Archive for November, 2008

The Minimal Impact of a Big Hypertension Study

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

– I take a blood pressure medicine because my doctor told me that even though I only have borderline high blood pressure, I’ll probably live a bit longer if I take this stuff.   OK, makes sense to me.   I take Diovan and it is fairly expensive stuff.   Well, this article makes the point that Big Pharma has been stacking the deck for years to keep us buying their expensive solutions when there are much cheaper alternatives out there.  

– Corporations and their profit motives – enough already!

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The surprising news made headlines in December 2002. Generic pills for high blood pressure, which had been in use since the 1950s and cost only pennies a day, worked better than newer drugs that were up to 20 times as expensive.

The findings, from one of the biggest clinical trials ever organized by the federal government, promised to save the nation billions of dollars in treating the tens of millions of Americans with hypertension — even if the conclusions did seem to threaten pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer that were making big money on blockbuster hypertension drugs.

Six years later, though, the use of the inexpensive pills, called diuretics, is far smaller than some of the trial’s organizers had hoped.

“It should have more than doubled,” said Dr. Curt D. Furberg, a public health sciences professor at Wake Forest University who was the first chairman of the steering committee for the study, which was known by the acronym Allhat. “The impact was disappointing.”

The percentage of hypertension patients receiving a diuretic rose to around 40 percent in the year after the Allhat results were announced, up from 30 to 35 percent beforehand, according to some studies. But use of diuretics has since stayed at that plateau. And over all, use of newer hypertension drugs has grown faster than the use of diuretics since 2002, according to Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefits manager.

The Allhat experience is worth remembering now, as some policy experts and government officials call for more such studies to directly compare drugs or other treatments, as a way to stem runaway medical costs and improve care.

The aftereffects of the study show how hard it is to change medical practice, even after a government-sanctioned trial costing $130 million produced what appeared to be solid evidence.


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

1st commercial ship sails through Northwest Passage

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

– Humanity has attempted to traverse across the top of Canada and Alaska via the Northwest Passage for hundreds of years and many men lost their lives in the attempts until is was first successfully done in 1906.   The ice has always made it nearly impossible – until Global Climate Change.  

– Folks down in the more temperate climes may think Global Climate Change is just a rumor.   But, up in the far north, it is anything but.   And it’ll be coming to your neighborhood soon as well.

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The Canadian Coast Guard has confirmed that in a major first, a commercial ship travelled through the Northwest Passage this fall to deliver supplies to communities in western Nunavut.

The MV Camilla Desgagnés, owned by Desgagnés Transarctik Inc., transported cargo from Montreal to the hamlets of Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak in September.

“We did have a commercial cargo vessel that did the first scheduled run from Montreal, up through the eastern Arctic, through the Northwest Passage to deliver cargo to communities in the west,” Brian LeBlanc of the Canadian Coast Guard told CBC News.

“That was the first — that I’m aware of anyway — commercial cargo delivery from the east through the Northwest Passage.”


Happiness is for All Time, Not Just the Future

Friday, November 28th, 2008

We get told to work hard for future happiness. When does this future happiness arrive? People work hard their whole lives, saving, so that they can have a good retirement. When we retire is when we’re meant to be relaxed and happy. This is the wool being pulled over our eyes. I feel that as a society, we’ve been brain washed to work, instead of enjoying our lives.

That’s what I’m talkin’ aboutWhen we’re old enough to retire, often we’re too old to enjoy ourselves. We’ve spent the prime of our lives suffering away, waiting for this magical day, and when it arrives we can’t fully enjoy it. Who wants to be too old to enjoy their life? Why should we wait until we’re past our peak to enjoy ourselves?Don’t put off your happiness. Live it. The only way to get to the future is through the present. It’s your actions now, your happiness now that dictates your future happiness. Even if we can justify short term hardwork, we have to be careful. By putting off happiness we increase suffering, as well as moving karma (habits) into a pattern of accepted suffering. People who work hard for a few months, when they get to the ‘other side’ often find themselves either bored/lacking or lonely. When they stop suffering, they often chose it again. It makes them feeling important.


One Shot Left

Friday, November 28th, 2008

The latest science suggests that preventing runaway climate change means total decarbonisation.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 25th November 2008

George Bush is behaving like a furious defaulter whose home is about to be repossessed. Smashing the porcelain, ripping the doors off their hinges, he is determined that there will be nothing worth owning by the time the bastards kick him out. His midnight regulations, opening America’s wilderness to logging and mining, trashing pollution controls, tearing up conservation laws, will do almost as much damage in the last 60 days of his presidency as he achieved in the foregoing 3000(1).

His backers – among them the nastiest pollutocrats in America – are calling in their favours. But this last binge of vandalism is also the Bush presidency reduced to its essentials. Destruction is not an accidental product of its ideology. Destruction is the ideology. Neoconservatism is power expressed by showing that you can reduce any part of the world to rubble.

If it is now too late to prevent runaway climate change, the Bush team must carry much of the blame. His wilful trashing of the Middle Climate – the interlude of benign temperatures which allowed human civilisation to flourish – makes the mass murder he engineered in Iraq only the second of his crimes against humanity. Bush has waged his war on science with the same obtuse determination with which he has waged his war on terror.

Is it too late? To say so is to make it true. To suggest that there is nothing that can now be done is to ensure that nothing is done. But even a resolute optimist like me finds hope ever harder to summon. A new summary of the science published since last year’s Intergovernmental Panel report suggests that – almost a century ahead of schedule – the critical climate processes might have begun(2).

Just a year ago the Intergovernmental Panel warned that the Arctic’s “late-summer sea ice is projected to disappear almost completely towards the end of the 21st century … in some models.”(3) But, as the new report by the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) shows, climate scientists are now predicting the end of late-summer sea ice within three to seven years. The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth.


The Perils of Efficiency

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

– This story, from The New Yorker, says that we were saved from the high and rising food prices recently because they were followed closely by the economic collapse which, lucky for us, drove the food prices back down.   Lovely.

 – I’d say one could be forgiven if they suspect we might be getting into a zone of general instability; gas prices rising and then falling, the stock market up and down 400 and 500 points at a whack, the governments dumping billions of dollars into market stabilization efforts.  Ya think?

– Oh and I agree with this author so much  on his comments about the consequences of globalization.   All those highly touted greater efficiencies of the markets – carry, as the back side of the same coin, the fact that whether or not people can feed themselves is no longer a local matter.   Now a problem half way across the world can lead to local food shortages.   Welcome to the ‘improved’ globalized world.

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This spring, disaster loomed in the global food market. Precipitous increases in the prices of staples like rice (up more than a hundred and fifty per cent in a few months) and maize provoked food riots, toppled governments, and threatened the lives of tens of millions. But the bursting of the commodity bubble eased those pressures, and food prices, while still high, have come well off the astronomical levels they hit in April. For Americans, the drop in commodity prices has put a few more bucks in people’s pockets; in much of the developing world, it may have saved many from actually starving. So did the global financial crisis solve the global food crisis?

Temporarily, perhaps. But the recent price drop doesn’t provide any long-term respite from the threat of food shortages or future price spikes. Nor has it reassured anyone about the health of the global agricultural system, which the crisis revealed as dangerously unstable. Four decades after the Green Revolution, and after waves of market reforms intended to transform agricultural production, we’re still having a hard time insuring that people simply get enough to eat, and we seem to be more vulnerable to supply shocks than ever.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Over the past two decades, countries around the world have moved away from their focus on “food security” and handed market forces a greater role in shaping agricultural policy. Before the nineteen-eighties, developing countries had so-called “agricultural marketing boards,” which would buy commodities from farmers at fixed prices (prices high enough to keep farmers farming), and then store them in strategic reserves that could be used in the event of bad harvests or soaring import prices. But in the eighties and nineties, often as part of structural-adjustment programs imposed by the I.M.F. or the World Bank, many marketing boards were eliminated or cut back, and grain reserves, deemed inefficient and unnecessary, were sold off. In the same way, structural-adjustment programs often did away with government investment in and subsidies to agriculture—most notably, subsidies for things like fertilizers and high-yield seeds.


– Research thanks to LA

The Crisis & What to Do About It

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

George Soros– About two years ago, I read The Age of Fallibility by George Soros & and I was very impressed.  He has long had an alternative and persuasive view of how markets work.   Either he’s been very lucky, or there’s a lot of truth to his analysis.   The man has become a billionaire by walking his own talk.

– I, like many of you, have read endless ‘explanations’ of what’s gone wrong with the U.S. and the world’s financial markets.   Some have been plausible, some silly and some impenetrable.  But none has impressed me more than what follows here.

– Here’s George Soro’s  explanation of what’s happened and what should be done about it.   I’ve got two specific quibbles about it, which I will leave to the end of this post.  But, overall, it is the best thing I’ve seen on the ongoing financial crisis.

– Enjoy.

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The salient feature of the current financial crisis is that it was not caused by some external shock like OPEC raising the price of oil or a particular country or financial institution defaulting. The crisis was generated by the financial system itself. This fact—that the defect was inherent in the system —contradicts the prevailing theory, which holds that financial markets tend toward equilibrium and that deviations from the equilibrium either occur in a random manner or are caused by some sudden external event to which markets have difficulty adjusting. The severity and amplitude of the crisis provides convincing evidence that there is something fundamentally wrong with this prevailing theory and with the approach to market regulation that has gone with it. To understand what has happened, and what should be done to avoid such a catastrophic crisis in the future, will require a new way of thinking about how markets work.

Consider how the crisis has unfolded over the past eighteen months. The proximate cause is to be found in the housing bubble or more exactly in the excesses of the subprime mortgage market. The longer a double-digit rise in house prices lasted, the more lax the lending practices became. In the end, people could borrow 100 percent of inflated house prices with no money down. Insiders referred to subprime loans as ninja loans—no income, no job, no questions asked.

The excesses became evident after house prices peaked in 2006 and subprime mortgage lenders began declaring bankruptcy around March 2007. The problems reached crisis proportions in August 2007. The Federal Reserve and other financial authorities had believed that the subprime crisis was an isolated phenomenon that might cause losses of around $100 billion. Instead, the crisis spread with amazing rapidity to other markets. Some highly leveraged hedge funds collapsed and some lightly regulated financial institutions, notably the largest mortgage originator in the US, Countrywide Financial, had to be acquired by other institutions in order to survive.

Confidence in the creditworthiness of many financial institutions was shaken and interbank lending was disrupted. In quick succession, a variety of esoteric credit markets—ranging from collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) to auction-rated municipal bonds—broke down one after another. After periods of relative calm and partial recovery, crisis episodes recurred in January 2008, precipitated by a rogue trader at Société Générale; in March, associated with the demise of Bear Stearns; and then in July, when IndyMac Bank, the largest savings bank in the Los Angeles area, went into receivership, becoming the fourth-largest bank failure in US history. The deepest fall of all came in September, caused by the disorderly bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in which holders of commercial paper—for example, short-term, unsecured promissory notes—issued by Lehman lost their money.

Then the inconceivable occurred: the financial system actually melted down. A large money market fund that had invested in commercial paper issued by Lehman Brothers “broke the buck,” i.e., its asset value fell below the dollar amount deposited, breaking an implicit promise that deposits in such funds are totally safe and liquid. This started a run on money market funds and the funds stopped buying commercial paper. Since they were the largest buyers, the commercial paper market ceased to function. The issuers of commercial paper were forced to draw down their credit lines, bringing interbank lending to a standstill. Credit spreads—i.e., the risk premium over and above the riskless rate of interest—widened to unprecedented levels and eventually the stock market was also overwhelmed by panic. All this happened in the space of a week.

– More…

 – Research credit – my apologies.   One of my friends sent me this and I’ve managed to forget who it was.

Quibble #1:  The old saw that for a carpenter, the answer  to every problem involves a hammer comes to mind when you read Soros.   Oh, his analysis is penetrating and relevant, no doubt.  He see everything through a financial lens which is particularly appropriate when he’s discussing the current crisis. But, I know from reading The Age of Fallibility, in which he discusses larger issues like history, politics and the environment, that he sees all of these, as well, through that same lens.   That it is a lens he wields well, is not in doubt.   That it is the best lens through which to analyze everything is.

Quibble #2:  In his piece, above, he discusses the need for a new type of regulation to prevent bubbles.  What he doesn’t address is that if part of the world’s financial markets implement such regulation and others do not, then there will be an incentive for those willing and wanting to take more risk in hopes of larger profits to migrate towards the less regulated markets.   This seems to me, inevitable.   And, as it progresses, the regulated markets will have to respond by lessening regulation if they want to stay competitive.   And the entire cycle will begin again with everyone racing down the same slippery slope.   A functional global agreement on regulation could prevent this and provide a fair and level playing field for all.   But the human urge to push to the front of the line and cheat in various ways will, forever, be a challenge even if such a global and functional agreement can be reached – and I’m not at all sure that it can.

The Triumph of Ignorance

Friday, November 21st, 2008

– George Monbiot is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers.  

– I agree with him.   Fundamentalism does make and keep people stupid.  And it is one of the great shames of America that is has evolved into a powerful force here.

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By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 28th October 2008

How was it allowed to happen? How did politics in the US come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind’s closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist?(1)

Like most people on this side of the Atlantic I have spent my adult life mystified by American politics. The US has the world’s best universities and attracts the world’s finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, uniquely among the developed nations (with the possible exception of Australia), learning is a grave political disadvantage.

There have been exceptions over the past century: Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton tempered their intellectualism with the common touch and survived; but Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore and John Kerry were successfully tarred by their opponents as members of a cerebral elite (as if this were not a qualification for the presidency). Perhaps the defining moment in the collapse of intelligent politics was Ronald Reagan’s response to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential debate. Carter – stumbling a little, using long words – carefully enumerated the benefits of national health insurance. Reagan smiled and said “there you go again”(2). His own health programme would have appalled most Americans, had he explained it as carefully as Carter had done, but he had found a formula for avoiding tough political issues and making his opponents look like wonks.

It wasn’t always like this. The founding fathers of the republic – men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton – were among the greatest thinkers of their age. They felt no need to make a secret of it. How did the project they launched degenerate into George W Bush and Sarah Palin?

On one level this is easy to answer. Ignorant politicians are elected by ignorant people. US education, like the US health system, is notorious for its failures. In the most powerful nation on earth, one adult in five believes the sun revolves around the earth; only 26% accept that evolution takes place by means of natural selection; two-thirds of young adults are unable to find Iraq on a map; two-thirds of US voters cannot name the three branches of government; the maths skills of 15 year-olds in the US are ranked 24th out of the 29 countries of the OECD(3).


– research thanks to Van

U.S. power, influence will decline in future, report says

Friday, November 21st, 2008

– Two different friends sent me links to this one within a few hours.  It’s a good read.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — A government report released Thursday paints an alarming picture of an unstable future for international relations defined by waning American influence, a fragmentation of political power and intensifying struggles for increasingly scarce natural resources.

The report, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” was drafted by the National Intelligence Council to better inform U.S. policymakers — starting with the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama — about the factors most likely to shape major international trends and conflicts through the year 2025.

Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States’ relative strength — even in the military realm — will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained,” says the report, which is the fourth in a series from the Intelligence Council.

The report argues that the “international system — as constructed following the second World War — will be almost unrecognizable by 2025 owing to the rise of emerging powers, a globalizing economy, an historic transfer of relative wealth and economic power from West to East, and the growing influence of nonstate actors.”


1953 Popular Mechanics: Growing Blanket of Carbon Dioxide Raises Earth’s Temperature

Friday, November 21st, 2008

The Wayback Machine– First, it was looking back to the 1992 World Scientist’s Warning to Humanity.  

– Then, it was turning the calender pages back to 1979 and a meeting held at Woods Hole at which a paper entitled, “The Carbon Dioxide Problem: Implications for Policy in the Management of Energy and Other Resources“.

– Now, we’ll turn the dial on the ‘Wayback Machine‘ all the way back to 1953 and an article in the Popular Mechanics Magazine of the day.

– Truly, this information has been around for awhile.

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– To Climate Progress and the 1953 article…

US ‘import alert’ on China food

Friday, November 21st, 2008

US authorities have issued a nationwide “import alert” for Chinese-made food products in the wake of the melamine contamination scandal.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had already issued an alert warning Americans not to consume Chinese products containing milk.

Thousands of Chinese have been poisoned this year.

The latest alert goes beyond dairy products to such items as drinks, sweets, and baby and pet food.

It also allows US inspectors to seize any Chinese products suspected of being contaminated.

Safety issues

The earlier restrictions were put in place on dairy products after four Chinese children died from kidney failure and thousands more people fell ill after consuming dairy products laced with melamine – which is normally used in making plastics and fertiliser.

The FDA has now added more than a dozen other goods imported from China, including biscuits, instant coffee and tea products.

In addition, US officials will be travelling to China next week for consultations with the Chinese about safety issues.

The FDA is also planning to open three new offices in China to check products intended for the US market.

– To the original…

– Earlier posts here on Samahisoft regarding China and food safety:  , and