Archive for the 'business' Category

Mission creep

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Richard Preston on Patient Zero and beyond:

After Ebola infected the boy, it went from him to his mother, who died, to his three-year-old sister, who died, and to their grandmother, who died, and then it left the village and began moving through the human population of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Since there is no vaccine against or cure for the disease caused by Ebola virus, the only way to stop it is to break the chains of infection. Health workers must identify people who are infected and isolate them, then monitor everybody with whom those people have come in contact, to make sure the virus doesn’t jump to somebody else and start a new chain. Doctors and other health workers in West Africa have lost track of the chains. Too many people are sick, and more than two hundred medical workers have died. Health authorities in Europe and the United States seem equipped to prevent Ebola from starting uncontrolled chains of infection in those regions, but they worry about what could happen if Ebola got into a city like Lagos, in Nigeria, or Kolkata, in India. The number of people who are currently sick with Ebola is unknown, but almost nine thousand cases, including forty-five hundred deaths, have been reported so far, with the number of cases doubling about every three weeks. The virus seems to have gone far beyond the threshold of outbreak and ignited an epidemic.

The virus is extremely infectious. Experiments suggest that if one particle of Ebola enters a person’s bloodstream it can cause a fatal infection. This may explain why many of the medical workers who came down with Ebola couldn’t remember making any mistakes that might have exposed them. One common route of entry is thought to be the wet membrane on the inner surface of the eyelid, which a person might touch with a contaminated fingertip. The virus is believed to be transmitted, in particular, through contact with sweat and blood, which contain high concentrations of Ebola particles. People with Ebola sweat profusely, and in some instances they have internal hemorrhages, along with effusions of vomit and diarrhea containing blood.

Despite its ferocity in humans, Ebola is a life-form of mysterious simplicity. A particle of Ebola is made of only six structural proteins, locked together to become an object that resembles a strand of cooked spaghetti. An Ebola particle is only around eighty nanometres wide and a thousand nanometres long. If it were the size of a piece of spaghetti, then a human hair would be about twelve feet in diameter and would resemble the trunk of a giant redwood tree.

Once an Ebola particle enters the bloodstream, it drifts until it sticks to a cell. The particle is pulled inside the cell, where it takes control of the cell’s machinery and causes the cell to start making copies of it. Most viruses use the cells of specific tissues to copy themselves. For example, many cold viruses replicate in the sinuses and the throat. Ebola attacks many of the tissues of the body at once, except for the skeletal muscles and the bones. It has a special affinity for the cells lining the blood vessels, particularly in the liver. After about eighteen hours, the infected cell is releasing thousands of new Ebola particles, which sprout from the cell in threads, until the cell has the appearance of a ball of tangled yarn. The particles detach and are carried through the bloodstream, and begin attaching themselves to more cells, everywhere in the body. The infected cells begin spewing out vast numbers of Ebola particles, which infect more cells, until the virus reaches a crescendo of amplification. The infected cells die, which leads to the destruction of tissues throughout the body. This may account for the extreme pain that Ebola victims experience. Multiple organs fail, and the patient goes into a sudden, steep decline that ends in death. In a fatal case, a droplet of blood the size of the “o” in this text could easily contain a hundred million particles of Ebola virus.

Inside each Ebola particle is a tube made of coiled proteins, which runs the length of the particle, like an inner sleeve. Viewed with an electron microscope, the sleeve has a knurled look. Like the rest of the particle, the sleeve has been shaped by the forces of natural selection working over long stretches of time. Ebola is a filovirus, and filoviruses appear to have been around in some form for millions of years. Within the inner sleeve of an Ebola particle, invisible even to a powerful microscope, is a strand of RNA, the molecule that contains the virus’s genetic code, or genome. The code is contained in nucleotide bases, or letters, of the RNA. These letters, ordered in their proper sequence, make up the complete set of instructions that enables the virus to make copies of itself. A sample of the Ebola now raging in West Africa has, by recent count, 18,959 letters of code in its genome; this is a small genome, by the measure of living things. Viruses like Ebola, which use RNA for their genetic code, are prone to making errors in the code as they multiply; these are called mutations. Right now, the virus’s code is changing. As Ebola enters a deepening relationship with the human species, the question of how it is mutating has significance for every person on earth.

Roger Simon on the latest fun. (Hey, how about getting serious? Answer: yawn)

More of the same

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

The latest from Canada shows another non-religious act of killing. Of course the same has been going on in England, but you know that it’s not Terrorism — most probably standard neighborhood beheadings of unknown origin. And of course what went on in Iraq lo those many years ago was similar, whether the beheading or baking of children. And we must note also the workplace violence nature of Hasan’s crimes; hey, it was validated by the Guardian. That’s what we’ve got from the media and establishment of today. (Indeed!)

Paradigms that exist apart from reality break, often badly. Discontinuities emerging in these breaks are often radical. We go back to some thoughts from Thomas Kuhn on this. The US of Utopian sensibilities will probably suffer reversals that we can’t contemplate when the big reversals come. Not a pleasant prospect.

4% growth?

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Bloomberg:

China’s economic growth will slow to about 4 percent annually after 2020 following decades of rapid expansion, according to the Conference Board.

China faces a “deep structural slowdown and broad uncertainty” in the decade ahead, the New York-based research group said in the report yesterday. China’s development model, based on state direction of capital and growth-fixated monetary policy, generated “deep seated” risks and imbalances, it said.

“The course of China’s growth has always harbored the potential for deceleration at least as rapid as its acceleration,” David Hoffman, vice president of the Conference Board’s China Center for Economics and Business in Beijing and a co-author of the report, said in a press release. “We are beginning to see the signs of this transformation take hold.”

China’s government has signaled it will tolerate slower economic growth this year by refraining from broad stimulus. Weighed down by a property slump, China’s gross domestic product probably expanded 7.2 percent in the third quarter, the slowest in more than five years

We’ll have much more to say about this after we have studied the report in question. 4% seems too low. But you know, cooked books of the past may be catching up.

Both the watchers and the watchees know nothing

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

NYT:

Amid Assurances on Ebola, He Is Said to Seethe…Beneath the calming reassurance that he has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response. Those frustrations spilled over when he convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.

“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry man said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.

The difference between the public and private messages illustrates the dilemma he faces on Ebola — and a range of other national security issues — as he tries to galvanize the response to a public health scare while not adding to the sense of panic fueled by 24-hour cable TV and the nonstop Twitter chatter.

On Friday, he took a step to both fix that response and reassure the public, naming Ron Klain, a former aide, to coordinate the government’s efforts on Ebola. The appointment followed his statement Thursday that the job was necessary “just to make sure that we are crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s going forward.”

“Part of the challenge is to be assertive, to be in command, and yet not feed a kind of panic that could easily evolve here,” said David, a close adviser in his first term. “It’s not enough to doggedly and persistently push for answers in meetings. You have to be seen doggedly and persistently pushing for answers.”

For two turbulent weeks, officials have sought to balance those imperatives: insisting the dangers to the American public were being overstated in the news media, while also moving quickly to increase the president’s demonstration of action.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and its arrival in the United States, is the latest in a cascade of crises that have stretched his national security staff thin. As the people scrambled to stop the spread of Ebola beyond a handful of cases, officials were also grappling with an escalating military campaign against the Islamic State, the specter of a new Cold War with Russia over Ukraine, and the virtual disintegration of Yemen, which has been a seedbed for Al Qaeda.

Senior officials said they pushed him to name an Ebola coordinator as a way of easing pressure on the staff at the National Security Council.

At the meeting on Wednesday, officials said, he placed much of the blame on the C.D.C., which provided shifting information about which threat category patients were in, and did not adequately train doctors and nurses at hospitals with Ebola cases on the proper protective procedures.

On Thursday night, in televised remarks, he sought to reassure the public about the dangers from Ebola. But the sense of crisis that emanated from headquarters was in sharp contrast to Sept. 30, when Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had traveled to Dallas, tested positive for Ebola. He received a telephone briefing from Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., after which they issued a sanguine statement that concluded: “We have the infrastructure in place to respond safely and effectively.”

In the days that followed, he carried on as usual while his aides gamely added Ebola to their bulging portfolios. On Oct. 1, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and later had dinner with friends at the RPM Steakhouse in Chicago, where he had traveled for fund-raisers and to deliver an economic speech.

By early October, as questions about the Dallas hospital’s treatment of Mr. Duncan mounted, federal officials began reassessing their response, even as they continued to express confidence.

C.D.C. officials publicly dismissed the effectiveness of screening for Ebola at airports in the United States. But the secretary of Homeland Security, found a way to make it work over the weekend of Oct. 4. He announced the screening protocol the following Monday.

Even after Mr. Duncan’s death on Oct. 8, officials betrayed little sense of a change in approach. He traveled to California for campaign fund-raising and on his return to Washington, received a briefing from his secretary of health and human services about the announcement that a nurse who treated Mr. Duncan had contracted Ebola.

The business-as-usual sentiment at headquarters changed abruptly, officials said, when it got word early Wednesday that a second nurse in Dallas contracted the disease. The fact that she had traveled on a Frontier Airlines flight despite having a fever added to the concern, officials said.

“This Frontier thing took it out of the abstract thing and to this level where people could identify with and made them scared,” a senior official said. Within hours, aides canceled a planned trip by him to Connecticut and New Jersey. Hours later, Thursday’s trip to Rhode Island and New York City was also scrubbed.

This piece definitively demonstrates that both the watchers and the watchees know nothing. The senior of the 2 NYT reporters has been to a lot of countries but he and his colleague have never done anything in their lives other than observing people who do things. We’re reminded of Hilton Kramer’s critique.

As for the watchees, that’s really scary. Putting ideology aside, we have idiots running things. Any executive would begin analysis of Ebola with (a) lethality; (b) incubation period; (c) ease of transmission; (d) mutability of virus; (d) current track record of containment. From there he’d get to implementing action items at Warp Speed: (1) making drugs that cure it; (2) making vaccines that prevent it; (3) emulating containment strategies that have proven successful.

In the NYT piece above the executives apparently are not consumed with the blindingly obvious action items we outlined, indeed they don’t seem to be thinking about them at all. And the reporters covering all this don’t even know enough to ask relevant questions. Recipe for disaster.

It turns out there is a public sector CEO of sorts

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Several sources:

Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)…“I have responsibility for getting the nation prepared for public health emergencies—whether naturally occurring disasters or man-made, as well as for helping it respond and recover,” Lurie said…

“Lurie’s job is to plan for the unthinkable. A global flu pandemic? She has a plan. A bioterror attack? She’s on it. Massive earthquake? Yep. Her responsibilities as assistant secretary span public health, global health, and homeland security.”

So where is she? MH answers. BTW, WHO is backing away from happy talk.

If all this doesn’t pick up your mood, there’s Steyn, Lasky, and VDH. Will the last adult to leave please turn out the lights — oops, too late!!

For want of a nail

Monday, October 13th, 2014

NIH:

much of the focus has been on an experimental cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies known as ZMapp. But the current stockpile is not nearly great enough. Collins, a touch exasperated, said it would be all but impossible to have significant doses available by the end of the calendar year — with a lack of funding once again playing a disruptive role. “Had it not been for other shortages, we might very well by now know that it works and have a large stock of it,” he said.

Exasperated? Exasperated? The NIH director seems like a nice enough fellow, but the ZMapp Manhattan Project needs a CEO, not an academic.

Bonus fun: the CDC and NIH seem to have money for other critical priorities.

E-BOLO

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

CBS:

The CDC confirms the patient with the newest case of Ebola was not among the 48 individuals being monitored by the CDC twice daily because she came into contact with Duncan after he was admitted to the hospital and placed in isolation. The patient was considered to be low-risk

CDC: remain calm. All is well. Our guess is that they don’t believe this for a moment; rather, it’s the only thing they can say in the absence of an actual game plan to kill the bug dead.

Comparing Ebola with Smallpox and Bubonic Plague — the US needs ASAP to appoint a global CEO and team whose sole mission is to kill this bug dead

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

Six or seven billion people on the planet is evidence enough that diseases and infections that are both highly lethal and highly contagious are extremely rare. But they do happen.

Smallpox kills a third of the people who get it, but fortunately is most contagious only after the onset of the rash, so it’s potentially somewhat avoidable. The incubation period is 12 days or so. The last naturally occurring case was almost 40 years ago. For safety’s sake, the US keeps enough vaccine around to inoculate the entire population at $3 a pop.

Plague killed about 2/3 of the people who got it, and wiped out about half the population of Europe in the 14th century. It is transmitted by infected fleas and kills most of its victims within 4 days. It is treatable by that old standby Streptomycin and many other prescription drugs that are plentiful and broadly available.

Ebola kills as many as 88% of people who get it, and has an incredibly long incubation period, up to 3 weeks. Its combination of lethality and time-to-severe-symptoms make it potentially deadlier than smallpox and bubonic plague. And yet the US government is fooling around with airport interviews and drug development programs that might generate 100 treatments a month, even though the CDC itself estimates 1.4 million cases in just 2 countries by next year.

The need for private sector leadership on this is obvious, with funding by the government. The potential threat is unprecedented. Put Ben Carson or Bill Gates or ourselves in charge and get out of the way. Yet there is little to no US leadership on this. The really odd thing is that the crew in Washington is obsessed with creating good PR by any means necessary, yet is MIA on this, and in an election season to boot! Announcing and implementing the Ebola Manhattan Project could be just what the doctor ordered for November 4. Yet all we hear is the chirping of crickets.

We need a ZMapp Manhattan Project at Warp Speed

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

Bloomberg discusses ZMapp, which, along with related treatments, needs to be produced in the millions of doses, not 100:

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which has nine employees, released its experimental ZMapp drug, until now only tested on infected animals, for the two health workers…The two scientists behind Mapp, President Larry Zeitlin and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Whaley, “are both brilliant,” said Charles Arntzen, a plant biotechnology expert at Arizona State University who collaborated with the two researchers years ago. “They are very, very bright guys and free spirits”…

Mapp’s drug is being developed with Toronto-based Defyrus Inc., which has six employees, according to Defyrus CEO Jeff Turner. ZMapp is a “cocktail” of monoclonal antibodies that help the immune system attack the virus…Kentucky BioProcessing LLC, a subsidiary of tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), manufactures the treatment for Mapp from tobacco plants…

The tobacco plant production system was developed because it was a method that could produce antibodies rapidly in the event of an emergency, he said. To produce therapeutic proteins inside a tobacco plant, genes for the desired antibodies are fused to genes for a natural tobacco virus, said Arntzen. The tobacco plants are then infected with this new artificial virus, he said. “The infection results in the production of antibodies inside the plant,” Arntzen said. The plant is eventually ground up and the antibody is extracted, he said. The whole process takes a matter of weeks.

We have no idea if ZMapp is the best treatment for ebola, but we know it worked in several cases. We also know that the San Diego and Toronto companies total 15 employees between them. This is real and real-time, not silly fantasies like Solyndra. We need a ZMapp Manhattan Project at Warp Speed to avoid a potential disaster by relying on containment luck.

A “pandemic” is not 10, 20, 40 or 100 cases per month

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

NYT:

ZMapp, which is actually a cocktail of three different antibodies, is being developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, a tiny San Diego company, with funding from the United States and Canadian governments. The doses used to treat the American aid workers were produced in tobacco leaves at a facility in Owensboro, Ky., that is owned by Reynolds American, the tobacco company. That facility has now resumed production, but the federal official said it was expected to produce only about 10 to 20 treatment courses by the end of the year, and the same amount every month going forward.

So the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, is considering additional production from Caliber, which is based in Bryan, Tex., and co-operates on projects with Texas A&M University. Caliber also produces proteins, including antibodies, in hydroponically grown tobacco plants but has a larger production capacity than the Kentucky facility.

No official contract has been signed, so plans could still change. But federal officials have visited Caliber regularly. “They are actively engaged, pretty much on a daily basis, working with Caliber and A&M,” Dr. Brett P. Giroir, the chief executive of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, said Wednesday. Executives at Caliber and Mapp declined to comment for this article.

Both Caliber and the Kentucky facility sprang from a project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was looking for a way to quickly produce vaccines or therapeutic proteins in the event of an emergency like a flu pandemic.

Now these facilities are likely to get their first big test. “It’s not been tested, live-fire,” the federal official said. “And now we’re doing it.” The system involves infecting tobacco with a genetically engineered virus that contains the instructions to make the antibody. “Every time the virus tries to replicate, it spins out a copy of a monoclonal antibody,” said Charles J. Arntzen, a professor at Arizona State University who has long worked on such systems. The leaves are ground up to extract the antibody.

The federal official said that Caliber and other facilities that will be brought on line could produce 40 to 100 treatment courses per month.

So “Caliber and the Kentucky facility sprang from a project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was looking for a way to quickly produce vaccines or therapeutic proteins in the event of an emergency like a flu pandemic.” So even DARPA is part of the clown carnival now?

What on earth is wrong with these people in government bureaucracies? The goal is a maximum of 100 treatments a month for a virus that has killed as many as 88% of those who get it and has an incubation period as long as 3 weeks? This effort needs a real CEO and a lot of money and manpower — fast. As we said: Manhattan Project at Warp Speed, nothing less will do.

First ISIS, now this

Monday, September 29th, 2014

HuffPo:

The intruder who climbed a fence made it farther inside the White House than the Secret Service has publicly acknowledged, a Republican congressman said Monday. The disclosures came on the eve of a congressional oversight hearing with the director of the embattled agency assigned to protect the president’s life.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Monday night that whistleblowers told his committee that the intruder ran through the White House, into the East Room and near the doors to the Green Room before being apprehended. They also told the committee that the intruder made it past a female guard stationed inside the White House, Chaffetz said.

In the hours after the Sept. 19 fence-jumper incident, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told The Associated Press that the suspect had been apprehended just inside the North Portico doors of the White House. The Secret Service also said that night that the suspect had been unarmed — an assertion that was revealed to be false the next day when officials acknowledged that Omar J. Gonzalez had a knife with him when he was apprehended.

Also, CAGW has jumped the shark. What’s next?

They don’t know that they don’t know

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

NYT:

The family whose legendary wealth flowed from Standard Oil is planning to announce on Monday that its $860 million philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is joining the divestment movement that began a couple years ago…Ms. Wayne said the family’s commitment is intergenerational, and continuing. She said that her 8-year-old daughter lectures her on the destruction of orangutan habitat to create palm oil plantations. “If I’m wearing lipstick, she won’t kiss me,” she said, “because there’s palm oil in it.”

And there’s more. At a minimum, these people are not arguments for low estate taxes.

Myths, then and now

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Richard Lindzen (earlier piece here):

Climate alarm belongs to a class of issues characterized by a claim for which there is no evidence, that nonetheless appeals strongly to one or more interests or prejudices. Once the issue is adopted, evidence becomes irrelevant. Instead, the believer sees what he believes. Anything can serve as a supporting omen. Three very different previous examples come to mind (though there are many more examples that could be cited): Malthus’ theory of overpopulation, social Darwinism and the Dreyfus Affair. Although each of these issues engendered opposition, only the Dreyfus Affair led to widespread societal polarization. More commonly, only the ‘believers’ are sufficiently driven to form a movement. We will briefly review these examples (though each has been subject to book length analyses), but the issue of climate alarm is somewhat special in that it appeals to a sizeable number of interests, and has strong claims on the scientific community. It also has the potential to cause exceptional harm to an unprecedented number of people. This has led to persistent opposition amidst widespread lack of interest. However, all these issues are characterized by profound immorality pretending to virtue.

Malthus’ peculiar theory wherein the claimed linear growth of food loses out to the exponential growth of population has maintained continuous popularity in the faculty lounge for about two centuries. It is, therefore, worth noting that Malthus had no evidence that food supply would increase only linearly. Nor did he have evidence for exponential population growth. Malthus initially went so far as to estimate an e-folding time for population of 25 years, based on the population of North America, and ignoring the role of immigration. Although Malthus, himself, eventually acknowledged these problems, the enthusiasm for his anti-human conclusions remains strong. Neither the green revolution nor the diminution of famine amidst increasing population dissuades them. The fact that Chad is poor and the Netherlands is rich never strikes the believer as odd. Apparently, the growth of cities, the movement of workers from the farm to the city, and, for much of the developed world, immigration, all served to convince people of means that there were too many other people around, and Malthusian theory formed a framework for something they were (and are) eager to believe.

Social Darwinism and its corollary, eugenics, represents another case of a theory without support that was widely accepted with, at times, horrid consequences. Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species” had immense influence. It presented a theory whereby natural selection and what were essentially mutations could account for biological evolution. While it offered valuable insights into the development of finch beaks, it was hardly meant to describe societal evolution. Nevertheless, the notion of ‘survival of the fittest’ applied to society had obvious appeal to those who perceived themselves to be the fittest and who naturally regarded the application as scientifically justified. It was a small step to eugenics which was the counterpart of modern day environmentalism during the first third of the twentieth century, and was supported by all the ‘best’ people (including George Bernard Shaw, Margaret Sanger, Alexander Graham Bell, and Theodore Roosevelt) despite the fact that there actually was a mathematical theorem (the Hardy-Weinberg Theorem) that showed that the impact of eugenics on the gene pool would be negligible. Needless to add, mathematics is of no importance to the ‘best’ people. Malthusian population fears continue to the present, but eugenics was rendered unfashionable by the obvious implications presented by the Nazis.

While science is a common vehicle for such misuse, the Dreyfus Affair shows that other vehicles exist. In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was accused of passing secret French military information to the Germans. There was, in fact, no evidence to support this accusation. Nevertheless, there was again a strong desire on the part of many people in France to believe the accusation. To be sure, there was the endemic anti-Semitism in France. However, there was also the humiliation of France’s loss in the Franco-Prussian War, and the desire to blame such loss not on the army, but on the perfidy of a group that some considered to be ‘outside’. (The Nazis’ ‘stab in the back’ theory for the German loss in WW1 represents a similar instinct). Dreyfus was tried (several times) and sentenced to Devil’s Island. Prominent Frenchmen (Emile Zola in particular) , incensed by the obvious injustice campaigned for Dreyfus, and the issue literally split France in half (partly because the conflict between Catholics and Secularists also entered the Affair). Dreyfus was eventually exonerated after the identification of the actual spy became undeniable.

The current issue of global warming/climate change is extreme in terms of the number of special interests that opportunistically have strong interests in believing in the claims of catastrophe despite the lack of evidence. In no particular order, there are the leftist economists for whom global warming represents a market failure, there are the UN apparatchiks for whom global warming is the route to global governance, there are third world dictators who see guilt over global warming as providing a convenient claim on aid (ie, the transfer of wealth from the poor in rich countries to the wealthy in poor countries), there are the environmental activists who love any issue that has the capacity to frighten the gullible into making hefty contributions to their numerous NGOs, there are the crony capitalists who see the opportunity to cash in on the immense sums being made available for ‘sustainable’ energy, there are the government regulators for whom the control of a natural product of breathing is a dream come true, there are newly minted billionaires who find the issue of ‘saving the planet’ appropriately suitable to their grandiose pretensions, etc., etc.

Strange as it may seem, even the fossil fuel industry is generally willing to go along. After all, they realize better than most, that there is no current replacement for fossil fuels. The closest possibilities, nuclear and hydro, are despised by the environmentalists. As long as fossil fuel companies have a level playing field, and can pass expenses to the consumers, they are satisfied. Given the nature of corporate overhead, the latter can even form a profit center. The situation within science itself is equally grim. Huge sums of government and private funding have become available to what was initially a small backwater field. Science becomes easy when emphasis is on malleable models supported by hugely uncertain data that can be readily found ‘consistent’ with the models supplemented by fervidly imagined catastrophic ‘implications.’ Indeed, uncertainty is often exaggerated for just this purpose. Opposition within the scientific community is immediately met with ad hominem attacks, loss of funding, and difficulty in publishing.

The last paragraph is interesting in that the amorality (and sometimes perfidy) of big companies is something that many on the left and right can agree on. Somewhat amusing treatment here.

Oddities, inanities, and so forth

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

From Yale: “To Save the Planet, Don’t Plant Trees.” From NYU: earth’s temperature “increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by some 25%…the models famously fail to capture this slowing in the temperature rise.” And, topping the charts today: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.”

The folly that turned a recession into the Depression

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

We originally posted this a year before the Calamity of 2008, when it seemed impossible that history could repeat itself. Yet history almost repeated when Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail on September 15, 2008 and all hell broke loose. History is hard.

We had the good fortune to meet a man who was present as a child at one of the precipitating events of the Great Depression, the failure of New York’s Bank of United States in December 1930. His grandfather, who lost his savings in that bank, took him to witness the scene as depositors thronged to bank doors that were locked during normal business hours. The panic from bank failures in New York and elsewhere spread around the country — there was no deposit insurance — driving banks to maximize liquidity, sell assets, foreclose loans, and create the Mother of All Credit Crunches, which became known as the Great Depression. Here’s how the NYT described the scene in its December 12, 1930 city edition:

onset.gif

Perhaps you have been taught that the stock market crash of 1929 caused the Great Depression. That is not so. The crash both reflected and amplified the recession that the US economy was entering in 1929; however, it was the problems of the banking system and of monetary policy that cascaded recession into depression. We will quote from Friedman and Schwartz’s Monetary History of the United States (from pp. 309-313):

The stock market crash…left no mark on currency held by the public. Its direct financial effect was confined to the stock market and did not arouse any distrust of banks by their depositors.

The stock market crash coincided with a stepping up of the rate of economic decline. During the two months from the cyclical peak in August 1929 to the crash, production, wholesale prices, and personal income fell at annual rates of 20%, 7.5%, and 5%, respectively. In the next twelve months, all three series fell at appreciably higher rates…Even if the contraction had come to an end in late 1930 or early 1931, as it might have done in the absence of the monetary collapse that was to ensue, it would have ranked as one of the more severe contractions on record….

In October 1930, the monetary character of the contraction changed dramatically…A crop of bank failures, particularly in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Arkansas, and North Carolina, led to widespread attempts to convert demand and time deposits into currency…A contagion of fear spread among depositors…such contagion knows no geographical limits. The failure of 256 banks with $180 million in deposits in November 1930 was followed by the failure of 352 with over $370 million of deposits in December…the most dramatic being the failure on December 11 of the Bank of United States with over $200 million of deposits.

That failure was of especial importance. The Bank of United States was the largest commercial bank, as measured by volume of deposits, ever to have failed up to that time in US history. Moreover, though an ordinary commercial bank, its name had led many at home and abroad to regard it as somehow an official bank, hence its failure constituted more of a blow to confidence than would have been administered by the fall of a bank with a less distinctive name.

In addition it was a member of the Federal Reserve System. The withdrawal of support by the Clearing House banks from the concerted measures sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to save the bank — measures of a kind the banking community had often taken in similar circumstances in the past — was a serious blow to the System’s prestige…

Friedman implies that the reason that the Clearing House banks failed to bail out the Bank of the United States, despite often intervening in other, similar cases, is that the BoUS’s customer base and board were Jewish. This contention seems to be supported by statements from the NY State Banking Commissioner of that time, Joseph A. Broderick (p. 310). Let’s take a look at how the New York Times reported the attendees of the meeting the day before the Clearing House pulled the plug on the Bank of United States:

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We have no way of knowing if Milton Friedman’s contention is true or not, though it appears likely to us that, unlike Herbert H. Lehman, the “small, able” Mr. Isidor J. Kresel was probably not a member of Our Crowd. TIME Magazine summed up the banking community’s view of the Bank of the United States in its December 22, 1930 issue on that fateful meeting:

Another late arrival was lanky Owen D. Young who came about 11 p.m. in full dress, accompanied by Thomas William Lamont of J. P. Morgan & Co. Looking taller than usual in his full dress, Mr. Young paused to peer down at and converse with small, able Isidor Kresel, counsel for Bank of United States…Conservative Manhattan bankers last week were angry at Bernard K. Marcus, dark-haired, heavily-built president of Bank of United States. His aim was perhaps much too high. Only last year he stated: “Often we’ve put two or three days work into one. We have gone ahead two or three times as fast as we would have had we been working only one day at a time.” To bankers, a day’s work is a day’s work, to be done well, thoroughly.

The tall and lanky in full dress versus the small, able, dark-haired, overreaching, and heavily-built. We get the picture. Thanks, TIME.

This piece has been quite educational to research. We see once again that great events can turn on small episodes of human weakness, prejudice and folly. And who knew at the time that a crowd gathered at a bank on a cold December day would become anything other than the “local” event that the head of the NY Clearing House opined that it would be?

We should not believe that we can’t make mistakes of similar magnitude or wrongheadedness again. The stagflation of the 1970′s was caused by foolish economics policies of three presidents in a row — Nixon, Ford, and Carter — that weren’t reversed for a decade until Ronald Reagan and Paul Volcker had the wisdom and courage to take the harsh steps required to kill inflation (we know that Carter appointed Alfred Kahn to the CAB and Volcker to the Fed, but the hard work for Volcker was done on Reagan’s watch, with the fed funds rate rising to an unprecedented, unbelievable 20% in mid-1981). Today, one new challenge is the anti-China, pro-protectionism movement increasingly vocal in the US today. The greatest folly can seem trivial or reasonable at the time, which is precisely why it is so dangerous.

Ebola needs a ZMapp Manhattan Project at Warp Speed, not nonsense

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Bloomberg discusses ZMapp, which, along with related treatments, needs to be produced in the millions of doses, not 100:

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which has nine employees, released its experimental ZMapp drug, until now only tested on infected animals, for the two health workers…The two scientists behind Mapp, President Larry Zeitlin and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Whaley, “are both brilliant,” said Charles Arntzen, a plant biotechnology expert at Arizona State University who collaborated with the two researchers years ago. “They are very, very bright guys and free spirits”…

Mapp’s drug is being developed with Toronto-based Defyrus Inc., which has six employees, according to Defyrus CEO Jeff Turner. ZMapp is a “cocktail” of monoclonal antibodies that help the immune system attack the virus…Kentucky BioProcessing LLC, a subsidiary of tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), manufactures the treatment for Mapp from tobacco plants…

The tobacco plant production system was developed because it was a method that could produce antibodies rapidly in the event of an emergency, he said. To produce therapeutic proteins inside a tobacco plant, genes for the desired antibodies are fused to genes for a natural tobacco virus, said Arntzen. The tobacco plants are then infected with this new artificial virus, he said. “The infection results in the production of antibodies inside the plant,” Arntzen said. The plant is eventually ground up and the antibody is extracted, he said. The whole process takes a matter of weeks.

We have no idea if ZMapp is the best treatment for ebola, but we know it worked in several cases. We also know that the San Diego and Toronto companies total 15 employees between them. This is real and real-time, not silly fantasies like Solyndra. We need a ZMapp Manhattan Project at Warp Speed to avoid disaster.

Now, insanity and theater via NYT:

Senior administration officials said Monday night that the Department of Defense would open a joint command operation in Monrovia, Liberia, to coordinate the international effort to combat the disease. The military will also provide engineers to help construct the additional treatment facilities and will send enough people to train up to 500 health care workers a week to deal with the crisis. Officials said the military expected to send as many as 3,000 people to Africa to take charge of responding to the Ebola outbreak.

The American government will also provide 400,000 Ebola home health and treatment kits to Liberia, as well as tens of thousands of kits intended to test whether people have the disease. The Pentagon will provide some logistical equipment for health workers going to West Africa and what administration officials described as “command and control” organizational assistance on how to coordinate the overall relief work. The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to be part of the Defense Department effort. Administration officials did not say how soon the 17 treatment centers would be built in Liberia; officials there, as well as international aid officials, have said that 1,000 beds are needed in Liberia in the next week alone

Instead of putting American soldiers in harm’s way for no apparent benefit, wouldn’t it have been a better idea to clone Mapp and its promising rivals in multiple US, European and other medical research centers, and devote massive resources to ramping up production of ZMapp and other drugs with similar laboratory success?

The deep, ancient origins of Sunni and Shia hostilities

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

We had no idea that Shia and Sunni hostilities we this deep. CFR:

Shia identity is rooted in victimhood over the killing of Husayn, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, in the seventh century, and a long history of marginalization by the Sunni majority. Islam’s dominant sect, which roughly 85 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims follow, viewed Shia Islam with suspicion, and extremist Sunnis have portrayed Shias as heretics and apostates.

Mohammed unveiled a new faith to the people of Mecca in 610. Known as Islam, or submission to God, the monotheistic religion incorporated some Jewish and Christian traditions and expanded with a set of laws that governed most aspects of life, including political authority. By the time of his death in 632, Mohammed had consolidated power in Arabia. His followers subsequently built an empire that would stretch from Central Asia to Spain less than a century after his death. But a debate over succession split the community, with some arguing that leadership should be awarded to qualified individuals and others insisting that the only legitimate ruler must come through Mohammed’s bloodline.

A group of prominent early followers of Islam elected Abu Bakr, a companion of Mohammed, to be the first caliph, or leader of the Islamic community, over the objections of those who favored Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. The opposing camps in the succession debate eventually evolved into Islam’s two main sects. Shias, a term that stems from shi’atu Ali, Arabic for “partisans of Ali,” believe that Ali and his descendants are part of a divine order. Sunnis, meaning followers of the sunna, or “way” in Arabic, of Mohammed, are opposed to political succession based on Mohammed’s bloodline.

Ali became caliph in 656 and ruled only five years before he was assassinated. The caliphate, which was based in the Arabian Peninsula, passed to the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus and later the Abbasids in Baghdad. Shias rejected the authority of these rulers. In 680, soldiers of the second Umayyad caliph killed Ali’s son, Husayn, and many of his companions in Karbala, located in modern-day Iraq. Karbala became a defining moral story for Shias, and Sunni caliphs worried that the Shia Imams—the descendants of Husayn who were seen as the legitimate leaders of Muslims (Sunnis use the term “imam” for the men who lead prayers in mosques)—would use this massacre to capture public imagination and topple monarchs. This fear resulted in the further persecution and marginalization of Shias.

Even as Sunnis triumphed politically in the Muslim world, Shias continued to look to the Imams—the blood descendants of Ali and Husayn—as their legitimate political and religious leaders. Even within the Shia community, however, there arose differences over the proper line of succession. Mainstream Shias believe there were twelve Imams. Zaydi Shias, found mostly in Yemen, broke off from the majority Shia community at the fifth Imam, and sustained imamate rule in parts of Yemen up to the 1960s. Ismaili Shias, centered in South Asia but with important diaspora communities throughout the world, broke off at the seventh Imam. Ismailis revere the Aga Khan as the living representative of their Imam. The majority of Shias, particularly those in Iran and the eastern Arab world, believe that the twelfth Imam entered a state of occultation, or hiddenness, in 939 and that he will return at the end of time. Since then, “Twelvers,” or Ithna Ashari Shias, have vested religious authority in their senior clerical leaders, called ayatollahs (Arabic for “sign of God”)…

Sunnis dominated the first nine centuries of Islamic rule (excluding the Shia Fatimid dynasty) until the Safavid dynasty was established in Persia in 1501. The Safavids made Shia Islam the state religion, and over the following two centuries they fought with the Ottomans, the seat of the Sunni caliphate. As these empires faded, their battles roughly settled the political borders of modern Iran and Turkey by the seventeenth century, and their legacies resulted in the current demographic distribution of Islam’s sects. Shias comprise a majority in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain, and a plurality in Lebanon, while Sunnis make up the majority of more than forty countries from Morocco to Indonesia.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 gave Shia cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini the opportunity to implement his vision for an Islamic government ruled by the “guardianship of the jurist” (velayat-e faqih), a controversial concept among Shia scholars that is opposed by Sunnis, who have historically differentiated between political leadership and religious scholarship. Shia ayatollahs have always been the guardians of the faith. Khomeini argued that clerics had to rule to properly perform their function: implementing Islam as God intended, through the mandate of the Shia Imams.

Under Khomeini, Iran began an experiment in Islamic rule. Khomeini tried to inspire further Islamic revival, preaching Muslim unity, but supported groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Pakistan that had specific Shia agendas. Sunni Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, admired Khomeini’s success, but did not accept his leadership, underscoring the depth of sectarian suspicions.

Saudi Arabia has a sizable Shia minority of roughly 10 percent, and millions of adherents of a puritanical brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism (an offshoot of the Sunni Hanbali school) that is antagonistic to Shia Islam. The transformation of Iran into an overtly Shia power after the Islamic revolution induced Saudi Arabia to accelerate the propagation of Wahhabism, as both countries revived a centuries-old sectarian rivalry over the true interpretation of Islam. Many of the groups responsible for sectarian violence that has occurred in the region and across the Muslim world since 1979 can be traced to Saudi and Iranian sources.

Wiki:

Sunnis believe that Abu Bakr, the father of Muhammad’s wife Aisha, was Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leaders (Shura) endorsed by the Quran is the consensus of the Ummah (the Muslim community).

Shias believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Hussein ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next caliph, making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad’s successors. Ali was married to Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter from his wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.

Aisha endorsed her father Abu Bakr as the successor to Muhammad. In the Battle of the Camel (656), Aisha opposed her step son-in-law Ali outside the city of Basra because she wanted justice on the perpetrators of the assassination of the previous caliph, Uthman. Aisha’s forces were defeated and Muhammad’s widow was respectfully escorted back to Medina.

Sunnis follow the Rashidun “rightly guided Caliphs”, who were the first four caliphs who ruled after the death of Muhammad: Abu Bakr (632-634), Umar ibn al-Khattab (634-644), Uthman ibn Affan (644-656), and the aforementioned Ali Ibn Abi Talib (656-661).

Shia theology discounts the legitimacy of the first three caliphs and believes that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man (after Muhammed) and that he and his descendants by Fatimah, the Imams, are the sole legitimate Islamic leaders.

The Imamate of the Shia encompasses far more of a prophetic function than the Caliphate of the Sunnis. Unlike Sunni, Shias believe special spiritual qualities have been granted not only to Muhammad but also to Ali and the other Imams. Twelvers believe the imams are immaculate from sin and human error (ma’sūm), and can understand and interpret the hidden inner meaning of the teachings of Islam. In this way the Imams are trustees (wasi) who bear the light of Muhammad (Nūr Muhammadin).

While Shias and Sunnis differ on the nature of the Mahdi, many members of both groups, especially Sufis, believe that the Mahdi will appear at the end of the world to bring about a perfect and just Islamic society.

In Shia Islam “the Mahdi symbol has developed into a powerful and central religious idea.” Twelvers believe the Mahdi will be Muhammad al-Mahdi, the twelfth Imam returned from the Occultation, where he has been hidden by God since 874. In contrast, mainstream Sunnis believe the Mahdi will be named Muhammad, be a descendant of Muhammad, and will revive the faith, but will not necessarily be connected with the end of the world…

Sunni–Shia…violence persists to this day from Pakistan to Yemen and is a major element of friction throughout the Middle East. Tensions between communities have intensified during power struggles, such as the Bahraini uprising, the Iraq War, and most recently the Syrian Civil War and the formation of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and its advancement on Syria and Northern Iraq.

Britannica:

The Thirty Years’ War…is conventionally held to have begun in 1618, when the future Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II, in his role as king of Bohemia, attempted to impose Roman Catholic absolutism on his domains, and the Protestant nobles of both Bohemia and Austria rose up in rebellion. Ferdinand won after a five-year struggle. In 1625 King Christian IV of Denmark saw an opportunity to gain valuable territory in Germany to balance his earlier loss of Baltic provinces to Sweden. Christian’s defeat and the Peace of Lübeck in 1629 finished Denmark as a European power, but Sweden’s Gustav II Adolf, having ended a four-year war with Poland, invaded Germany and won many German princes to his anti-Roman Catholic, anti-imperial cause.

Meanwhile the conflict widened, fueled by political ambitions of the various powers. Poland, having been drawn in as a Baltic power coveted by Sweden, pushed its own ambitions by attacking Russia and establishing a dictatorship in Moscow under Władysław, Poland’s future king. The Russo-Polish Peace of Polyanov in 1634 ended Poland’s claim to the tsarist throne but freed Poland to resume hostilities against its Baltic archenemy, Sweden, which was now deeply embroiled in Germany. Here, in the heartland of Europe, three denominations vied for dominance: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. This resulted in a Gordian tangle of alliances as princes and prelates called in foreign powers to aid them. Overall, the struggle was between the Holy Roman Empire, which was Roman Catholic and Habsburg, and a network of Protestant towns and principalities that relied on the chief anti-Catholic powers of Sweden and the United Netherlands, which had at last thrown off the yoke of Spain after a struggle lasting 80 years. A parallel struggle involved the rivalry of France with the Habsburgs of the empire and with the Habsburgs of Spain, who had been attempting to construct a cordon of anti-French alliances.

The principal battlefield for all these intermittent conflicts was the towns and principalities of Germany, which suffered severely. During the Thirty Years’ War, many of the contending armies were mercenaries, many of whom could not collect their pay. This threw them on the countryside for their supplies, and thus began the “wolf-strategy” that typified this war. The armies of both sides plundered as they marched, leaving cities, towns, villages, and farms ravaged. When the contending powers finally met in the German province of Westphalia to end the bloodshed, the balance of power in Europe had been radically changed. Spain had lost not only the Netherlands but its dominant position in western Europe. France was now the chief Western power. Sweden had control of the Baltic. The United Netherlands was recognized as an independent republic. The member states of the Holy Roman Empire were granted full sovereignty. The ancient notion of a Roman Catholic empire of Europe, headed spiritually by a pope and temporally by an emperor, was permanently abandoned, and the essential structure of modern Europe as a community of sovereign states was established.

Points: (a) were the Catholics the Varsity team and the Protestants the JV team? (b) we included such lengthy passages for a reason: anyone who thinks that a complex theological war that has been going on for over a millenium is going to end anytime soon is a fool; (c) the overwhelming strategic imperative for the US is to produce oil like crazy, both for complete energy independence and to reduce the income and importance of the Gulf states — the CAGW hucksters with their stupid, fraudulent arguments are truly enemies of the American people.

Why didn’t the Barbary Pirates get regular jobs?

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Wretchard answers the question. Certain things follow if your nation subscribes to the belief that a 1400 year old book and related documents are all you’ll ever need to get through life. Do we exaggerate? Look at the issue of patents and make up your own mind. Still not persuaded? How’s this for a Top Ten List?

Churchill and Jefferson here.

Real and imagined threats

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Real:

deadly Ebola outbreak sweeping across three countries in West Africa is likely to last 12 to 18 months more, much longer than anticipated, and could infect hundreds of thousands of people

Real: “I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider.” (We heard this on Ralph Nader’s KFPK program today BTW.) Imagined. Today the best and the brightest are neither.

Deflation here and there

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Reuters:

China’s consumer inflation cooled more than expected in August, further evidence that the economy is losing momentum. Weak Chinese data had helped support markets on the bet that authorities would unleash new stimulus measures, but investors are becoming increasingly worried, said Eugen Weinberg, head of commodity research at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. “There’s no commitment yet from China to stimulate the economy in the short term,” he said. “Copper is the leading metal so it’s not surprising to see it coming under massive pressure with this overwhelming pessimism right now in the market.”

Three-month copper on the LME dropped to its weakest since June 20 at $6,770 a tonne before paring losses to close at $6,835 a tonne, down 0.5 percent. Adding to pressure on copper, the global refined copper market was seen flipping into a surplus. “The expectation of a surplus was postponed by a couple of different factors … but we still expect you’re probably going to see that by the end of the year,” analyst James Glenn of National Australia Bank in Melbourne said.

Aluminium was vulnerable to more losses, said Paul Adkins of consultancy AZ China in Beijing. “We feel the aluminium price is a little bit overbought at the moment. And we don’t see enough support from the fundamentals,” he told the Reuters Global Base Metals Forum. “All those restarted (Chinese) smelters are now starting to bring metal to the market and there is still 1 million tonnes of new capacity set to enter the picture through the rest of this year.” Commerzbank’s Weinberg said the metal was a candidate for a short position with a target of $1,900 a tonne by year end.

Deflation and devaluations also observed in language.