Thursday, June 30, 2005

Adventures In Nature

My nephew, Theo, came to visit.  His mother dropped him off in their Prius, which was the first one sold in Washtenaw County.  Anyway, Theo wanted to feed the horses.  He had the notion that he was going to put hay in the wagon on the back of his Tonka John Deere tractor.  

But the horses eat over 100 pounds of hay every day.  The Tonka was not up to the task, so we put some carrots in there, and let him feed the carrots to the horses.

Theo, April, and Champie

Healing Power of Creativity

While I labor under the no-upsetting-blogging embargo, I have decided to engage my creative energy.  Accordingly, I just played around with GIMP and made a picture, then ordered a t-shirt with the image on it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I Just Love This Stuff

One of the older antibiotics known is tetracycline.  Long used as a treatment for syphilis, chlamydia, mycoplasma, intestinal protozoa, cholera, and acne; it is old enough now that a lot of organisms have developed resistance to its effects.  

From Cecil's Textbook of Medicine:
C. psittaci is susceptible to tetracyclines and macrolides but resistant to sulfonamides. Tetracycline has had the greatest clinical use. Psittacosis is the most gratifying of all chlamydial diseases to treat. Defervescence and marked symptomatic relief of systemic signs occur within 24 to 48 hours after starting tetracycline 500 mg four times a day or doxycycline 100 mg twice a day. Treatment should be continued for 10 to 21 days.
"The most gratifying of all chlamydial diseases to treat"?  Frankly, I never though of treating infections as gratifying, but I suppose it is.

In this post, I discuss, not the gratification of obliterating bacteria, but the unexpected finding that an antibiotic can be used to treat osteoarthritis.  It is the unexpectedness of it that spurs me to engage in armchair musings about the nature of medical thought.  Continue reading here.

categories: science, medicine, armchair musings
Technorati tags: ,

Grand Rounds XL

Grand RoundsGrand Rounds XL has been posted at Health Business Blog. I did not submit anything this time.  I was going to submit my post on the involvement of medical personnel in the abuses at Guantanamo, but forgot to.  Anyway, check out the roundup.  Again, it is not just MD's who have posts, and there is a wide variety of subjects.

Category: science
Technorati tags:

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Last Political Post

My wife made me promise to hold off on upsetting political rants for the next few weeks.  I'm going to try to write only nice things.  Before I adopt this Lenten attitude, though, I have to say one last thing. Via a comment on Mousemusings, I went to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, and found this post and this post on Center for Media and Democracy.  These all pertain to those nasty little trojans known as VNRs, or Video News Releases.  These are either commercials, or propaganda, disguised to look like news reports.  They are released into the media feeds in the hope that some channels will air them, with or without knowing that they are essentially information viruses.  Recall that some of the Bush scandals, now essentially under-rug-swept, involved this kind of thing.

The damn thing is, it would be easy to require digital signatures on all video feeds that enter the media stream. We would need laws to hold people accountable for fraudulent use of those signatures. Companies or entities that release video feeds would have to keep a log of all uses of the digital signature. News organizations would be required to reveal who signed the video "news" release, and consumers should be able to check the logs to see who really produced the VNR. It would be no more difficult than signing an email. We have the technology.  In fact, it would be possible for to have an Internet-enabled TV to do the checking automatically.  Anything produced with federal money would have to carry a notice to that effect.  Misuse would be grounds for permanent dismissal from public office.  Any manipulation to conceal the source of funding would be a felony.  

I should think that the media would welcome any technology that would improve their credibility, even if they did have to go out and find their own stories.  I would even think the FCC could get on board with this, since it would make it easier to prosecute anyone responsible for a display of wardrobe malfunctions.  Just think of how that would improve national security.

categories: propaganda, scandals
Technorati tags: ,

U.S. aid for Africa is up, but short of Bush claim

In the debates during the 2004 Presidential campaign, Mr. Bush made a number of factual errors.  Now his command of information is being challenged again.  Likewise, during the presidential campaign, polls showed that many Americans were misinformed about crucial political topics; this has become apparent once more.  In this post, I review two recent articles on Reuters Alertnet (which is a great source of news regarding international crises).  One article shows that the claim that US aid to Africa has tripled, is false.   The second highlights the misperceptions on this issue among the US population.  I also provide some background information that substantiates the points in the articles.  Naturally, I conclude with a little commentary.  Continue reading here.

Monday, June 27, 2005


The results of the 2005 Pinto Horse Association World Championship have been posted here.  Champie's sire, Image of Champions, was awarded the Reserve World Championship in the Hunter-Type Stallions category.  By their ranking system, The first place is called the Wold Champion, and the second place is the Reserve World Champion.  

His breeder's website is here.  

Congratulations to Ms. Thayer, and the show handler, Mr. Schuitema.  You just made our colt much more valuable.

Hunter Type Stallions, All Ages, Halter
  • 8 THREE SPOT ROCK / Jac Cunningham / JANICE A FOSTER

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Physician Involvement in Military Interrogation

The New England Journal of Medicine has an open-access article: Bloche MG and Marks JH. Doctors and Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. N Engl J Med 2005:353(1);6-8 (PDF-593KB). Mr. Marks is a barrister at Matrix Chambers, London, and Greenwall Fellow in Bioethics at Georgetown University Law Center and the Bloomberg School of Public Health.  In lieu of an abstract, they posted the following:
Notice: Because of current public interest in this topic, this Perspective and its accompanying audio interview were published early at www.nejm.org on June 22, 2005. The article will appear in the July 7 issue of the Journal.
As supplementary material, the audio file of an interview with Mr. Marks is here, a 3.3MB MP3.

Early-publication articles at NEJM are almost always worth reading.  In this post, I review the contents of the article briefly, then discuss a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights, then some commentary from the Blogosphere.  I conclude with some thoughts about the ethical issues raised by the NEJM article and the PHR report.  Continue reading here.

Partner Up With Me In Opposing Spammers

I just got this e-mail from contact@youngnationalist:
I've heard a lot of great things about your website and wanted you to take a
moment to visit our site www.youngnationalist.com it's the only political
entertainment site geared towards conservatives on the web. Its only 4 months
old and already has an Alexa ranking of 29,000. The site has outperformed major
sites and has created a dynamic buzz in its short existence. I think our sites
can be beneficial to each other in the form of a link exchange. Please respond
as soon as possible and let me know where our link will be located and we?ll
get going.

Again Great site and I look forward to partnering up with you.

W. Michael Stevens
I've gotten requests for reciprocal links before.  All have been reasonable, obviously based upon a personal reading of Corpus Callosum.  The blurb above must have been sent by a robot that scans blogs and looks for email addresses.  "I've heard a lot of great things about your website."  Sheesh.  "I look forward to partnering up with you." Double-sheesh.

Besides, I disagree with what it says.  There are many conservative sites that are entertaining.

Spam messages can be forwarded to spam@uce.gov.  It goes without saying that people should consider avoiding any kind of business with spammers.  This is the third spam message I've gotten at the email address that I use specifically for this blog.  In response, I am going to change the email link to a dummy email account that automatically forwards to spam@uce.gov.  I also will post an obfuscated but correct email address.

Eminent Domain and the Filibuster:
Which One Doesn't Belong?

Few things have kindled discussion and ranting in the Blogosphere as much as the recent Supreme Court ruling (Kelo et al. v. New London) that confirmed the right of communities to transfer property rights to others; and the threat to end the practice of the filibuster, by changing the rules of the US Senate.  

I have a couple of observations about this.  Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of both issues.  Opinions on the filibuster cleaved along party lines; Democrats supporting the filibuster, Republicans opposing it.  Opinions on eminent domain seem more broadly to be negative, without the clean fracture line between liberals and conservatives.  Clearly, there are many people who oppose one and support the other.  

The arguments about the filibuster mainly revolve around one issue: is it ever appropriate to have a system in which a minority can oppose the will of the majority?  And the question of eminent domain hinges on one issue: is it ever appropriate to have a system in which a minority can oppose the will of the majority?  In both cases, one might ask: does the winner always take all?

Granted, the parallel is not exact.  But is it something to think about.  Personally, I support one and disagree with the other.  Now I have to figure out why.

It's a good thing that there is no law that says that all of our opinions must be perfectly consistent with each other.  If there were, we would spend all our time resolving the inconsistencies, and not have any time to drink good coffee.

I actually wrote a bunch about why I do support one and oppose the other, but decided there's no point in posting that.  Both have been blogged so extensively that I really do not have anything to add.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Not Politics! Not Science!

Well, I've posted too much about politics, and I am not in the mood for science.

Earlier this evening, my wife and my father were talking about antiques.  That's because she has a couple of small antique booths at local dealers.  She mentioned that she had seen an axe from the Civilian Conservation Corps, sitting in one of the shops.  It had been used so much that the imprinting on the blade was barely legible.

It turns out that one of my uncles was in the CCC.  He might have used that axe.  In 1934, he graduated from Port Austin High School.  Being well into the Great Depression, there were no jobs.  He even went to Detroit to find work.  No luck.  Thanks to FDR, he had a chance to join the CCC.  

A friend arranged a drive to Bay City, necessary to catch a train to the Upper Peninsula.  My Dad went along.  While there, they saw a John Wayne movie.  It was the first color movie that any of them had seen.  

My wife remembered reading somewhere that the young men in the CCC made thirty dollars a month, and had to send twenty-five home.  My Dad did not remember that, but he did recall that some money came home, as well as boxes of cranberries.  I'm sure religious zealots would be upset that my uncle was picking cranberries instead of working.  That sort of thing helped my grandmother, who sometimes had a tough time getting food on the table.  Occasionally, he would send home office supplies, like paper and pencils.  That must be the bureaucratic waste that Republicans are always complaining about.  That helped his younger brothers get through school, since times were hard back then.

The CCC played an important role in revitalizing the ecosystem, after the massive commercial deforestation of the late 1800's led to serious problems with soil erosion.  Everyone back home really appreciated what uncle Ernie did for his family, as did the the Tamias striatus chipmunks in the U.P.

Local Flavor

I just noticed that it is 97 degrees (F) outside. I bet it was over 100 earlier today. On the way home, I passed a quick oil change place. The sign said:
2 free Tigers tickets with Synthetic Oil Change
Great. Get fake oil and see a fake team.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

It's About Time!

Sitemeter informs me that less than half of all visits to this blog are made by people using Internet Explorer.  Recent news articles indicate that, across the Internet, Firefox still accounts for only 8 to 10% of browser share.  It is 15% in France, almost 25% in Germany, and over 30% in Finland.  

Other usage statistics indicate that there are a lot of users running Windows 2000.  Probably most of them are browsing from work, and their companies have installed Explorer.

Why such high Firefox penetration into the Blogosphere?  Because we're smart, that's why.  I used to use Netscape almost exclusively. Now there are so many useful extensions available for Firefox, though, it supplants Netscape in terms of usability.

Skeptic's Circle

Anne’s Anti-Quackery & Science Blog is the host of the most recent edition (11th) of Skeptic's Circle.  She managed to pull together several well-researched posts regarding the vaccination controversy.  Anyone curious about that topic should take a look.  People who are skeptical of skepticism also should browse these posts.  Although some pertain to creationism/ID, and religious skepticism, most concern secular matters.  Many are debunkings of pseudoscience and alternative healing methods.  Others are thought pieces that discuss various aspects of critical thinking and scientific reasoning.  Overall, it is a good selection of thoughtful posts, from a variety of viewpoints.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

AMA News

The American Medical Association website has a news section.  Recently, they restricted access to the site, allowing only AMA members to view the news.  They did this in an effort to boost membership, but it mostly just irritated people.

Now, I notice that Reuters is publishing more AMA news releases, which are echoed on Medscape.  Medscape News is open with free registration, and it includes news from more sources.  

A couple of recent AMA items caught my attention.  For one, the AMA is saying that "keepsake ultrasound "portraits" of fetuses are not medically appropriate and should be discouraged."  This refers to the practice of using ultrasound devices to create "baby's first JPEGs."  Note that they are not referring to the practice of giving a copy of a diagnostic ultrasound to the prospective parents.  Their argument is that exposing the fetus to ultrasound for nonmedical purposes is not appropriate.  Although the risks are belived to be zero, and almost certainly are very close to zero, they do not see any justification for nonmedical exposure.  The idea is that we can't prove, absolutely, that the risk is exactly zero.  Medical prudence would dictate refraining from unnecessary procedures, even if the risk is very low, and even if the risk is probably zero.

The second article concerns labeling for herbal supplements.  The AMA wants the FDA to require stricter labeling standards.  Specifically, they want manufacturers and distributors to prove the efficacy and safety of the product, and to list product ingredients.  Many people don't know that herbal remedies currently do not have to contain any active ingredient.  For example, a ginseng product does not have to contain any ginseng.  Such products can be banned only if they are shown to be unsafe.  In other words, it is possible to sell herbal remedies if there is no evidence that they don't hurt anyone; there is no requirement that they be proven safe and/or effective.  

Both of these proposals seem like good ideas to me.  I sometimes recommend products, such as fish oil, or melatonin, but I also suggest that people buy from reputable merchants.  A study done years ago by the Medical Letter showed that some "melatonin" products did not contain any melatonin.  Some contained chemicals that could not be identified readily (although they did not say how hard they tried.)  However, all of the products that listed the name and address of the actual manufacturer did contain what the label claimed.

categories: science, health

Not Always What They Seem

Things are not always what they seem to be.  Previously, I showed how one can alter the tracks they leave on the Internet.  Now I see a different example (click to enlarge)

This visitor chose to obscure the referring URL.  I used to do that, with a statements such as "mind your own business" or "why are you reading this?"  

When I realized that I enjoyed seeing the pages that referred to my own site, I stopped doing that.  I mean, if I want to be able to see where visitors are coming from, I should let others see how I arrived at their site.  That's just the fair way to do things.  

The point is, things are not always what they seem.  The other point is, if you want someone to extend a courtesy to you, you should not deny them the same privilege.  

Today, I got two emails concerning the DSM.  One was a daily update from Shakespeare's Sister; the other, a response from Sen. Carl Levin.  I appreciate the response from Levin, even if it was a form letter.  The one from Sister was more interesting, though.

One of the links from Sister pointed to an article by Scott Ritter.  Mr. Ritter makes two allegations.  One, he alleges that covert and overt military action started in Iraq, months before a formal declaration of war.  The second allegation is that the same pattern is emerging in Iran.  He even goes so far as to allege that some of our actions in Iran constitute acts of war.

If true, then our government is being incredibly hypocritical:  We make a big deal about Syria's influence in Lebanon, yet we endeavor to exert even greater influence in Iraq and Iran.  It also is incredibly stupid.  Will the rest of the world tolerate our taking control of so much of the Middle East?  Probably not.  Although it would be difficult for anyone to overpower our influence with conventional military means, events have shown that we are not able to prevent sabotage that would prevent us, and everyone else, from exploiting oil resources there.  Likewise, there is no doubt that some people are sufficiently motivated to do so, even if it works against their own economic self-interest.  

I should hope that such behavior would not be a surprise to the Administration, since it was necessary for people to act against their own economic interest in order for the current Administration to be elected.

But, things are not always what they seem.  Scott Ritter is coming out with a book soon, so it is conceivable that he is putting on a little preliminary hype.  It also is possible that he knows what he is talking about, and is frightened by what he sees.  Certainly, he knows more about the situation than I do, although there is one point -- a rather alarming one -- that he does not mention.  

He points out what he calls a "bitter irony":
[...] The most visible of these is the CIA-backed actions recently undertaken by the Mujahadeen el-Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian opposition group, once run by Saddam Hussein's dreaded intelligence services, but now working exclusively for the CIA's Directorate of Operations.

It is bitter irony that the CIA is using a group still labeled as a terrorist organization, a group trained in the art of explosive assassination by the same intelligence units of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, who are slaughtering American soldiers in Iraq today, to carry out remote bombings in Iran of the sort that the Bush administration condemns on a daily basis inside Iraq. [...]
At first, I did not think there was anything particularly unusual about this.  It's business as usual.  After all, continued to do business in Iran, even after Bush labeled Iran a part of the "Axis of Evil."  But then I remembered that Halliburton has announced that they are pulling out of Iran.  

Why are they pulling out?  Do they know something that we do not?  

Or is it that they are pulling out their oil guys, but putting in their mercenaries?  After all, the mercenary business pays better than the oil business.  Talk about bitter irony.

Things are not always what they seem to be.  If an amateur geek can rather easily hide where he or she is coming from, it probably would not be difficult for one of the most powerful companies in the world to do the same.  Perhaps it is not the most courteous thing to do, but who ever accused Halliburton of being courteous?

Category: politics, rants
Technorati tags:, , ,


Body Counts and Conspiracy Hypotheses

I've gotten some interesting comments lately, along with suggestion for things to write about.  I've also been tagged with the book meme, and have written a response to that, but I know I am supposed to tag five other people at the end.  

I just have to figure out if I want to tag people whose Internet personnas I like, or otherwise.  Technorati lists over twelve thousand hits for "book meme", so I might decide to cut it down to three.  We don't want it to spread so fast that we run out of victims.

But what I am posting today does not require any particular brain power.  Earlier today, in the category of things found while looking for other things, I encountered an interview (small PDF file) with Sen. Biden, on Face the Nation. The headline for the interview has to do with his Presidential aspirations.  What got my attention, though, was his description of the problems he has had getting access to the mortuary at the Dover Air Force base in Delaware.  

Apparently, there have been occasions upon which families of deceased soldiers want Biden to accompany them to the airbase when they do to get the remains.  But someone at the Pentagon will not allow him to do so.  He does not know who, or why.  This of course gets one thinking about conspiracy theories.  Continue reading here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

What Is This Article About?

A recent version of the NYT carried this article.  (It's a blogsafe link, so it should still work even after the article goes into the archive.)
Who's Mentally Ill? Deciding Is Often All in the Mind
Published: June 12, 2005

THE release last week of a government-sponsored survey, the most comprehensive to date, suggests that more than half of Americans will develop a mental disorder in their lives.

The study was the third, beginning in 1984, to suggest a significant increase in mental illness since the middle of the 20th century, when estimates of lifetime prevalence ranged closer 20 or 30 percent. [...]

That evolving understanding can have implications for diagnoses. For example, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association dropped homosexuality from its manual of mental disorders, amid a growing realization that no evidence linked homosexuality to any mental impairment. Overnight, an estimated four to five million "sick" people became well.

More common, however, is for psychiatrists to add conditions and syndromes: The association's first diagnostic manual, published in 1952, included some 60 disorders, while the current edition now has about 300, including everything from sexual arousal disorders to kleptomania to hyposomnia (oversleeping) and several shades of bipolar disorder.

"The idea has been not to expand the number of people with mental conditions but to develop a more fine-grained understanding of those who do," said Dr. Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the latest mental health survey.
Naturally, I was curious about this, so I looked up the study, meanwhile feeling irritated by the lack of a direct reference to the study.  I know the NYT thinks hyperlinks are beneath their dignity, but even a printed reference would be nice.  Anyway, this appears to be the study:
Prevalence and Treatment of Mental Disorders, 1990 to 2003
Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D., et. al.
NEJM Volume 352:2515-2523

[...] Results The prevalence of mental disorders did not change during the decade (29.4 percent between 1990 and 1992 and 30.5 percent between 2001 and 2003, P=0.52) [...]
In the NYT article's second paragraph, the author stated "The study was the third, beginning in 1984, to suggest a significant increase in mental illness..."  Yet the first sentence in the Results section of the abstract states no such thing.  In fact, the study shows that the small increase from 1990-2 to 2001-3 is as likely as not (P=0.52) to be a mere artifact of the study design or implementation.  The study is not about any possible change in lifetime incidence from the middle of the 20th century to the present time.  
The aim of our study was to present more comprehensive data on national trends with regard to the prevalence and rate of treatment of 12-month mental disorders based on the NCS, conducted from 1990 to 1992, and the NCS Replication (NCS-R), conducted from 2001 to 2003. 
One potential point of confusion is that the NYT author, Mr. Carey, emphasizes discussion of lifetime prevalence, which is a different statistic than the 12-month prevalence numbers emphasized in the NEJM article.  That is not necessarily a problem, although it would have been good for him to take a moment to clarify the point.  Even allowing for that, the guy made a mistake.  Earlier studies may have indicated a lifetime prevalence of 20-30%, but the NEJM study does not address that.

The mistake, however, actually is not what this post is about, although I do take pains to point it out.  Rather, if you read the NYT article, then read the original study, you would not have any idea that the former had anything to do with the latter.  So what, exactly, is the article about?

It appears that Mr. Carey used the occasion of the publication of the NEMJ article to blather on about his own ideas about mental health diagnosis and treatment.  Snarky readers, no doubt, realize that what Carey did is exactly what I often do in this blog, so who am I to be critical?

Good question.  The answer is that this is a blog, but the New York Times is a newspaper.  If someone is going to write an article that starts out with: "THE release last week of a government-sponsored survey, the most comprehensive to date, suggests that more than half of Americans will develop a mental disorder in their lives...", then it seems that the article should be about the study.  

If the author wants to take the opportunity to express his varied opinions, and connect all kinds of things that are not directly connected, fine.  Just do it on the op-ed page; or better yet, get a blog and do it there.  

Although I disagree with a lot of what he says, it still is an interesting article, and is worth reading.   It would make a great blog post.  The problem is that, if the reader is not careful, it would be possible for the reader to get the impression that the opinions expressed by the author are backed up by the scientific article he has cited, or at least by some of the scientists he quotes.  

To be fair, Carey does not make any declarative statements of opinion; rather, he implies them, as in this section:
But what does it mean when more than half of a society may suffer "mental illness"? Is it an indictment of modern life or a sign of greater willingness to deal openly with a once-taboo subject? Or is it another example of the American mania to give every problem a name, a set of symptoms and a treatment - a trend, medical historians say, accentuated by drug marketing to doctors and patients?
The NEJM article says nothing about drug marketing.  None of the other experts, of those quoted in the article, are quoted as having said anything about drug marketing.  Carey does not cite, specifically, any studies about drug marketing.  (There have been such studies, but none is cited.)  I agree with the implication, that drug marketing is an interesting topic; I've probably posted on that subject at least a dozen times, and cited studies, but he offers this question, with no attempt to answer it.  

Is it true that drug marketing accentuates the American mania to give every problem a name?  Is it even true that it is an American mania, or even a mania at all?  If so, what name should we give to a mania about giving things a name? (Diagnosomania, American type, severe, with obsessive features?)

Note that I do not mean to impugn the entire newspaper, nor do I intend to imply that any of Mr. Carey's other articles are suspect in any way.  I just want to point out that readers need to be careful when reading these kinds of articles, regardless of who wrote them, or where they are published.

category: science, mental health, media, rants

Sunday, June 19, 2005

We Practice Denial So You Won't Have To

Phan Thi Kim PhucTo the right is the modern-day picture of one of the survivors of a napalm attack in Viet Nam.  Her injuries were unintentional; they resulted from an accidental release of the incendiary chemical en route to an attack on a military target.  The incident occurred on June 8, 1972.  Kim, then 9 years old, was hiding in a Buddhist pagoda when the collateral damage was inflicted.

Ms. Kim Phuc Phan Thi (1 2) now resides in Canada, having settled there with the help of a group of Quakers; she works for the United Nations.  It is remarkable that she is still alive.  She spent 14 months in a hospital in Saigon, recovering from third-degree burn injuries covering half her body.

More recently, she has participated in numerous anti-war activities.  These are detailed on the UNESCO website, which is the destination of the second link in the paragraph above.  

In recognition of Kim's efforts, I now report on our military's continued use of napalm, this time in Iraq.  Continue reading here.

General Commentary on Durbin and the Media

Blogpulse informs us that the "burstiest" person this week is the Honorable Richard Durbin.  It appears that the conservative hemiblogosphere is jumping all over his case, for comments he made about Guantanamo.  This impresses me as manufactured rage.  He did not say anything that hasn't been said before.  To use a favorite McClellanism, it is old news. And if you read the full text (PDF file hosted on TalkLeft) of what he said, you see that he was not condemning our military personnel categorically, as so many have implied.  His speech was carefully written; the wording is sufficiently precise to make a clear distinction between those who participated in the abuses cited in the FBI memos, and the rest of the military.  He was not "slandering his own country" as stated on Powerline.  In this post, I refute the criticism leveled against Durbin, speculate about the possible reason for the manufactured rage, and suggest the topic for the mainstream media to latch onto next.  Continue reading here.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


This article, from the Ann Arbor Snooze News, highlights a student recital at Oz's Music: the one on the corner of Packard and Coler, by the Big Ten party store.  Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to write down the date, but the caption mentions that he was eight years old at the time.  

He played An die Freude, which later was adopted as the anthem of the European Union, based upon his performance.  

If he weren't holding the music in front of his face, you'd be able to see that he looked just like Harry Potter.   Back then, that is.  He doesn't have that endearingly innocent look anymore.  (And he never has had a scar on his forehead.)

I don't mean to imply that he is not innocent, just that he doesn't have that innocent look anymore.

category: empty nest syndrome

Friday, June 17, 2005

Drugs and War

The most recent issue of The Economist has a bunch of articles on the pharmaceutical industry.  Most are premium content, but the lead article -- Prescription for Change --is openly accessible.  They also have an article on the WOT: That Not-Winning Feeling, also openly accessible.  Irritatingly, The Economist says that the article is about the WOT, but then they go on to talk about the war in Iraq; this perpetuates the myth that Iraq had something to do with terrorism.  It did not.  That aside, it occurs to me that there are some parallels between the two topics.

The pharmaceutical industry carries great hope for humankind, but even greater hype.  It started out with a bang, but now is getting bogged down.  There were great advances, from penicillin to Prozac, but lately what we've seen has been a bunch of me-too drugs.   It seems that for every breakthrough (Gleevec), there is a setback (Vioxx).  A quick experiment: Google Gleevec.  The Google ads say: Save Big On Gleevec! Breaking Cancer News! etc.  Google Vioxx.  The ads: Injured by Vioxx? We Help.  Vioxx Lawsuit. The Vioxx Claim Center.  Vioxx Lawyers.  Vioxx Injury Claims (www.DreamLegalTeam.com -- they're joking, right?).

Likewise, the WOT seemed to carry, if not great hope, then at least some hope for the betterment of our world.  The hype was was out of proportion.  The war started well, but is turning into a quagmire.  The shift from Afghanistan to Iraq has turned into a wild goose chase.   I would like to call it a me-too war, but at least there is some utility to having, say, five SSRI's; the war in Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism, and is a complete waste of blood, money, and time.  For every terrorist kingpin we capture, there is one that got away; for every power station we get running, there's another pipeline that gets blown up.  

The pharmaceutical industry has an image problem.  They've fallen from about a 50% approval rating, to about 10%:

<rant-tangent>I must say, the oil companies are really taking a beating in the public opinion area.  They deserve it.</rant-tangent>

The stats for the Iraq war are pretty dismal as well.  37% of Americans approve of the President's handling of the war, down from 45% in February.  50% of Americans want the troops home soon, regardless of whether the situation in Iraq is stable, up from 43%.  Those are scientific polls.  In a snap poll, MSNBC found that 93% of Americans think that the argument for war was based on lies. (link courtesy Mousemusings)

One last parallel: Pharmaceutical companies employ scientists, and business/marketing people.  The scientists are, by and large, decent; the problems come from their administrators.  

War is conducted by soldiers, and by the Administration.  The soldiers, are by and large, decent people; despite the talk about bad apples, the real badness is in the Administration.

Is there are real significance to these associations?  No, but all correlations must be blogged, whether significant or not.  Someone has to do it.

Category: armchair musings

Liberal Blogosphere Scorecard: One for Two

One victory, one defeat.  Conservative pundits referred to the swarms perpetrated by the Big Brass Alliance ( ) as a test of the liberal blogosphere.  It is clear that we passed the test.  Blogpulse currently lists 6780 posts matching "Downing Street Memo".   Admittedly, much of this was promoted by one person, , but the blogosphere activity clearly helped him.

Click for latest stats

However, the other big challenge we took on has not worked out so well:


Tom Cruise Proposes to Katie Holmes

By SOPHIE NICHOLSON Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

PARIS Jun 17, 2005 — Actor Tom Cruise said he and girlfriend Katie Holmes are engaged, after he popped the question early Friday morning atop the Eiffel Tower.

Cruise, speaking at a Paris news conference with Holmes, said: "Yes, I proposed to her."

The couple often shared smiles and blushes as Cruise turned to look at her, with a massive diamond ring on her finger.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

President Bush and Heritage Foundation Say Religion is Not Necessary

How the Abstinence-Only Controversy Shows that Scientists are Morally Proper:

I am aware of the fact that this is the kind of reasoning that got Socrates killed.  I'll probably get a UPS delivery of hemlock tomorrow morning.  In this post, I outline the arguments used to promote abstinence-only sex education, and show how those arguments lead to the conclusion that religion is unnecessary.  Continue reading here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Gulf War Syndrome, Revisited;
Relationship Between Pain and Depression

Sooner or later, I had to get back to science.  I'm even going to try to avoid putting any political slant in this post...

Recently, an article was published about the health effects of military service in the <Persian|Arabian> Gulf.  The authors found that the most significant elevation in risk was for the risk of developing fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.  A bit earlier, an article appeared that described the relationship between depression and pain in patients with fibromyalgia. In this post, I show how the results of these two studies demonstrate that the problems described by Gulf War vets cannot be attributed to depression.  Continue reading here.

Grand Rounds XXXVIII

This week's Grand Rounds XXXVIII is up on Red State Moron.  You can sit there and wonder why anyone would name his or her blog "Red State Moron," or you can go read his summary of a selection of this week's medical posts.  It seems that this particular collection has a fair number of general-interest posts, all medically-related, but none that is esoteric or overly technical.  Many are oriented toward health care policy.  

Grand Rounds is (yes, rounds is singular, in this context) held every Tuesday at or before 7AM.  I see Dr. W stayed up until 4:45 AM to compile it.  That is why I haven't hosted it yet.

Connect the Dots

Yesterday evening, I spent some time browsing the right-to-moderate hemiblogosphere, to see what the other half is saying about the .  The answer: not much.  The primary comment seems to be that it is not important because it is not news.  Some repeat that Bush has claimed the memo has been discredited, but I can't find out exactly who discredited it using what evidence.  Others say that the matter already has been investigated.  Yeah, it was investigated by the Bush Administration.  Pardon me for being skeptical.

To say the DSM is not important because it is old news, is much like the White House response to the report that their paid ex-lobbyist had been rewriting scientific reports to make them more favorable to the oil industry.  Their response was to say that such revisions are part of their "normal process."  

So now we are to ignore the fact that the President of the United States started a war based on lies, because it is old news?  The President lying is old news?  No big deal?  

It is true that the one document is not conclusive.  But very few single data points are.  Recall the big flap about how our intelligence services didn't connect the dots?  There was no single bit of evidence that proved there was a big plot afoot.  There were lots of little bits, scattered around.  

The reason so many people are calling for an investigation is not that the DSM is conclusive; if that were the case, no investigation would be needed.  Rather, the reason people are getting all worked up is that there are many, many little bits of information, many little dots from which an image can be discerned.  And the picture that is emerging is not one of those pointillistic riverfront scenes; rather, it is a scene like the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor.  The DSM has become the rallying point, like the Alamo, or Pearl Harbor.

Someone has taken the trouble of pulling together a lot of it, and putting it into historical context, here: The Lie of the Century.  That merry band, the (), has documented much more.  Still, it would take a staff of serious research types, along with some attorneys with subpoenas, to put together a really comprehensive, convincing report.  The initial step is being taken by the Honorable John Conyers, who wrote a letter to President Bush asking for an explanation.  He originally wanted to get 100,000 signatures on it, but it is rumored that he now has over 500,000.  

The delivery of this letter is sure to be a media event, now that the Michael Jackson trial is over.  Maybe that will be what it takes to get on with the real business: impeachment.

category: politics

Monday, June 13, 2005

Another Dose of Irony

How is it that it is OK, even desirable, to appoint an extremely abrasive, abusive pendejo to be the Ambassador to the United Nations, yet it's "over the top" to have the chairman of a political party be a little provocative?

Huffington Post Review;
Predictions About Blogs in the Political Process

I admit, I was highly skeptical of the idea of the Huffington Post.  It was characterized as a "celebrity blog," and it was not at all clear to me why anyone would care.  I thought it was going to be the Blogosphere's equivalent of People magazine.  Instead, it got me thinking about the modern political process, and how the process will be affected by blogs.  Continue reading here.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Council Disassembled

As noted here earlier, the chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality was trained to disassemble.  Now, it turns out that the Council itself has been disassembled:
Former Lobbyist Leaves White House Post
AP-Sat Jun 11,12:32 PM ET
WASHINGTON - A former oil industry lobbyist who changed government reports on global warming has resigned in a long-planned departure, the White House said Saturday.

Philip Cooney, who was chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, left Friday, two days after it was revealed that he had edited administration reports on climate change in 2002 and 2003.

His departure was "completely unrelated" to the disclosure, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Sociological Musings

When I first saw the news report that CVS is going to sell disposable video cameras, I thought it was a bad idea.  environmentalists hate this kind of thing.  Then I remembered that Detroit used to sell disposable cars.  At least it's not as bad as that.

Also, most of the parts in the disposable still cameras are re-used extensively; presumably that will be the case for the disposable video cameras also.  There could be another virtue.  We could all keep one in our glove box, waiting for the next Rodney King incident.  

Proponents of handguns are fond of saying that an armed society is a polite society.  This might take away their ammunition.  Maybe we'll find that there will be so many video cameras around, that anything anyone does or says could end up on the evening news.  Local news programs could have a little section: "Today's most obnoxious people."

Thanks For The Memos!

I suspect that everyone knows this already, and the Big Brass Alliance will be all over it, but I can't help mentioning it.  Another memo has come to light, reinforcing the message of the now-infamous Downing Street Memo.  Reported in today's Sunday Times in London, there were different memos that apprised ministers of the need to find an excuse for the upcoming Iraq war, and cast doubt on the adequacy of planning of the post-war aftermath.  The Times link is here, but you need a paid subscription to enter (They do provide open access to their two earlier articles 1 2 ).  Fortunately, the Editor & Publisher has read the current article, as has the Washington Post, and apparently they have access to additional information.  

The WaPo is particularly scathing, pointing out a section that reads:
"A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise." The authors add, "As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."
The reason this is so damaging is that, even for those who supported the war, there is no excuse for the poor planning for the aftermath.  One of the memos was prepared for Blair, prior to a meeting with Bush in Crawford.
About 10 days later, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wrote a memo to prepare Blair for a meeting in Crawford, Tex., on April 8. Straw said "the big question" about military action against Hussein was, "how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be any better," as "Iraq has no history of democracy."
The British know more about this than anyone; they got out of the imperialism business decades ago.  Now it is clear that they should have stayed out.

The Editor and Publisher commentary on the subject includes this:
By one count, only two questions about the memo had been raised at White House briefings (out of about 940 questions) since it first surfaced in the British press on May 1.
Why can't we see, just once, a reporter hand Mr. Bush a Bible, ask him to hold it is his hand, and swear to us that he was not already planning for the war before the election in 2000?

UPDATE: Via a post on the Huffington Post, there is a link that goes directly to the Sunday Times article that I had said requires a paid subscription.  It includes the following:
The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was “necessary to create the conditions” which would make it legal.

This was required because, even if ministers decided Britain should not take part in an invasion, the American military would be using British bases. This would automatically make Britain complicit in any illegal US action.

“US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia,” the briefing paper warned. This meant that issues of legality “would arise virtually whatever option ministers choose with regard to UK participation”.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Checking The Validity of Medical Claims

Persons who use the Internet are likely to encounter various claims about medical topics.  Indeed, the Internet is a powerful and useful tool for obtaining medical information.  Probably anyone reading this knows, though, that there is a lot of utter nonsense out there.  Some of it is not just wrong, but dangerously wrong.  In this post, I examine one example of a medical claim (Tom Cruise's inept remarks about postpartum depression), then use the example to illustrate how to use the Internet to find valid medical information.  Continue reading here.

Bizarre Argument in Congress;
Let's Do This!

Via Swerve Left, Brad Blog, and Dem Bloggers, I learned of the civil discourse petty tantrums held in the US Congress, regarding the Patriot Act, partly covered by C-Span.  I say "partly covered" because the Republicans turned off the microphones when they did not like what was being said.  

Karlo at Swerve Left points out the bizarre argument:
When discussing the federal government's demand for library records under the Patriot Act, one of the Republican reps started shouting at the Amnesty International representative--name some names? What librarians have been forced to turn over records? The AI rep did come up with a name, but the point is that any librarian who admits to having received a request by the government could be prosecuted under the Patriot Act! So we're in this bizarre catch-22 world in which the law forbids people from submitting evidence that is being demanded in order to demonstrate the extreme nature of the law.
In fact, this is doubly bizarre.  In addition to the catch-22 mentioned by Karlo, there is another oddity.  The implication was that if Amnesty International could not name any instances of librarians being subpoenaed, then their point was not a valid point.  After all, why complain about a provision of the law that never has been used?  The counterargument is that, if the provision has not been used by now, why keep it?

It would seem that, given the sunset provision of the law, the burden of proof should be on those who want to renew the law.  They should have to show that the law has been beneficial.  Rather than argue that it is uncommon for librarians to be subpoenaed, they should have to come up with cases in which such subpoenas have substantially advanced an antiterrorism case.

I suppose that one might argue that there have been such cases, but they cannot be revealed because of security concerns.  That would be hard to believe, though, because the Justice Department seems all too eager to trumpet anything that could possibly be spun in such a way as to suggest progress in the WOT.  Also, Congressional hearings can go behind closed doors if classified material has to be discussed.  They did not do that.  Rather, Rep. Senselessbrenner just got up and left.

Our current favorite, Rep. John Conyers, prepared a statement about this.  Unfortunately, the link to it on the house.gov website gives a "page not found" error.

Let's do this: the website for the House Committee on the Judiciary has a page that asks citizens to report instances of Fraud, Waste, and Abuse.  I allege that the hearing on the Patriot Act met those criteria.  
  • It was Fraudulent, because it did not serve its purported purpose.  Rather than being a forum for civil discourse, it was a platform for the majority to express their views.  
  • It was Wasteful, because they flew in witnesses and held a hearing, at great expense, yet did not further the cause of democracy.  
  • It was Abusive, because it denied the right of free speech to some participants.
So let's use their reporting page to point out to them that they are engaging in the very behavior that they claim to protect us from.  Perhaps it is obnoxious to do this, but I have already done it, so at least nobody else has to worry about being the first one to be obnoxious:  
Thank you for providing citizens with an opportunity to report fraud, waste, and abuse.  It has come to my attention that the House Committee on the Judiciary allegedly has been fraudulent, wasteful, and abusive.  Specifically, it has been reported that, during the recent hearings on the renewal of the Patriot Act, the Committee turned off the microphones when certain citizens attempted to speak, and the Committee Chairman, the Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., left the room.  If these allegations are true, then:

Fraud was perpetrated when the hearings were used to promote the agenda of the majority party, rather than promoting civil discourse.

Waste occurred, because the hearings were held at great expense, yet did not accomplish their intended purpose.

Abuse occurred, when those who tried to present opposing views were denied their right of free speech, and the right to petition their government for redress of grievances.

Given the seriousness of these allegations, I respectfully request that the Committee investigate this matter, and provide a full account to the citizens of our Great Nation.
I also submitted this comment to the House Minority section, to increase the likelihood of someone actually taking it seriously.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Sometimes the best thing you can do for your country is to be unpatriotic.  And what is more unpatriotic than disrespecting the War on Terrorism?  

On the way home today, I heard on NPR that there are one million kids in the USA with lead poisoning.  Half of them get no treatment or even follow-up testing.

What is the implication of that?  Let's do some quick back-of-the envelope calculations.  500,000 kids with untreated lead poisoning.  Without the poisoning, 1% of them would become geniuses, if we define a genius as a person in the top 1% of intelligence.  It's probably safe to say than no one with lead poisoning will become a genius.  That means that we are going to loose 5,000 geniuses.  

If a terrorist organization somehow figured out how to assassinate five thousand of our geniuses, and did it, it would be catastrophic.  We'd probably nuke everything and everyone we could, just to show how tough we are.  Yet our own government, our our corporations, and our own landlords are doing exactly that, and nobody cares.

Another unpatriotic thing is to criticize the President.  Courtesy of Swerve Left, Slyblog, PSOTD, Florida Politics, Huffington Post, and TalkLeft, we learn that the Bush Administration was involved in a deal that would have overpaid an influential contributor to their campaign by about $80 million.  The deal is remarkable because it is contrary to just about everything the Republican Party says it stands for.  The story is remarkable because the deal never went through, after environmental activists raised a fuss.  How often does that happen?!

Wotisitgood4 went ahead and compiled a list of all the embarrassing things that have come out about the Administration this week.  The Everglades deal was one of five.

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog. Why a second time? Because I messed up the html after the first time. Rather than try to figure it out, I went back to Haloscan and used their robot to reinstall the commenting and trackback code. I also disabled the Blogger commenting link, since there obviously is no reason to have two comment services. I prefer the Haloscan comments to the Blogger comments. It seems to work faster, and is cleaner. I switched from the Haloscan system to Blogger's internal comment system when Blogger added it. The first comment system I used came from a company that went belly-up, and I was afraid the same would happen with Haloscan. But enough techno-minutiea.

We Don't Just Disassemble, We Disassemble Systematically

On June 7 of this year, the NYT reported that a White House official had edited scientific reports on global climate change, with the effect of presenting a misleadingly exaggerated impression of the degree of confidence that the authors had in their findings.  In other words, he lied.  Evidently, he was trained to disassemble when was a lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute.

When journalists wanted to contact the official for comment, they were rebuffed:
A White House spokeswoman, Michele St. Martin, said today that Mr. Cooney would not be made available to comment. "We don't put Phil Cooney on the record," she said. "He's not a cleared spokesman."
Perhaps he wasn't trained to disassemble in public; he likes to do his dirty work in private.

On June 8, we saw more specifics of the art of disassembling:
In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.

The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase "significant and fundamental" before the word "uncertainties," tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.
For once, the paper grabs onto this like a bulldog.  Perhaps they were ashamed of their miserably deficient handling of the Downing Street Memo.

On June 9, they amplified their reports with an editorialon the subject.  They adroitly referred to the editing as "handiwork."  They went to point out that "this is hardly the first time this administration has tinkered with the truth."  Indeed.  The Union of Concerned Scientists has been pointing this out for years.  (They also have gift matching program running now, so donations made up until July 15 will be doubled.)  They then conclude that "It's sad to think of a White House run be people who believe that a problem can be edited out of existence."

It is sad, I suppose, unless you believe that it is the proper role of the US Government to use taxpayer money to create a target-rich environment for the very industries that used to employ the President and the Vice-President.  
The petroleum industry is already making record-high profits, meanwhile burdening the people and the economy by charging record-high prices.  Do they really think that they need to lie to the citizenry for the Industry to make even more money???

The kicker: when asked to explain this, White House spokesman Scott McClellan informed us, helpfully, I guess, that such revisions are part of the normal review process.  He pointed out that all the reports were approved.  He did not deny that they were full of lies.  Apparently, we're supposed to understand that lies are part of the normal process in the White House.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

American Voters Not Well Informed;
Why US Foreign Policy Will Never Work

The Economist magazine informs us that we are not well informed:
Yet American voters believe they are absurdly generous. A 2001 poll showed that they think 24% of their federal budget goes on foreign aid, a figure that would amount to more than 4% of America’s GDP.
The actual amount is 0.2% of GDP.  A subset of conservatives sometimes will argue that this does not include the generous private donations for foreign aid.  That is true, but even if that is included, the US still ranks near the bottom, among developed nations.  

This is important because it is difficult to get political support for increases in foreign aid.  Admittedly, another impediment is the widespread perception that much foreign aid is lost to corruption.  That is true, too.

Our government has tried to address this.  In 2002, we came up with the Millennium Challenge Account.  I've written about his before.  The last time I wrote about it, I mentioned that the MCA had not disbursed any funds, after two years in operation.  Of course, part of the rationale for us to spend money on foreign aid is that it can improve our security.  Now, the BBC informs us that the MCA finally has gotten going.  Madagascar has gotten some money.  

That's a relief.  Now we don't have to worry about being overrun by ring-tailed lemurs.

The Millennium Challenge Account is one of the few concepts of the current Administration that I support.  It requires that countries have to demonstrate progress on, among other things, reduction in corruption.  Sounds great.  The only problem is, it does not go far enough.

You see, it bothers most people to see money go to foreign development when there is no development to show for it.  Yet somehow we keep funding development projects.  In the process, much of the money goes into the coffers of corrupt foreign leaders and their cronies.  That is what everyone gets worked up about.  The rest of the story rarely is told: some of that money goes to Americans who purport to be trying to help.  Those persons are perfectly happy to have us waste money on ineffectual aid.

Personally, I think it is a good idea to hold the foreign governments responsible for the proper application of aid funds.  However, I think it is equally important to hold US companies and NGOs to the same standard.  An international corporation that is involved in foreign aid currently has no incentive to see to it that the money is well spent.  Once they get paid for their work, they can take the money and leave.

Foreign aid will not be effective unless both the recipient country and the US organizations involved are held accountable for the success of the development projects.

So Much for Family Values

US officers in Iraq
US soldiers serve 12-month tours in Iraq
War swells US army divorce rate

The number of US army officers getting divorced has soared in the past few years, the Pentagon says, a trend blamed on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2004 the rate of divorce was more than three times as high as in 2002, figures showed.

"The stressors are extreme in the officer corps, especially when we're at war," an army spokeswoman said.

In another sign of strain on the army, it failed to meet its recruiting target for the fourth straight month.

The army actually lowered its target for May, the Pentagon said, but still fell short of the new goal.

Colonel Joe Curtin, a Pentagon spokesman, said the army still hoped to recruit 80,000 troops in the 12 months to September, and hoped things would pick up in the summer months.

"We haven't thrown in the towel yet," he said. [...]

Downing Street Memo Won't Die This Time

Graduation Time

It was a three-hour ceremony, at Rackham auditorium.  On the way in, my father mentioned that Rackham was the first campus building he went in to, when he came to the University in 1944 to learn Japanese.  Back then, he was helping make the world safe for democracy.

During the ceremony, students played music three times.  There were two student-produced video presentations, mostly candid yearbook-type pictures, and some short video clips.  Some students may have wished that their parents hadn't seen those, but I enjoyed every second.  

No valedictorian.  Instead, every student had 30 seconds to say whatever they wanted.  That's good, because most speeches have only 30 seconds of memorable -- or even meaningful -- content, anyway.  

They should have given the same limit to the administrators.

Kevin didn't write down what he said, so he couldn't give me a copy afterward.  The gist of what he said: the first thing most people do when they become free, is to find someone else to bow down to.  He exhorted his fellow students to go out and prove that wrong.

Pretty cool.  During a lot of the student mini-speeches, other kids in the audience made a lot of noise.  Everyone was quiet when Kevin spoke; they obviously respect him and wanted to hear what he had to say.  

I hope the parents and teachers listened, so they, too, will help make the world safe for democracy.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Another Stem Cell Explainer

I just got back from a conservative blog that I respect, having read a post about the stem cell controversy.

This is a bit of a follow-up to last week's post. As the embryonic stem cell debate started raging, I noticed that some bloggers with traditional views kept emphasizing the value of adult stem cells (ASC), suggesting that ASC could be just as valuable as embryonic stem cells (ESC). I was perplexed by that. Then I learned that, according to some theological principles, in some circumstances it might be acceptable to bend the rules a little bit, so long as there was no other way to do the job. That assumes that the job to be done has some redeeming outcome. Thus, they would not be able to make as strong of an argument against ESC, unless they could show that the use of ASC could accomplish the same therapeutic purpose as could be derived from ESC. It occurs to me that it may be useful to explain why this is unlikely to be the case.  Continue reading here.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Template Good. Comments Bad.

I was pretty happy with the new template, until I realized that I messed up the comment fields.  It still works to leave comments, but it always indicated that zero comments are present, even if the number of comments is not zero.  It should be fairly easy to fix, but since I spent hours fiddling with te HTML over the weekend, I'm not going to mess with it now.  Probably not tomorrow either, since that's when the big graduation ceremony takes place.  

Earlier today, I had a few minutes after lunch and stopped by Kerrytown to see if the new Sweetwaters is open yet.  It is not.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

It's Your Reputation!

Everyone's favorite Condoleezza, Condi Rice, traveled to Fort Lauderdale FL for a meeting of the OAS.  Her mission: to get the Organization to accept a proposal to "monitor the exercise of democracy in the hemisphere."  She was disappointed in the negative reaction.  

And, they haven't even gotten to the really controversial issue of DR-CAFTA.  The meeting, only the second one held in the USA, was chaired by Dr. Rice.  On the way to the meeting, she was asked about her agenda.  She replied that she hoped to discuss the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  Specifically, she hoped to introduce the US proposal to include a mechanism for the OAS to intervene in countries where democratic rule is threatened.  

That actually sounds like something the US would have promoted all along.  On the surface, it even sounds like it might be a good idea, although it is not clear that the world needs another venue, since the UN already has a mechanism for such intervention.  

In an interview, Dr. Rice explained:
Well, first of all, the Charter makes very clear that the Organization of American States is to be an organization of democracies. It's why Cuba does not have a seat at the Organization of American States at this point in time. And so I think it only is natural that there should be some mechanism to help states that are going through challenges through -- to democracy. I'm looking forward to a discussion with my colleagues about what kind of mechanism might work best.
Ever the optimist, she was looking forward to the discussion.  Yet, what was awaiting her was a frosty reception, as indicated by a recent statement (on VHeadline.com, "Venezuela's Electronic News") by the Venezuelan Foreign Minister:
MRE Press Office: Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez Araque denounced that the reason the US is trying to amend the Inter-American Democratic Charter is to “attack Venezuela.”

"The US is planning to submit a proposal before the OAS to create a mechanism that monitors the quality of democracy in Latin America, a mechanism that would violate the UN and OAS Charters.
It turned out that Venezuela was not the only country to express opposition.  
The ambassadors from 10 major states, including Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru and Uruguay, met here on Saturday night and decided they could not support the plan as drafted, two of them said Sunday.

The two ambassadors said they particularly opposed a part of the proposal that says the organization should "develop a process to assess, as appropriate, situations that may affect the development of a member state's democratic political institutional process or the legitimate exercise of power."

One ambassador, who declined to be identified because he did not want to offend the United States, noted that the organization's charter emphasized "non-intervention, self-determination and respect for individual personalities" in member states.

The American proposal grew out of a remark that José Miguel Insulza, the newly elected secretary general of the organization, made in April at the urging of the United States. Clearly alluding to Venezuela, he said states that did not govern democratically should be held accountable by the organization.

In the weeks since then, the State Department has been drafting the proposal to create a committee that would listen to testimony from citizens groups that have problems with their governments.
That sounds good, but not everyone sees it that way.  The Venezuelan government alleges that the US has front organizations in Venezuela that act as NGO's, but which promote US interests.  From the VHeadline article:
There are agencies in the US that are disguised as NGO’s which act like political parties and try to destroy the principles that are essential for the existence of multilateral entities, such as the OAS.
Of course, ordinary citizens in the US have no way of knowing if the allegations of the Venezuelan government are accurate.  Nor do we have any way of knowing the true intentions of the Bush administration.  In light of the Downing Street Memo, and numerous other items, I must say that the members of the OAS have amply reason to be skeptical of our motives.  Given the Administration's disdain for international cooperation, it is not clear why the Administration would now promote expansion of the OAS charter -- unless they think they can buy the cooperation of OAS more easily than that of the UN.  

Dr. Rice is learning that the US has squandered its international reputation.  

Who Said This?

I just love this quote, found in an AP story, seen in today's Las Vegas Sun's Beltway News column:
"We've had terrible happenings that have really, really hurt our image of the United States," she said. "And people in the United States are sick about it."
The story was White House Plays Down New Quran Reports, by Deb Reichmann.  In the story, she points out that the original Pentagon news release that verified instances of Quran desecration came out on Friday evening, after the evening news programs.  That would have been in the middle of the night in the Middle East.  In reponse to the Pentagon's mea culpa, Scott McLellan said:
"It is unfortunate that some have chosen to take out of context a few isolated incidents by a few individuals"
McLellan carries a book full of ready excuses, just like an alcoholic who always has an excuse to take a drink.  It's rather pathetic that the best he could do was to fall back on the old standbys of "out of context," and "A few bad apples."  Sure, it is common for things to be reported out of context, but how does that apply here?  The context, by the way, is a prison camp in which people are detained indefinitely, without having been charged with a crime, and live constantly with the threat of inhumane treatment.  If you put the report in that context, does it look any better?  

Likewise, the insistence that the Quran abuse incidents were "isolated," and that they were perpetrated by "a few individuals," is no excuse at all.  They are not isolated; rather, they are a small part of a larger picture of systematic violations of human rights, flouting of international standards of decency, and ineffectual flailings of people desparate to find some kind of justification for an unjust war.  

By the way, the first quoted item in this post was said by our First Lady, Laura Bush.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Latest Trends

Friday, June 03, 2005

Arguing Against the Evolutionary Origin of Species

Forget the acrimonious debate over intelligent design and the notion that evolution explains the origin of life on Earth.  Don't let emotion or politics get in the way.  Just think about the numbers.  One reason that an evolutionary origin of life seems implausible is that, if one starts with a gmisch of simple chemicals, it seems highly unlikely (implausible) that an intelligent being would emerge after a while as a result of unguided chemical processes.  At first glance, the concept of intelligent design seems to overcome that.  This is because once the chemical processes are driven by an intelligent being, you no longer need to imagine a process of random choices over a period of billions of years, all culminating in the formation of intelligent life forms.  The hypothesis, then, is that Intelligent Design is a more likely explanation for the origin of life than natural selection.  Call that the argument by plausibility.

But is that really the case?  Imagine yourself as a Creator, setting out with a blank canvas, and starting to paint.  There is no particular assignment, you just have to paint something that looks like you, in some way.  (I'll grant you, for the purpose of this argument, that it is reasonable to say that humans were created in the image of God.)  So you pick up a brush.  Stop.  

What was the probability that you would have picked that brush out of the infinite variety at your disposal?  

You dip the brush in paint.  Stop.  

What was the probability that you would have chosen that particular color, out of the infinite variety that you have available?  

You make the first stroke on the canvas.  Stop.  What was the probability that....?

Remember, you have at fingertips an infinite variety of brushes and paints.  Therefore, there is an infinite number of ways that you drawn that particular line in that particular spot.

This informal exercise would seem to show that one origin (Intelligent Design) is neither more nor less plausible than another origin (natural selection.)  Both explanations for the origin of life require equally long, and equally implausible, chains of events.  Therefore, the argument-by-plausibility fails to distinguish between the two.

But wait!  If there is an Intelligent Designer, then the selection of a brush was not random.  There must have been some reason for the selection of that brush.  Perhaps.  But if so, it is equally true that there must be some reason that ultraviolet light can damage DNA, thereby causing a mutation.  Postulating that there must have been some reason for something still fails to distinguish between the two explanations, because it does not tell you whether the reason was due to intelligence, or just some law of physics.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Americans as Survivors

A long time ago, I changed the background color of The Corpus Callosum to black, because I was upset about the involvement of the medical profession in interrogations at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, and in Afghanistan. Now it is white, at least for now.  That does not mean that I have forgotten, nor do I wish to be complicit is denying the horrendous nature of what our country has done.

In a strange instance of irony, the two leading medical journals in the US have published articles on the same theme, and both are open-access articles: NEJM published Americans as Survivors by Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., and JAMA published Treatment of Complicated Grief by Katherine Shear, M.D., et.al.

In this post, I review the main findings of the clinical study published in JAMA, and one of the main points advanced in the NEJM essay.  I then wonder if there is any significance to the fact that these two articles were published at the same time, and both made available to the general public.  Continue reading here.

Fox News Tries To Influence People

Dale Carnegie came up with a list of ways to "Win people to your way of thinking,"  in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Notice the last one:
Win people to your way of thinking
  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say, "You're wrong."
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Get the other person saying "yes, yes" immediately.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.
Now Fox News makes use of the last one, throw down a challenge.  I noticed a post on another blog, In an Alternate Universe, pointing to this Fox item:
[...] Several popular left-leaning blogs have taken up the cause to keep the story alive, encouraging readers to contact media outlets. A Web site, DowningStreetMemo.com, tells readers to contact the White House directly with complaints.

"This is a test of the left-wing blogosphere,"
said Jim Pinkerton, syndicated columnist and regular contributor to FOX News Watch [...] [emphasis added]
I'm not sure Fox News is trying to win friends, but they certainly are trying to influence people.  In this case, it may influence liberal bloggers to keep up the pressure.

Medical Decision Support Software

I just noticed an item that corroborates this.  On Medscape News, there is a report (free registration required) from the May 23 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.  
"High rates of ADEs [adverse drug events] may continue to occur after implementation of CPOE [computerized physician order entry] and related computerized medication systems that lack decision support for drug selection, dosing, and monitoring," the authors write. "Health care organizations desirous of preventing ADEs should consider whether candidate computerized medication systems offer decision support functions that address the most troublesome aspects of the medication administration process."
I think we need to be cautious, that computerized decision support does not turn into computerized decision making.  Still, it would not be too difficult to have the machine monitor what the physician is doing, and offer information that might be helpful.  We already have the technology: if you shop on Amazon.com, their server comes up with all kinds of useful suggestions.  Well, OK, maybe they are annoying and not useful; I don't think I've ever actually bought something their machine suggested.  But the point is that the technology already exists.

Clear Thinking About Medical Liability Reform

Unfortunately, discussion on the topic of medical liability insurance reform has degenerated into a red/blue issue, with Republicans calling for limits on medical liability awards, and Democrats resisting that.  Republicans insist that such reforms would lower the cost of health care, despite the weak evidence to support that.  Democrats tend to cast it as an issue of the little guy versus the big guy, which is not really accurate, either.  

Personally, I doubt that caps on medical liability would have much effect on the cost of health care.  I don't think they would seriously impair the ability of persons injured by negligence to get appropriate settlements, except perhaps in a few cases.  

That is not to say that it is a trivial issue.  Even though the vast majority will people would go on about their lives, with no appreciable change, no matter what is done on the issue, there are some situations in which is does matter.

A recent study at the UM (that's University of MICHIGAN, thank you) Medical Center shows why.  The study was done in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, so they looked at the effects of malpractice premiums on Obstetrical practice.  In the six areas with the highest premiums, the rate of births per obstetrician is going up.  In other areas, it is going down.  This was true particularly in areas with breathtakingly high rates.  In Dade County, Florida, an obstetrician pays an average of $277,000 per year for coverage, up from $249,000.  In Wayne County, Michigan, it is now $230,000.  The researchers found that there is a risk of serious undersupply of vital services in some areas.

As an aside, one of the biggest underwriters for medical malpractice insurance is now General Electric.  They posted an increase in profits of 25% last year.

Anyone else find that irritating?

Anyway, in order to understand the medical liability insurance crisis, it is necessary to view the problem stratified by medical specialty, and by geographic area.  Lumping together ALL malpractice settlements and judgments, or ALL medical specialties, or ALL geographic areas can be misleading.  Equally misleading is the tendency for pundits on both sides to cite a few egregious examples to illustrate their points.  There are real problems, but they are localized to a few specialties and a few geographic areas.  Looking at the problem from an overly broad perspective leads one to miss the problem areas.  Likewise, viewing it from the too-narrow standpoint, looking at just a few exceptional cases, fails to reveal the real problems.  And of course, politicizing the issue doesn't help.