Sunday, October 31, 2004

Iraqi Citizens Embrace American-Style Democracy

Stunning Development Shows Success of Bush Strategy

Prior to the Iraq war, pessimistic naysayer liberals frequently voiced doubts about the ability of our leader to install the virtues of democracy by bombing and killing a lot of people. And when The Lancet -- the world's oldest and most respected medical journal -- published a report done by Johns Hopkins University -- the world's leading medical research institution, and the location of a hospital that provides treatment to much of the nation's leadership -- showing that over one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war, many liberals touted this as evidence of the inhumanity of the Administration strategy.

Now, however, a mere two days before the crucial American Presidential Election, the influential LA Times has reported a survey of Iraqis that shows the strategy is working. Indeed, we now all can rest comfortably knowing that the considerable cost of all those bullets, bombs, and and body bags, has produced the desired result. Iraqi citizens now hold exactly the same political beliefs as the majority of Americans:
If a recent poll and a sampling of interviews with Iraqis around the country are any indication, neither President George Bush nor Sen. John F. Kerry is particularly popular.The majority of nearly 2,000 respondents -- about 59% -- said they don't like either candidate.

"I wouldn't vote for either because both are useless," said Abed Qahir Abed Aziz, 37, an attorney in the northern city of Mosul.

"Neither Bush nor Kerry can solve our problems," said Atheer Adil, 27, an Arabic-language student in Baghdad.
See? Now They are just like Us.


It has been a while since I've posted anything about science.  It also has been a while since I posted anything satirical.  The satire is above; the science is below.

After I wrote the first part of this post, I saw some posts that disputed the validity of the Lancet study.  I also saw some written by people who seem to feel it is valid, and others that show the problems with the attacks on the study. 

The Blosphere is studded with links to the study.  Some of the first ones I saw, which express doubts about the study, are these:

Command Post
Common Sense Technology
Les Jones's Blog
Chicago Boyz

Those who lend credibility to the report are here:

Crooked Timber
Body and Soul
Rhosgobel: Radagast's home
Old Hickory's Weblog
Informed Comment

Of these, I think the most important to read is the one at Crooked Timber, because it has the most cogent analysis of the statistics.  Indeed, statisticss can be tricky, and it will be a while before we can say with certainty that the methodology is or is not valid.  The article was subject to peer review, but a more thorough review always is done after publication.  That is the beauty of the scientific method.  Now tha the study is out, everyone gets to take a crack at it.

One thing I must say, though, to add to the volumes already written, is to point out the problem with those who take the accelerated publication of the aritcle as evidence of political bias.  I would say that the authors are biased, but I would not say that the bias is necessarily political.  The authors are from the School of Public Health (at Johns Hopkins), so we can guess what their bias might be.  However, not all biases are bad; not all cast suspicion on the veracity of the study.

When the SARS oubreak occurred, the New England Journal of Medicine published some fast-tracked articles ahead of the usual publication schedule.  That is because people were dying, doctors don't like it when people die, and they wanted to get the information out when it would do the most good.  Nothing nefarious, no wingnut conspiracy, but a bias nontheless: a bias against premature death, and the virus that causes it.

Faculty at a school called "public health" might well have a similar bias: a bias against public death, and the factors that cause it. 

Question: What Will Neocons Do If Bush Looses?


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Was Linux forged in Mordor?

Was Linux created in the Land of Shadow? This episode in our series of Linux creation myths casts Linus Torvalds in a hobbit-like role. Check out more of these fractured fairy tales after you tuck into this one by Phillip A. Schrodt. – Jan Stafford, editor

The true origins of Linux lie in the waning years of the Second Age of Computing, the Age of Big Iron. Forged by coding-elves in the sunless sub-basements of MIT, Linux was the mightiest of the Utilities of Power.

Of the Utilities of Power, there were three dynasties. The Seven Utilities -- written in Algol and granted to the computer scientists -- have long been fading away. The original Nine -- written in COBOL and granted to business -- consumed the souls of those who used them and lurk now as invisible wraiths in legacy systems. Only the Three Utilities of Power -- written in C and entrusted to Unix -- survive unsullied: grep, make and yacc.

But what happened to the One Operating System? At the end of the Second Age, it disappeared following the climatic battle where IBM threw down Sperry Rand, Burroughs, Honeywell, Univac, Control Data and the others. A lone coder, pursued by a shrieking mob of grey-suited accountants, tossed the last remaining tape of the source code into the Charles River. Moments later he was captured, strangled with a polyester necktie and buried face down, nine-edge first.

The tape floated out to sea and remained there for decades, unseen, until it washed ashore on the cobbled beach of a fjord. It was found by the most unlikely of creatures: a Finn from Helsinki.

The story of the Finn's discovery reached Eric the Heavily Armed, High Scrivener of Unix, who journeyed far to confirm the discovery. Patching his laptop into the nine-track, reel-to-reel tape drive found in all Finn-Swedish households of that era, Eric showed the young Finn the source code for the One, glowing green on black.

"I cannot read the fiery letters." pleaded the Finn named Torvalds. "Let you, or another great wizard, such as Richard the Unkempt, take the code. I am not made for perilous quests. Why did it come to me?"

"Such questions cannot be answered," Eric replied. "But you have been chosen, and therefore you must use such strength and heart and wits as you have … for evil is stirring anew."

Eric explained that IBM, once the victor, has been overthrown by one entity even more powerful and all-consuming. Pouring out from behind the Western Mountains, IBM's certified minions -- with cunning and secret APIs of hideous complexity -- scour the planet, searching for the One Operating System that might challenge its control. There is no hiding for the young Finn, he warned, because now the enemies of the One have heard the names "Torvalds" and "Linux."

And on a distant mountain slope to the east, a lone accountant sits in a darkened corner office muttering into the pale moonlight: "Precious, my Precious ... nasty Finn, stole my Precious. He found it, and he said nothing, nothing. We hate Finns. Must take it back ... Darryl will bring lawsuits, won't he, Darryl?..."

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bush Doesn't Get It

What Baghdad Burning Has to Say:

Monday, October 25, 2004 American Elections 2004... Let me assure you Americans- he has NO PLAN. There is no plan for the mess we’re living in- unless he is cunningly using the Chaos Theory as a basis for his Iraq plan. Things in Iraq are a mess and there is the sense that the people in Washington don’t know what they’re doing, and their puppets in Iraq know even less. The name of the game now in Iraq is naked aggression- it hasn’t been about hearts and minds since complete areas began to revolt. His Iraq plan may be summarized with the Iraqi colloquial saying, “A’athreh ib dafra”, which can be roughly translated to ‘a stumble and a kick’. In other words, what will happen, will happen and hopefully- with a stumble and a kick- things will move in the right direction.

Good News for Open Source Movement;
Bad News for 1000 Points of Light

The previous three posts all expressed a pessimistic tone. It is time for something optimistic. The last one, The Real Deal, Same as the Old Deal, spoke of the way in which the government of the USA is acting to favor large business over local development. So I wrote a counterpoint, about how the open-source software movement, and the open-access medical information movement, promise to improve health care around the world. Read about it at The Rest of the Story.

The Real Deal, Same as the Old Deal

When the Iraq war started, a friend* and I had a conversation about the reason for the war. I felt embarrassed by the world's perception that we were doing it for the oil. Even though Bush and Cheney are oilmen, and I normally would take any opportunity to besmirch them, I could not attribe their decision to go to war to the notion that we just went to go in and take their oil.

History has proven me right. If we had gone in and just taken their oil, then gas would be cheap right now. It is not. But despite the high price of oil, oil companies are making insane profits. This gives us a clue as to the real motivation for the war. Another clue comes from the whole Halliburton scandal.

No, we did not go in to take their oil. We went in to take their business. Or rather, to give our companies a leg up in the Middle East economy. Now, American Samizdat has uncovered more evidence:
Friday, October 29, 2004 Another Taste of Iraqi Freedom [...] new legislation in Iraq has been carefully put in place by the US that prevents farmers from saving their seeds and effectively hands over the seed market to transnational corporations. This is a disastrous turn of events for Iraqi farmers, biodiversity and the country's food security. While political sovereignty remains an illusion, food sovereignty for the Iraqi people has been made near impossible by these new regulations. Agribusiness has been doing this everywhere it can, of course, as part of the overall corporate goal of complete subjugation of all of us serfs. The invasion of Iraq has made it trivial to do there, but watch carefully: what they do to Iraq they want to do to you.

He's right, of course. What they do to Iraq, they want to do to you. They don't care if you are Republican or Democrat, they want you to work for peanuts while they get rich. That is the deal.

*That's the same friend who got a death threat after he had a letter published in our local paper, The Ann Arbor News.

What Kills Undecided Voters?

Pretty much the same things that kill anybody. 

The three leading causes of death (with the actual number of deaths, in 2002, in parentheses) in the United States are: Heart Disease (696,947), Cancer (557,271, Stroke (162,672).  Those three disease processes kill 58% of the population, or stated more precisely, 58% of the population in the USA will die from one of those three things.  [Reference: CDC report summary / full report(1.3Mb PDF.)]

Earlier tonight, my wife and I had a political discussion.  She contended that neither candidate is speaking to the undecided voter.  All they are talking about right now is Iraq and terrorism, if you ignore meaningless jibes about Massachusetts Liberals or More of the Same, which are essentially name-calling.  The undecided voters are not going to decide based upon those factors, because they've already heard it all.  If those issues have not convinced them by now, they aren't going to ever. 

So what might influence the undecided voters? 

Try looking at it this way: Why are Iraq and terrorism important?  Because war kills people, and terrorism kills people.  But not very many.  In fact, as causes of death, those two aren't even in the top 10.  Perhaps what the undecided voter needs to hear, is how the candidates can increase the life expectancy of the typical citizen of the United States of America. 

Iraq and terrorism are not  security issues.  They are pride issues.  The reason war and terrorism seem like catastrophes is not that they kill a lot of people, it's that they hurt our pride.  Some people care about that a lot.  Fine.  Let them vote for whomever will make them proud.  Me, I'm voting for the person who will prolong my life expectancy.  Perhaps that line of reasoning will have an impact on the undecided voters.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Thank You, Whistleblowers! Says Justice Dept.

The conservative newspaper, Washington Times, quoting their rival, the Washington Post, reports on the widening Halliburton probe:
Reports: Halliburton investigation widens
Washington, DC,   Oct. 29 (UPI) --

The FBI has widened its investigation into allegations of improprieties in Iraq and Kuwait by a Halliburton Co. subsidiary, published reports said Friday.

The Washington Post said agents broadened the investigation of subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root Inc. by requesting an interview with a Pentagon official who raised the allegations.

The Pentagon official has complained the Army gave the Halliburton subsidiary preferential treatment in granting it a $7 billion classified contract to restore Iraq's oil fields just before the war began, the Post said.

The official is Bunnatine Greenhouse, a senior Army Corps of Engineers civilian responsible for ensuring contracting competition.

In a letter her lawyers wrote to Army Secretary Lee Brownlee and provided to members of Congress, she has said Army officials did not justify the award or show that Kellogg had "unique attributes," as required by procurement law, the Post said.
It turns out the the Washington Post also ran a story, that at first appears to be unrelated, but which also pertains to whistleblowers:
Justice Department Opposition Holds Up Whistle-Blower Measures
By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, October 26, 2004; Page B02

Bipartisan efforts in Congress to help protect federal employees who become whistle-blowers appear to be stalled because of opposition from the Justice Department.

Bills in the House and Senate would clarify congressional intent in cases where agencies take reprisals against federal employees who risk their jobs when they disclose waste, fraud and abuse in government.

The issue of whistle-blower rights has taken on some urgency in the past year, in part because some lawmakers worry that current statutory protections are inadequate and discourage federal employees from bringing their concerns about national defense and homeland security issues to the Congress.

The House and Senate bills, while different in some aspects, would rein in the authority of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to interpret some parts of whistle-blower law and would write into law the "anti-gag" riders that Congress includes in appropriations bills to encourage federal employees to speak up about wrongdoing in their agencies. [...]

But because of opposition from the Justice Department, the bills have not been scheduled for floor votes, even though they have been approved by committees, congressional aides said.

In a letter to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee,   William E. Moschella, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, called the Senate bill "burdensome, unnecessary and unconstitutional." [...]
Hmmm.  The company that still pays a salary to the Vice President gets burned by a whistleblower, and now the Justice Department is opposing legislation that would protect whistleblowers?  And they are succeeding in holding up the legislation?  Ironically, the guy who is complaining that the bill would be "unconstitutional" is not abiding by the constitutional separation of powers.  Note also: the law would rein in the power of judges to interpret some parts of the existing whistleblower laws.  And this is opposed by the Administration that deplores the actions of "activist judges?"

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice"

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Finally, A Blog That Matters

I present, proudly, I might add, the newest addition to my blogroll.  A blog that really matters.  As you wade through the miasmic morass of moronic minutiae that is the Blogosphere, you sometimes encounter a pleasing paragon of practicality.

Appliance Parts for Eugene Springfield and all of Lane County

October 26, 2004

GE Dryer Heating Elements

Most dryer heating elements last many years , some seem to only last 3 years or less. Why is this? Its Mainly due to poor air circulation through the dryer and out the customers exhaust vent.
If you notice clothes taking over 1 hour to dry, then this may be the main problem to short heating element life.
A simple test: Pull the dryer away from the wall, disconnect the exhaust hose, let the exhaust air just blow into the room for 1 load.
If you notice the dryer drying the clothes faster, then you have solved the problem. The problem is in your vent exhaust hose, either clogged or something is restricting the air flow where the end of the exhaust hose comes out.

Common GE / Hotpoint Dryer Heating Elements
Heating Element
P/N: WE11X103

Dryer Heating Element used on many GE brand electric clothes dryers. Has a coil diameter of 5/8 in. For element restring kit only use P/N WE11X203.

Heating Element
P/N: WE11M23

Dryer Heating Element used on many GE brand electric clothes dryers. Has a coil diameter of 1/2 in. For restring kit only use p/n WE11X10007.

Have a good evening!

Another Endorsement for Kerry

America's next president

The incompetent or the incoherent?
Oct 28th 2004
From The Economist print edition

With a heavy heart, we think American readers should vote for John Kerry on November 2nd

YOU might have thought that, three years after a devastating terrorist attack on American soil, a period which has featured two wars, radical political and economic legislation, and an adjustment to one of the biggest stockmarket crashes in history, the campaign for the presidency would be an especially elevated and notable affair. If so, you would be wrong. This year's battle has been between two deeply flawed men: George Bush, who has been a radical, transforming president but who has never seemed truly up to the job, let alone his own ambitions for it; and John Kerry, who often seems to have made up his mind conclusively about something only once, and that was 30 years ago. But on November 2nd, Americans must make their choice, as must The Economist. It is far from an easy call, especially against the backdrop of a turbulent, dangerous world. But, on balance, our instinct is towards change rather than continuity: Mr Kerry, not Mr Bush. [...]

I saw a link to this on one of the Arborblogs, disjointed.org.  It surprised me, because I did not think that The Economist was going to come out with an outright endorsement.  I suppose anyone could have discerned from their previous editorials which candidate they would rather see as our next President.  Still, it is rather bold of them to come right out and say it, so bluntly. 

It occurs to me that this endorsement is significant.   Mr. Bush often complains about Kerry, saying, in effect, that Kerry will not be able to interact appropriately with our allies.  This always impressed me as a dumb thing for him to say, since the majority of the population in the rest of the world would rather see Kerry elected.  Now, though, we see a fiscally conservative organization overseas expressing the same opinion. 

No Comment Necessary...

...But I'll comment anyway.  Again.  I've noted before that scientists and physicians have been outspoken about political issues, as we have gotten closer to the election. 

The latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has another open-access health care policy article, the last one we'll see from them before the election.  They saved the best for last. 

Health Care Coverage and Drug Costs — The Candidates Speak Out
George W. Bush, and John F. Kerry

The article is short; if you are interested, you should read the whole thing.  If you are not interested, you should move to another country.  John Kerry offers a broader, more effective, more detailed, and more carefully though-out plan.  Mr. Bush offers a little more of the same: some social engineering via directed tax cuts, and a little more funding for afew things.

Last night, I heard an interview on NPR, The Connection, I think, in which Dick Gordon interviewed a couple of preachers about the role of religion in politics.  Neither stated an explicit endorsement of either of the main candidates for President, but it was clear that one supported Kerry, and the other supported Bush.  The one who supported Bush stated that Bush has demonstrated one of the core values of the Christian bible, that of concern for the poor and otherwise underprivileged.  I thought to myself, 'yeah, he cares about them so much, he is doing all he can to make more people join them...'

Mr. Bush has gotten more people below the poverty line -- many of them children -- more homeless, and more uninsured, than any president in recent history. 

Yes, the Kerry plan will cost more, but it also will do more.  The cost will be borne by taxpayers.  But the country will be more productive, and almost everyone will have lower health insurance premiums.  The idea of having the government cover much of the cost of catastrophic illness, is brilliant.  The idea of getting health insurance for nearly everyone shows true compassion...and it will be good for the economy.  Remember, various tax schemes merely shift money around; they do not directly produce anything.  Anything of value is produced by people, and those people have to be healthy to do their jobs.

It has been estimated that the shortage of influenza vaccine will cost the US economy twenty billion dollars.  And that is just a small example of the impact of illness on economic productivity.  Getting health insurance for more people will have a much greater impact. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

No Comment Necessary

Effect of Reducing Interns' Work Hours on Serious Medical Errors in Intensive Care Units
Christopher P. Landrigan, M.D., M.P.H., Jeffrey M. Rothschild, M.D., M.P.H., John W. Cronin, M.D., Rainu Kaushal, M.D., M.P.H., Elisabeth Burdick, M.S., Joel T. Katz, M.D., Craig M. Lilly, M.D., Peter H. Stone, M.D., Steven W. Lockley, Ph.D., David W. Bates, M.D., Charles A. Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., for the Harvard Work Hours, Health and Safety Group


Background Knowledge of the physiological effects of extended (24 hours or more) work shifts in postgraduate medical training is limited. We aimed to quantify work hours, sleep, and attentional failures among first-year residents (postgraduate year 1) during a traditional rotation schedule that included extended work shifts and during an intervention schedule that limited scheduled work hours to 16 or fewer consecutive hours.

Methods Twenty interns were studied during two three-week rotations in intensive care units, each during both the traditional and the intervention schedule. Subjects completed daily sleep logs that were validated with regular weekly episodes (72 to 96 hours) of continuous polysomnography (r=0.94) and work logs that were validated by means of direct observation by study staff (r=0.98).

Results Seventeen of 20 interns worked more than 80 hours per week during the traditional schedule (mean, 84.9; range, 74.2 to 92.1). All interns worked less than 80 hours per week during the intervention schedule (mean, 65.4; range, 57.6 to 76.3). On average, interns worked 19.5 hours per week less (P<0.001), slept 5.8 hours per week more (P<0.001), slept more in the 24 hours preceding each working hour (P<0.001), and had less than half the rate of attentional failures while working during on-call nights (P=0.02) on the intervention schedule as compared with the traditional schedule.

Conclusions Eliminating interns' extended work shifts in an intensive care unit significantly increased sleep and decreased attentional failures during night work hours.

Good News/Bad News About TB

Tuberculosis (Wikipedia Merck Manual) is a bacterial disease that has successfully resisted attempts to control it.  I wrote about the problem of multidrug-resistant TB, back in March.  Now there is more bad news:

TB poses major threat to millions
Tuesday, 26 October, 2004

Tuberculosis will continue to kill millions in developing countries unless radical action is taken, an aid organisation has warned.

TB can be easily treated, but Medecins San Frontieres says inadequate attempts to control the disease mean it is now spiraling out of control.

MSF says drug-resistant strains, coupled with HIV pose a major threat.

The charity is calling for massive investment in developing new diagnostic tests and drugs.
For once, though, there is good news:
New TB vaccine shown to be safe
Sunday, 24 October, 2004

The first TB vaccine to be developed in more than 80 years has passed safety trials in the UK.

Oxford University researchers say the vaccine could boost the power of the existing BCG vaccine.

The study, in Nature Medicine, suggests the new vaccine could be of particular use in the developing world, where cases of tuberculosis are rising.

The World Health Organization estimates one person is infected every second. It kills two million people annually.

It is believed to be present in about one-third of the world's population, around two billion people, although many people do not develop the disease.

In England, the number of cases of TB has risen by 25% over the last decade.

The BCG vaccine is thought to offer protection for around 15 years.

But it is not effective for everyone. In the UK, only around two thirds of those who receive the vaccination are believed to be protected. Some trials have suggested protection could be as low as 30%.

The new MVA85A vaccine was tested in Oxford, where schoolchildren no longer routinely receive BCG.

The three-year study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust research charity, involved 42 adults aged 18 to 55, who were divided into three groups.

Two groups had never been vaccinated with BCG. One of these was given BCG and the other MVA85A.

People in the third group, who had previously received BCG, were given MVA85A as a boost.

In those who were only given MVA85A, the trials showed it was safe and produced a high number of T 'helper' cells, which fight disease.

Those who had previously had BCG and were given MVA85A revealed a far greater number of T cells, in some case up to 30 times the levels produced in the other groups. [...]

Dr McShane said MVA85A appeared to work as an "ally" with BCG, rather than as a replacement.

"BCG induces low levels of T cells. So when you later give MVA85A the cells are reminded of the disease and build a bigger barrier to TB."
The abstract of the original article is available here, as an advance online publication of Nature Medicine.  Although a clinically usable vaccine probably will take years to develop, the fact that the study was published online in advance of the print edition suggests that the medical community feels that this is a highly significant finding. 

"Politics is however, a contact sport."

Action potentials are rising in the amygdala over at Neuroinflammation.net:

Tuesday, October 26, 2004
What does Bush have against renters?

New Florida vote scandal revealed (linked below as well): Greg Palast unearthed a secret list of 1800+ voters the GOP plans on challenging next Tuesday. Go read the article.

It turns out you too can take a look at the same list Greg got his hands on. It turns out numerous GOP operatives would occassionally send email to georgewbush.org instead of georgewbush.com. You can read their (boring) emails here. And you can download the cage files as well.

I did a quick look. All of the voters on the list were from the Jacksonville, FL, area. It is possible that the GOP has lists for other counties in Florida.

40 voters on the list were at the Naval Air Station. I didn’t know the GOP despised soldiers.

31 were students at Edward Waters College, a private, historically black college.

19 voters had listed their primary address at the Mental Health Resource Center. I’m not sure what the sanity requirements are for voting in Florida, but with Jeb as a governor you have to figure sanity isn’t that high a priority.

25 voters listed the Jacksonville New Life Inn as their address. Yup, these were the homeless, the people who actually have more at stake in this and any election than anyone else, being reliant on the kindness of strangers.

I did a quick scan of other repeat addresses (and I leave it to someone else to complete this little project), but by and large the people on this list lived in apartments.

The Georgebush.org site has a link to this BBC article:

By Greg Palast
Reporting for BBC's Newsnight

A secret document obtained from inside Bush campaign headquarters in Florida suggests a plan - possibly in violation of US law - to disrupt voting in the state's African-American voting districts, a BBC Newsnight investigation reveals.

Two e-mails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign's national research director in Washington DC, contain a 15-page so-called "caging list".

It lists 1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas of Jacksonville, Florida.

An elections supervisor in Tallahassee, when shown the list, told Newsnight: "The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day." [...]

In Washington, well-known civil rights attorney, Ralph Neas, noted that US federal law prohibits targeting challenges to voters, even if there is a basis for the challenge, if race is a factor in targeting the voters.

The list of Jacksonville voters covers an area with a majority of black residents. [...]

Republican state campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker Fletcher stated the list was not put together "in order to create" a challenge list, but refused to say it would not be used in that manner. [...]

There was no explanation as to why such clerical matters would be sent to top officials of the Bush campaign in Florida and Washington. [...]
It is strange that the BBC has this story before the US papers do.  I searched at NyT, WaPo, Boston Globe, and LA Times, and did not find a reference to this story.

BTW, the title of this post, "Politics is however, a contact sport.", comes from one of the Republican emails on the Georgebush.org website.  When will people learn to encrypt sensitive email???

Free digital encryption certificates can be gotten at www.thawte.com.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Monday Genome Blogging

This is a roundup of news pertaining to cloning and stem cell research. The first item is good news for those who advocate use of adult stem cells.  The second item is bad news for those who oppose the use of embryonic stem cells.  The third article is about therapeutic vs. reproductive cloning.  It illustrates how counterproductive it is for the current Administration to spurn the United Nations.  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story

[updated 10/27/2004]

Sunday, October 24, 2004

PIPA Poll Pinpoints Preposterous Precepts;
Propaganda Possibility Pondered

American Blog Party  and Brad DeLong have links that point to a PIPA poll, presumably to promote progressive public policy.  The poll shows what proportion of people hold certain beliefs about current geopolitical topics.  They also compare the frequency of these beliefs among Bush supporters compared to Kerry supporters.
Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions. [...]
In this post, I discuss the subtle difference between propaganda and plain old lies.  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

New Medicines; New Uses for Old Medicines

The-Scientist has a nice roundup of developments in pharmaceuticals for neurological and psychiatric conditions.  There is one that they do not mention, though: RU-486.  Read the synopsis and commentary, as well as the story about RU-486, at The Rest of the Story.

Saturday, October 23, 2004


I encountered a link to some exceptional photographs.  The link is on Tatler | Open Source in Education.  It occurs in the context of some political commentary, with which I happen to agree.  The photographs, though, are the attraction. 

The Good Enough Government
How Developmental Psychology Informs Voters

Tired of the ongoing political debate?  Me too.  That is why I am going to indulge in a little of the good old ultra-theory today.

The current political debate has gone beyond shrill, beyond bombastic, to being, well, useless.  It pretty much boils down to one of three things:

1. He said/did X, but what he really meant to do/say was Y, and Y is bad.
2. He said X, but it's a lie.  There he goes again.
3. He did not say/do X, so he's an idiot.

There might be a few more basic templates, but those three seem to be the main ones.  All boring; nothing new; nothing noteworthy.  What we need to do, in order to reinvigorate the discussion, is to get beyond the specifics, beyond the facts, and into pure abstract theory. 

Let's talk about the perfect government.  Start with two ends of a spectrum: a government could do nothing at all for its citizens, or it could do everything.  The government that does nothing is anarchy; the government that does everything is, for lack of a better word, panarchy.  I don't think any serious candidate takes either extreme position.  Rather, they advocate something in the middle.  Traditionally, the Republican position is toward the anarchy side: small government, minimal regulation.  The traditional Democratic position is more toward the panarchy side: more programs, more regulation.  Of course, the perfect government would not take a fixed position.  It would shift one way or the other, depending upon the situation.  Still, it is instructive to think for a moment about what the ideal position would be.

In developmental psychology, there is a concept that was developed by Donald Winnicott (1  2).  The concept is that of the "good enough" parent (3).  The good-enough parent responds to the needs of the child enough so that its needs are met, but not so much that the child fails to develop its own resources.  Ironically, the good-enough parent is not perceived as perfect, from the standpoint of the child.  For proper development to occur, there must be some frustration, some inadequacy, and some conflict. 

In general, the good-enough parent is more responsive with infants, and gradually less responsive as the child grows older.  This, however, is a dynamic process; it does not proceed mindlessly according to a preset rate.  For example, when a child starts high school, the parents might be a little more solicitous at first, then back off.  Then when the kid starts college, the parents might again be a little more attentive at first, then back off.  There is no way to establish, a priori, any kind of formula that will identify the perfect degree of attentiveness.  Therefore, the good-enough parent pays attention to what he or she is doing, then makes adjustments based upon outcomes. 

Notably, the good-enough parent does not  become so fixated upon a childrearing theory, so as to keep applying that theory, even though it is not working.

Obviously, there is a comparison to be made between the concept of the good-enough parent, and that of the ideal government.  The ideal government strikes a balance between doing nothing and doing everything; adapts to changing needs; pays attention to what works and what does not; and changes its strategy if it is not working out as planned or expected.

How night this work in practice?  Take the example of tinkle down economics.  The idea is that is government panders enough to rich people, the wealth will trickle down through the economy until everyone gets a fair share.  Some might object that this would be expected to work only in the absence of greed, and that it would be stupid to assuming an absence of greed.  Whatever,  it might be worth a try.  So, go ahead and institute some trickle-down policies.  If the gap in wealth between rich and poor grows, then you know the strategy is not working.  So try something else, like raising the minimum wage.  Don't get so fixated on your theory that you fail to notice that IT IS NOT WORKING. 

Another example: welfare reform.  Maybe the government is trying too hard, is getting too attentive, and people are not striving hard enough.  OK, let's back off a bit.  But if you see that more and more people are homeless, are descending into poverty, and are going without health insurance, PAY ATTENTION AND FIX IT.  Don't get so enamored of your theory that you fail to notice that IT IS NOT WORKING. 

Much of the political debate lately has been focused on the question of where the government should be, along the anarchy-panarchy scale.  Personally, I think that is pointless.  What we need to focus on are the strategic questions: how do you construct a system that pays attention to the outcome of any changes, and corrects itself if things are not working out?  How do you assure that strategies that are not working will be revised or discarded?

For the voters: how do you determine which candidates have the capacity to assess the outcome of their policies, and make appropriate changes?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Absentee Ballot Couriers?

I've heard that this is happening in Ann Arbor, too...
Absentee ballot couriers: Knauss voices opposition
[...] Drake said she received a phone call Tuesday from a man who heard of couriers calling people insisting they had to pick up absentee ballot.

Couriers can call people asking if they would like someone to pick up their ballots, but they can't insist on it or say it has to be done that way. People can mail in their ballots or deliver them to the auditor's office in person.

But Pottawattamie County Supervisor Loren Knauss left no doubt about what he thinks of this issue.

"It has to stop. We need to realize that when people pick up absentee ballots, there is the possibility that voter fraud could be committed and a chance that that ballot may never make it the courthouse where it is supposed to go," he said.

When asked if that was an accusation, Knauss said, "It's a reality. I can assure you that over the years, more than one ballot has not made it to the courthouse. [...]
I have not heard of anyone falling for this particular ploy, but it is being tried here, too.  Don't let anyone whom you do not know pick up your ballot.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

An "Enhanced Tool"

Readers in Michigan no doubt are, or at least were, big fans of Home Improvement.  Starring Tim Allen, Home Improvement  was a comedy show.  Mr. Allen was born in Colorado, but grew up in Michigan.  He's a funny guy.  The refrain in his show was always: "more power." 

More power is fine when you need to drill a hole or saw some wood.  It is not always a good idea, though, when you are trying to run a country.  Especially when you need the trust of the People in order to get elected.

Congress is working on a bill to respond to the concerns raised in the 9/11 Commission Report.  Fine.  That's what we sent them to Washington for.  The bill has already made it through the Senate, with strong bilateral support.  According to the Boston Globe:
The cooperative atmosphere began to evaporate when the panel head, Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced that Republican House negotiators had prepared a compromise proposal that Democrats said they had not been consulted on. Harman then accused the Republicans of pursuing a "take it or leave it" process.
Peter Hoekstra is another Michigander, but he's no comedian.  It is not funny when you announce a "compromise proposal," but did not consult the persons with whom you purportedly compromised.  It is even less funny when the "compromise" being offered includes a provision to legalize torture:

The original recommendations centered on establishing a powerful national intelligence director and a new counterterrorism center to coordinate intelligence gathering from multiple spy agencies. But one provision quietly added to the House bill would expand the ability of the United States to transfer terrorism suspects to countries other than the suspects' homeland for interrogation, where they could be exposed to treatment that is illegal in the United States, such as torture. [...]

"The torture provisions in the House bill make a mockery of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations," said Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Malden and a member of the Homeland Security Committee. He added that the measure is "inconsistent with international treaties, and it is contrary to our nation's values." Markey was among 60 lawmakers who wrote to the negotiators yesterday urging them to drop the provision when drafting a final bill.
What is the response from the White House?

The White House describes this flexibility as an "enhanced tool" to wage the war on terrorism. But others think it violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Hmmm.  An "enhanced tool."  

This is completely unacceptable.  If House Republicans really are proud of this provision, if they really think it is a good idea, let them put it in a second bill, called the "Bill to Allow Torture," and put it to a vote.  Let's get the real 9/11 bill passed now, and work on the Bill to Allow Torture next month.  If they can get it passed, well, more power to them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Factors and Common Denominators

Ah yes!  High School!  Those were the days!  I remember!  Hanging out at the pool hall.  Cherry cokes.  Girls.  Well, not many girls, really.  Wrestling practice.  And mathematics!  Sweet, sweet mathematics.  Things like proofs, matrix algebra, factors, and everybody's favorite: the lowest common denominator.

Quiz: what do the following terms have in common: "Factor",  and "lowest common denominator"? 

Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Texas Broadband Follies

The Texas broadband follies 

October 19, 2004, 4:00 AM PT
By John Borland

For signs of serious sickness in what passes for U.S. Internet policy, look no farther than the "golf-themed" Houston suburbs that are about to get government-subsidized broadband.

Early this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its latest round of funding for rural broadband projects, a program aimed at bringing farms, ranches and other rural communities onto the Net. Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemanby the year 2007." praised the loans as part of President Bush's efforts to bring broadband "to every home in America

According to the USDA official, the agency is having a hard time finding people to take the $2.2 billion in funding available this year. But it turned out that almost a quarter of the money was going to a company that serves high-end, master-planned suburbs just outside of Houston, with homes costing up to $1 million--hardly the type of community that needs subsidized Net infrastructure. Particularly when there are plenty of people in places like Hell, Mich. that still have to make a long-distance call to get on the Internet at all.

Is it just coincidence that these lucky Houston suburbs are part of House Republican Leader Tom Delay's congressional district? [...]

Commentary: Maybe Tom Delay should pay a visit to Hell.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Scientists on Politics

On The Dubious Biologist, I encountered a link to a series on New Scientist, pertaining to the interface between science and politics.  In part, this is notable because it is a British publication.  Nature, another British publication, also has a series on election politics, but most of the articles are available only to subscribers. 

Scientific American  published an editorial that is pertinent to the election (see also this article).  Science  magazine has a special section on the election.  Both of these source offer open access for these items.  The New England Journal of Medicine  also has published a series of Election 2004 articles, and has made them accessible to all.  They haven't collected them all in one place, the way Nature  and New Scientist  did, but a search on "Election 2004" (quotes included) brings up these five articles

The Economist  has published a series of US Election 2004 articles.  Many are premium content (i.e. for subscribers only), but many are open.  See this page  (and scroll down) for a list of open-access articles. 

I can't recommend that anyone read ALL of these articles, unless you are an undecided voter.  In that case, you just got some homework.

Search String Peculiarities
Stem Cells and Breastfeeding Share Spotlight
Deceit is Revealed

Every once in a while, it is interesting to look at the search strings that people use to find your blog.  Today I got a hit on:

"don reed" and otitis media

That string leads to exactly one hit on Google.  It surprised me, because I did not recall writing about either Don Reed or otitis media.  It turns out that Don Reed was mentioned in one of my posts, and otitis media in the next.  It looks as though there is only one place on the entire Internet that those two expression occur on the same page.

Don Reed is a professional scuba diver.  He probably has had something to say about otitis media (infection of the middle ear), because otitis or any sort is a real problem for a scuba diver.  He also is an author, working on a book about stem cell research (Take
A Stand: Roman Reed and the Secret Stem Cell Wars
).  The article I wrote quotes from one of his essays on the subject.  Why is a scuba diver interested in stem cell research?  His son, Roman Reed, was paralyzed in a football accident. 

OK, that explains one part of it.  As it happens, I wrote about breastfeeding the following day.  That post was an exposé.  Not an exposé as in wardrobe malfunction; rather, it was an exposé of a political malfunction.  You see, one of the political parties had caved in to big business, and watered down an ad campaign.  The ad campaign was developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, to promote breastfeeding.  Why would they be interested?  Because breastfeeding can bring substantial economic benefits to the country, as well as saving lives and lowering health care costs.  For a pro-economic growth, pro-life administration, breastfeeding is a perfect issue.  Who, except Starbucks, could possibly be against it?  Apparently, the infant formula industry is  against it, and they pressured the Bush Administration into canning several ads that would have promoted breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding lowers the incidence of otitis media in infants.  It also could save the country about $3.6 billion dollars. 

They say they are pro-life, but they start an unnecessary war that kills thousands of civilians in a country that did not attack us, fail to promote breastfeeding, and allow life-threatening pollution; they say they are for economic prosperity, yet pursue a policy that has plunged millions into poverty, led to the highest rate of homelessness in recent decades, and increased the gap between rich and poor, and failed to promote a simple, inexpensive practice that could save billions of dollars; they say they are for "sound science," but when that science leads to an objection by a minor industry, they side with the industry, not the science. 

Taken Out of Context

Everyone knows that a statement can be misleading,when taken out of context.  Take, for example, the following quote.  It is from an article  in The Guardian (found on The American Blog Party):

[...] A senior Republican, experienced and wise in the ways of Washington, told me last Friday that he does not necessarily accept that Bush is unstable [...]
This sounds like faint praise.  Indeed, why would a senior Republican not reject the accusation more forcefully?  In order to see what the "senior Republican" really meant, you have to see the whole context:

It does not help that Bush now lives in a positively Nixonian cocoon. He does not read newspapers; he sees television only to watch football; he makes election speeches exclusively at ticket-only events, and his courtiers consciously avoid giving him bad news. When he met John Kerry for their first bout on the debating platform, it was almost a new experience for the President to hear the voice of dissent.

A senior Republican, experienced and wise in the ways of Washington, told me last Friday that he does not necessarily accept that Bush is unstable, but what is clear, he added, is that he is now manifestly unfit to be President.

This, too, is a view that is widely felt, but seldom articulated and then only in private, within the Republican as well as Democratic establishments in Washington. Either way, the choice voters make on Tuesday fortnight should be obvious: whether he is unstable or merely unfit to be President - and I would argue that they amount to much the same - he should speedily be turfed out of office.
See what I mean?  Context is everything.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


My wife and I watched all the debates together, except she managed to sit through the last one.  I got bored with all the repetition and left before it was over.  She also watched Real Time with Bill Maher, which I did not, because I was off doing something else, like blogging. 

Later, sitting together, we came up with a New Rule.  Not  a funny New Rule; a serious New Rule. 

New Rule(10/8/04): Don't punish rednecks for being rednecks. This week, NASCAR fined Dale Earnhardt, Jr., for publicly saying the words, "It don't mean shit." You can't fine a redneck for that. That's not just an expression to them, it's the entire redneck philosophy! Lost your job? It don't mean shit. Wife run off with the UPS man? Don't mean shit. Entire rationale for a war proves to be false? It don't mean shit. That's the beauty of the lifestyle. If rednecks had to pretend they cared about stuff, they'd be yuppies.

What is the problem with lobbyists?  They give stuff to politicians.  They say it is not to buy access or to influence votes.  The politicians who get the stuff say it is not to buy access or influence votes.  Then we see something like what is going on in the oil industry.  They are charging record high prices, are making record profits AND they just got another tax cut.  They say the tax cut is supposed to stimulate the economy.  If you ask me, I'd say "that don't mean shit."   How many new jobs are going to be created with those tax cuts?  How many more gas station attendants will get health insurance?  How many will get a raise?

The problem with restricting lobbyists is similar to the problem with campaign finance reform.  It is hard to limit campaign contributions without violating the First Amendment right of free speech.  Apparently, the First Amendment gives all citizens the right to talk to there Congresspersons while flying a chartered Lear jet to Tahiti. 

The New Rule is that we do not try to limit what lobbyists say or do.  Except one thing.  Anytime they want to communicate with an elected or appointed official, they have to hire a stenographer from a government pool.  They have to pay for the stenographer, so there is no financial burden to the government.  But the stenographer comes out of a pool, drawn at random; neither the lobbyist nor the official has any say over who it is.  Then, every communication is recorded and transcribed, verbatim.  Any documents are labeled and copies made.  All expenses are recorded accurately.  The stenographer then prepares a report of exactly who said what, went where, spent how much, and gave what to whom.  The stenographer swears under oath that it is accurate.  Both the lobbyist and the official have to sign it.  Then it gets posted on the Internet.  All officials are to have official web sites, with a prominent link labeled "Dirty Laundry."  The link takes you to site where you can read all the reports. 

That's it.  No restrictions at all.  Just complete transparency. 

"It fried them"

Detainees at Guantanamo stripped, shackled
Coercion and abusive treatment described by former official at prison
Saturday, October 16, 2004 Posted: 10:45 PM EDT (0245 GMT)

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Uncooperative Guantanamo Bay detainees were regularly subjected to highly abusive treatment over a long period of time, unidentified guards at the U.S. military base, intelligence agents and others who worked in the prison told The New York Times.

U.S. military officials have long maintained such treatment had occurred in isolated cases and was not common. [...]

The Times reported in its Sunday editions that prisoners at Guantanamo deemed uncooperative were stripped to their underwear, shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor and forced to endure strobe lights and loud music played from close loudspeakers, while the air conditioning was turned up to maximum levels for periods as long as 14 hours.

The treatment was described to the newspaper by a military official who said he witnessed the procedure and others who said they participated in the techniques, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It fried them," the newspaper quoted the official as saying. The unidentified official told the newspaper he spoke because of anger over the treatment of the prisoners.

Army pathologist concedes errors in prisoner-abuse case
2004-10-16 / Associated Press /

Body parts lost in prisoner abuse case
October 15, 2004 - 9:59AM

Up to 28 soldiers may be charged in '02 prisoner deaths
By John J. Lumpkin
Associated Press
October 15, 2004

Report: Update on Iraqi Detainees  NEW (.doc file)

Detainee Profiles

These profiles were collected between August 2003 and April 2004 by CPT Iraq and are published here with the permission of the profiled individuals.

  1. Imad Abdul Raheen and Kamel Hassen Khoumais
  2. Mohammed Abbas Fraiyh Abd al Dulaimy
  3. Qusay Fayal Mousle
  4. Yaseen Taha - Importer
  5. Yasser Hameed Al Mohamedy
  6. Akram Kashkul Ali al-Dulaimi
  7. Arras Turky Hadi Hussain
  8. Ghason Antoine Azoo
  9. Hayder Muhammed Ali Mahdi
  10. Hayder Thamer Salman
  11. Idrees Younis Nuri
  12. Kahdhan Munther Ahmed Salih al-Obaydi
  13. Mohammed Ali Abdul Al Ghafur Abd Shakour Al Nakshafundy
  14. Wisam Adnan Hameed Ismaeel Hussain
  15. Story of a 70 year old man Killed in US custody - December 21, 2003

Released Detainee Profiles

  1. Sayyid Ali Abdul Kareem Al Madany - released May 20, 2004
  2. Maad Masseh and Omar Khalil Hassen al Obaidi - released May 2004
  3. Testimony of Saddam Saleh Al Rawi torture victim - released May 2004

Pfc. England faces court-martial
September 28, 2004

Bush claims God for his foreign policy

'Bush equates divine freedom with his own policies', said one commentator. 'But he has little or nothing to say about enemy-loving, social justice, care for the vulnerable and Jesus’s strong criticism of wealth.'

Makes No Sense At All

U.S. to Quit Inspecting Tobacco

Sunday, Oct. 17, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) - Legislation just passed by Congress abolishes
the requirement that the government inspect imported tobacco to
ensure it is not laced with chemicals and pesticides banned in the
United States but permitted elsewhere.

That means imported leaf, which U.S. tobacco companies are
increasingly relying on, could make cigarettes even more harmful,
said Tom Glynn, director of science and trends for the American
Cancer Society.

Glynn said about 60 of the 4,000 or so chemicals in cigarette
smoke are linked to cancer. "What this may do is just add to that
number, making an already toxic product even more toxic,'' he said.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

More on the Proliferation Security Initiative

I found out some more about the Proliferation Security Initiative, that Mr. Bush mentioned in defense of his record. The post is long. I put it on The Rest of the Story.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Nuclear Proliferation is the Single Most Serious Threat

Some of you may recall, from the first debate, this question:

Question 17
LEHRER: New question, two minutes, Senator Kerry.
If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?
KERRY: Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation. There's some 600-plus tons of unsecured material still in the former Soviet Union and Russia. At the rate that the president is currently securing it, it'll take 13 years to get it. [...]

President Bush replied that he agreed, nuclear proliferation is the single greatest threat to our security. He tried to counter Mr. Kerry's accusations, that the current Administration has not done enough to combat this threat:

BUSH: [...] My administration started what's called the Proliferation Security Initiative. Over 60 nations involved with disrupting the trans-shipment of information and/or weapons of mass destruction materials. [...]

Sounds good. But one of the nation's leading experts on nuclear weapons, Dr. Richard Garwin, disagrees. The link takes you to Dr. Garwin's bio. Among his many accomplishments: "He has been a member of the Scientific Advisory Group to the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff and was in 1998 a Commissioner on the 9-person "Rumsfeld" Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States." On March 9, 2004, he gave a lecture on the subject of nuclear weapons testing. In the lecture, he stated:

President Bush had good words in his speech of February 12, 2004, on the "Proliferation Security Initiative" but there's no money, and therefore nothing is likely to get done.

Damn. Damn damn damn. "there's no money, and therefore nothing is likely to get done."

The Corpus Callosum does not like radiation. Neural tissue is very sensitive to radiation. Without brain cells, nothing is likely to get done.

Gosh Darn!

From: David Zinkin Subject: [tvbarn2] Debate transcript generator Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2004 20:24:44 -0400 For the benefit of those who would rather watch something other than the Presidential debate Wednesday night, I offer my Do-It-Yourself Debate Transcript Generator program. It's written in Applesoft BASIC but should be easily portable to other OSes and languages.

10 K$ = "I HAVE A PLAN."
20 B$ = "IT'S HARD WORK."
30 FOR COUNT = 1 to 400
80 END

Hope this helps. - David

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Exciting New Finding in Antibiotic Treatment

This report from the BBC indicates that there is a method to boost the succeptibility of an extremrly dangerous bacterium to treatment with standard antibiotics.  Given the risk posed by the problem of antibiotic resistnace, this is great news. 

Hospital superbug treatment hope

MRSA bacterium
The researchers claim the treatment would remove the bug's 'super' status
A way of making the hospital 'superbug' MRSA vulnerable to the antibiotics it normally resists has been discovered, UK researchers say.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is so-called because it is immune to the antibiotic methicillin.

But scientists at Worcestershire firm Pharmaceutica found this resistance coud be neutralised by an amino acid called glycine.

Their research is published in New Scientist magazine. [...]

Some strains of the bacterium are also resistant to other antibiotics, including vancomycin, the "last resort" treatment for MRSA.

Methicillin works in the same way as penicillin, by blocking bacterial enzymes called PBPs, which normally strengthen cell walls.

The first strains of Staphylococcus aureus that were resistant to the drug appeared in 1961, just two years after it was first used.

It became resistant by picking up the gene for another PBP enzyme, PBP2a, which methicillin is unable to bind to. [...]
But the concentrations of the glycine compounds had to be extremely high to have this effect.

However, more recent tests by the researchers found a particular glycine compound, BT19976a, makes MRSA susceptible to antibiotics using concentrations regarded as safe.

Many of the antibiotics available to doctors cannot be used against MRSA because the doses needed would be toxic. [...]

The really exciting thing about this is that it represents a  new approach to the problem of antibiotic resistance. 

Misc. Debate Commentary
Re: Health Care

Mr. Bush stated that "we" stopped the bad flu vaccine from coming into the country.  That is incorrect.  The UK government revoked the license for the factory that makes it.  The USA had nothing to do with stopping the shipments. 

Even though bacterial contamination was first reported more than a month ago at a British flu vaccine factory, the Food and Drug Administration relied solely on the factory's owner for information on whether the problems were being resolved, the agency's acting commissioner said yesterday. The official, Lester M. Crawford, said the F.D.A. never called British regulators to talk about the problems at the Chiron Corporation's factory in Liverpool, even though the F.D.A. had routine communication with its British counterpart, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, on other matters. So the F.D.A. was caught by surprise when the British agency suspended the factory's license on Oct. 5, depriving the United States of nearly half the 100 million flu shots federal authorities expected to be used this winter.
During the most recent debate, Bush stated that we now are getting more vaccine from Canada.  In the prior debate, he said that importing drugs from Canada is not safe.  Mr. Bush said that government-run health care is bad.  After Kerry's rebuttal, Bush said that the care at the VA is very good:

We have a fundamental difference of opinion. I think government- run health will lead to poor-quality health, will lead to rationing, will lead to less choice.
Veterans are getting very good health care under my administration, and they will continue to do so during the next four years.
So, government-run health care is bad.  Unless it is good, that is.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Wired Brain

Controlling objects with thought is becoming a reality.

© Alamy

The tiny sensor consists of an array of 100 electrodes to capture signals from the brain.

© Alamy
Researchers have reported success is using an integrated cicuit, wired directly to the brain of a man with quadraplegia, to enable the man to contol a computer. At News@nature.com, there is a description of the process. It involved implanting a chip with 100 electrodes, each getting input from a single neuron. In the single case so far, the man was able to use a remote control for a TV set, send email, and play computer games.

The report did not say what his wife thought about him having control of the TV.

The report also mentions other techniques that potentially could offer similar benefits to patients with various kinds of paralysis. Some of the techiniques would be noninvasive. The authors caution that "the field is still waiting for a breakthrough," in that the current method requires extensive training to use.

Although it is not mentioned in the article, it occurs to me that an implantable device could have an additional uses, besides the control of a computer interface. It has been known for years that the brain has a limited capacity to rewire itself after an injury. For example, damage to the speech center in the brain leads to difficulty speaking, but some of that ability can be regained, as other parts of the brain figure out how to take over the function of the damaged part.

Granted, it would take decades of research to do, but it may be possible to use implanted electrodes to enhance the retraining process. I also could imagine a scenario in which implanted electrodes are used to exercise certain parts of the brain. This could, potentially, help slow the process of cognitive decline in a condition such as vascular dementia.

Yes, it's pure speculation, but isn't that what debate nights are for?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Open Access experiment

This blog is produced using only free software.  The operating system is SuSE Linux 9.1; the editor is NVu; and the blog itself is hosted by Google.  As open-source and freely-available software comes into wider use, we also are seeing a more widespread implementation of open-access content.  Now, one of the biggest player in the scientific content arena is experimenting with open access. 

An Open Access experiment from the Nature Publishing Group

The Nature Publishing Group, in partnership with the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), has announced that it is to launch a new online journal run on an Open Access model.

The new journal to be run by Nature Publishing Group (NPG) and EMBO is called Molecular Systems Biology; it will focus on the emerging field of systems biology at the molecular level. NPG stated its belief that "systems biology is an important field of research that has the potential to greatly advance our understanding of biology. Molecular Systems Biology will publish relevant, high-quality research in the evolving fields of bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics, microbial systems, cell signaling and computational networks, while helping to integrate data and theory to better understand the dynamic and complex nature of living systems." The publisher also intends to work together with the Systems Biology community to establish guidelines, standards and metrics for global complex datasets. The new journal will be launched next spring. Articles will be published only in an electronic version, following peer-review, and Open Access will be supported by an 'author-pays' pricing model. The author fees were not announced. [...]

The announcement came at the same time that Nature concluded an online discussion forum about Open Access publishing, edited by Nature correspondent Declan Butler. An editorial in Nature magazine suggested that one conclusion of the debate was that "one-size-fits-all solutions are ill-suited to the huge range of journals and business models, from those with low operating costs, low rejection rates and low added value to more selective journals with high costs and significant added value." The editorial is critical of political attempts to enforce one business model, but adds that, "Nature welcomes alternative models that deliver enhanced access, provided that they also foster added editorial and publishing value."

NPG and EMBO should be commended for adopting the Open Access model for Molecular Systems Biology. Such experiments by traditional publishers will help to demonstrate that Open Access business models are sustainable and can produce peer-review journals of high quality.


One of the leaders in the open-access movement is Biomed Central.  In fact, they have a website  that promotes this model, and a fairly convincing set of arguments that favor it.  They also provide a link  that enables members of the general public to send a comment to NIH regarding their initiative  to make all NIH-funded research reports available at no charge.  We have until November 16, 2004, to make comments. 

As part of on-going efforts to gather input on this issue, the NIH Director, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, held a series of discussion meetings to hear and consider the opinions and concerns of publishers, scientists, patient advocates, scientific associations, and other organizations. All of the meetings were open and were designed to ensure that in-depth discussions of stakeholder issues could occur.

After listening and carefully considering the views of publishers, patient advocates, scientists, universities, and others, the NIH drafted a proposed NIH Public Access Policy and posted it in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts on September 3, 2004, http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-04-064.html

and in the Federal Register on September 17, 2004, http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/06jun20041800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2004/04-21097.htm.

Public comments on the draft policy are encouraged and will be accepted for 60 days from the date of publication of the policy in the Federal Register, which is until November 16, 2004.

NIH also has posted a list  of scientific references that already offer free access to some or all of their content. 

I encourage all good Blogosphere citizens to leave a comment for the NIH, expressing support for their initiative.

Oh, BTW, Embryonic Stem Cells Do Offer Some Hope...

I use the "BTW" initialese because it really is incidental to the main argument.  That is, you cannot argue against a line of research on the grounds that it has not yet been shown to work.  If that were the case, we would not be funding antibalistic missle research (or much of any research, really). 

Scientists Use Embryonic Stem Cells To Prevent Birth Defect Death in Mouse Embryos
08 Oct 2004
© 2004 Medical News Today

Scientists may have complicated the "hot ethical battle" over embryonic stem cell research by maintaining the viability of mouse embryos with otherwise fatal genetic heart defects by injecting them with embryonic stem cells -- a case in which researchers "saved embryos by destroying embryos," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Quick, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/7).

In a study published in the Oct. 8 issue of the journal Science, Robert Benezra and colleagues from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York injected embryonic stem cells extracted from healthy mice into mouse embryos that were predisposed to develop fatal heart defects. The researchers discovered that when the embryonic stem cells were "incorporated" into the mouse embryos, they released a molecular signal that caused the defective heart cells to function normally, according to Long Island Newsday (Lane, Long Island Newsday, 10/8). [...]

'Most Definitive Evidence Yet'

The study provides the "most definitive evidence yet" that embryonic stem cells can help repair organs both by filling damaged areas and by secreting chemicals that allow damaged areas to rejuvenate themselves, the Washington Post reports.

"Most of the work on stem cells to date has focused on how to get these cells to turn into a heart cell, a kidney cell, a bone cell or whatever it is you need," Craig Basson, director of cardiovascular research at Cornell University's Weill Medical College in New York, said, adding, "The key scientific finding here is that stem cells can also modify the cells that are already there to repair, in this case, injured hearts." However, the researchers cautioned that the technique used in the study is a "long way" from being tested in humans because of "technical and ethical concerns," according to the Post (Weiss, Washington Post, 10/8). [...]

However, Michael Clarke, a developmental biologist and professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, said that the work has "huge significance" for demonstrating that embryonic chemicals can directly control organ development. Clarke said that he "doubt[s]" that adult stem cells -- favored by opponents of embryonic stem cell research -- would have the same regenerative qualities as embryonic stem cells, according to the Post (Washington Post, 10/8). [...]

For more information: http://www.kaisernetwork.org

For a contrary review, see this post  at Brain Shavings (where the trackback function seems to be nonfunctioning.)

Speaks Out on MD Embryonic Stem Cell Attitudes

This came in my email this morning, a day after I filled out the survey that they used as the basis for thier report.
U.S. Physicians Agree With Kerry on Stem Cell Research
-- Although Docs Indicate they Will Still Vote for President Bush --

Flemington, NJ – October 11, 2004 -- A study conducted over the weekend among U.S. physicians revealed that while responders indicated overwhelming support for the Kerry stance on stem cell research, they are still voting for President Bush.

Approximately 1,459 U.S. physicians participated in an on-line political testing survey conducted on October 9 and 10, by Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion (MCIPO) and HCD Research.

While physicians overwhelmingly support the Kerry view on stem cell research, their vote is going to President Bush. The President garnered nearly fifty percent (49.90%) of support from physicians, while Senator Kerry received just over forty percent (42.91%). Ralph Nader received just over two percent (2.19%) and others received five percent (5.00%).

The study also reveals that among physicians:

When presented with the Kerry and Bush stances on the issue the vast majority, seventy-nine percent (79%) agreed with the statement that: “This (stem cell research) could lead to breakthrough cures for many diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and spinal cord injuries, and this research uses only embryos that otherwise would be discarded.”

Forty-seven percent (47%) indicated that the Kerry view made them more likely to vote for the Senator and twenty percent (20%) responded that the President’s stance made them more likely to vote for him.

When presented with two statements regarding different ethical views of the topic physicians were asked to indicate the statement which more closely matched their view:

Twenty one percent (21%) supported the view: “This type of research crosses an ethical line by using cells from potentially viable human embryos, when this research can be done on animals or by using other types of cells.”

Seventy-nine percent (79%) supported the view: “This (stem cell research) could lead to breakthrough cures for many diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and spinal cord injuries, and this research uses only embryos that otherwise would be discarded.”

This on-going advertising study is being conducted by ReadMyLipz.com, a joint effort between HCD Research and Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion (MCIPO). The two organizations are conducting non-partisan advertising research throughout the election to measure voter reactions to the candidates’ advertisements. For more information on the survey methodology and testing results, access www.ReadMyLipz.com.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Glenn Kessler, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, HCD Research, Arthur Kover, Ph.D., Senior Consultant, HCD Research or Chris Borick, Ph.D., Associate Political Science Professor, Muhlenberg College, please contact Vince McGourty, M&M Communications, Inc., at 908-713-1267 or vinmcg@earthlink.net.

Contact: Vince McGourty
M&M Communications, Inc.
(908) 713-1267
Glenn Kessler
HCD Research, Inc.
(908) 788-9393