Thursday, March 31, 2005

In the Not Really News Category;
Anabolic Steroid Abuse in Adolescents

Just in case you are reading blogs because all the major news outlets are spewing noise, devoid of real information, about things that are not really news, here is a bit about a subject that is not really news, but which actually is meaningful.  From today's University of Michigan Health System news release:
’Roid rage, depression and suicide: U-M addiction expert warns of dangers of teen steroid use
Some of the damage from steroids is irreversible, doctor says
April 1, 2005

ANN ARBOR, MI -Suspicions of steroid use are clouding Major League Baseball at the start of its 2005 season, but a bigger problem than the image of the national pastime is the health impact of anabolic steroids on adolescents, a University of Michigan addiction expert says.

Brower cautions that young people may think steroids are safe when they hear of their sports idols taking them. In reality, the risks of steroid use can include serious and irreversible physical effects, as well as mental perils such as severe depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and violent aggression, known as “’roid rage.”

He notes that suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people ages 15-24. “This is an age group that is already at high risk,” says Brower, associate professor of psychiatry at UMHS. “When you add steroids, you are increasing the risk of suicide.” [...]
The complete article has links to more information about anabolic steroid abuse.

Messing around with hormones really is a bad idea, unless you know exactly what you are doing.  That is why the strongest topical steroid cream you can get over the counter is 0.1% hydrocortisone.  (Dermatologists scoff at it, saying it isn't really strong enough to do anything, other than relieve a minor itch.)  Recently, the FDA reviewed a request to put stronger products on over-the-counter status, and rejected it
FDA's Nonprescription Drugs and Dermatologic & Ophthalmic Drugs Advisory Committee members voted 21-5 that any topical corticosteroid that causes HPA axis suppression “under maximal use conditions” is not an appropriate over-the-counter switch candidate.
There wasn't much evidence that they could be harmful, (except in children with compromised immune systems) but there was evidence that they can cause changes in endocrince function. (They suppresses the HPA axis: the functional unit comprising the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands.)  The FDA panel was exercising caution, mostly based upon the general principle that messing with the endocrine system is tricky business.  This is wise. 

Of course, anabolic steroids used for increasing muscle mass will have a much stronger effect that a topical corticosteroid product.  The fact that the FDA would reject OTC status for the topical products is an indication of how nutty it would be for people to use anabolic steroids without medical supervision; or even with the supervision of an (unscrupulous) physician, if used for nonmedicinal purposes.


Someone asked me for a reference to the recent story about possible RNA inheritance. Here it is: Is RNA inheritance possible?

Washington Declined to Respond

Children 'starving' in new Iraq
Increasing numbers of children in Iraq do not have enough food to eat and more than a quarter are chronically undernourished, a UN report says.

Malnutrition rates in children under five have almost doubled since the US-led invasion - to nearly 8% by the end of last year, it says.  The report was prepared for the annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.  It also expressed concern over North Korea and Sudan's Darfur province.  Jean Ziegler, a UN specialist on hunger who prepared the report, blamed the worsening situation in Iraq on the war led by coalition forces.
[...] That point is aimed clearly at the US, but Washington, which has sent a large delegation to the Human Rights Commission, declined to respond to the charges, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva. [...]
While pundits and Bush apologists trumpet the burgeoning democracy in Iraq, and claim credit for pro-democracy rumblings in other countries, kids are starving twice as often now as they did before the liberation. 

This is our responsibility.  It is our fault.  We did that.  Damn, I feel sick.

This is the culture of life?

The essence of civilisation is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak.
--George W. Bush, 3/31/2005

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

On the Uselessness of Intuition;
An Untestable Hypothesis to Explain Creationism

According to the doctrine of logical positivism, statements that cannot be tested for truth or falsity are "meaningless."  My freshman philosophy professor referred to that as  "unfortunate" terminology, stating that statements can have meaning of a sort, even if they are not testable.  In the course of daily life, we often have to make important decisions even when we do not have the time or the ability to test all of our assumptions.  In fact, sometimes we have to make important decisions based upon assumptions that are impossible to test.  In such situations, we make our best guess and go from there. 

An examination of the nature of intuition leads to an hypothesis about the origin of Creationism and Intelligent Design.  Continue reading about my untestable hypothesis of the origin of untestable hypotheses here.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Internet Search Tip #467487

To the person who searched for "neuroscience income":

Forget it.  Instead, try "oil tycoon income", or "corrupt politician income", or "defense contractor income", or even "used car salesperson income".  Neuroscience income will get you nowhere.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Unintended Consequences (?);
A Brief Political Essay

On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified. 
Section 1.

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2.

The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Of course, it led to a dramatic surge in the power of organized crime, which did not go away even after the Amendment was repealed in 1933.  We still are suffering from the effects of that legislation. 

Now, we are seeing something similar in Ohio:
Issue 1 conflicts with domestic abuse law, judge says
Marriage amendment makes portion of law unconstitutional, he rules
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Brian Albrecht
Plain Dealer Reporter

Ohio voters who approved a constitutional amendment last fall that denied legal recognition of unmarried and gay couples probably didn't envision the measure being successfully used as a defense in domestic violence cases.

But that became a reality Wednesday when Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Stuart Friedman ruled that the amendment, approved by voters as Issue 1, made part of the state's domestic violence law unconstitutional.

Friedman said that because Ohio's domestic violence law recognizes the relationship between an unmarried offender and victim as one "approximating the significance or effect of marriage," it represents a direct conflict with the amendment's prohibition against such recognition and is thus unenforceable.
The similarity, of course, is that both pieces of legislation turned out to have unintended consequences.

Changing a legal constitution is serious business.  It's sort of like doing surgery on someone.  It calls for aequanimitas: without due restraint, there can be unintended consequences.  In the case cited above, the perpetrator had his charges reduced from a felony to a simple misdemeanor. Although the federal Constitution can be changed only after a lengthy process, state constitutions and other legislation can be changed quickly, by the same sort of flash mob mentality that resulted in S.653.CPS (For the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo).  

Today, my wife told me about the situation with Ohio's Issue 1.  She was upset, thinking that this could portend some kind of gradual erosion of our civilization.  I told her not to worry.  Although Issue 1 and S.653.CPS prove that stupid legislation can be passed quickly, it should not happen very often. After all, we have the protections afforded by Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, and a multi-party political system.   Then I remembered that all of those protections are under attack by the Republican Party. 

I told her to start worrying again.

Sure, not all supporters of the Republican Party actually want those protections to be removed.  But they all are complicit in the process, and all will bear responsibility for the consequences.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Bishops Fight Death

Back when I was a decent chess player (I haven't played in years) I was accused of having "stealth bishops."  Indeed, on a chessboard, the bishop can be a sneaky little devil.  In , there is a maneuver known as the pin, in which a piece -- such as a bishop -- threatens an opponent's piece, and the opponent's piece shelters a more valuable piece.  The piece that is threatened cannot be moved to safety, because that would leave the more valuable piece in danger. 

Now, we hear that the Catholic bishops are doing exactly that:
Bishops Fight Death Penalty in New Drive

Published: March 22, 2005

WASHINGTON, March 21 - The country's Roman Catholic bishops on Monday announced a more prominent effort to bar the death penalty, saying they hoped to build on a continuing shift in public opinion, and among Catholics in particular, against capital punishment.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops staked out a comprehensive position against the death penalty 25 years ago. But Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., said the conference was beginning a campaign for "greater urgency and unity, increased energy and advocacy."
Not that I always agree with Catholic dogma, but, like them, I oppose the death penalty.  Of course, they have opposed the death penalty for a long time.  This raises the question, why mount a campaign now?  The article implies that the reason is that there is a "continuing shift in public opinion."  Perhaps.

What is more likely is that it is the Terri Schiavo case that provides them with an opportunity to press their cause.  The dogma of the Catholic church is at variance with that of most religious ring-wing Americans.  Among the religious Right, the tendency is to oppose the right to die, but support the death penalty.  What the bishops have done is brilliant.  By raising the issue now, the put the religious Right in a bind: if they don't give up their support for the death penalty, they expose their position on the right-to-die issue.

Perhaps that solves the mystery of Kasparov's retirement.  It's not that he wants to get involved in politics; it's that he knows he can't compete with the Catholic bishops.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Secret U.S. Plans For Iraq's Oil

I have thought for a long time that George W. Bush planned on an invasion of Iraq, even before he won the 2000 presidential election.  The evidence has been slight, but highly suggestive.  Now, the evidence is stronger, albeit still inconclusive.  Previously, I had read rumors of US plans to commercialize Iraqi oil production.  On March 17, though, the BBC aired a show that reveals documents that allegedly prove that the US was planning, in great detail, how to do this.  They report that much of this planning took place before September 11, 2001. (Not that the war in Iraq has anything to do with 9/11; it's just a convenient date to remember.)

The BBC has posted much of the information here.  One of the reporters, Greg Palast, has images from some of the documents hereCommon Dreams News Center  has posted an article on the subject here.  The most outrageous statement in all the material is this:
Mr Aljibury, once Ronald Reagan's "back-channel" to Saddam, claims that plans to sell off Iraq's oil, pushed by the US-installed Governing Council in 2003, helped instigate the insurgency and attacks on US and British occupying forces.

"Insurgents used this, saying, 'Look, you're losing your country, your losing your resources to a bunch of wealthy billionaires who want to take you over and make your life miserable," said Mr Aljibury from his home near San Francisco.

"We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities, pipelines, built on the premise that privatization is coming."
I don't know how Mr. Aljibury draws this conclusion, but I would tend to pay attention to what he says, given that he obviously has connections in high places.  If this is true, then it would follow that many of our service personnel are being killed and injured because of Mr. Bush's and Mr. Cheney's plans to help the American oil companies. 

I know this is not news to the Blogosphere: Technorati lists 4,513 posts matching the string "Palast".  I mention this because it highlights the tragedy of all those cases of PTSD that we are seeing from the War.

Oh, and about the allegation that Mr. Bush planned the war even before he was elected in 2000 ... Mr. Aljibury disagrees: he thinks that we were plotting a coup d'etat, not a war.  So maybe I was wrong about that. 

Veterans and PTSD;
Focus on Women Veterans

The two-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war has led to media attention for the welfare of veterans.  Articles in the Chicago Tribune, the Sacramento Bee, and others remind that the War has a heavy cost, in that many service personnel will be left with emotional trauma.  In this post, I review those articles, plus some material from other sources, to focus on the problems that afflict our women veterans.  I also take a look at how well our government is taking care of them.  Continue reading here

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Congress Agrees on Schiavo Bill

Technorati  lists over thirteen thousand blog posts matching the string "Schiavo".  Google News  lists over three thousand news articles on the subject. 
Congress agrees on Schiavo bill
Brain-damaged woman's mom begs: 'Save my little girl'

Saturday, March 19, 2005 Posted: 2113 GMT

"We are confidant that this compromise addresses everyone's concerns," DeLay said. "We are confidant it will provide Mrs. Schiavo a clear and appropriate avenue for appeal in federal court.

"And most importantly we are confidant this compromise will restore nutrition and hydration to Mrs. Schiavo as long as that appeal endures."

The Senate will meet in extraordinary session Saturday and the House will meet Sunday afternoon.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill.
 Politicians are busy taking advantage of the free publicity provided by traditional media coverage of this unfortunate situation.  Some pundits, though, are already skeptical.   Some, for example, express the view that politicians are basically engaging in political grandstanding with this legislation.  Indeed, the fact that "Molotov" DeLay is speaking out in favor of the legislation adds credibility to that view.  However, I do not know of any objective test that can be applied to the text of legislation that will reveal the intent and sincerity of the legislators who passed it.

When I first heard about the legislation, I immediately thought of the lyrics of the 1973 Steely Dan song, Show Biz Kids:
[...] Show biz kids making movies
Of themselves you know they
Don't give a **** about anybody else [...]
I guess I'm too prudish to put swear words up on my blog. 

Perhaps, though, the implication is a little harsh.  After all, accusing congresspersons of exploiting a situation for personal gain is a rather serious mater.  But hey, they are turning Ms. Schiavo into a political football.  Don't expect me to be generous.

Back to the legislation: The closest thing to a test of sincerity is the money test.  If legislation includes funding to accomplish the purported goal, then it probably was written with sincerity.  The Library of Congress site, Thomas, provides the text of the legislation.  I read it today.  There is no funding for long-term care of persons in a persistent vegetative state.  No Funding = No Sincerity.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I Really Wanted to Like Condi, but...

Did you know that there are several blogs devoted to adolation of Condoleeza Rice?

I suppose I can understand that; after all, I wanted to like her.  I wanted to believe that not all the members of the Bush Inner Circle were somehow tainted.  But, alas, it was not to be.  Continue reading here.

UCS Roundtable Discussion in Ann Arbor

I got the following e-mail from the Union of Concerned Scientists. I will not be able to go to the meeting, but I would appreciate it if one or more bloggers in the Ann Arbor area could go and report on it:
Dear Friend, We thought you, as a UCS supporter, might be interested in attending a special roundtable discussion on the use and misuse of science by the Bush administration. The event will take place at the University of Michigan's International Institute Building, located at the corner of South University and East University in Ann Arbor at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, March 21. The event is free and open to the public. The scientific community is uniting around a growing concern that the Bush administration has suppressed, distorted, and manipulated scientific evidence and advice across a broad range of issues--from climate change to reproductive health to childhood lead poisoning. It has become clear that significant reforms are needed to protect science from abuse and to ensure that policy decisions are made with access to the best available science. This spring, in partnership with professors, students, non-profit organizations, and scientific societies, UCS is raising awareness and activism about this important problem by supporting the organizing of scientific integrity roundtables on university campuses from coast to coast. The events will feature local and nationally known scientists discussing the current problem, its impacts, and reforms that can prevent the abuse of science by the current and future administrations. See the list of speakers for the event below. This roundtable is part of the UCS Restoring Scientific Integrity campaign. We hope you can make it. Sincerely, Nathalie Highland Stewardship Officer **************** Roundtable on Scientific Integrity in Public Policy Making Sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the University of Michigan Science, Technology, and Society Program. Date and time: March 21, 2005 (Monday), 4-6 pm Location: International Institute, 1636 SSWB (corner of South University and East University) A moderated panel of presentations and discussion about the suppression and distortion of scientific findings by high-ranking administrators in the current administration, as well as a movement to restore scientific integrity in federal policy making. We encourage students to attend. Refreshments served. Panel Moderator: Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer, Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Dr. Steve Easter, Mathew Alpern Collegiate Professor Emeritus, Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Dr. Gerald Smith, Professor Emeritus, Museum of Zoology Ms. Julie Halpert, Adjunct Faculty, School of Natural Resources & Environment; environmental journalist Dr. Edward A. Parson, Professor of Law, Associate Professor of School of Natural Resources & Environment Lexi Shultz and Michael Halpern, Union of Concerned Scientists Program Introduction, Nadelhoffer Union of Concerned Scientists campaign for restoring scientific integrity, Shultz Selecting scientific advisors to federal agencies, Easter Mercury contamination and endangered-species management, Smith The role of the media, Halpert Science and policy of global warming, Parson Questions, comments, and discussion with the audience will follow each 10-minute presentation and occupy most of the second hour.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Still No Foal

I am spending my evenings keeping the birthing stall clean, and doing various other chores, rather than blogging.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Inflammation Control Gets Fishy;
Lessons in Critical Thinking

The medical establishment was surprised recently when it was confirmed that cox-2 inhibitors could increase the risk of certain kinds of vascular disease.  Although some prior studies had suggested that this might be the case, the evidence was not strong enough to draw any firm conclusions.  One reason for the skepticism was that there was not any obvious mechanism for such an effect.  A study (abstract, editorial summary) in the most recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine now hints at such a mechanism. 

In this post, I discuss the results of a study of the antiinflammatory properties of a compound derived from fish oil, and use the findings as the basis for a discussion of critical thinking skills.  Continue reading here.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Tom DeLay's Logic

I know I sometimes criticize the mainstream media for reporting on things that are so trite, they simply are not news anymore.  Now I am going to do the same thing. 

Tom "Molotov" DeLay, the US house majority leader, has said something incredibly stupid.  I ran across a link to this on Dispassionate Liberalism:
Bush Rejects Delay, Prepares Escalated Social Security Push

By Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page A04

[...] After the meeting, DeLay lashed out at AARP, the seniors group that has led opposition to the Bush plan. "It's incredibly irresponsible of the AARP to be against a solution that hasn't even been written yet and running ads trying to convince people that personal retirement accounts is like going to Las Vegas and playing the lottery," he told reporters.  [...]
It would seem that if it is true that "It's incredibly irresponsible of the AARP to be against a solution that hasn't even been written yet...", then it also is incredibly irresponsible for the President of the United States of America to be flying around the country -- at taxpayer expense -- to promote a plan that hasn't even been written yet.

Yes, I know, DeLay making a fool of himself is hardly newsworthy.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A Nation of Clones

If you want the news, all you know about is Michael Jackson and the killer in Atlanta.  Foreign policy, health, environmentalism, and education seem to have dropped off the national radar.  Does anyone know, for example, that a UN committee just recommended a resolution to ban human cloning?

True to form, we here in the USA don't seem to care about the UN. 
Illinois cuts testing on 1 of 3 R's
ISAT drops writing, plus social studies

By Diane Rado
[Chicago] Tribune staff reporter
Published March 11, 2005

For the first time in more than a decade, Illinois students no longer have to take substantive writing exams or tests measuring their knowledge of fundamental principles of U.S. government and history--the result of some of the most severe state testing cutbacks in the nation.

The cuts are playing out this week, as hundreds of thousands of grade school children take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test used to judge school progress.

The state's 3rd, 5th and 8th graders are taking only reading and math tests, and 4th and 7th graders are taking only science tests. Next month, high school juniors will take pared-down exams in reading, writing and math, the only tests required under the No Child Left Behind federal education reforms. [...]
Illinois had to cut something, I guess.  They estimate that getting rid of history, government, and some writing tests will save six million dollars.  Instead, they will concentrate on testing that requires mostly rote memorization.  I guess the skills required for critical thinking are not a priority for this government.  Nor, apparently, is knowledge of government or history.  I actually did not realize that before now.  NCLB does not require testing about government. 

After all, if the People know something about government and history, they might be able to criticize the government.  Can't have that, can we?  Let's force them to spend all their resources learning stuff that does not contribute to informed political discourse. 
[...] national social studies organizations are alarmed at what they see as a retreat from such critical subjects as U.S. history, geography and economics, which they blame in part on the narrow testing focus of No Child Left Behind. [...]
It seems that we are set to defy the UN once again.  They vote for no cloning, and here we are, constructing an educational system that does nothing but produce propaganda-ready clones.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Neonatal Mortality Examined;
A Case Study of National Solipsism

Our mare's udder is leaking, and there are various other signs of impending labor.  I won't bother you all with the anatomical details.  My wife has been cleaning the birthing stall, reading and re-reading about foaling, and otherwise engaging in nesting behaviors. 

I help her out; but overall, I am not too concerned.  Horses have been foaling for a really long time, mostly without human intervention.  Nonetheless, when deciding what to blog about, I find myself drawn to this topic:

The Lancet, which is the UK's version of the New England Journal of Medicine, recently completed a huge project.  They had several authors examine on different aspects of infant mortality.  The resulting papers have been published online, open-access (free registration required). 
"At The Lancet, we view this partnership between scientists, health workers, and journal editors as the most important public-health campaign we have taken part in for a generation." Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, introduces the Neonatal Survival Series [...]

3 million out of 4 million neonatal deaths could be saved each year by the implementation of low-tec and low-cost interventions, conclude authors of the landmark Lancet Neonatal Survival series published online Thursday March 3 2005.

99% of deaths in the first month of life (the neonatal period) occur in developing countries--yet virtually all published research on neonatal health concerns the 1% of neonatal deaths in the developed world. The Lancet's Neonatal Survival Series addresses a major gap in knowledge and provides new evidence detailing the causes of these deaths and the simple, effective interventions that are available to prevent them. The deaths of 10,000 newborn children every day--largely ignored in global public-health policy--demands immediate and sustained action from international agencies, professional organisations, and national governments of both rich and poor countries alike.

When, where and why are four million newborn babies dying each year?
The first article in the series details the extraordinary statistics of neonatal mortality:
  • Three-quarters of neonatal deaths occur in the first week of life, with the highest risk of death on the first day of life.
  • Of all deaths in children under the age of five years, nearly 40% occur during the first month of life.
  • South-central Asia has the highest number of neonatal deaths, while sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates. Two-thirds of deaths occur in just 10 countries The major direct causes of neonatal deaths globally are
  • Infections (36%)
  • Premature birth (28%)
  • Asphyxia (23%)
They are not kidding when they say this is an important public health project.  According to their authors, three out of the four million infant deaths are preventable.  They catalog 16 interventions, at an estimated cost of $4.1 billion dollars per year, that could prevent three million neonatal deaths every year. 

Aside: Four point one billion dollars is a lot of money: it is almost as much as we spend in one week, fighting the war in Iraq. 

Some of the articles in the series are highly technical, meaning that most, but not all, of the high school juniors and seniors that I know could understand them.  Even if they are hard to read, everyone should read them. 

I'll close by citing the editor:
While the infant and the mother have been at the centre of efforts to protect early childhood, the newborn period has been relatively neglected. This marginalisation is difficult to square with the bare numbers. 8 million children are either stillborn or die each year within the first month of life. This figure never makes news.

The reason is cruelly straightforward. Despite the rhetoric of poverty reduction and aid that marks much of today's foreign-policy debate, the life of a child in a low-income country is worth less to those with political power than the life of a child in a high-income country. Those lives are worth less to those with political power because they are worth less to the people who elect politicians into power--either through ignorance or through a conscious decision to weigh life differently for different peoples. This lamentable vision was never more stark than in the way democratic nations sanctioned what came to be the reckless killing of children in Iraq.4

The aim of the present Lancet series is to erase the excuse of ignorance for public and political inaction once and for all. If we now continue to fail children under threat, we will be delivering a verdict of wanton inhumanity against ourselves. We will be a knowing party to an entirely preventable mass destruction of human life. The weapon that will be wielded in this crime will not be a bomb, a biological agent, or an aeroplane. It will be something far more sinister--withdrawal from the universe of human reason and compassion into a national solipsism that degrades the values that we claim to revere.
That says it all.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Serenity Revealed

In the category of Things Found While Looking for Other Things:

Serenity™ = Natural Lithium + Orotate
+ Micro Vortex Enteric Coating

Lithium has been one of the most commonly prescribed anti-depressants for decades.

The chemical  forms of Lithium (Lithium Citrate or Carbonate) are treatments for mood swings, depression and bi-polar disorder. The problem is that chemical anti-depressants can be highly toxic with severe negative side effects.

Serenity™ is the all-natural, mineral  form of Lithium. It is effective, safe, non-toxic, non-addictive and has no side effects!
Here is a web EXCLUSIVE!  The Corpus Callosum has obtained samples of all-natural MINERAL lithium from Serenity™  and some of that nasty CHEMICAL lithium from generic lithium carbonate, from a DRUGSTORE.  After days of spectral analysis, I am prepared to offer the following comparison:
CHEMICAL lithium MINERAL lithium

Not to be too harsh, critical, or anything unpleasant, but this advertisement for Serenity™  is utter NONSENSE.  CHEMICAL NONSENSE, or MINERAL NONSENSE, it does not matter.  Probably most readers know enough chemistry to see right through this charade.  For those of you who need a little refresher...

Lithium is an element.  That means it does not matter where it came from.  Lithium is lithium.  Three protons, three (or four, depending on the isotope) neutrons, and three electrons.  Lithium is a drug, no matter where it comes from.  For them to say that "chemical" lithium "can be highly toxic with severe negative side effects;" while saying that "mineral" lithium is "safe, non-toxic, non-addictive and has no side effects,"  is NONSENSE.  Yes, lithium can be toxic, if taken incorrectly.  No, lithium is not addictive.  Yes, lithium does have side effects. 

As an historical aside, the beverage named 7-up originally was a type of mineral water that was contained, among other things, lithium citrate.  In 1950, they wisely removed the lithium.  Probably some people with mild mood disorders felt a little better if they drank the original 7-up often.  But using it for this purpose without medical supervision is a really bad idea.  I have no idea how anyone gets away with selling it on the Internet, without requiring a prescription. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Big Power, Meet the Skeptics;
What Biology Can Teach Politicians

The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal -- CSICOP -- publishes the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.  In January, they published an article about the electrical power industry.  Although this is not their usual bailiwick, it is a valid topic: the authors present a skeptical look at some of the fundamental assumptions made by the Industry, and present a credible case for skepticism. 

In this post, I review the arguments for promoting the decentralized production of electrical power.  I also examine the case for deregulation.  While the authors make a good case for the engineering aspects of their proposition, I find that their policy recommendations are faulty.  This is not because they do not understand civil engineering; it is because they don't understand biological systems.  Continue reading here.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Checkpoint Etiquette

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena arrived in Rome SaturdayBy now, we've all heard about the Italian journalist, held hostage, who was released, only to be shot by American troops.  The Christian Science Monitor has an article written by an American journalist in Iraq.  She described the situation at many checkpoints; this helps us understand how these unfortunate events occur.  It turns out that part of it is a cultural difference.  Under Saddam, driving slowly would attract unwelcome attention.  The best way to avoid notice was to drive fast.  This, of course, is the opposite of what people in the US do: when we see a police car, we slow down.  Her narrative explains the cultural difference.

What Iraq's checkpoints are like
Annia Ciezadlo
March 07, 2005

[...] If it's confusing for me - and I'm an American - what is it like for Iraqis who don't speak English?

In situations like this, I've often had Iraqi drivers who step on the gas. It's a natural reaction: Angry soldiers are screaming at you in a language you don't understand, and you think they're saying "get out of here," and you're terrified to boot, so you try to drive your way out.

I remember one terrifying day when my Iraqi driver did just that. We got to a checkpoint manned by Iraqi troops. Chatting and smoking, they waved us through without a glance.

Relieved, he stomped down on the gas pedal, and we zoomed up to about 50 miles per hour before I saw the second checkpoint up ahead. I screamed at him to stop, my translator screamed, and the American soldiers up ahead looked as if they were getting ready to start shooting.

After I got my driver to slow down and we cleared the second checkpoint, I made him stop the car. My voice shaking with fear, I explained to him that once he sees a checkpoint, whether it's behind him or ahead of him, he should drive as slowly as possible for at least five minutes.

He turned to me, his face twisted with the anguish of making me understand: "But Mrs. Annia," he said, "if you go slow, they notice you!"

This feeling is a holdover from the days of Saddam, when driving slowly past a government building or installation was considered suspicious behavior. Get caught idling past the wrong palaces or ministry, and you might never be seen again. [...]
This report illustrates two things.  For one, cultural differences show up in surprising ways.  Perhaps this could be addressed by hiring more anthropologists.  For another, unfortunate incidents are inevitable when you have a lot of nervous people with big guns.  The best way to prevent this kind of thing is to not start wars unnecessarily. 

Some critics may say that this shows how poorly the occupation was planned.  Personally, I don't think it was planned badly -- from the point of view of those who did the planning.  We know they spent lots of time planning it, probably more than two years.  Some readers are familiar with the fact that "Plans for post-Saddam Iraq" were discussed at the Administration's first National Security Council meeting -- in February, 2001.  That was about two weeks after the inauguration, several months before September 11, and more than two years before the invasion of Iraq. Cynics think this suggests that Mr. Bush was planning the invasion even before he was elected. 

By now it is clear that the war had exactly the consequence intended: record profits for oil companies and defense contractors.  Blood and money from poor people, going to subsidize the adventurism of the ultra-rich. 

But, then, these unfortunate incidents are inevitable when you have a lot of cold-hearted people with big bank accounts.  The difference between nervous people with big guns, and cold-hearted people with big bank accounts, is this:  the people with the guns kill people one at a time; the people with the money kill by the thousands.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Lying to Military Personnel

I was going to write about how president from Connecticut violated the Ten Commandments, based upon this item, (hat tip: Think Progress) from that radically liberal source, Defensetech.com:
Last month, the Bush administration announced that, in the Pentagon's 2006 budget, there would a big bump in the so-called "death benefit" for military families. If a soldier was killed in war, administration officials promised, his loved ones would get a $100,000 lump sum -- up from just $12,420 -- plus an extra $150,000 in life insurance payouts. It seemed like a great idea. Everybody cheered.

But then, something curious happened. Or rather, didn't happen. The Pentagon never included the money for a bigger death benefit in its budget. So now, the Army has gone to Congress, asking for an extra $348 million to keep the administration's word.
It has been a while since I have actually read the Ten Commandments.  At first, I though maybe I could go over to the local courthouse, and read them on the statue there.  But no, those dratted activist judges ordered that the statue be removed.  So, I had to endure the hardship of looking them up on the Internet.  I learned something.  It turns out that lying is not a violation of the Ten Commandments, unless one is bearing false witness against one's neighbor.

Why is it that the political benefit of making a promise always seems to be greater than the political damage from breaking a promise?

NRP104 Pipeline Update;
New Old Drug for ADHD

I haven't written about neuroscience for a long time.  Since Tuesday, to be exact.  That has got to change.  Yesterday, I found some information about NRP104.  Due to clamoring demand from hordes of readers, all curious about NRP104, I'll tell all I know.  It is a

For decades, amphetamine has been one of the two main treatments for ADHD.  Amphetamine and methylphenidate are old molecular entities, so the only marketing action has been in repackaging them into various intermediate and long-acting forms. 

When I read that yet another company is coming up with yet another way to deliver amphetamine to the human brain, I thought there couldn't be much substance to it.  Perhaps I was wrong.  A company called New River Pharmaceuticals has developed what they call Carrierwave™ technology.  Basically, this is a method of modifying existing drugs to alter their pharmacokinetics: where they go in the body, how fast they get there, and how quickly they go away.  Of course we have to have a long Latin-sounding name for that.  (NEJM has a good, free, but somewhat technical review of the clinical implications of pharmacokinetics here.)

If you don't want to wade through all the technical stuff, but are curious about how  alterations in a drug's pharamcokinetics can make it better, or worse, read the rest here.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Army and Marine Recruiting Shortfalls

Both ground services are having trouble meeting their monthly goals for recruitment of new troops.  Although they are just now falling short of their numerical goals, the problem has been brewing for some time.
The Army's problem has been developing for several months as the pool of volunteers who have agreed to enter service after a specified delay has shrunk and as the Army pushes new volunteers into service as fast as possible. Recruits signing up now typically wait about 50 days before shipping out to boot camp, compared with 110 days last year.
I heard an interview with a Marine officer who is in chart of their recruitment efforts.  He said that it is too soon to worry; what they care about is the yearly goal, not the monthly goals.  The NYT article implies that the concern about casualties may be one reason for the shortfalls. 

I can't prove it, of course, but I think there are two other reasons.  After all, anyone who signs up for the military knows about the risk of death, whether we are at war or not.  Other factors to consider include the fact that the public is figuring out that this is not a just war.  The president lied to us to get us to go to war.  One reason people join the military is that it seems like an honorable thing to do.  The fact that the war is based on a lie means that the President has tarnished that honor.  Not a good recruitment method.

Another possible factor is the public's perception of the troops.  Overall, people are determined, in this war, to not disrespect the soldiers the way the soldiers returning from Viet Nam were disrespected.  That is a good thing, and for the most part, it seems to be working.  But every day, we hear about the torture scandals.  At first, the Administration said that it was "a few bad apples."  But that charade is getting harder to maintain.

I can't think like an 18-year-old young man anymore, but it seems as though, from the perspective of a young adult, it would be more difficult to feel good about joining an organization that has been connected with systematic abuses of human rights.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Social Security Non-Debate

For the past few weeks, I have been thinking about writing a long piece about the Social Security debate.  I've read entries in economist's blogs, political blogs, and eclectic blogs; articles from the Economist (1  2  3), Economic Policy Institute, and various other authoritative sources.  But two things have kept me from joining the fray.  First, other bloggers are doing a fine job.  Second, there really isn't anything to debate.

All of what I've read on the subject, so far, has taught me that a lot of smart people have a lot to say about the subject.  Except for one thing.  Nobody is talking about the plan the president has put forward.  The reason, of course, is that he has not put forward a plan.   As far as I am concerned, until he does, there is nothing to talk about.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Health Care Reform

Tipped off by the Middle Earth Journal, I just read an article entitled The Health of Nations, posted on The New Republic website.  It was written by Dr. Arnold Relman, who was pretty good credentials.  He agrees with me, in part, by advocating a limited national health insurance program.  He actually proposes a more complex solution, that would include a national system to provide basic care for everyone, then a hybrid system that would provide everything else.  He takes great care to point out the problems with the current plan of consumer-driven health care.  (CDHC is a euphemism for the current plan of promoting high-deductible insurance plans with health savings accounts.)  For example:
For a start, high-deductible insurance is not likely to produce reductions in expenditures, except among low- and modest-income families, who would feel financial pressure to cut their doctor visits and their use of other medical services. There is good experimental evidence that high deductibles have such selective effects, which expose the most vulnerable patients to greater health risks. Higher-earning beneficiaries would not feel such pressure and would continue to use all medical services freely. Whatever reductions in total expenditures might occur would be achieved largely through reducing services to those with lower earnings.
I don't have a lot to add to this, except one thing.  One problem with the CDHC concept, that Dr. Relman did not mention, would be a consequence of the problem noted in the citation.  If there were a subset of patients who were willing to spend freely, then physicians would have an incentive to tailor their practices to attract those patients.  That would mean all kinds of nonsense, such as big offices, luxurious waiting rooms, and the like.  Not all would do this, of course, but there still would be a problem.  The physicians who actually tried to keep costs down would be "rewarded" by having a higher proportion of patients who are trying to skimp on health care expenditures.  Those patients, on average, are a lot harder to treat: it is easier to get the job done, when cost is no object. 

Of course, some well-off patients will not be attracted by fancy offices.  I know a guy with good insurance who still goes to a community clinic.  He does that because he believes in the place, and he knows that some of the profit they make seeing him will be used to subsidize care for indigent patients.  But most people are not like that.

Maybe I'm wrong, having gotten rather cynical about the difficulties involved in reforming the health care system.  After all, there still are a lot of idealistic physicians out there.  I just don't like the idea of giving anyone an incentive to waste money, at the same time as making things more difficult for those who are frugal.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Implantable Devices for Major Depression

There already has been some media buzz, and a few blog posts, about the implantable vagus nerve stimulator. It first was developed as a treatment for epilepsy, and it is being investigated for the treatment-resistant depression. One blogger is neutral on the subject; another expresses a strong negative reaction -- which is refuted brilliantly in the comments. Similar devices are used for treatment of severe Parkinson disease. Now, though, we hear of something new. This one, called Activa®, does go directly into the brain. Or, at least, it has wires that go into the brain. In this post, I explain some things about the new devices -- although I do not explain why they work, since nobody knows. Then, for those who care, I use these developments to illustrate a political point. See the full post here.

Affirmative Action Endorsed;
First Results Apparent

Although the University of Michigan affirmative action cases seemed to take forever to get through the courts, once the decisions were announced, the University acted quickly.  Oddly, disappointingly, the traditional news media seem to have lost interest.  So here's a follow-up:
Minority enrollment up at University of Michigan Medical School
A U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action and focused recruiting efforts are credited.

By Myrle Croasdale

AMNews staff. Feb. 28, 2005. Enrollment of underrepresented minorities at the University of Michigan Medical School has jumped from 12% in 2003 to 21% in 2004. That's a direct result, some suggest, of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the use of race as one of several criteria for admissions at the University of Michigan's law school.

Nationally, minorities considered underrepresented, such as blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and mainland Puerto Ricans, saw only a small uptick in representation. According to data gleaned from the Assn. of American Medical Colleges and calculated by AMNews, enrollment of such students was 9.3% in 2002 and 2003, creeping to 9.8% in 2004. [...]
American Medical Association policy supports the need to enhance the presence of underrepresented minorities in medical school and the physician work force, as a means to ultimately improve care and access for underserved minorities. The AMA also has led and participated in various programs to encourage minorities to go to medical school. [...]
That didn't take long.  The decision came down in 2003.  In the 2004 class, minority enrollment is finally approaching that which is seen in the general population.  By 2100, though, 60% of the US population will be one minority or another.  This means that the job is not done.

Why should we care about the composition of the medical school class?  The CDC informs us:
Though health indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality have improved for most Americans, minorities experience a disproportionate burden of preventable disease, death, and disability compared with non-minorities. These trends compel the public health community to examine issues of health disparity among the various racial and ethnic groups that comprise the country's population.
Although we might like to think that the ethnicity of the MD population would have no effect on the differential health status of minorities, the unfortunate fact is that it does.  Increasing the number of minority physicians almost certainly will help correct the disparity in health care seen by minorities.