels, the conclusion is very different from that of the pessimists: the new equilibrium capital-output ratio should be about 1.6, well above the current 1.36. In other words, the 1990s boom still had energy when it was interrupted. What lies behind this jump in the long-run capital-output ratio? The accelerating decline in machinery prices, which is a consequence of technological progress in machinery-producing sectors. (Here I conservatively assume that the decrease returns to its historical trend, slower than that of the 1990s.)

But not everything looks so favourable. In the calculations above I assume that the sources of funding available during the 1990s remain in place. In particular, I assume that fiscal saving does not disappear and that external saving decreases only gradually. Are these assumptions warranted? If all goes well, the external side is less complicated than is generally thought. The $500bn in external financing that the US requires each year is a huge amount - but we are talking about the US at a time when the global alternatives are not very exciting or are too small to make a difference. Of course, the dollar may suffer turbulence in the medium run. This could happen if, for political reasons, the US keeps pressing China and other Asian economies to revalue their currencies; this would entail a fall in those countries' reserve accumulation, most of which is being invested in US government securities.

However, the real danger lies in the other source of funds: public savings. If the fiscal accounts - particularly for the medium and long term - are not improved, the whole benign equilibrium may collapse. In the capital output calculations above, I assumed balanced fiscal accounts. If we assume sustained fiscal deficits of 4-5 per cent of gross domestic product that are not compensated for by a one-for-one increase in private savings (which seldom happens), the new equilibrium capital-output ratio falls as low as 1.1. In this scenario, the pessimists are correct and the US has a large excess- capacity problem; the obvious corollary of this is a huge increase in the long-run interest rate.

The US economy is indeed a "tightly coiled spring", with plenty of growth potential - definitely enough for a very good second half of this year and beginning of next year, but also way beyond that. However, this opportunity will be squandered unless a much sounder fiscal path is credibly outlined soon.

I actually thought this was a positive article when I first posted it; I thought I'd say something good for a change. It was only on rereading and editing that I noticed the mathematics assume Clintonomics. Instead, we have Dubyanomics -- massive deficits extending forever.

So even though Dubya didn't cause the collapse of the 90s boom, he may be responsible for a decade of meager growth. Sigh.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

General Boykin: Leading the New Crusade?

The general and his divine mission - (LA Times)
...The Pentagon has given the task of tracking down and eliminating Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and other high-profile targets to an evangelical army general who sees the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan.

Lieutenant-General William "Jerry" Boykin, the new deputy under-secretary of defence for intelligence ...

... the former commander and 13-year veteran of the US Army's top-secret Delta Force is an outspoken evangelical Christian who appeared in uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June to declare that radical Islamists hate the US "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. And the enemy is a guy named Satan."

... Discussing the battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, General Boykin told another audience: "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol."

General Boykin has said of President George Bush: "He's in the White House because God put him there."

... General Boykin has also said radical Muslims who resorted to terror were not representative of Islam. He has compared Islamic extremists to hooded Christians who terrorised blacks, Catholics, Jews and others from beneath the robes of the Ku Klux Klan.

...President Bush often uses religious language in his speeches, but he keeps references to God non-sectarian.

At one point, immediately after the September 11 attacks, Mr Bush said he wanted to lead a crusade against terrorism. But he quickly retracted the word when told that, to Muslim ears, it recalled the medieval Christian crusaders' brutal invasions of Islamic nations.

The radical left has said the Iraq invastion was about oil, and Al Qaeda have (confusingly) said their war is against materialism and /or the Crusaders.

While I still don't think either group is quite correct, I'm forced to admit they seem to have a point. The huge investment in war fighting, combined with a perverse antagonism to energy conservation, is most compatible with the thesis that oil has a special place in Bush's heart. Point for the radical left. As for Al Qaeda ...

Last comments:

1. Bush does NOT keep references to God non-sectarian. There are other gods than those of Abraham (Hindu, native American, etc) and other religions than those of Abraham -- such as Buddhism, Hinduism, native American beliefs, etc. Bush has never said anything to indicate any particular respect or tolerance for the non-Abramic faiths, nor, for that matter, for agnostics, secular humanists, and atheists.

2. Boykin may legitimately separate Muslims into those who follow Osama and those follow Muhammed. If Satan is out there, one could make a case that Osama is in his camp. I'd love to learn more about what he says to evangelical groups.

3. I wonder if Boykin is a big reader of the "Left Behind" series. The influence of that series on a particular sort of susceptible mind has, I think, been underestimated.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Does a missing posting suggest Apple will deploy a multiuser GUI? (And overturn the computing world?)

Apple - Discussions - Welcome

I recently learned that a posting I'd just made to Apple's Discussions forum is gone. It wasn't a rude posting, indeed it wasn't even a critical posting. It was an advocacy posting, asking when Apple would make the big move towards a multiuser GUI and thin client wireless deployment.

Now it's possible some technical glitch took my message. However, I naturally prefer the more intriguing possibility. I prefer to to think my posting was deleted. Since it was (honestly) a quite polite posting (my iPhoto postings are far more critical and they persist), I wonder if it touched a nerve. Is something afoot?

Anyone who's used Microsoft's remote desktop client on a wireless iBook has to come away very impressed. Every copy of XP includes Microsoft's SINGLE user remote desktop server (a limited version of their Citrix-derived multiuser remote desktop), and there are free clients for every version of Windows and for the Mac. It works terribly well. Rather than buy the clumsy Mac version of Quicken to do my bookeeping on my iBook, I can use my upstairs XP box remotely. There's a bit of keystroke lag, due in part to the relatively slow iBook CPU, but it's far better than VNC.

For me, it's the best thing in my mixed OS home LAN since Gopher.

Microsoft could have made XP a multiuser GUI server; they've done it for years in their server platform. They were on the verge of deploying the next phase with the Mira project. They didn't. I can only guess the thought of demolishing Intel and Dell chastened even Microsoft. Their existing Citrix-derived multiuser GUI is good enough that many homes and small businesses would buy only one multimedia server, and then deploy thin clients using ARM or another embedded CPU Microsoft also, for very good reason, must have feared the impact on Office licenses. So they passed.

Apple could pull the trigger. They are stealthily making their X-Windows client more and more a part of OS X (it's needed for OpenOffice). They have Quartz, a beautiful framework for distributing video. The underlying OS is, of course, BSD Unix -- multiuser by nature. They have the perfect server in the dual CPU G5. They have the iBook, a great thin client that can also be used outside the home in detached mode. They have 802.11G working across the product line. Their sync technology is a very good fit, allowing local CPU to complement the server CPU in interesting ways. They bundle so much software they can manage the licensing hit, they have a mechanism for renting software (.Mac) that's already been shown to work (Apple Backup). They even have their old Remote Desktop code, though I suspect that may be of little value. They don't care if Dell and Intel both crater.

With a great solution for server and thin client already in hand, with the Apple slates rumored to be in development, with the multimedia genes to use the server for video and music distribution to the clients, with the .Mac platform, with little to lose and an empire to gain, the equation looks irresistible. Apple can't resist. They've got to make the jump Microsoft turned back from.

When Apple jumps, they will fly. Less than 5% of households can keep one Windows machine running smoothly, much less a network of Windows machines serving parents and schoolchildren alike. The value of a thin client approach is overwhelming. Microsoft has been teetering on the edge, but they're too big to make this kind of jump. Apple can do it.

john faughnan

meta: jfaughnan, jgfaughnan, Apple, OS X, X-Windows, multi-user GUI, remote desktop, home, wireless LAN, 802.11G, project Mira, thin client, iBook, slate, palmtop

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Office of Propaganda active?

U.S. News: Wilson adds ammo to hit war credibility gap
Just as former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's story that Bushies blew his CIA wife's cover to get back at his criticism of the war in Iraq was getting old, he has stumbled on new ammo to hit the administration's credibility. Wilson tells us he plans to circulate the text of a briefing by analyst Sam Gardiner that suggests the White House and Pentagon made up or distorted over 50 war stories. You know some tall tales, like the Pvt. Jessica Lynch story. But there's more, says Gardiner, a war gamer who has taught at the National War College. Like how defense officials said the first Iraqi unit marines encountered, the 51st Mechanized Infantry Division, had surrendered four days before it actually did. And he says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers gave bad or deliberately incomplete info on several topics. Sure, propaganda has always been used in war to deceive and demoralize the enemy. But these guys went way overboard, Gardiner says. "Never before have so many stories been created to sell a war," he insists. "And they probably didn't need it."

This sounds like Rumsfeld's pre-Iraq project, an enhanced propaganda office. I'd like to see journalists looking for a link to Fox TV. If Fox was colluding with an official office of propaganda that will make interesting reading.

Bottom line: This speculative story is consistent with this administration's known actions. The burden is on high quality media to be very skeptical about stories coming from Bush sources, and to confirm and validate every one. The burden on us readers is to subscribe to high quality media sources. The credibility of GWB II continues to find new lows.

And next ... Iran

Bin Laden Son Plays Key Role in Al Qaeda (
Saad bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden's oldest sons, has emerged in recent months as part of the upper echelon of the al Qaeda network, a small group of leaders that is managing the terrorist organization from Iran, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

The story says that Saad and several other figures of interest are held and protected by an Iranian special services brigade near the Afghan border.

Since the Bush II credibility is so low, they'll take a while selling the next attack. This is a part of that planning.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Arnold, California and Disneyland

FRANK RICH, NTY: The Audio-Animatronic Candidate
This is a wonderful essay, it captures a kind of horrified bemusement, the terrible fascination of watching an oddly comical train wreck with real people on board.

American is not in very good mental health these days.

Having lived through the Ventura administration, I hope California will not do too badly -- at least in the near term. Arnold may end up being an entertaining facade while his "advisors" make their backroom deals. True, it's not democracy, but maybe we're not ready for democracy any more.

Another lesson from Ventura is that the achilles heal of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a hypersensitivity to criticism. Jesse did a decent job vetoing some bad legislation, but even mild criticism set him back on his heels. I wonder if Arnold will show the same weakness.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Chile study of school vouchers: main effect is to segregate by academic abilities

Depressing News About Vouchers: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal
Chang-Tai Hsieh and Miguel Urquiola are unable to find any signs that vouchers made a positive difference for education in Chile:
When Schools Compete, How Do They Compete? An Assessment of Chile's Nationwide School Voucher Program: In 1981, Chile introduced nationwide school choice by providing vouchers to any student wishing to attend private school. As a result, more than 1,000 private schools entered the market, and the private enrollment rate increased by 20 percentage points, with greater impacts in larger, more urban, and wealthier communities. We use this differential impact to measure the effects of unrestricted choice on educational outcomes. Using panel data for about 150 municipalities, we find no evidence that choice improved average educational outcomes as measured by test scores, repetition rates, and years of schooling. However, we find evidence that the voucher program led to increased sorting, as the best public school students left for the private sector.

This is very important. There are few even half-decent studies of the impact of voucher programs. We know that the Texas data that was thought to support the Bush initiatives was in fact fraudulent, so this Chilean data has even greater weight.

The only effect seems to be a segregation of students by abilities. The public schools get the less able students, and probably all the special needs students.

This is very much what US educators have claimed would happen.

I'm not surprised that the students academic performance was little changed. There's very little data that any curricular change makes a great difference in the outcome for the average student.

Molly Ivins puts it all in one place

Welcome to the Autumn Irony Festival

I can't excerpt from this, the article is great from start to end. There are ironies in our government's misconduct even I had missed. The psychological health of the nation is not great.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Much Becomes Clear: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

Much Becomes Clear: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal
The odds just reached 90% that the White House knows that Lewis Libby, Eliot Abrams, and Karl Rove are three of the N White House aides who tried to get reporters to print that Ambassador Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA operative.

The giveaway was a botched denial by McClellan, who tried not to mislead without absolutely lying and got caught out.

Bush, of course, has already declared that the leaker won't be caught. He's also said he doesn't know who it is, but of course Bush is lying.

The Femara breast cancer study -- is it really such great news?

New Drug Regimen Greatly Cuts Risk of Recurring Breast Cancer
A new drug regimen can markedly reduce the chance that breast cancer will recur in postmenopausal women, a large international study has found. The results were so strongly, and surprisingly, positive that the investigators ended the study early and offered the drug to women taking a placebo.

The study involved 5,187 women at hundreds of medical centers in the United States, Canada and Europe. It asked what to do after they finish the recommended five-year course of tamoxifen, the standard treatment to prevent breast cancer recurrences.

Tamoxifen, which blocks the hormone estrogen, is remarkably effective in postmenopausal women whose cancers are fueled by the hormone, about 100,000 women each year. But women gain no additional benefits after they take tamoxifen for five years, and so doctors have told them to simply stop taking it then and hope for the best. They are better off for having taken it: the drug's effects last for years after it is stopped. But they are left vulnerable to a return of their cancer.

... The new study found that if women take a different drug, letrozole, sold by Novartis under the brand name Femara, after their five years of tamoxifen, they can cut that yearly risk nearly in half.

The NYT article deemphasizes the big problem with stopping the study. Recently we found that Tamoxifen doesn't increase lifespans. It reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence, but the benefits are offset by increases in other diseases. We expect that Femara does reduce cancer recurrence, but we won't now know if it really increases life expectancy or just shifts mortality.

The lessons of post-menopausal hormone replacement may have been missed. You need to look at all cause mortality.

The same problem, by the way, lurks over the statins -- a bazillion dollar industry. They reduce death due to heart disease, but other causes of death increase. For asymptomatic people without active heart disease they don't increase life expectancy.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Good news from Iraq: Return of power brightens Iraqis - Return of power brightens Iraqis
BAGHDAD — For the first time since Baghdad fell April 9, the capital city and most of the country have enjoyed four straight days without a significant outage.

Coalition officials are optimistic they can keep the lights on because sabotage and looting has dropped and electricity output is near prewar levels. Cooling temperatures have also helped.

'The power situation has not been this good since before the Kuwait war,' says security guard Majid Abdul Reza, 27. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

People, like myself, who feel Rumsfeld et al managed the post-invasion incompetently, should know that one good things is pretty much guaranteed. Iraq is getting cooler. As the temperature drops a lot of things will get far better. This is a positive item that most of us remote from Iraq will tend to forget. I'm sure the people there never forget it.

BTW, the BA has a campaign of "positive news" from the office of propaganda. Hopefully this reporting is the truth, it's one of the curses of the BA that news sources nowadays must be looked at with extra care.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Dumbest spam of the day

I get a lot of spam, but this one deserves some kind of prize. It combines audacity, spelling and grammar errors, psychological cleverness, stupidity, and a profound disdain for the intelligence of the average email reader. I'm sure it will make a bundle and no-one will get caught.

The stupidity factor is that they got their directions backwards. They really meant to tell their victims to enter their credit card information to REVERSE the transaction. That might be a language error, but it's pretty silly.

Dumbness test

The Real Deficit:

NYT: It's Even Worse Than You Think
Were the federal government to account for its Social Security obligations under the rules of accrual accounting, which govern public companies, its financial outlook would be far worse. By the end of last year, the Social Security system owed retirees and current workers benefits valued at $14 trillion. The system's assets, in contrast, were only $3.5 trillion. These assets include not only the trust funds' current reserves ($1.4 trillion), but also the present value of the taxes that current workers will pay over the remainder of their working lives ($2.1 trillion).

... In other words, the system's current shortfall — its assets minus its liabilities — is $10.5 trillion. Unless Congress chooses to rescind Social Security benefits that have already been earned, this shortfall must be shouldered by future generations. This implicit debt of the Social Security system is more than two and a half times larger than the government's public debt.

What's more, the magnitude of the Social Security shortfall grew immensely last year. At the beginning of 2002, the trust fund's deficit was $10.1 trillion. Under a system of accrual accounting, Social Security would have had to report a loss of approximately $370 billion. If this figure — and not the trust fund's annual cash-flow surplus — were added to other federal accounts, the federal government would have reported a $930 billion deficit last week. Add in similar adjustments for Medicare and other retiree benefits, and the flow of red ink last year surges even higher.

If it's any comfort, most of the industrial world is supposedly in even worse shape.

If I were tyrant (clearly I'm not electable, so tyranny would be the only option :-) I'd be investing a great deal in research to slow the aging of the human brain. Were that to succeed I'd push the retirement age up in proportion to the therapeutic benefits. That might help in 20-40 years.

I'd strip benefits from employment, making it easier for people to move in and out of the workforce at any time of life.

I'd reform healthcare (yes, we do know how -- it's just that people don't like explicit rationing, they prefer their rationing to be hidden).

I'd raise taxes (yay, tyranny!) and fix the Bush economic disaster. (Clintonomics worked.)

Alas, I'm not tyrant!

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Is Karl Rove an undercover agent for Al Qaeda? : Ex-Spies Furious, Betrayed Over Leak
Speaking to Nightline on condition of anonymity, with her voice digitally manipulated to avoid recognition, an undercover intelligence officer said the implications of the leak were grim.

'Just a few months ago, this administration went out of its way to tell us how important human intelligence is,' she said. 'We cannot find Saddam Hussein because we have no human intelligence. We cannot find Osama bin Laden because there is no human intelligence. And here you are, you have a case officer who is gathering human intelligence, who is running agents, and here you are exposing her and everyone that she came in contact with.'

As an undercover agent, Mrs. Wilson's duties would have included recruiting agents overseas in order to gather human intelligence -- the basic, but extremely dangerous brickwork, experts say, of intelligence work.

Translators in Guantanomo Bay allegedly betray their nation and may receive the death penalty. The Bush administration betrays our nation and ...

Bush to axe Rumsfeld?

INTEL DUMP:Phil Carter quotes and comments on this Washington Post story:
Rumsfeld said in an interview with the Financial Times and three European news organizations that he did not learn of the new Iraq Stabilization Group until he received a classified memo about it from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Thursday.

Rumsfeld was asked several times why the changes were necessary. 'I think you have to ask Condi that question,' he said, according to a transcript posted on the Web site of the Financial Times.

Pressed, he said: 'I said I don't know. Isn't that clear? You don't understand English? I was not there for the backgrounding.'

Rumsfeld's tart remarks offer a window on the tensions among members of President Bush's war Cabinet, which are vividly described by administration officials but are rarely visible to outsiders. Rumsfeld's bluntness has occasionally rankled allies and caused headaches for the White House, but Bush is said to remain supportive.

The new group, headed by senior Rice aides at the National Security Council, gives the White House a stronger role in overseeing the reconstruction effort, which is under attack on Capitol Hill as poorly planned and unexpectedly expensive. Republican sources said the White House realizes that the consequences could be dire if the pace of the reconstruction does not improve markedly before the 2004 presidential election campaign begins.

Rumsfeld said he has not talked to Bush about the changes. When an interviewer said it sounded as though Rumsfeld had not been briefed about the changes before the memo and an interview Rice gave the New York Times, he replied, 'That's true.':

Rove sees disaster ahead. Rumsfeld has served his purpose; now his incompetence makes him a liability. Look out below ... Some little told stories on Al Qaeda's moves against worldwide shipping

Are terrorists now aiming to block shipping lanes and disrupt the flow of oil and other goods ?
ON MARCH 26th, the Dewi Madrim, a chemical tanker off the coast of Sumatra, was boarded by ten pirates from a speedboat. They were armed with machine guns and machetes and carried VHF radios. They disabled the ship's radio, took the helm and steered the vessel, altering speed, for about an hour. Then they left, with some cash and the captain and first officer, who are still missing.

...The temporary hijacking of the Dewi Madrim was by terrorists learning to drive a ship, and the kidnapping (without any attempt to ransom the officers) was aimed at acquiring expertise to help the terrorists mount a maritime attack. In other words, attacks like that on the Dewi Madrim are the equivalent of the al-Qaeda hijackers who perpetrated the September 11th attacks going to flying school in Florida.

...The Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines kidnapped a maintenance engineer in a Sabah holiday resort in 2000. On his release in June this year, the engineer said his kidnappers knew he was a diving instructor; they wanted instruction. The owner of a diving school near Kuala Lumpur has recently reported a number of ethnic Malays wanting to learn about diving, but being strangely uninterested in learning about decompression.

...On September 16th 2001, America closed the port of Boston, fearing that terrorists would attack the gas terminal in the port. To this day, gas tankers bound for Boston have to be escorted by coastguards from 200 miles away from the port.

An incident on October 18th 2001 increased anxieties about terrorists using shipping, especially container ships, to smuggle people and explosives around the world. Authorities in the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro found a stowaway in a well-appointed container, fitted out with a bed, toilet, heater and water. He also had a laptop computer, mobile and satellite phones, and airport security passes and a mechanic's certificate for JFK, Newark, Los Angeles International and Chicago O'Hare airports. Fears grew further after a torpedo attack by terrorists on a French tanker, the MV Limburg, in Yemen in October 2002.

The likeliest terrorist target is a tanker carrying liquefied petroleum gas (easier to explode than natural gas), reckons Aegis's Tim Spicer, formerly a British soldier and head of Sandline, a “private military company” (a euphemism for a supplier of mercenaries) that achieved notoriety for its work for the British government in Sierra Leone. He fears that hijacked gas and oil tankers could be used to block the Malacca Strait, or the Panama or Suez Canals. That could wreak economic havoc. The UN estimates that ships carry 80% of the world's traded cargo—5.8 billion tonnes in 2001.

...On October 1st, America's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection was supposed to introduce new rules requiring shipping lines to advise the agency by computer or by fax about the contents of incoming cargo vessels. It now says it has delayed publishing its requirements until later this month—although it is not entirely clear why.

I wonder what kind of comic books Zawahiri read as a child in Egypt? Maybe that would help predict his next move. So much of Al Qaeda's plans and actions reminds one of the antagonists of the 1970's X-Men comics. What a world.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Fighting Spam -- yes, it's doable.

Spam Fighters Turn to Identifying Legitimate E-Mail: "People have been spending all their time creating filters to find the bad guys,' said Nico Popp, vice president for research and advanced products of VeriSign, the largest registrar of Internet sites and a seller of online identification systems. 'We want to turn that on its head and find ways to identify the good guys and let them in.'

Put simply, these efforts are trying to develop the Internet equivalent of caller ID, a technology that will let the receiver of an e-mail message verify the identity of the sender. As with caller ID for telephones, senders will be able to choose whether to remain anonymous. But also like caller ID, recipients may presume that those who do not identify themselves are sending junk.

I've been clamoring for sending service authentication (the NYT has it wrong, this is about authenticating the sending service, not the sender -- the latter is the obvious solution but it's overkill) for years. I emailed influential folks, posted in newsgroups, posted on my web page.

It seemed self-evidently the right balance of intervention, enough to do the job but not overkill.

No-one seemed very impressed by my persistent presentations. Happily, it looks like the idea is catching on. (I'm pretty sure someone thought of this about 20 years ago, but what I found surprising was how hard it was to interest any expert in this approach. I never claimed it was my original idea.)

Friday, October 03, 2003

Cringely on privacy and identity theft: Third in a series ...

I, Cringely | The Pulpit
As I was getting ready to speak at last week's Toorcon 2003 information security conference in San Diego, I finally figured out that privacy was never intended for you and me. The system doesn't care about us at all.

The system doesn't care because the Post Office does nothing to protect our mail. Have you ever met a Postal Inspector? Neither have I. The system doesn't care because our government blithely gives away personal data on millions of citizens. For $3,200 and a couple pages of signatures, I could right now be running for Governor of California, but really harvesting the name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number of every registered voter in the state to be used for identity theft. Government does not protect our privacy, but is actively working to undermine it. Nor are we protected by the people with whom we entrust our money. For ONE DOLLAR I can get quickly this same information on anyone I like along with where they bank and their savings balance. This is supposed to be against the law, of course. We have laws and rules and regulations that supposedly protect our privacy, but they don't work. If we were to test them they would fail, so we don't test and they fail anyway...

...In the middle of this, we find the trinity of banks, government, and credit bureaus who betray us on our behalf. The banks and their bank-like sister companies are the airliners in our big economic sky. They use a modified version of the Big Sky Theory that says as long as theft is kept to five percent or less, it is tolerable. That's what insurance is for. They play the odds to achieve this, which is where the credit bureaus come in. They are the oddsmakers. This system works for us, too, because it enables us to get a mortgage without ever meeting a banker, it increases liquidity and makes easy credit available for nearly all of us. But the system works against us if we are among the five percent who are victims because our time, our reputations, and a certain amount of our money will never be recovered.

See my earlier postings on this topic. He's absolutely right and it's nothing new. It's been this way for years. The main difference today is that soon identity theft will be fully automated; organized crime will churn through thousands of identities an hour, processing transactions on each one.

Nothing will happen until, just by chance, they steal the identity of a US Senator. Then there will be a maelstrom of stupid laws. Ahh, isn't democracy wonderful?

Bob Herbert wonders how Bush II could be so bad so fast

Shaking the House of Cards
The vicious release to news organizations of the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer could serve as a case study of the character of this administration. The Bush II crowd is arrogant, venal, mean-spirited and contemptuous of law and custom.

The problem it faces now is not just the criminal investigation into who outed Valerie Plame, but also the fact that the public understands this story only too well. Deliberately blowing the cover of an intelligence or law enforcement official for no good reason is considered by nearly all Americans, regardless of their political affiliations, to be a despicable act.

According to an ABC-Washington Post poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans believe a special counsel should be appointed to investigate the leak.

Now that so much has gone haywire — Iraq, the economy, America's standing in the world — the tough questions are finally being asked about President Bush and his administration.

Perhaps foreign policy was not Mr. Bush's strength, after all. And even diehard Republicans have been forced to acknowledge that the president was surely wrong when he insisted that his mammoth tax cuts would be the engine of job creation. And nothing has ever come of Mr. Bush's promise to be the education president, or to change the tone of the discourse in Washington, or to deal humbly and respectfully with the rest of the world.

Americans are increasingly asking what went wrong. How could so much have gone sour in such a short period of time? Was it incompetence? Bad faith?

Loud warnings were ignored for the longest time. Now, finally, the truth is becoming more and more difficult to avoid.

Meanwhile Wesley Clark's new book claims the Bush administration was planning a series of post-911 conquests beyond Iraq, and the word on the street is that the "real" motivation for taking Iraq was to help manage an expected collapse of Saudi Arabia. And, on another channel, the CIA is striking against the Bush administration on multiple fronts, leading to lurid speculation about what the CIA knows about Bush II plans.

I really wonder what Bush I is thinking about all of this. If nothing else, Bush II has proven the wisdom of not trying to conquer Iraq (not that I think the sanctions were a great alternative, but that's a longer story). I wonder if GB I is wishing yet again that Jeb had been the nominee.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Halifax Nova Scotia hit hard by Hurricane Juan

Unnoticed by the American media, Halifax was hit hard by a Category 2 storm .... One week later they're getting their power back ...

: "That might be because the hurricane, at first thought to be a Category 1 storm, will likely be reclassified as much more damaging.

'We sustained more than a Category 1 level of damage,' Peter Bowyer of the Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth said Wednesday night, explaining that 1 is the least severe on the 1 to 5 hurricane scale.

He said the uprooted trees, overturned rail cars and blown-off roofs all point to a much more destructive presence.

'My early guess is that it will be reclassified as a Category 2 . . . which is a big deal,' Mr. Bowyer said.

There's enough evidence in wind reports from an offshore oil rig and aerial views of the path of the hurricane, he said.

'When you piece that all together, it's starting to convince us that it was a Category 2,' he said.

Sustained winds at McNabs Island in Halifax Harbour measured over 150 kilometres per hour for two minutes, he said. "

More traveler resources: Radar Imaging, FlightTracker, FlightView

United States Radar by Intellicast



Air Traffic Control System Command Center: Terrific Traveler Resource

Air Traffic Control System Command Center
Pretty amazing resource for travelers. Many thanks to Dave S for showing the way!

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Using intestinal worms to treat inflammatory bowel disease ...

This is the continuation of a study that got quite a bit of attention in 1999. Interestingly the f/u study has received little attention, but the therapy continues to look interesting. The U of Iowa is still early in its work. This is part of the same "diseases of hygeine" category as polio, asthma, and allergies.