22 April 2009

What would you do?

Okay, I would LOVE it if EVERYONE who read this post left a comment related to this topic. Easy to do, be anonymous, identify yourself, whatever, just let me know what you think.

Q: If you could spend a semester studying anything you wanted, what kind of classes would you take?

1. Assume everything else in your life is manageable (e.g, your
family isn't neglected, bills are paid, you don't have to work, etc.)

2. Choose classes that you would want to take just for the fun of taking them. That
is, stay away from stuff that would get you a promotion at work or help you to
finish a degree or something like that. This is your chance to explore anything
you want.

3. Extra points for being specific.

4. Double extra points for telling me where you would want to spend your semester.

A: If I had to narrow it down to one semester, this would be my course schedule:

  • Survey/History of British Lit
  • History of Victorian and Edwardian England
  • Infrastructure 101 (A more in-depth, much smarter version of all those Discovery channel shows about utilities and transportation and stuff like that.) This class includes a two week "field trip" to learn about European passenger rail infrastructure.
  • Photography
  • Choir
As to where, I am tempted to say Cornell because it is a nice campus in a beautiful setting and is
kind of isolated. Cozy and big at the same time. Or someother similar campus in the Northeast.

Now tell me, what would you do? Go ahead, click the comment button...

16 April 2009

Who could have predicted the financial crisis?

One of the big lessons that Jim Cramer did not learn from his dust-up with Jon Stewart was that there were indeed signs that the economy was not in a sustainable cycle. There were financial reporters who could have seen it if they had looked, there were financial analysts that could have seen it if they had looked, there were regulators, politicians, and CEOs who could have seen it if they looked. And the list goes on. The truth of the matter is that very few of those who were in a position to tell the rest of us dummies what was going on were too busy making tons of money or being ingratiated to those who were, to warn us about anything. Just the opposite in fact, they all had a stake in getting the rest of us to think that the good times would never end.

Of course many Americans knew deep down (and not so deep down) that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. But what is worse is that the people "in charge" gladly rejected that old fashion notion in favor of the cockamamie idea that we had somehow entered a new golden age of burst-resistant bubbles. Forget the fact that anyone over the age of 20 can remember the 90s tech bust. But hey, that was tech, the 2000s are all about real estate and what is safer than houses?

I am certainly not an economic historian. But I do read a lot of fiction. Last night I picked up The Ice Age by British author Margaret Drabble and was startled by a scene in the early pages of the novel. Published in 1977, the book describes the protagonist's unfortunate run-in with a housing bubble.

"He had bought the house at the top of the market, and suddenly, overnight, the property market collapsed...The collapse had been dramatic...What happened to those spectacular profits? Why had all the confident experts been so taken by surprise? Anthony had been seduced and corrupted by these confident experts into believing that profits would go on multiplying forever, unlikely though that had always seemed. Go for growth, had been the slogan, and everybody had gone for it. Now some were bankrupt, some were in jail, some had committed suicide, and only the biggest had survived unscathed. Casualties of slump and recession strewed the business pages of the newspapers, hit the front page headlines. Old men were convicted of corruption and hustled off to prison, banks collapsed, and shares fell to nothing."
With the exception of the corrupt old men going off to prision (not enough of that yet), this could have been written last week, not 32 years ago.
N.B.: When looking around online I came across this great posting over at splicetoday.com where Phyllis Orrick referenece pretty much the same passage. Although she beat me to punch having posted hers in February. We even have the same cheesy paperback copy!

Who Said Scientists Don't Have a Sense of Humor

The following is an abstract for a study done at the University of Michigan on the efficacy of nasal irrigation. The study concludes that nasal irrigation does work better than saline sprays.

But the really interesting bit is the test they use to determine symptom severity is called the 20-Item Sino-Nasal Outcome Test or better known as SNOT-20. I checked out the etymology of the word snot, to make sure it didn't actually derive from this acronym. Turns out that the word derives from the Old English word gesnot. So, cheers to the scientists/doctors who clearly love their jobs enough to create this funny and slightly disgusting acronym.

Department of Otolaryngology, University of Michigan Health System, 1904
Taubman Center, 1500 E Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0312, USA.

OBJECTIVE: To determine if isotonic sodium chloride (hereinafter "saline") nasal irrigations performed with large volume and delivered with low positive pressure are more effective than saline sprays at improving quality of life and decreasing medication use. DESIGN: A prospective, randomized controlled trial. SETTING: Community. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 127 adults with chronic nasal and sinus symptoms. INTERVENTIONS: Patients were randomly assigned to irrigation performed with large volume and delivered with low positive pressure (n = 64) or spray (n = 63) for 8 weeks. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Change in symptom severity measured by mean 20-Item Sino-Nasal Outcome Test (SNOT-20) score; change in symptom frequency measured with a global question; and change in medication use. RESULTS: A total of 121 patients were evaluable. The irrigation group achieved lower SNOT-20 scores than the spray group at all 3 time points: 4.4 points lower at 2 weeks (P = .02); 8.2 points lower at 4 weeks (P < .001); and 6.4 points lower at 8 weeks (P = .002). When symptom frequency was analyzed, 40% of subjects in the irrigation group reported symptoms "often or always" at 8 weeks compared with 61% in the spray group (absolute risk reduction, 0.2; 95% confidence interval, 0.02-0.38 (P = .01). No significant differences in sinus medication use were seen between groups. CONCLUSION: Nasal irrigations performed with large volume and delivered with low positive pressure are more effective than saline sprays for treatment of chronic nasal and sinus symptoms in a community-based population.

UPDATE: An anonymous commenter indicates that I forgot the citation in my original post: Pynnonen MA, Mukerji SS, Kim HM, Adams ME, Terrell JE. "Nasal saline for chronic sinonasal symptoms: a randomized controlled trial." Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2007 Nov;133(11):1115-20.

09 April 2009

Bottom Feeder

The other night on PBS’ Frontline series they aired an excellent investigation called "Black Money" about rampant international bribery. We aren’t talking about nickel and dime bribery either. In one case Siemens was fined $800 million by the US for their bribery operations. In another case it appears that British Aerospace (BAe) paid a member of the Saudi royal family a $2 BILLION bribe in exchange for defense contracts. I say “it appears” because the investigation was shut down before it could be completed. When the British government’s investigation started getting too close to the Saudi’s, the Saudi’s told Prime Minister Tony Blair that they would stop cooperating with Britain on anti-terrorist efforts if the British government continued to pursue the investigation. Tony Blair then put enormous pressure (of the "lives will be lost" variety) on the chief investigator who then shut down the investigation.

Since then, the US Department of Justice is continuing to pursue the charges against BAe. Of course the Saudi’s deny everything and their apologist-in-chief is none other than former FBI director Louis Freeh. Whether or not the bribery allegations are true, it is the height of cynical opportunism for Freeh to be representing Prince Bandar in this case. Think of it, for 8 years you are one of the top law enforcement officers in the United States, privy to a world of top secret information, and your post-FBI gig is to defend the Saudi royal family. Maybe this wouldn’t appear so slimy to me if I didn’t feel like BAe and the Saudis were as guilty as sin. Thankfully the print media are following the story.

Back in 2005 on CBS' 60 Minutes, Freeh talked about an investigation into a terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American servicemen. In that situation, the same Prince Bandar who Freeh now defends, wouldn't give him and the FBI access to the accused bombers unless the President himself ask Bandar. Freeh's point in telling the story was to indicate how he felt that Clinton chose his own self-interest over justice and the best interests of the U.S. Apparently Freeh's own self-interest also trumps justice and the best interests of the U.S.

Of course Freeh doesn’t see the disconnect between his public duty and his private greed. In his own words to the Hillsdale College commencement in 2008, Freeh told graduates:

“Your integrity and your honor are what’s most important at the end of the
day…Don’t be afraid to take action and don’t be afraid to put yourself at
Yeah, right.

07 April 2009

If this doesn't make you smile, you have a heart of stone

I have always loved spontaneous, group grooviness. Granted this couldn't have been spontaneous, but it certainly made me happy. EVEN BETTER, go to YouTube and hit the HQ button on the bottom on video for better quality.

UPDATE: Apparently not original, but better than the original commercial for T-Mobile in England. Even the commercial makes me smile. The version in Antwerp was for a reality show attempting to cast the role of Maria in a Sound of Music revival.