Monday, November 09, 2009

Quotes of the day

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.--George Washington

Reagan spoke formally and repeatedly of deploying against criminal regimes the one weapon they fear more than military or economic sanction: the publicly-spoken truth about their moral absurdity, their ontological weakness. This was the sort of moral confrontation, as countless dissidents and resisters have noted, that makes these regimes conciliatory, precisely because it heartens those whom they fear most—their own oppressed people. Reagan's understanding that rhetorical confrontation causes geopolitical conciliation led in no small part to the wall's collapse 20 years ago today.--Anthony Dolan

As long as the [quarterback] is a good decision-maker and he’s accurate and he’s consistent, you can give him something you can count on and you have a pretty good chance. The hard part is when they’re inconsistent or they’re not very accurate or they don’t make good decisions because ultimately you’re going to need a throw, they’re going to miss it; you’re going to need a decision, they’re not going to make it and that’s when it comes apart. ... If you make the wrong decision, you’ve got problems, and if you can’t throw the ball, even if you make the right decision, you’ve got problems. So if you’ve got those two, you’ve got Joe Montana. If you can’t do one of those two, then what’s the future? … If you have those two things, you have a quarterback. If you don’t have those two things, you’re going to have to dumb it down.--Bill Belichick

For most of human history, James explained, doctors have done more harm than good. Their treatments consisted of inducing vomiting or diarrhea and, most common of all, bleeding their patients. ... Yet patients continued to go to doctors, and many continued to put great in faith in medicine. They did so in part because they had no good alternative and in part because, as James put it, they wanted a spiritual counselor with whom they could talk about their health. But there was something else, too. There was a strong intuitive logic behind those old treatments; they seemed to be ridding the body of its ills.--David Leonhardt

For a vaccine to reduce mortality by 50 percent and up to 90 percent in some studies means it has to prevent deaths not just from influenza, but also from falls, fires, heart disease, strokes, and car accidents. That’s not a vaccine, that’s a miracle. ... What do you do when you have uncertainty? You test. We have built huge, population-based policies on the flimsiest of scientific evidence. The most unethical thing to do is to carry on business as usual.--Tom Jefferson

Vaccines give us a false sense of security. When you have a strategy that [everybody thinks] reduces death by 50 percent, it’s pretty hard to invest resources to come up with better remedies.--Sumit Majumdar

Why, then, has the federal government stockpiled millions of doses of antivirals, at a cost of several billion dollars? And why are physicians being encouraged to hand out prescriptions to large numbers of people, without sound evidence that the drugs will help? The short answer may be that public-health officials feel they must offer something, and these drugs are the only possible remedies at hand. ... Students of U.S. medical history will find this circular logic familiar: it is a long-recurring theme in American medicine, and one that has, on occasion, had deadly consequences. In 1925, Sinclair Lewis caricatured a medical culture that allowed belief—and profits—to distort science in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Arrowsmith. Based on the lives of the real-life microbiologists Paul de Kruif and Jacques Loeb, Lewis tells the story of Martin Arrowsmith, a physician who invents a new vaccine during a deadly outbreak of bubonic plague. But his efforts to test the vaccine’s efficacy are frustrated by an angry community that desperately wants to believe the vaccine works, and a profit-hungry institute that rushes the vaccine into use prematurely—forever preempting the proper studies that are needed. ... The annals of medicine are littered with treatments and tests that became medical doctrine on the slimmest of evidence, and were then declared sacrosanct and beyond scientific investigation. In the 1980s and ’90s, for example, cancer specialists were convinced that high-dose chemotherapy followed by a bone-marrow transplant was the best hope for women with advanced breast cancer, and many refused to enroll their patients in randomized clinical trials that were designed to test transplants against the standard—and far less toxic—therapy. The trials, they said, were unethical, because they knew transplants worked. When the studies were concluded, in 1999 and 2000, it turned out that bone-marrow transplants were killing patients. Another recent example involves drugs related to the analgesic lidocaine. In the 1970s, doctors noticed that the drugs seemed to make the heart beat rhythmically, and they began prescribing them to patients suffering from irregular heartbeats, assuming that restoring a proper rhythm would reduce the patient’s risk of dying. Prominent cardiologists for years opposed clinical trials of the drugs, saying it would be medical malpractice to withhold them from patients in a control group. The drugs were widely used for two decades, until a government-sponsored study showed in 1989 that patients who were prescribed the medicine were three and a half times as likely to die as those given a placebo.--Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer

Which markets stayed open for business every day in the teeth of the crisis? The EQUITY MARKETS. You know, the ones that are now in the cross-hairs of every member of Congress with a populist agenda in dire need of scoring points with their electorate. The markets that were virtually closed for weeks? The DEBT MARKETS, including the OTC DERIVATIVES MARKETS. Why was this the case? Uh, maybe because the equity markets are EXCHANGE-BASED and didn't have BS entities called RATING AGENCIES that lobotomized decision-making and facilitated hundreds of billions to be deployed in assets investors didn't really understand. ... Why, oh why, haven't the broken OTC derivatives markets and rating agency crimes been aggressively pursued by lawmakers and regulators? One reason: because they are far less sexy than the exchanges and don't DIRECTLY impact the retail investor. Not too many mom-and-pops have purchased a 5 year GM CDS or stop by Moody's for a report on the SocGen CMBS Non-Conforming Pool XII. They are far more likely to have a brokerage account, an IRA or a self-directed 401k. What's more systemically important, banning "flash orders" or mitigating the counterparty risk associated with tens of trillions of over-the-counter derivatives contracts? We already know the answer, since Mr. Geithner and his friends did a back-door bail-out of Wall Street with taxpayer money via the AIG gift. This was due to credit derivative counterparty performance risk, friends, not because they had a lousy stock portfolio that they couldn't liquidate. And why do rating agencies even exist? They have simply resulted in an abrogation of responsibility on the part of investors: THEY are the true WMDs, which is ironic considering Mr. Buffet's long-standing position in Moody's. Yet we seldom hear about this.Sadly, we live in a world of sound bites, and Congress and the White House have found far better sound bites to attack the denizens of the equity markets rather than the derivatives and debt markets. And as usual, it will be this stupidity that will cost us all, except the Congresspeople who will have pandered to their constituents in order to get re-elected.--Roger Ehrenberg

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