Monday, April 8, 2019

Come On Now, Come On, Get Happy

I know now why I'm not gloomy all of the time. I just got back the results of my ancestry test, and there's apparently enough happy Scandinavian to offset the morose German.

The Nordic connection is Sweden and Norway, and those countries are always in the happiest top ten. Not so with Germany, which is 15th on the list.

Who decides who's happy and who's not? The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which draws its data from the Gallup World Poll. Key measures are per-capita GDP, life expectancy, social support, freedom to make choices, degree of trust and generosity.

Based on those criteria, the "happiest" countries in 2019 are Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria.

Common denominators? The countries are largely white and homogeneous, have cold climates with small populations and little heavy industry. Many are welfare states. (I'm told the Nordic countries are not socialist. They're capitalist countries with heavy taxes and big government. Whatever.)

So happiness is where it's cold, where you have financial security and where there are few immigrants. Health experts tell us happiness is 50% genetics. I guess that fits homogeneous countries. Best not to dilute the gene pool.

Where's the cut-off? Nowhere in the top 20 do we find countries from Asia, Africa or South America. Costa Rica made it from Central America and Israel sneaked in from the Middle East.

Italy, France, Spain? Forget about it. Big-economy Japan? China? Nope. Many of the economic heavy-hitters are way down the list.

How about the United States? We're 19th this year and, according to the happiness gurus, our troubles are legion. Our "wealth gap" is too high, we're too fat and we're abusing substances right and left. And our youth, too busy with social media and video games, no longer interact with people. (Sounds like some of my grandchildren.)

What about U.S. strengths? Happiness apparently doesn't correlate with economic growth, entrepreneurship, artistic accomplishments or wars won.

A cynic might say the happiest countries are happy because they benefit from the unhappy ones. The happy countries are protected militarily. They inherent breakthrough technology and medical advances and music and art. They don't have to take a risk or spend to develop what the unhappy countries give or sell to them.

Militarily Norway can track Russian submarines, but not much else. No one quakes at the Swedish army. Without U.S. protection, Finland would be overrun in days (some say hours).

Economically all of the "happy" countries are dependent on U.S. or Asian trade. If they had to rely only on each other, they wouldn't be so happy.

And how about immigration? Refugees? Apparently when people of color come in large numbers, happiness fades. Diversity must be a negative indicator.

Okay, maybe that's just sour grapes. Maybe I'm just envious. It's true America isn't a welfare state, at least not yet. It's true our life expectancy is down the list a ways and our trust of government isn't what it might be and we don't volunteer much until we retire.

But here's the thing. How many of us would trade places with a Dane? How many would pick up and move to Finland? (We couldn't move to Switzerland; it wouldn't take us.) How many would seek our fortunes in Norway? Or take our medical problems to Iceland?

Visit there? You bet. My wife and I have visited the "happy" countries many times. But move there? I don't think so.

We'd rather be unhappy in America.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

PC Docs Returning to NCH?

Finally there's clarification.

Dr. Cesar DeLeon, Collier County Medical Society president, said unequivocally the ongoing NCH hospitalist pilot program allows your personal doctor to admit, treat and discharge you. Assuming Dr. DeLeon is speaking on behalf of NCH, that's huge. The pilot program lives, but its toxic center has been excised.

In the euphoria following Dr. Allen Weiss's firing, that point -- the central issue that enraged the Naples community -- was somehow lost. Or at least I and a number of others missed the reporting of  it.

That's important because the initial outrage had not been about Weiss, but about NCH policy. Both residents and local physicians, including many on the NCH staff, took issue with pilot programs on three floors of NCH hospitals that prevented PC physicians from admitting and caring for their patients. Instead, that responsibility was given to hospitalists, full-time NCH internists who knew little or nothing about their transitory charges.

The community uprising was remarkable. Petitions were signed, rallies were held, signs were plastered all over Naples, lawsuits were threatened. NCH physicians voted no confidence. An avalanche of letters to the Naples Daily News recounted horrible experiences with hospitalists, who were said to be little more than shift workers.

Somewhere during that time (November 2018 - January 2019), the emphasis shifted from concern about the policy to a frontal attack on Weiss. Weiss, not the policy, became the issue. He was pilloried everywhere. Rallies popped up where people chanted, "Weiss must go!"

Then in late January, with both sides settling in for a protracted fight, the NCH board abruptly  reversed field and fired Weiss. Apparently sensing more was needed, the board also wiped away a number of Weiss's transgressions.

  • Relations with the Neighborhood Health Clinics were restored.
  • Objections to the Braden Hospital in Ave Maria were lifted.
  • Dr. Paul Jones was reinstated head of the NCH medical staff.
Better communications with the community were pledged. Lots of transparency. Greater involvement with outside physicians. Input from everybody. Kumbaya.

But nowhere was there any indication the pilot programs would be scuttled. Weiss was gone, but the original cause of the outcry was continuing. As far as many of us knew, PC physicians were still banned.

Not so, said DeLeon. When asked if that meant only NCH physicians or only concierge doctors were welcome, he said no. All physicians can now admit, treat and discharge their patients on all floors, including those where the pilot programs are in effect.

Why then, one might ask, are the pilot programs needed at all? Many still look at them as a Trojan Horse. Why not make a clean sweep and get rid of them altogether?

Perhaps Dr. DeLeon can answer that question. Or better, the NCH board. 

What's clear is that everyone wants to get this over with. Everyone wants closure. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

A Snowbird's Lament

Ah, to be from Connecticut. The operable word is "from."

My wife and I, credentialed Floridians, look back on our former home with wistfulness, but also with fuller billfolds. Unlike the gift that keeps on giving, Connecticut is the state that keeps on taking.

The Nutmeg State imposes the highest overall taxes in the country. It's also one of nine states that's losing population. Do you see a correlation? Yup. Heavily taxed people move elsewhere. And that elsewhere is often Florida, the 5th fastest-growing state -- with no income tax, no death tax, no intangible property tax.

The contrast carries over to job growth. Florida ranks 5th among states, with jobs pouring in, while last year Connecticut saw 760 businesses moving out. Not surprisingly, that's reflected in best-places-to-do-business surveys where Connecticut was rated among the worst in the country. (Just ask General Electric.) By comparison, a favorable business climate was cited as one of Florida's top attractions, along with a healthful environment and, of course, great weather.

How is Connecticut countering its financial problems? You guessed it. By raising taxes even higher. Expect the downward spiral to continue.

It's a shame because Connecticut is a wonderful state in many ways. It reeks of history and offers wooded hills, wetlands and a long shoreline. It's a sailor's delight. We could sail to Block island in five hours on a close reach. And the state has terrific public schools, a rare benefit of high taxes and a  boon for our Westport grandchildren. And it spawned a lady engineer. Our eldest granddaughter will receive her degree from UConn in the spring.

And speaking of UConn, it's women's basketball team, the best in the universe, has already lost two games this season -- unimaginable, a true catastrophe.

Things really are tough in Connecticut.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Bring the Sun Home with You

As an energy source, you can't beat the sun. It's rays have enough quanta to heat the earth and generate enough power for the geologic future. That means forever. It's up there; it's constant; it's inexhaustible.

Yet solar energy, while growing, still contributes little more than 1% of the world's power. And it would be even less if it were not for hefty subsidies.

Why so? What's holding back our use of this free source of endless power? A number of things.

First off, conversion of solar to electrical energy is very inefficient. Commercial panels do well to deliver an 18% conversion, resulting in the need for huge numbers of panels to make any impact on the grid.

As a result, solar footprints are massive. For example, to power all of Florida, one would have to cover over 20% of the state's land surface with panels -- usurping valuable farm or residential land and creating visual pollution on an unthinkable scale. Also, I'm told, big solar farms are easily disabled by hurricanes and make dandy military targets.

Another shortcoming is that the sun doesn't shine all of the time, like on cloudy days and at night. That means back-up sources are needed, usually fossil fuels, which cancel out any environmental gains. In certain areas of Europe, the big push for green energy has led to construction of a new coal or natural gas plant to back up every new solar farm installed.

None of this is to say technical advances are not being made. They are, and in time efficiencies will improve, costs will be lowered and footprints will shrink. Until then, there is a very good way to use solar economically and to do it without plundering the countryside.

Put the panels on rooftops. Generate the power right where it's needed. This is a natural for businesses and warehouses with flat roofs, and it's becoming increasingly popular for private homes. Visit Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands to see this on a large scale. And now more of the excess energy can be saved. Big batteries called "powerwalls" can store up to 13.5 kWh for use at night or to juice up your electric car in the garage.

Dan Neil, writing in the Wall Street Journal, describes how he is doing just that. His new home has attractive solar roof tiles made of tempered glass -- panels that lie flat on the roof, not stacked at angles. And his powerwall soaks up and stores the energy not used at home during the day.

My daughter and her family are doing something similar in Connecticut (where the sun certainly does not shine all of the time). Their "smart home" is almost, but not quite, energy independent. They're still hooked to the grid.

But in the not-too-distant future I suspect improvements in panel tiles and batteries will lead to the economies needed to make all-solar homes commonplace. There is a lot of upside.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Smoke Pot and Die

In these outrageous times, nothing should surprise us. But our newly minted governor, Ron DeSantis, did just that the other day when he threatened to lift the state ban on smoking pot.

We're talking medical marijuana here, which Florida sanctions in food, oils, vapes -- everything but smoking. Apparently DeSantis feels toking is necessary to give patients the full medical benefit of weed. He was quoted as saying, "I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved."

Oncologists love it. More business for them. Tobacco smoking leads to lung cancer, and marijuana has four times the amount of tar as tobacco. If smoking cigarettes is bad, smoking pot is worse. The new joke is, "Smoke pot to get lung cancer. Then smoke more pot to alleviate the symptoms of lung cancer." It's good for the economy. Good for weed farmers, docs and undertakers. Maybe this is DeSantis's way of promoting growth (tumors?) in Florida.

In a triumph of juxtaposition, the same day the DeSantis pronouncement appeared in the Naples Daily News, a sobering column by Peter Bach, a pulmonary physician at Sloan Kettering, appeared in the Wall Street Journal. "Marijuana," wrote Bach, "is a toxin, not a medicine ... Smoking it damages the respiratory tract. A 2017 report from the National Academy of Medicine called the evidence for this 'substantial.'"

Bach went on to slam the notion that pot in any form is a medicine.

  • No studies have been done to compare the pain-relieving effects of cannabis with a placebo or even with ibuprofen. And all intoxicants mask pain. "If weed is a pain reliever, so is Budweiser."
  • Relief of nausea in chemo patients has never been clinically compared with older nausea treatments or with today's Neurokinin-1 antagonists.
  • Cannabidiol, recently approved by the FDA for treating seizures in epileptic children, isn't marijuana. It's a highly purified marijuana extract and is also available from hemp. And it can be synthesized in the laboratory. "Medicine from a plant does not make the plant medicine."
Bach concluded, "Marijuana belongs in the same category as alcohol and tobacco -- harmful products that adults can choose to enjoy." Amen to that.

And now, having dispensed with this, I'm going to enjoy my harmful product of choice, single-malt scotch. Neat please. Slanta!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Made in China, Stolen from America

Ripping the Chinese with a tariff threat sends shock waves through the business community and rattles an already shaky stock market. It also, to no one's surprise, emboldens the political left to double down in its criticism of President Trump. Can't he do anything right?

Why, after all, rile the Chinese and trigger a trade war? The timing is terrible. And no one ever wins a trade war. So what if there is an imbalance? We're still prospering.

But as Martin Feldstein pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal article, the real issue isn't a trade deficit. The real issue is theft of American technology, cyberattacks that knee-cap U.S. businesses and threaten national security.

Chinese hackers routinely siphon off classified military data -- new aircraft design, missile delivery systems, submarine tracking defenses. The thefts, which have become commonplace in recent years, are now threatening to compromise our most advanced technical systems. A defense official was quoted as saying, "They are looking for digital weaknesses. An asymmetric way to engage the United States without ever firing a shot."

On the business side, Chinese lawlessness has reached new heights. It is now common practice for China to require technology transfer as a condition for doing business. Sell us a plane? Okay, first give us the classified specs on lift and the new technology on in-flight navigation.

Design and production secrets are one thing. Patents are something else. The Chinese have been stealing U.S. patents forever. Not just on defense items, but on everything. Acknowledging patent validity and paying licensing fees is an unknown concept in Beijing.

Here's a personal story. Many years ago, when I was heading R&D for a chemical business, a brilliant  chemist in our operation devised a breakthrough process for making a specialty chemical -- a high-value flavor enhancer for the food industry. The new process halved the manufacturing cost and ensured a dominant market position.

We, of course, patented the process and the product-by-process as was the practice in those days. Some time later a Chinese firm entered the market and significantly undercut our price for the flavor enhancer. We analyzed the Chinese product and found, to our naive surprise, an impurity profile identical to that of our product. The Chinese had ignored our patent and used our patented technology to leapfrog into the market, illegally.

That was many years ago. Theft of intellectual property was going on way back then. Our loss was small potatoes compared to what's happening today.

Feldstein writes, "Beijing's plan is to dominate global markets [by 2025] in a range of high-tech products. Its strategy is to give large subsidies to state-owned companies and supplement their research with technology stolen from American and other Western companies."

The FBI recently told Congress that Chinese theft of American technology is the biggest threat to our national security today and a serious drag on economic growth.

That's why Trump is threatening massive tariffs. Let's hope he stands fast. There's a lot at stake.