Sunday, January 25, 2015

Greece! Greece! Greece!

Two older posts:

Greece: Where are you heading?

Hot News:
European leaders and financial markets braced for Greece exit from euro!!!

Greece Can No Longer Delay Euro Zone Exit

© Am Ang Zhang 2011


© Am Ang Zhang 2011
I returned from Greece after a lovely cruise. Greece has been hit by more financial problems and it was clear that market forces caused much hardship to its ordinary citizens! One taxi driver told me that Greece will never pay back the EU. He may well be right.

A Chinese Story:

The Yangtze River is rising. Man is on the roof. A traditional pigskin boat rowed along: let me get you off.
“No, Buddha will protect.”
Man is now knee-high in water. Naval boat came along: old man, let’s get you off.
“No, Buddha will protect.”
Man is now up to his neck in water. Rescue helicopter came along: let’s winch you off, stubborn old man.
“No, Buddha will protect.”
Man died and saw Buddha. “Why didn’t you come when I needed you most?”
I did, I sent pigskin boat, Naval boat and even my best helicopter, but you refused!

The Greeks have their own Gods, but perhaps they should try Buddha.

So first the Gods sent in Antigone:
So Antigone had a part in this tragedy too. That's ­Antigone Loudiadis of Goldman Sachs, who ­arranged a complex ­currency swap deal that helped Greece to conceal the scale of its debt, in what the Financial Times delicately calls "an optical illusion", as the country snuck into the eurozone. 
Then God showed how it could be done in Argentina: defy the I.M.F.
When the Argentine economy collapsed in December 2001, doomsday predictions abounded. Unless it adopted orthodox economic policies and quickly cut a deal with its foreign creditors, hyperinflation would surely follow, the peso would become worthless, investment and foreign reserves would vanish and any prospect of growth would be strangled.
But three years after Argentina declared a record debt default of more than $100 billion, the largest in history, the apocalypse has not arrived. Instead, the economy has grown by 8 percent for two consecutive years, exports have zoomed, the currency is stable, investors are gradually returning and unemployment has eased from record highs - all without a debt settlement or the standard measures required by the International Monetary Fund for its approval.

He even took out the head of I.M.F. just to be on the safe side.
Then came Iceland:
Unlike other disaster economies around the European periphery – economies that are trying to rehabilitate themselves through austerity and deflation — Iceland built up so much debt and found itself in such dire straits that orthodoxy was out of the question. Instead, Iceland devalued its currency massively and imposed capital controls.

And a strange thing has happened: although Iceland is generally considered to have experienced the worst financial crisis in history, its punishment has actually been substantially less than that of other nations.

But no, the Greeks have not learned anything. 
This was written last year:
Germany will agree to some form of eurozone bailout. However, it will only support the minimum needed to ­placate the gods, and only with the most astringent, Creon-like conditions being imposed on Greece. It is an ­important but ultimately secondary question whether this help comes in the form of bilateral loans, loans from the European Investment Bank, purchases of Greek government debt, EU ­spending transfers, jointly issued eurobonds or any of the other mechanisms ­suggested. EU leaders will deny that this is a bailout and everyone will know that it is a bailout.                                                           Guardian.
The Greeks will do well to go back to their own Gods and not the I.M.F.

Are the bells tolling for Greece?©2011 Am An Zhang

The Guardian  Greece: what happens next?

Michael Lewis: The Big Short

NHS: Business Model? Spare Us Please!!!

The Next Europe: Left-over Euro & Deutschmark

 Dominique Faget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Historian Hans-Joachim Voth gives the euro only another five years unless the euro zone is transformed into a full transfer union with massive redistribution. The continent is too culturally different to warrant a single currency, he says, adding that it would be best ifGermany and other stronger economies left the euro zone.

SPIEGEL: Professor Voth, how much longer do you think the euro will survive?

Voth: Five years. The euro can't survive in its current form. We could, of course, make a full-fledged transfer union out of the euro-zone countries, complete with euro bonds and massive fiscal redistribution. In that case, we would have a different euro than the one that was originally conceived and promised to German voters. In the end, if the heads of state and government don't want that, it's likely that the euro will have to be dissolved.

SPIEGEL: You give the euro another five years -- what will Europe look like then, in your opinion?

Voth: I can imagine a world where there will a left-over euro: with FranceItaly, the Mediterranean countries, perhaps Belgium as well. Apart from that the old Deutschmark zone will return, comprising GermanyAustria and the Netherlands, perhaps Denmark as well, perhapsFinland, which have no problems conducting the same monetary policy as Germany. We had a similar system during the European Exchange Rate Mechanism ERM. That was the optimal system, and then we gave it up for the euro.                                        Der Spiegel

See also Money Week

Der Spiegel:

  • The Ticking Euro Bomb: What Options Are Left for the Common Currency? - SPIEGEL ONLINE - 
  • Contagion!!! Dexia Rescue: Belgium Nationalizes Troubled Bank - SPIEGEL ONLINE - 
  • Berlin, Paris Deny Rift Rumors: EU Postpones Summit on Debt Crisis - SPIEGEL ONLINE - 
  • The Financial Crisis Returns: Europe's Attention Shifts to Its Ailing Banks - SPIEGEL ONLINE - 

Related Posts:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Birds & NHS: Perfectly Safe?

Are birds safe? As safe as our NHS?

 © Am Ang Zhang 2015  

Is the NHS safe? Of course! But at a cost………..

There is little doubt that our NHS is being privatised one way or another. See Dr Grumble.

LONDON, Sept 21, 2010

Serco said on Tuesday it had won a 300 million pounds ($468.5 million) contract to provide pathological services to London's King's College Hospital NHS Trust.
Under the agreement, Kings College will join the existing joint venture between Serco and Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust, creating the UK's largest provider of pathological services.
The combined service will conduct more than 10 million individual tests a year for customers in the NHS and wider health sector, the support services firm said in a statement.
Serco said the deal would contribute about 110 million pounds to its revenue over the 10 years of the agreement.

Today Serco hit the news:

Serco is to be ordered to explain to the Government why it took the highly unusual step of writing to its leading suppliers to demand that they pay a blanket 2.5pc "cash rebate" on their work this year or risk losing future contracts.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister leading the Government's efficiency drive, is furious and has ordered Serco to account for its actions. "We unequivocally disagree with and are highly critical of the approach taken by Serco," said a Cabinet Office spokesman. "Francis Maude will be calling them in to explain themselves."

Do governments learn? Perhaps not:

National Express loses East Coast line
National Express is handing the East Coast rail franchise back to the Government after admitting that funding for the distressed London-to-Edinburgh network will run out towards the end of the year.

After months of attempts to renegotiate the £1.4bn contract, the company admitted yesterday that its NXEC subsidiary – which holds the franchise – has slipped £20m into the red this year and is rapidly burning through its resources. Richard Bowker, the group chief executive, will step down at the end of August.
A publicly owned company will take over East Coast operations when NXEC hits the buffers, Lord Adonis, the Secretary of State for Transport, announced yesterday. The process of finding a replacement operator from the private sector will then start at the end of 2010.

The Guardian: Metronet
The most shocking aspect of the Metronet scandal is that not enough people are sufficiently shocked. The news that the government is bailing out Transport for London to the tune of £2bn as a result of the debacle was barely covered in the national press and was mentioned on the Today programme long before the peak 8-8.30am period.

Yes, of course, it's complicated and rather esoteric, but the pure bones of this scandal are quite simple and opposition politicians, the newspapers and, indeed, the public, should be making much more of a fuss about the waste of several billion pounds because of new Labour's love affair with the private finance initiative.

In July 2007, Metronet BCV and Metronet SSL, two companies set up to modernise London Underground’s infrastructure, went into administration when they became unable to meet their spending obligations. Their failure resulted in London Underground Limited (London Underground) having to buy 95 per cent of Metronet’s outstanding debt obligations from its private sector lenders in February 2008 rather than repaying this debt over the 30 years of the contract. The Department for Transport (DfT) made £1.7 billion of grant available to help London Underground do so.

The taxpayer has borne some of the direct costs of Metronet’s failure, including the unexpected upfront payment of £1.7bn. We estimate there has been a direct loss to the taxpayer of between £170m and £410m.

Ernst & Young was paid £33m for handling the administration of Metronet.

Are we aware how much those working for Metronet were earning?

More skilled labourers, such as signal technicians, cost up to £79.19 an hour, or £144,000 a year, based on a 35-hour week, although not all of this is passed on to the individual employee.

The "charge-out rates" - paid by Transport for London from fares and taxpayer subsidy - were agreed by London Underground in August last year after Metronet went into administration and remain in force. The company continues to carry out much of its track renewal and repair programme under the control of the administrator.                                               

……… Tony Travers of the London School of Economics said: "By the end of next year, £10billion will have been spent on the PPP, overwhelmingly from the public purse, and what the hell can we see for it - a few tiles at stations, a bit of re-railing. It's a terrible catalogue of failure."                    More>>>>>

18 April 2009

So last month the Treasury was forced to establish a unit whose remit replaces the "private" in PFI with "public". For long-standing critics of PFI, this bailout of £13bn worth of projects is the nadir of Brown's grand plan to protect the taxpayer from financial risk. Instead, taxpayers' money is being used by the government to subsidise the operation of many of the UK's largest PFI schemes.

"The financial crisis has highlighted a basic truth - that private finance is only a way to borrow money that will have to be repaid by the taxpayer sooner or later," says Stephen Glaister, professor of transport and infrastructure at Imperial College London. "Risk transfer has proved difficult or impossible, so the taxpayer has ended up bailing out the commercial failures of the PFI companies."

A dishonest system

He said: "It is now very clear that PFI has largely collapsed as a mechanism for funding infrastructure. This was a dishonest system of accounting, designed to hide taxpayers' liabilities. If the private sector cannot now come up with the money, and is unwilling to take the risks, we need to move to a simpler, more honest system of public investment for public projects."

……….The taxpayer, through the infrastructure finance unit - dubbed the "Treasury bank" - now lends directly to PFI projects and also to the EIB and government-owned banks. This money is then lent on by these institutions, at an increased margin, to the PFI consortiums. The consortiums build the project and charge the taxpayer a fee for the next 25 years for the provision of goods and services. In the case of one of the largest PFI schemes, the £5.5bn M25 widening scheme, banks are charging the PFI consortiums 2.5%, or 3.5% over the inter-bank lending rate. This is up to five times the rate payable before the credit crunch.

Now we know!!!

There are currently about 110 PFI projects in the pipeline, worth an estimated £13bn - all in line for a handout from the Treasury bank. This includes £3.5bn of waste treatment and environmental projects, £3.1bn of transport schemes and £2.4bn of schools projects. Among the largest of these are the M25 widening, Manchester Waste, the North Bristol NHS Trust Southmead hospital redevelopment, Bradford Building Schools for the Future, Victoria hospital Fife, North Tyneside housing and Croydon & Lewisham street lighting.

The Manchester waste scheme was rescued this week thanks to a £120m injection of senior debt from the Treasury bank and £40m of cash from nine local authorities in the Manchester area. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also put in £125m.

In the end I am sure the NHS is safe: but at what cost to the tax payers!!!

NHS Posts:

Enemy Of The People: NHS, Internal Market & Safety Net

Local Authorities: NHS Reform & Iceland

NHS: Changes Or A Conspiracy Against The Public Interest

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Religion & Medicine: Pork & GBM!

 © Am Ang Zhang 2015   

A short while back I blogged about GBM and how an innovative treatment may have helped. Being a doctor Dr Anderson noted this:
My wife, Carmen Alicia, called a local friend, also a cardiologist, who sent us to a nearby hospital; there, an MRI exam revealed a small spot on my brain. The neurologist felt it needed to be biopsied to obtain a tissue diagnosis. I immediately returned to Virginia and went to several specialists, who suggested further testing before I decided to have an invasive brain biopsy. I also had a blood test for cysticercosis, an infection that results from eating undercooked pork contaminated with Tenia solium. This common parasite produces cysts all over the body, including the brain. It is the most common reason for seizures in many countries, particularly in India, where children with seizures are first treated for this disease even before other studies are done. My blood test was strongly positive. I started a course of oral medicine to treat it. The test reassured me.
My later research showed that there may indeed be some association of Tenia and GBM. 

Neurocysticercosis (NC) is the most frequent and widespread human parasitic infection of the central nervous system (CNS). Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a neoplasm of CNS in elderly population and may have a similar clinical and radiologic presentation as of NC. The coexistence of NC and neoplastic intracranial lesion in an individual is a very rare entity. The incidence of NC among intracranial space occupying lesions is reported to be 1.2-2.5%.[1–4] Though cerebral cysticercosis may be associated with glioma,[5] but this rare coexistence of NC and brain tumors puts into question a causal relationship between the 2 diseases. Here we report a case in which glioma and cysticercosis appeared concomitantly, with continuing progression of low grade Glioma to high grade Glioma (GBM, WHO grade IV).

So some religious dogma might actually be good for ones health. 

But watch out, even if you do not eat pork:

Neurocysticercosis in an Orthodox Jewish Community in New York City

All the patients and their families adhered to Orthodox Jewish dietary laws, which forbid the eating of pork. Moreover, T. solium taeniasis due to the ingestion of contaminated pork is extremely unlikely in the United States. Cysticerci were detected in only 3 of more than 83 million hogs examined after slaughter under federal inspection in 1990.
The most likely sources of infection in the patients described in this report were women living and working in the patients' homes who had recently emigrated from Latin American countries where T. solium infection is endemic.

In 2003 the world was in the grip of a new plague that challenged our knowledge of medicine to its limit.

         For the first time, doctors and nurses who were normally in the forefront of the fight against diseases were fighting for survival from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), a new and dangerously contagious disease.  The alarm was first raised by its first victim, Carlo Urbani.  He was an Italian physician employed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and based in HanoiVietnam and he gave the disease its current name. It was as if this newly mutated virus knew what it was on about. Get the doctors as they would be the first who could deal with you. Urbani died. So did some of the medical staff that attended the first few patients.

         Doctors often thought that they would be immune, a God given right I suppose.  Not so this time! The virus obviously knew what it was doing.

SARS, Freedom & Knowledge     

A doctor friend had just been diagnosed with GBM (glioblastoma multiforme) grade IV. My hospital librarian had the same tumour and told me that the hospital neurosurgeon got it too. Another close friend who is an ENT surgeon has just been diagnosed with NPC (Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma).

Looks like doctors are no longer as immune as we like to believe and that goes for those that worked closely with doctors like our beloved librarian.                                                                

Then I read an account by a doctor of his GBM.

He is a cardiologist for thirty five years, (so not a neurosurgeon then) but with the diagnosis his research unravelled one of the possible reasons for "catching" GBM.

Why did this tumor happen to me? I never smoked and had had no brain injuries, and there is no history of such tumors in my family. As a cardiologist, I had implanted close to 400 pacemakers in my life and during the procedure was exposed to ionizing radiation (X-rays). In the early days we used portable X-ray machines and gave ourselves some protection by using thin lead gowns. Nowadays, heavy lead gowns are worn, and doctors and technicians protect their thyroid and eyes with shields and glasses. We also use heavy sheets of radiation-protective glass that hang from the ceiling.

At some point in my research, I was surprised by an article by a Johns Hopkins-trained cardiologist who now practices in Israel. He had collected data on 23 invasive radiologists and cardiologists who had developed tumors, of which 17 were GBMs on the left side of the brain. I wrote to the author, who told me that he had learned of several more such cases since his article was published, and he added mine to his file."


" I had a glioblastoma multiforme (commonly called a GBM) grade IV. This is the most malignant brain tumor; no grade II or III exist. A glioblastoma is what killed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 2009. While rare, it is the most common of the brain tumors. The prognosis is dismal; on average, patients survive only 14 months after diagnosis even with chemotherapy and radiation. After five years, only 5 percent of patients are still alive."

So depressing.

But wait: The Zapping!

" The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Cancer Center at Duke University has the largest experience on the East Coast with my sort of tumor, so I went there for further consultation and treatment.

As doctors there examined me, it was obvious that my tumor had already grown again; in fact, it had quadrupled in size since my initial chemo and radiation. I was offered several treatments and experimental protocols, one of which involved implanting a modified polio virus into my brain. (This had been very successful in treating GBMs in mice.) Duke researchers had been working on this for 10 years and had just received permission from the FDA to treat 10 patients, but for only one a month."

The procedure:

"I was given the Salk polio vaccine to prevent a systemic polio infection.

At Duke, my skull was opened under local anesthesia and I had the viral infusion dripped through a small catheter directly into the tumor in my brain for six hours."

The result:

"I returned to Duke a month after the infusion, and though an MRI showed some expected swelling, the more significant fact was that the tumor had stopped growing. I have gone back to Duke every two months since then, and the tumor, initially the size of a grape, is now a scar, the size of a small pea. It’s been two years since the initial biopsy and radiation, and one year since the experimental polio viral treatment, and I have no evidence of recurrence nor tumor regrowth.

According to a presentation about the research that the Duke doctors gave last May, the results so far are promising: “The first patient enrolled in our study (treated in May 2012) had her symptoms improve rapidly upon virus infusion (she is now symptom-free), had a response in MRI scans, is in excellent health, and continues in school 9 months after the return of her brain tumor was diagnosed. Four patients enrolled in our trial remain alive, and we have observed similarly encouraging responses in other patients. One patient died six months following ... infusion, due to tumor regrowth.” They added: “Remarkably, there have been no toxic side effects ... whatsoever, even at the highest possible dose.”

That has been true for me. I feel as fit as I was three years ago, before the first symptoms of the glioblastoma made their appearance. I remain only on an anti-seizure medication."

Laoshan China

 © Am Ang Zhang 2011    

Thirty years ago, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters.

When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point
where I saw that mountains are not mountains, 
and waters are not waters. 

Thirty years on,
I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.
 Adapted from Ching-yuan (1067-1120)

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Old World: High End Photography & Wine!

Revisiting the Old World!

It is no secret that I have many hobbies and two of them are photography and wine.

Salzburg in Cibachrome©2008 Am Ang Zhang/ Bauhinia Press

The photo of Salzburg was taken with a Hasselblad CF film camera with a 150mm lens at dusk.

This week in the run up to the New York Marathon I had the opportunity to be at one of the biggest photo show in the world: PDN PHOTO EXPO  and saw at first hand the new Hasselblad Camera: H4D, a mind boggling 60 Mpixel camera. What was perhaps a bit sad was that it was not a square 60 X 60 sensor but a 36 x 48 sensor and anyone with rudimentary mathematics will realise that it is the combination of two 36 x 24 sensor which is now used by NikonCanon and Leica in their high end products. Not that long ago we were even told that for digital cameras, there was no need for 36 x 24 sensors as 24 x 18 sensors were perfectly adequate.  When will they produce a Hasselblad sensor of 60 X 60?  I wonder.

Still, the Hasselblad H4D is staggering by any standard, and at very little change for $40,000, it should be.  Purists will feel sad that it may be a Hasselblad in name but it is Fuji with Imacon that developed the camera and the digital scanning technology.

I was also fortunate enough to be at Sherry-Lehmann for the book signing of The Heart of Bordeaux and their wine tasting. The book was more a beautiful coffee table book in time for Christmas, but the tasting was spectacular. It was a grand tasting of the wines of Graves Chateau, the subject matter of the book,  and those of Haut-Brion in particular.

After tasting around the hall starting with the “lesser” wines (for want of a better word as some of the wines were very drinkable), we all drifted to the “top” table. The whiteLaville-Haut-Brion 2006 was one of the best whites I have tasted in recent times.  It is just amazing what could be done with the right combination of Sauvignon and Semillon grapes.  They told me that this white could stay in the cellar for the next 10, 20 or even 30 years!  Then there were of course both La Mission-Haut-Brion 2006 and Haut-Brion 2006 in its distinctive bottle.

I whispered to myself: why did I like La Mission better?  Haut-Brion is first growth, and La Mission is not even classified.  Someone heard me and said, “ Just look at the price: Haut-Brion, $399.95, La Mission, $735.”

Afterwards I read on their website: 2006 is one of the greatest vintages of La Mission Haut-Brion.   It is difficult to say what Haut-Brion will be like in the years to come, but for now La Mission 2006 is much bigger and richer in every way imaginable.

La Mission Haut-Brion is just across the street from Haut-Brion and yet it is so different. That is why top French wines are so interesting.
It was a bonus to meet with Hugh Johnson who wrote the preface of the book.  Amongst other things, I just had to talk to him about Royal Tokaji. The story of this Hungarian wine is a legend in the modern history of wine and of individualism. The famous wines of the region were nearly destroyed during the communist era when mass production of poorer quality wines was the order of the day. George Orwell may well be wrong as the pigs did not recognise what was good. It took some smart footwork and of course a broad knowledge of different wines for Hugh Johnson to rescue this unique desert wine.

Hugh said that they were preparing for a 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of the wines. In his own words: “Tokaji is a wine that would make angels sing out loud in praise”.

Indeed! For now, a drop more of La Mission Haut-Brion.
Wine Posts:
-->Hairy Crabs & Wines 

Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time rewritten every line
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me - Would we? Could we?
                                                                      The Way We Were