Thursday, December 30, 2010

This Is an Honest Press? The Press and Medicare

The Press issued a piece today stating:

Nearly three out of five people say in a recent Associated Press-GfK poll that they paid into the system so they deserve their full benefits — no cuts.

But a newly updated financial analysis shows that what people paid into the system doesn't come close to covering the full value of the medical care they can expect to receive as retirees.

Consider an average-wage, two-earner couple together earning $89,000 a year. Upon retiring in 2011, they would have paid $114,000 in Medicare payroll taxes during their careers.

But they can expect to receive medical services — from prescriptions to hospital care — worth $355,000, or about three times what they put in.

This is in my opinion and in my analysis blatantly false! We detailed this a year and a half ago, with numbers and a detailed discussion. Let me start with some facts:

1. The average life span of a 65 year old male, namely when the start Medicare is 12 years. See Census data.

2. The average expenditure per year per Medicare patient is $11,000 rounded upwards for 2010! See Medicare.

3. If one multiplies this one gets, $132,000. But! The person still pays in an additional $1200 per year or $14,400. So subtract that to reflect a real cost of $117,600. Not what the Press says.

Now for the contributions side. Medicare is 3% of your gross salary per year and no limits. Unless you worked as a McDonald's clear all your life the average contribution net present valued to today is $187,000. That is per person! Now if you don't make any money you get an extra benefit. Perhaps the Press should have used average US salaries and not the bottom 25% level! The Press uses the average costs but does not include yearly contributions and then assumes a 65 year old couple whose income is in the $44,500 per year per person level after 45+ years of employment. That is about a $22 per hour job, when the minimum wage is about $10. Not a wage of a UAW worker, and no where near the wage of one of those in the teachers unions.

At the end of the article the Press states:

Outpatient doctor visits and prescription drugs are paid for with a mix of premiums collected from beneficiaries and money from the government's general fund. Seniors pay only one-fourth of the costs of those benefits through their premiums.

This is a blatant misstatement of the true facts. They have overestimated the costs and then chose a family in the lower 25 percentile! You cannot do this. The one fourth statement clearly applies to those who never earned much. But one must look at all the data. Remember if you make $1 billion you pay Medicare on all of that! I have never seen an article which has twisted and misrepresented the facts as this one has. They say "Seniors" and in normal English that means all seniors. That is wrong, and they know or should have known this. Perhaps this the the Press and its attempt to just kill grandma! We don't nee death panels we have these fellows, nameless as they shall be.

This analysis is in my opinion merely a rant with posings on the part of the Press and is written to incite not enlighten. This is a classic example of the way the left wing press sends out in my opinion erroneous pieces which have been picked up with no analysis by the other elements of the Press. The Press article is not in my opinion based upon my detailed analysis of the facts itself factual. It is in my opinion a polemical piece of political propaganda! At what point will the people demand the truth based upon facts! Perhaps they will find Elvis next! Shame on all who posted this as is!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Coase at 100

Ronald Coase turns 100 on the morrow. In a certain sense his "law" is the fundamental basis of individualism. Namely if the sole function of the Government is to protect property rights, and if people have and can retain and litigate such rights, then the need for overt Government mandates goes to zero. If I have a right to my property to ensure that my basement is dry and my neighbor builds a dam which floods my back yard, then the damage to me should be paid as a cot to my neighbor, old tort law and good enough for Coase.

The Economist has a good piece which is worth a read:

His central insight was that firms exist because going to the market all the time can impose heavy transaction costs. You need to hire workers, negotiate prices and enforce contracts, to name but three time-consuming activities. A firm is essentially a device for creating long-term contracts when short-term contracts are too bothersome. But if markets are so inefficient, why don’t firms go on getting bigger for ever? Mr Coase also pointed out that these little planned societies impose transaction costs of their own, which tend to rise as they grow bigger. The proper balance between hierarchies and markets is constantly recalibrated by the forces of competition: entrepreneurs may choose to lower transaction costs by forming firms but giant firms eventually become sluggish and uncompetitive.

The transaction costs are what gets us in the end.

Health Care: A Useful Time Line

Kaiser has published an interesting time line for the new Health Care Bill. It is worth watching, and then seeing what the impact is.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Asking the Right Question

I am rereading Steven Rosenberg's book from 1992, The Transformed Cell, on using the human immune system to attack cancer. We had the blizzard so I thought I'd go thru the stacks and clean out things, usually do this once a year, and I ran across this one. Rosenberg is a true intellect in cancer research and I have been following his work for a few decades. The book is worth a read, again, and there are few books that I do this with. As an aside I have read Norbert Wiener's autobiography about five times, and still remains something that I would go back to.

Now to Rosenberg, the issue is clearly one of asking the right question. He tells the time when he started focusing on IL-2 that his wife, always great to have a helpful spouse, always good to put a plug in for mine as well, how his wife after his discussion with her turned to him and said, "It's five ifs and a then..." Brilliant, I probably did not think so twenty years ago but I have used a variant of this many times in the past twenty years. How many ifs is a part of the question. In a start up company we can deal with two or three ifs, and in research we can deal with five. The key is asking the questions getting to the ifs. This is almost a Wittgenstein type approach.

Now to asking the right question. I have been looking at clinical data, I don't do any myself, other than plants, and I saw the following. There is a putative causal relationship between prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia, PIN, and prostate cancer, PCa. Namely PIN was always considered a precursor, almost. Every paper you read says so. But, and that is an important but, there are more than a handful of times when a patient goes from PIN to totally benign, and no PCa.

Why? If the process is genetic, then a change has occurred, a methylation and possible change in PTEN, but  what happened. Did the cells go thru apoptosis, was the immune system activated, where did these cells go? Was there some exogenous factor which caused the change. Can we create a few ifs as did Mrs. Rosenberg to model what happened and then try and determine if it did. Then can we reverse engineer it? Always goo to read the words of great people from time to time, helps clarify one's thoughts. And Rosenberg has done some great work.

Genes and the Ignorant

Genes are most evident in some strange way to the gardener. Mendel did peas, and of course when you plant a hydrangea you find its color varies greatly depending on the soil, the rainfall, the location, and lots of things well beyond the genes. I can have dozens of clones of plants and they may all look different. They are clone, the very same genes, but phenotypically they are different, the genes are working differently. Any gardener has know this for centuries, albeit without the gene paradigm.

Along comes a paper in Technology Review which states that genes are not the same everywhere. Wow, what insight. The author starts with stating:

The message boils down to a single premise: your unique mix of physiological traits and disease risks (collectively known as your phenotype) can be read in the precise sequence of chemical bases, or letters, in your DNA (your genotype). 

 Not really, and we all knew this for ages. One need just look for example at prostate cancer. One can inherit a predisposition but it may require methylation of a set of genes enhanced by inflammation, for example the inflammation may be induced by excess blood glucose due to Type 2 Diabetes which is due to excess caloric consumption. Thus the linkage, albeit on a genetic underpinning, is driven by diet. There is a paper by Donkena et al which starts with an Ayurvedic Proverb:

When diet is wrong medicine is of no use
When diet is correct medicine is of no need.

This applies to man and plants! He continues:

What if the DNA sequence of an individual explains only part of the story of his or her inherited diseases and traits, and we need to know the DNA sequences of parents and perhaps even grandparents to understand what is truly going on? Before the Human Genome Project and the era of widespread DNA sequencing, those questions would have seemed ridiculous to researchers convinced they knew better. But modern genomics has run into a Mendelian wall.

Again back to plants, you can get millions of clones in plants, just vegetatively propagate them.  Then you have the same genes. Now plant them in different conditions and you get different looking plants. Epigenetics! They may be methylated, may have Mg bonding or gene suppression, they may have some miRNA issue arise, and so on and so forth. Just look at color, the secondary anthocyanin pathways can be influenced by a number of secondary genes, which in turn get influenced by environmental factors. Not just one gene but dozens.

The author then hits one of my favorite topics, obesity and type 2 diabeytes. He states:

Large-scale genomic studies over the past five years or so have mainly failed to turn up common genes that play a major role in complex human maladies. More than three dozen specific genetic variants have been associated with type 2 diabetes, for example, but together, they have been found to explain about 10 percent of the disease's heritability—the proportion of variation in any given trait that can be explained by genetics rather than by environmental influences.

 Heritability! Why if mom and dad are obese do you think junior will be a bit on the fat side? You can have as many genes as you want, but the law of mass balance still works. And this was an MIT related article, albeit by some non technical author. I guess anything to fill pages.

The author continues:

The "missing heritability" in the height study typifies many recent research reports in which large-scale genetic screens, known as genome-wide association studies, have identified a multitude of genes (or at least genetic neighborhoods) that are statistically associated with a biological trait like height or a disease like obesity, yet account for mystifyingly little of its propensity to run in families. 

Yes, genes exist, they are complex, and if a child is fed one way it may grow tall and if fed another is may be stunted. Not mystifying. If you feed a plant a high nitrogen diet then you get lots of leaves and if you feed its clone lots of P and K you may likely get lots of flowers. Again so what is new here.

It would help to have writers who can question, doubt, and have detailed knowledge of what has transpired.

So is the author introducing something dramatically new. Hardly. One need just read the opening of a NEJM article a few years ago by Esteller:

Classic genetics alone cannot explain the diversity of phenotypes within a population. Nor does classic genetics explain how, despite their identical DNA sequences, monozygotic twins or cloned animals can have different phenotypes and different susceptibilities to a disease. The concept of epigenetics offers a partial explanation of these phenomena. First introduced by C.H. Waddington in 1939 to name “the causal interactions between genes and their products, which bring the phenotype into being,”epigenetics was later defined as heritable changes in gene expression that are not due to any alteration in the DNA sequence.

The best-known epigenetic marker is DNA methylation. The initial finding of global hypomethylation of DNA in human tumors was soon followed by the identification of hypermethylated tumor-suppressor genes, and then, more recently, the discovery of inactivation of microRNA (miRNA) genes by DNA methylation. These and other demonstrations of how epigenetic changes can modify gene expression have led to human epigenome projects and epigenetic therapies. Moreover, we now know that DNA methylation occurs in a complex chromatin network and is influenced by the modifications in histone structure that are commonly disrupted in cancer cells.

Is there some new insight made by the author and the researchers? Hardly. Epigenetics Oh that MIT had an alumni magazine like Harvard, in my opinion, since the time that Tech Review was taken over by some west coast IPO rag folks, it looks like Popular Science combined with some IPO hit sheet rather than a product of a quality educational establishment.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Can This Happen Here?

The UK seems to be getting the NHS into a tighter corner that it has ever been in before. The Guardian reports today the following:

A "complacent" department of health will be forced to make cuts to social care and cancer research funding to avoid an annual £10bn shortfall unless it speeds up efficiency savings across the NHS, according to a secret Whitehall report leaked to the Guardian.

The damning report warns that ministers will face an "unpalatable trade-off" between longer waiting times or a massive increase to the NHS budget unless dramatic savings are found.

It also warns that the central reform proposed by health secretary Andrew Lansley – to devolve 80% of the NHS budget to GPs – could have "patchy" results at best.

What they will try and do is to push 80% or more of the care to the GP, the local physician, who is already overburdened. And in the UK the GP is for the most part a gatekeeper. The specialists are the ones who all too often do the heavy lifting. The GP is your day to day local doc, and since the inception of the NHS the GP is noting more than a symptom taker and stopper of costs escalation.

The specifics include:

The NHS cannot afford to spend up to £200m a year on supporting research by big medical charities such as Cancer Research UK.

• The government should scrap the "very bad policy" of employing all doctors when they graduate.

 Cancer Research is the equivalent somewhat to the NCI which is orders of magnitude greater. Cancer Research is often more clinical and less fundamental. The Government employs almost all docs and that is the way they control costs, and yet again the education costs are low to nil, so low pay but low costs.

Yet this whole process may be a harbinger of things to come in the US. The pressure on new physicians is extreme given the costs and debt burden and then again the reimbursements will be de minimis. The problem has not been the physician it has been the hospital. This is truly worth watching.

Medicare and End of Life

The NY Times reports on the current Administration's practice of using Administrative practices of circumventing the law. Case in point is the end of life planning mandated by an earlier version of the Health Care Bill but removed after outcries of erstwhile death panels. Now counseling is most likely a good thing, and it is often a cultural issue more than a moral issue. Terminal disease, cancer or ALS, Parkinson, MS and the list goes on oftentimes requires prior patient planning. Yet there are cultures who want to do whatever necessary to keep the tubes in place and of course we all pay, even the patient.

Yet the issue here is not end of life, it is the fact that be it health care or CO2 control by the EPA or the regulation of the Internet by the FCC, a President can use the Administrative Law process to go around Congress and the people. That indeed is the issue and the fear. People may think they voted for X and then they get Y, and ask how? It is in the writing of the code. Then you must bring it to court. And pray for an ethical judge.

The true problem with this example is the gross arrogance of an appointed person who avoided Senate oversight  having the extreme arrogance and sense of apparent self importance to issue a directive during the Holiday, yes Christmas, season. I believe that prior planning prevents poor performance and that advanced directives have substantial merit. Thus there is no disagreement on the merit it is disagreement on the practice, namely the practice of giving the people a nasty hand sign.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Change on the Cheap

Princeton is Harvard Square with no poor people. In today's world Harvard Square is Harvard Square with no poor people. The Princeton Prof ended a piece stating:

In 2008, progressives fell for the fantasy of hope and change on the cheap; they believed Obama’s promise that the reforms America needed could float through on a tide of bipartisan reconciliation. It was not to be, and clinging to that illusion will only lead to more defeats. If progressives want to rebound, they’ll have to fight.

On the cheap, one wonders what planet the person who made this remark has come from. There have been trillion spent, in just a few months of incompetent economic policy. Even the auto workers in Detroit got the hint, and that was the story of the last election. How much should we have indebted the people for? Tens of trillions, and behind that is what theory and based upon what facts. Why that even beat Chuckles my favorite Berkeley Prof, as she giggled her way through every presentation.

Hopefully we get better Government in the next two years, stalemates.

Merry Christmas to All

4.              ascendit autem et Ioseph a Galilaea de civitate Nazareth in Iudaeam civitatem David quae vocatur Bethleem eo quod esset de domo et familia David
7.              et peperit filium suum primogenitum et pannis eum involvit et reclinavit eum in praesepio quia non erat eis locus in diversorio
15.          et factum est ut discesserunt ab eis angeli in caelum pastores loquebantur ad invicem transeamus usque Bethleem et videamus hoc verbum quod factum est quod fecit Dominus et ostendit nobis
20.          et reversi sunt pastores glorificantes et laudantes Deum in omnibus quae audierant et viderant sicut dictum est ad illos

1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.
6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “ Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Scrooge, Dickens and the Economy

One of my favorite economists has links to several short works on Scrooge, apt perhaps for the day.I went to my pile of Dickens to draw it out. There amongst A Tale of Two Cities, The Old Curiosity Shop, Our Mutual Friends, Hard Times, Barnaby Rudge, Little Dorrit, Dombey and on, Great Expectations, and Nicholas Nickleby amongst others was the tome.

You see, my grandmother as a former head of the New York Socialists, insisted that month by month I consume a Dickens. Having no idea of English social structure, and having an American form of poverty, namely if you don't like it do something about it, I truly hated every word of Dickens. The books sit there is their aged leather bindings as a reminder of a world which at best I visited from time to time when I had t go to London. Scrooge, you see, is a product of English class society, not the economic times, but class. The upper, middle, and lower class, non mutable for eternity.

The United States is the antithesis. Thus one cannot relate to Scrooge, or any of the other English characters of Dickens.

Thus to the economists who seem to read more into it than others, and perhaps did not suffer Dickens as I did, I really hate the books, why I rather read Marx, Scrooge is not in any way American ... especially on Christmas Eve.

So to each and every one, a Merry Christmas, and please leave Dickens on the other side of the pond!

Strange Bedfellows

Well it is another Christmas Eve, cold but sunny, the tree has been up, the presents bought, and most likely it is a good time to just set aside the work, and enjoy the day. Ah yes, of course the squirrels are all fed, fresh field corn and sunflower seeds. I was all set for a wonderful Christmas Eve.

At least until I read the Guardian and the BBC. It seems that the BBC sought to have Benedict give the Thought for the Day message. Not something that should upset many, I guess it is just a guest appearance. Reading through it one does not get upset, standard fare, nice, seasonal, what one would expect from the Bishop of Rome.

Then, the Guardian, asks Richard Dawkins for a comment. Front page stuff. Now Dawkins is an insightful person when it comes to the philosophy of genetics and evolution, not always spot on, but insightful. But as we all know he is an atheist. That means he does not believe. That's quite all right, we accept all kinds here in the US, and some of my best friends, even relatives were of such. Furthermore he really dislikes the Bishop of Rome, more perhaps, than all the rest of the Brits, who still prohibit Catholics from almost everything, and still harbor a hatred for papish types, especially Jesuits.

Dawkins states:

That's right. The creator of the universe, sublime inventor of mathematics, of relativistic space-time, of quarks and quanta, of life itself, Almighty God, who reads our every thought and hears our every prayer, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God couldn't think of a better way to forgive us than to have himself tortured and executed. For heaven's sake, if he wanted to forgive us, why didn't he just forgive us? Who, after all, needed to be impressed by the blood and the agony? Nobody but himself.

Ratzinger has much to confess in his own conduct, as cardinal and pope. But he is also guilty of promoting one of the most repugnant ideas ever to occur to a human mind: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22).

 Perhaps Dawkins, and the Guardian, should take it down a notch or two, it was not as if the Bishop of Rome decided to pitch the Brits, he was asked time and time again and then gave a plain vanilla pitch. Civility, an oftimes British characteristic, is perhaps called for.

Ah well, never did enjoy that place, like Paris much more, nothing better than Christmas in Paris, beats Fifth Avenue, too many tourists. Vive Joan d'Arc! Joyeux Noel mes ami!

FCC Report and Order: Internet Neutrality

The FCC issued the R&O yesterday. The Substantive Rules are:


Substantive Rules

Part 8 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is added as follows:


§ 8.1 Purpose.

The purpose of this Part is to preserve the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission.

§ 8.3 Transparency.

A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.

§ 8.5 No Blocking.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.

§ 8.7 No Unreasonable Discrimination.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. Reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination.

§ 8.9 Other Laws and Considerations.

Nothing in this part supersedes any obligation or authorization a provider of broadband Internet access service may have to address the needs of emergency communications or law enforcement, public safety, or national security authorities, consistent with or as permitted by applicable law, or limits the provider’s ability to do so.

Nothing in this part prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.

§ 8.11 Definitions.

(a) Broadband Internet access service. A mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up Internet access service. This term also encompasses any service that the Commission finds to be providing a functional equivalent of the service described in the previous sentence, or that is used to evade the protections set forth in this Part.

(b) Fixed broadband Internet access service. A broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily at fixed endpoints using stationary equipment. Fixed broadband Internet access service includes fixed wireless services (including fixed unlicensed wireless services), and fixed satellite services.

(c) Mobile broadband Internet access service. A broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily using mobile stations.

(d) Reasonable network management. A network management practice is reasonable if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into
account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

FCC Posts its Internet Ruling

The FCC posts its Internet Ruling by days end. They begin by stating:

The Internet is a level playing field. Consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others. This openness promotes competition. It also enables a self-reinforcing cycle of investment and innovation in which new uses of the network lead to increased adoption of broadband, which drives investment and improvements in the network itself, which in turn lead to further innovative uses of the network and further investment in content, applications, services, and devices. A core goal of this Order is to foster and accelerate this cycle of investment and innovation.

 In summary here are the rules:

Rule 1: Transparency

A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.

Rule 2: No Blocking

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network

Rule 3: No Unreasonable Discrimination

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. Reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination.

This in many ways is what we proposed a few years ago. It is kind of a common carriage without the legal protection. If the three rules are all then it is fine. The real issue is whether the FCC has any legal basis to make these rules. That is where the next round of fun begins. One suspects that the players will contest just to be able to say the FCC does not have the authority.

The concern seems to be that people worry they may be charged more for the use of more bandwidth. Simply that should be a true fact. But examination of the cost equation is worth a look.

First, CATV systems were never designed for broadband data to many users. They were broadcast substitutes, the same stuff to many users. Digitizing them allows for more of the same stuff to many users and the data for Internet was an after thought.

Second, DSL is slow and limited, even if using highly efficient data rates, lots of bps per Hz. Yet it is also limited by distance.

Third, fiber is great and is relatively unlimited to each home. Verizon has a lead but seems to have stalled.

Fourth, as we said a few days ago, video is exploding and I do not mean the downloading stuff. I mean video conferencing of a sophisticated type. So how do we see that going? We anticipate explosive growth, subject to bandwidth availability. That will be the sticky wicket part.

The WSJ states:

Carriers say privately they are concerned that one of the only alternatives left to make a profit off the Internet and pay for network infrastructure is to charge consumers for the amount of data they consume.

That is clearly the only alternative. But the issue is how much. As we noted above CATV will be stuck in a rut. The CATV operators were never really data types, I tried in the early 80s at Warner but with little success.

The rules would allow ... companies to sell faster priority delivery services for extra money.... That means a video streaming company ... could pay a wireless company extra for guaranteed delivery of its YouTube videos to consumers' ...

The question will be who pays for what. There is also the question of what it costs. The main problem as we have stated many times before is the cost of the Tier 1 backbone. For a counter example all one needs look at is Internet 2 and the academic networks. It appears time and time again that no one understands the cost structure here.

But FCC officials said any such priority service would have to be disclosed to regulators... and the rules warn that such "pay for priority" plans.... if used on landline networks, would be "unlikely" to satisfy the FCC's new standards, which could prompt legal challenges.

This seems to open up the Telecommunications Service issue and the re-institution of the FCC setting rates. I doubt that this will ever happen. All one need do is read the classic by Coll called The Deal of the Century about MCI. One sees a truly incompetent FCC being dragged into the 20th century by Bill McGowan and his team. And the FCC then was pretty smart, just look now, and what do we have?

Quote of the Day, Week, Year?

Stimulating Broadband has the quote of some reasonably long period:

Much will be written about the significance of the Open Internet Order. The fact that so much national debate has raged over a document that the American public has not seen to date is surely to remain prominent in the commentary.

Namely after all of the howling and the public vote by the FCC today there is not a single copy of what they voted on! Alice in Wonderland could not have done better. I guess this is politics a la Harvard Law, just force a vote and never let people see what they voted on, but wait, they did that in Health Care also!

Genetic Testing for CDKN2A/p16

Genetic testing is a really confusing issue for many. It may present a clear and present danger for a few but for most it represents possibly but one step in a multiple step change.

As reported by Eureka on some recent research:

The study, led by Sancy A. Leachman, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Utah Department of Dermatology and Lisa G. Aspinwall, Ph.D., of the University of Utah Department of Psychology, both HCI investigators, surveyed 61 adults tested for the CDKN2A/p16 mutation that increases the risk of melanoma. Overall, 86.9 percent expressed support for melanoma genetic testing of minors. They cited the importance of risk awareness and the likelihood of improved prevention and screening behavior as reasons for their support. Participants were surveyed when they received their genetic test results and again two years later; their attitudes remained stable over that period.

"Developing guidelines for genetic testing of minors is complex and controversial," says Leachman. "But knowledge of their genetic status could help them make appropriate lifestyle decisions. For example, a child who tested positive might decide not to choose a summer job that demands lots of sun exposure, such as lifeguard."

This is from a Genetics in Medicine article. They report:

Genetic testing of minors is controversial, as ethical considerations depend on multiple aspects of the particular disease and familial context. For melanoma, there is a well-established and avoidable environmental influence and a documented benefit of early detection.... We surveyed 61 CDKN2A/p16 mutation-tested adults from two kindreds about their attitudes toward genetic testing of minors immediately posttesting and 2 years later....Overall, 86.9% expressed support of melanoma genetic testing of minors, with the importance of risk awareness (77.4%) ...Concerns about inducing psychological distress or compromising children's decision autonomy were infrequently cited. Testing preferences did not vary by respondent age, gender, or melanoma history.  ... Respondents strongly supported melanoma genetic testing of minors, with most citing improved health behavior as a likely outcome. We discuss options for melanoma genetic counseling and testing of minors.

 CDKs are cyclin dependent kinases, and CDKN2A/p16(INK4a) is a cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor located on 9p21, and are employed in the cell cycle mechanism. We  have discussed these in our paper on  Backscatter and Melanoma. These are a specific set of genetic predispositions for early melanoma if a few other steps happen. Like excessive exposure to backscatter.

However the issue is not so simple. No matter what parents should monitor children's sun exposure. Also there is the genetic information, what would a parent do differently than what they should already do. No matter what, sun exposure, prohibition of tanning, and the like is an imperative. That is true almost no matter what. One should remember that Bob Marley died of melanoma. Thus a priori there is no protection.

Does the knowledge by the child of the genetic marker pose a sever psychological burden? Perhaps, the old tale is that almost every first and second year Med student comes down with Ebola or something like it, at least in their mind. There is a point when information has value and a point when it is merely a burden.

Testing has costs. Are the costs worth it? In this case most likely not. Reasonable behavior is warranted whether the genetic marker is present or not. So why test? Is it something that the parents want, another thing to speak of with other parents? This is clinically and scientifically interesting but it does not change behavior or outcomes, so why do it?

START and its Concerns

The apparent paragraph of concern in the new START Treaty is:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.

 This apparently is the phrase which has many concerned. Explicitly is says nothing. Implicitly it states a strong nexus between offensive and defensive weapons. Having been through these discussions in the 1970s with the CTBT negotiations, one can imagine the intent of each party and the hours and drafts of this statement. Each party believes it contains what they had intended but like so many diplomatic statements its meaning is vague at best.

The other issue is that this is in preamble, not the body of the agreement. Thus for English law advocates it is meaningless yet for Russian readers it sets an unchangeable path forward. How this would be interpreted is an issue and it is an issue for the future. Will there be disputes, indeed, there always are. Is this worth signing, the real issue is China and not Russia. That is the problem.

Yikes! I Agree with Krugman

Well it is the week before Christmas and things have come somewhat to a halt but in checking out my Google Reader I came across a Krugman blog I agree with, perhaps a first. He states:

Still, at the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy (after all, I am an old fuddy-duddy), there are very real virtues to old-fashioned email. You can convey a lot of information, if necessary — and it’s information that stays available in the archive. Plus, the lack of immediacy is, given the way I live, a virtue. In general, I can’t break what I’m doing to talk to you or text you; so an asynchronous form of communication, which I can respond to when convenient, is a huge advantage.

 This is in response to a NY Times piece this week regarding the younger generation sending instant messages. Well I have disabled my messages, I think, hope Verizon hears this, and if one wants to reach me then you must send an email or even call. And a readable email please, none of those bouncing smiley faces. Short, to the point, from you, and with some structure so as to be readable.

I am reminded of Umberto Eco and his novels on Semiotics where signs reflect the civilization. Eco is much better than that DaVinci story fellow but alas one cannot hope for a great deal out of pulp novelists.

You see, email is better than letter writing, you get a chance to look at it and revise it, with a letter you start and go until finished, especially if you use pen and ink which I do, yes, pen and ink, black, blue black and even blue. When I ran my international companies I was sure each day to send each of my grandchildren a letter from where ever I was and with a local stamp, so that hopefully a hundred years hence on some antiques roadshow they can pull out this pile and reflect upon the early 21st century. E mail lacks that sense, they have no stamps, and instant messaging is like whispering in the hall ways.

There clearly is a place for every thing, but one can call also, for a call is two way and interactive and reduces overall ambiguity, or social entropy. Instant messages often lead to WTF type responses.

Well That's a Good Idea: ROTC

The Boston Globe reports today:

Harvard University will welcome ROTC back to campus now that Congress has repealed a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, university president Drew Faust said...The move will end a four-decade standoff between one of the nation’s most prestigious universities and its armed forces. The tension began over the Vietnam War and continued in recent years as university administrators, faculty, and students objected to what they saw as discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The above was the 1940 class of NROTC at Harvard, the class which contributed some of the bravest men to the Navy during WW II. If memory serves me correct the reason for the removal was anti-war politics and had nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Ironically when I wrote the history of the USS Albert W Grant, DD-649, there were "gays" on board most ships in the Navy. It seems that everyone knew but as long as everyone did their job no mention was ever made of it. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" scheme from Clinton seems to have been an artifact that brought the issue to the fore.

Having men and women in the military from all colleges is the best for the military as well as the colleges. It brings in some of the best of the best. Hopefully this move will improve Harvard as well as the Military. The history of great heroes from Harvard may again continue.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Broadband Speed: What Does It Mean?

Last week we commented on the CWA report on broadband speed. Clearly the CWA has its agenda, what union doe not, but the issue is one that must deal with reality. Today I saw a note in another on-line commentary which states the following:

Also, while the broadband sector still has four years to meet the FCC’s 2015 goal for 50 Mb/s downstream and 20 Mb/s upstream to 80 percent of households, it has a long way to go--only 1 percent of broadband connections currently qualify.

The data, compiled by, suggests that the median U.S. download speed of 3.0 Mb/s and median upload speed was 595 kb/s outs the U.S, in about 25th place globally for broadband speed. 

Let us address the two point made.

First, the FCC goal of 50 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. Nice but where is it to come from and where is it to go to? You see these are networks, they go from point A to point B or amongst some group. I noted just a few days ago about the growing of video. Video does not eat up that much bandwidth unless you are trying to create lecture hall presentations, viewable by anyone who is say 350 feet away! Thus the first issue of this first point is what are you going to transmit? Second is that what is sent or received must transit a backbone. Well if we want every person to have 50 Mbps down, and most likely they mean instantaneously and simultaneously, then that is a real lot of backbone, no wonder CWA is happy, why not just have a fiber from every home to every other home, that is a real lot of fiber, just in the US, but why stop there. Thus the first point has lots of unreasonableness about it. The uses are ill defined and the ultimate resources required to adequately use the local resource have never been considered. That is what happens when non-technical people with no real experience come up with nonsense like this.

Second, the slow speeds measured, they make no sense. They are effectively DSL numbers, the median is biased by the way the study was done, in my opinion. The US is not Korea or Finland. There is Montana, North Dakota, even Vermont and Maine. In all there are regions of a few people, and the demand is at best driven by a vocal group who chose isolation but want others to pay for their benefits.

This whole argument is rant with assumptions not even the slightest bit based upon facts. Tis a shame!

Frankly this whole argument is akin to some individual who owns a Porsche and wants to drive it very fast, and he demands the town fix their roads so he can speed some 120 mph, and then he hits the interstate and it's jammed with rush hour traffic. Just because you can speed to the interstate does not mean you can or will or should speed all the way in I 80 from New York to San Francisco!

Two Years and Counting

It was two years ago today that I started this blog. Since then a few thousands of different people from 100+ countries have wandered by. Interesting and I thank them and hope they have gathered something.

The reason I started this was primarily the economic downturn and what I saw as the gross incompetence of economists to either understand it or respond to it. My opinion has gotten even stronger over this period. Also I saw that the incoming Administration was about to make changes in the US which people were not really ready for nor did they understand. I was not disappointed. First was health care, something I have been studying for decades, and was concerned about especially since the failed Hillary Care. I believe that the fight there is far from over. Also from time to time I comment on things out of the norm.

Well, just a thanks to my readers and I look forward to 2011. Hopefully we decrease the deficit and debt and get the health care bill declared unconstitutional and get something to work.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

China and Its Blue Water Fleet

China presents an interesting challenge, aka "threat", to the United States. The PLA is well over three times the size of the US military and the PLAN, its Navy has been building the elements of a full fledged blue water navy, except it started with a littoral fleet and subs.

The Financial Times announces China's plans for its first full fledged element of true blue water, namely a carrier. The FT states:

China has launched an ambitious plan to build an aircraft carrier, the country has revealed for the first time, in a move that will heighten international scrutiny of the rapid expansion of its naval power....The decision, which has far-reaching implications for China’s defense strategy and diplomatic relations, was disclosed in a single sentence buried at the end of a lengthy book published by a government agency earlier this year.

For almost fifty years the United States Foreign policy was dominated by the existence of the Soviet Union. It was a focusing factor which created camps whose approaches differed significantly. However the threat was real, quantifiable and focused. In the wake of 9/11 the focus shifted somewhat to Muslim Terrorism, with the Afghan war and the expansion into Iraq. However it was clear that countries such as Iran and North Korea presented well-articulated threats to the United States and that their threat levels were exacerbated by nuclear intentions and capabilities.

However as the USSR had taken a strong role for half a century that role in many ways has been replaced by China, but with substantial differences.

1. China has a massive land army and the Chinese military has its hands in many commercial enterprises as well. The Chinese Army has over the sixty years since Korea, mastered the art of war over large land masses.

2. China has been dramatically expanding its Navy, the PLAN,  and turning it from a littoral fleet to a world class “blue water” fleet. While the United States has downsized its fleet to less than 130 ships at sea worldwide at any time, and no more than 350 in its total arsenal, China has several times the number. Now with the introduction of a carrier fleet it moves the equation significantly.

3. China has recently shown its capabilities in space, from its well outfitted nuclear missile arsenals, to its clear moves on colonizing the moon and beyond. China has the financial, intellectual, and technical resources to excel in this area.

4. China has been behind the scenes and most likely an active manipulator of both Iran and North Korea. China is a supplier in direct and indirect ways of the technical components and know how required for the development and deployment of nuclear capabilities in these countries. These actions are at the core of the destabilizing influences that China has taken.

5. China has taken strong investment positions across the African continent securing raw materials and mineral interests, as well as assuring political support if and when required.

6. A large number of Chinese students come to the United States for graduate training and then due to both US and Chinese policies return to China. There are examples of some Chinese students being funded for doctoral programs in the US by US Military agency funds, ARPA for example, and then returning back to China to play significant roles in the same Chinese agencies.

7. China has developed a most sophisticated capability in cyber warfare, whether it is the ability to access highly sensitive systems and networks to the extreme ability or restructuring and reconfiguring overall global Internet traffic for its own purposes. As the US for years had hubbed its traffic on MAE East and West, China is clearly seeking such a hubbing for Asian and most likely global traffic. This will give China the ability to have significant control over global networks, commercial, financial, and otherwise.

8. The Chinese PLA has amassed a massive nuclear stockpile of both tactical and strategic weapons, and in many ways it surpasses what was presenting the United States during the Cold War period.

These issues are related primarily to the ability of China as a military force, as a threat to the United States as a military power. In many ways this is akin to the issues that we saw for fifty years with the Soviet Union. However, and this is a highly significant difference, and it is the economic and technological power that China also holds over the United States.

1. As is well known China is a major holder of US Public debt, well in excess of $ trillion.

2. Due to outsourcing, and off-shore manufacturing and assembly, China has become the dominant manufacturer of sophisticate high tech equipment, and its proximity to the most sensitive electronic equipment in the world. China as a maker of chips and an assembler of integrated systems can readily adapt those systems for its own purposes and as such when shipped internationally, China may then have control over many of the most sensitive commercial, financial and possibly military systems and networks.

3. China is the largest exporter of goods imported into the United States. With the ability to control its currency, China can and most likely will remain in that position and as such will get US currency flows to China for the good that China exports. China has complained that the reason it fails to import more is that there are restrictions on certain high tech imports. While that is true in part, another reason is the controlled Chinese economy.

As such, China is a more strategic threat to the United States than the old Soviet Union ever was. Yet the current Administration focuses on a Start Treaty which is between the United States and Russia, leaving the most significant player globally, China out of the mix. The current Administration and past Democratic Administrations have opened the doors to China to the transfer of technologies, directly and via the licensing of manufacturing capabilities in strategic areas, such a chip manufacturing and nano-technology.

The current Administration must take a look closely at the implications of these issue. The FT concludes with:

Beijing has recently silenced several military officers who had raised hackles earlier this year with belligerent comments and has resumed military-to-military dialogue with the US ahead of official exchanges including a visit by Hu Jintao, China’s president, to Washington next month....The US navy complained last year that its vessels had been harassed by Chinese ships in international waters. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said earlier this year he had “gone from being curious about where China is headed to being concerned about it”.

The current downsizing of the Defense budget, the current strategy of the US Navy to be providers of humanitarian care, and the general dislike of the military by the current Administration, plays into China's hand. Curious to concerned is an understatement.