Wednesday, November 30, 2005

International Meme

Tild, and Pharyngula, et al. have been looking at the proportion of blog visitors who come from countries other than the USA. The idea is to see if liberal blogs get more international visitors. It seems that it would take a more systematic collection of data for this to be maningful, but for what it is worth, the graph above shows the data for Corpus Callosum.

Anabolic Steroids in "Diet Pills"

Washington Post reports
(Furled copy) today on additional products that have been found to contain anabolic steroids.  
[...] The supplement, which is sold under the name Halodrol-50, contains a steroid that closely resembles Oral-Turinabol, the principal steroid used to fuel East Germany's secret, systematic sports doping program, according to Don Catlin of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory.

Catlin said it also contains DMT, or madol, a steroid federal authorities say was developed for Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO), the California nutritional supplement company at the center of a scheme to provide prominent professional athletes with undetectable performance-enhancing drugs. [...]

Some may wonder why we should be worried about anabolic steroids.  Fortunately, Alan Alda explained it all.  A copy of his report has been provided here:
What Every Woman Should Know About Men
by Alan Alda, printed in Ms. Magazine

Everyone knows that testosterone, the so-called male hormone, is found in both men and women. What is not so well known, is that men have an overdose.

Until now it has been thought that the level of testosterone in men is normal simply because they have it. But if you consider how abnormal their behavior is, then you are led to the hypothesis that almost all men are suffering from testosterone poisoning.

The symptoms are easy to spot. Sufferers are reported to show an early preference (while still in the crib) for geometric shapes. Later, they become obsessed with machinery and objects to the exclusion of human values. They have an intense need to rank everything, and are obsessed with size. [...]

Seriously, anabolic steroids are no laughing matter.  In the case of Halodrol-50, the substances were detected when the Washington Post paid to have diet products analyzed.  Now that the banned substances have been found, the FDA is investigating.  While it is good that the FDA is investigating, it bothers me that we have to depend on a newspaper to find out about this kind of thing.  People need to know that the FDA does not routinely perform studies on products sold as "nutritional supplements."    

Truthdig Debut

Go to 's new site, .  The inaugral issue features an article by , arguably Ann Arbor's most prominent blogger:
At Hussein's Hearings, U.S. May Be on Trial
By Juan Cole —

With the gravest charges facing the former Iraqi dictator, Americans are implicated either through acts of commission or omission. [...]

As former National Security Council staffer Howard Teicher affirmed [153 KB PDF], “Pursuant to the secret NSDD [National Security Directive], the United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing US military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure that Iraq had the military weaponry required.” The requisite weaponry included cluster bombs. [...]

The trial could be interesting indeed, especially if the US government does not have control over the evidence presented at the trial.  

Truthdig also features an interesting article on China by .

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tai Shan

Panda in public Tai Shan, the baby giant panda born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., chews on a piece of bamboo in his indoor exhibit Tuesday. It was the first press preview for the new panda, who was born July 9 and now weighs 21 pounds. The cub is still nursing and chews bamboo but hasn't made it part of his diet yet. Tai Shan is the sixth giant panda cub born at the National Zoo but the first to survive longer than four days. (Chicago Tribune photo by Pete Souza) Posted November 29, 2005

I'm Sorta Jealous

This guy gets over five thousand radio and TV station broadcasts, most free of charge, using twelve satellite dishes.  Seems like fun, setting it all up and getting it to work.  The only problem is, content-wise, five thousand times zero is still zero.

HT Mesh.

If Only...

Now, if only the US would get a warning, and face possible sanctions...

EU warned on 'secret CIA jails'
Prisoner at Guantanamo Bay
Reports claim al-Qaeda members are being held in clandestine jails
The European Union's top justice official has warned that any EU state found to have hosted a secret CIA jail could have its voting rights suspended.

Franco Frattini said the consequences would be "extremely serious" if reports of such prisons turned out to be true.

This comes amid an EU investigation into claims the US secret service ran clandestine jails in eastern Europe.

In the case of Romania, a senior Euro MP has questioned whether its accession to the EU should go ahead as planned.

The US has refused to confirm or deny the reports of secret jails, which surfaced in the US earlier this month. [...]

A True Giving Tree

The avocado fell out of favor as a staple across the state's landscapes, and what a shame. It's a classic whose surprising variety and burly magnificence bestow so much more than fruit...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Hope Springs Eternal

The online publication, Astrobiology Magazine, is a bit strange.  As far as anyone knows, there still is no actual evidence of extraterrestrial life, yet there is already a magazine on the subject.  They are eternally hopeful.  

Despite the lack of evidence for an actual life form out there somewhere, there is good news in the sphere of Astronomy.  The Spirit rover has been operating on Mars for an entire Martian year.  I've had a fondness for Spirit ever since it landed.  One of the photos from Spirit was incorporated into my banner.  In fact, the successful landing was the subject of my fourth blog entry, back in January 2004.

Looking back at it, the post is formatted badly, because I've changed my template several times.   Back then, I was not sufficiently sophisticated to anticipate such things.  

Anyway, Spirit is still going strong.  She has traversed a distance of three miles since her maiden trek.  Astrobiology Magazine has an update:
Just Keeps Going and Going...
based on a JPL release
(Nov 26, 2005) 

Spirit, the untiring robotic "wonder child" sent by NASA to explore the eerily earthlike fourth planet from the sun, has completed one martian year--that's almost two Earth years--on Mars. Designed to last only 90 martian days (sols), the six-wheeled marvel the size of a golf cart has pursued a steady course of solar-driven geologic fieldwork, bringing back some 70,000 images and a new understanding of Mars as a potential habitat.

During Spirit's martian year, the seasons have changed from summer to winter and back again. In its orbit around the Sun, Mars has returned to where it was when the rover first landed. Having survived seven times its expected lifetime and traveling over 3 miles (about 5,000 meters), Spirit is still going strong. [...]

Now that is really cool!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday Roundup: Uncertainty, Science, and Public Policy

There are two interesting essays on the evolution/ID debate in today's newspapers.  Nobody is going to be persuaded one way or the other by either article, but perhaps they can bring much-needed perspective to the debate.  Christians can't afford to oppose evolution, by Richard Colling, published in the Chicago Tribune, attempts to bridge the gap in understanding between both sides.  Borrowing from the style of George Lakoff, the author presents the objections each side had to the other's viewpoint.  In God and Darwin We Trust, by Dan Neil, in the LA Times, presents the view of the debate as described by inhabitants of Patagonia.  

Hot on Parkinson's Tail, also in the LA Times, describes the current thinking about the possible relationship between exposure to pesticides, and Parkinson disease.   Climate talks - hoops and hot air, by Richard Black, posted at BBC News, is a nice display of British humor.  A nice display of British formality can be found in Handling Uncertainty in Scientific Advice, published by the UK's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.  What these all have in common, is that they portray and discuss the problems that arise when various degrees of uncertainty are portrayed -- and misportrayed -- when scientific matters become issues in public policy.  Continue reading here.

Spain is Better

This would be good for the Democratic Platform, in my opinion.  Yes, in the United States of America.  We need to catch up to the rest of the world.

2 mln women face domestic violence in Spain: govt

    MADRID, Nov. 26 (Xinhuanet) -- Spain arrested more than 28,000 people in domestic violence-related incidents in the first nine months this year, the country's Interior Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

    Despite the tens of thousands arrests, Spain witnessed a drop of 11 percent in the number of women killed in domestic violence in 2005, which was 56, compared to last year's 72, according to the statement.

    The Spanish government has made fighting domestic violence one of its top priorities and the Interior Ministry pledged to assign 1,100 specialized police agents to protect mistreated women by the end of 2005.

    Previous efforts made included specialized courts focusing exclusively on cases of violence against women.

    Amnesty International says 2 million women face domestic violence in Spain, and every four days there is a woman killed by her spouse or ex-spouse. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of victims report such incidents, Amnesty says. Enditem

The translation could have been better, but the intent is good.  

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Panda Dental Exam

Dental exam In this photo released by Smithsonian's National Zoo, 4-month-old giant panda cub Tai Shan gets his teeth checked by zoo veterinarian Ellen Bronson Monday in Washington. More than half of the tickets for the National Zoo's public debut of the popular giant panda cub were gone within the first hour of an online ticket offering, zoo officials said Monday. (AP photo) Posted November 21, 2005

Friday, November 25, 2005

Another Inspiring Photo

This is a great shot of one of the moons of Saturn, Dione.  From Universe Today:
Cassini took this amazing image of Saturn's moon Dione on approach to its recent October 11, 2005 rendezvous; Saturn itself sits in the background. Dione is much darker on its western side in this image, and you can see the bright wispy fresh canyons right at the edge. Cassini took this image when it was approximately 24,500 kilometers (15,200 miles) from Dione.

Pre-pipeline News

The "pipeline" in drug development refers to those new molecular entities that may soon be markable as pharmaceutical products. Bored physicians looking for something to blog about often peek into the pipeline, knowing that there always is an audience hungry for news about emerging products.

As is happens, I am not particularly bored. Rather, I am inspired, because I am listening to Patti Smith's Legacy Edition of the venerable album, Horses. Suitably energized, I present now the latest information on a potential treatment for drug addiction. Although it appears to work in rats, and is far from entering the pipeline that leads to products for humans, it is an interesting molecule.

Researchers in Canada have crafted a peptide that might turn out to be useful. Unlike most other products proposed as treatments for substance dependence, its mechanism of action is such that it could work regardless of the nature of the dependency. That is, it could work equally well, regardless of the substance to which the patient is addicted.

In addicted rats, cell-to-cell communication is compromised as a result of certain long-term changes at the level of individual neurons. Their research has produced a targeted drug that tricks brain cells into preventing those changes. “We think this is a good candidate for a drug against addiction that has very few side effects,” said Wang, a neuroscientist . Although the initial studies are promising, Wang cautioned that the drug is in the early stages of development and is years away from testing in humans.

During addiction to drugs, cells in the nucleus accumbens—a tiny ball of tissue deep in the brain involved in pleasure and motivation—miscommunicate. Normally, one neuron triggers activity in a neighbor by using neurotransmitters such as glutamate. “This is the 'go' signal,” said Wang. “The receiving cell uses glutamate receptors on its surface to listen to the signal.

But after repeated abuse of a drug, cells in the nucleus accumbens internalize glutamate receptors, compromising their ability to listen to the signals. Earlier research showed that receptor internalization in addicted rats accompanies behavioral sensitization, a model of craving. [...]

The researchers began by building a peptide—a long molecule made from a string of amino acids—with a structure similar to the tail of the glutamate receptor that is anchored inside the cell. In addiction, cellular machinery tugs on this tail, pulling the entire receptor into the cell. Without its business end sticking out into the synapse, or space between neurons, the receptor no longer works.

Wang's peptide tricks the cellular machinery into tugging on it instead of the receptor's tail. “Once it gets inside the neuron, the peptide competes with the receptor for binding to the machinery,” Wang explained. With the cellular machinery otherwise occupied, the glutamate receptors stay on the cell surface, where they continue to receive signals.

Nobody has any way of knowing if this ever will be commercially viable. Despite the caveats, it is a nice piece of work. Even if their peptide is not effective in humans, or not practical for use as a treatment, improved understanding of the neuronal mechanism of drug dependence may lead to a new therapeutic approach, one that is practical, safe, and effective.

Obscure Movie of the Moment

The Corpus Callosum ordinarily eschews popular culture, preferring instead to focus on weightier matters. Today is different.

In 1986, Armand Assante starred in what was to become his lowest-grossing movie ever. What is most unusual about this film, is that I know it exists, even though it came out when I was an intern. During that period of time, most of popular culture dropped into a black hole, as far as I was concerned. Was it really any good? Or is it just that, while I was watching it, nobody was bleeding on me, and that made it seem good?

Belizaire the Cajun can be thought of as a study in the universality of racial injustice. It has funny parts and serious parts. It has a tinge of the occult. Assante displays great versatility in portraying a complex character in Belizaire. That, in my view, is one of the elements of a good movie. The character of Belizaire is not one of those characters who seems familiar; he is not someone who appears in just about every movie you see. It is the richness of character that brings the movie to life, and makes it worth watching.

Those who are not interested in intricacies of character development may be more amused watching something else, like Dumb and Dumber. But if you like to see an actor portray a character that is interesting enough that you'd like to have a cup of tea with him, then Belizaire the Cajun just might be for you.

When Will They Ever Learn?

Our government is still trying to figure out how to measure the effectiveness of the Global and Perpetual War on .  It seems that the Congressional Research Service is not satisfied with the metric of body counts:
U.S. Challenged Over Measures
Of Its Success Against Terrorism
November 25, 2005; Page A5

A report to be released shortly by the Congressional Research Service questions the effectiveness of the Bush administration's measuring stick for determining success in countering terrorism.

The report says measures such as the number of terrorist incidents per year and the number of terrorists killed or captured are inadequate. Instead, it urges the use of broader social indicators, like the ability of terrorists to recruit. The Congressional Research Service is a branch agency within the Library of Congress. [...]
This is reminiscent of the Viet Nam war.  We lost something like 57,000 servicemen and women, compared to something like two million of our opponents. (I'm not going to look up the figures; the exact numbers don't matter.)  In a traditional war, a loss ratio like that would cause the opponents to give up.  In an ideologically-based conflict, the ratio doesn't matter.  In the GAPWOT, it does not matter.  

When Will They Ever Learn?

Pictures of the Year

Editor and Publisher has put up their 2005 Pictures of the Year. This one is by Will Lester of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: Visitors to Death Valley National Park climb the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells in late afternoon on March 15, 2005.

Not A Holiday

The UN has declared November 25 to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This topic easily deserves to be elevated to more than a mere day; it would be more appropriate if we made it a decade, or a century.
UN calls for strong action to eliminate violence against women

25 November 2005 The United Nations today marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women with calls for states to take legal action against the global scourge, for societies to change a mindset that permits such abuse, and for women themselves to stand up and speak out against a culture of shame.

“Violence against women remains pervasive worldwide, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message. It is the most atrocious manifestation of the systemic discrimination and inequality women continue to face, in law and in their everyday lives, around the world. It occurs in every region, country, and culture, regardless of income, class, race or ethnicity.

Noting that leaders at September'’s UN World Summit pledged to redouble efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and the girls, he stressed that this required a change of the mindset, still all too common and deep-seated, that violence against women is acceptable.

That means leadership in showing, by example, that when it comes to violence against women and girls, there are no grounds for tolerance and no tolerable excuses,” he declared. [...]

, or intimate-partner violence, is a serious public health problem, a huge drain on economic productivity, and is a much more serious problem than other kinds of terrorism.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

My blog is worth $76,212.90.
How much is your blog worth?

Gee, I've made ~ $20,000 in the past month!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pitfalls for Psych 101 Students

Well, actually, I am gong to disclose only one pitfall, today.  Many first-semester students of psychology read and hear the material, and find that what they are learning is so consistent with their preconceptions and intuitive beliefs, that they assume that the material is easy and conclude that they don't have to study much.  Then they get their grade for the first exam, and realize that it is not really as simple as it seems at first.  

There are many aspects of that run counter to what you might think.  For example, in the 1980's, a form of psychotherapy known as was just getting to be popular.  One of the tenets of cognitive therapy was the belief that was caused by unrealistically negative thinking.  

Some folks eventually decided to test the hypothesis.  They got some depressed people and some non-depressed people, and gave them all a quiz, asking them to estimate the risks of various misfortunes.  The hypothesis was that depressed people would unrealistically overestimate the risks of unfortunate events.  In fact, the outcome was the opposite.  Happy people are the unrealistic ones; depressed people see the world more realistically.  

Now comes a study that shows similar results:
Mildly depressed people more perceptive than others,
new Queen’s study shows

Monday November 21, 2005

KINGSTON, Ont. – Surprisingly, people with mild depression are actually more tuned into the feelings of others than those who aren’t depressed, a team of Queen’s psychologists has discovered.

“This was quite unexpected because we tend to think that the opposite is true,” says lead researcher Kate Harkness. “For example, people with depression are more likely to have problems in a number of social areas.”

The researchers were so taken aback by the findings, they decided to replicate the study with another group of participants. The second study produced the same results: People with mild symptoms of depression pay more attention to details of their social environment than those who are not depressed.
So mild depression actually sharpens one's emotional perceptiveness.  

If I believed in evolutionary psychology, I might be tempted to wonder about a possible adaptive value for this, and entertain notions about a balanced polymorphism.  In order to even be worth speculating about, though, we would have to know if their findings are a state or a trait characteristic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Spoils of War

Reading this is just plain sickening. "Spoils" is right. Here are some lowlights:
The spoils of war
By Philip Thornton, Economics Correspondent
Published: 22 November 2005

Iraqis face the dire prospect of losing up to $200bn (£116bn) of the wealth of their country if an American-inspired plan to hand over development of its oil reserves to US and British multinationals comes into force next year. A report produced by American and British pressure groups warns Iraq will be caught in an "old colonial trap" if it allows foreign companies to take a share of its vast energy reserves. The report is certain to reawaken fears that the real purpose of the 2003 war on Iraq was to ensure its oil came under Western control. [...]

Earlier this year a BBC Newsnight report claimed to have uncovered documents showing the Bush administration made plans to secure Iraqi oil even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. Based on its analysis of PSAs in seven countries, it said multinationals would seek rates of return on their investment from 42 to 162 per cent, far in excess of typical 12 per cent rates. [...]

Louise Richards, chief executive of War on Want, said: "People have increasingly come to realise the Iraq war was about oil, profits and plunder. Despite claims from politicians that this is a conspiracy theory, our report gives detailed evidence to show Iraq's oil profits are well within the sights of the oil multinationals." [...]
It just gets worse.  We should end the war now.  The longer it goes on, the longer the rest of the world has to find out just how corrupt we really are.  Maybe if we pull out now, they will forget about all our crimes.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Huh? Bomb Al-Jazeera?

I don't know what to think of this.  A few days after an alleged leak of another , we see now a report that is almost as damaging as the original one.  From the Australian news source, National Nine:
Bush plotted to bomb al-Jazeera: report
Tuesday Nov 22 14:24 AEST

US President George W. Bush planned to bomb pan-Arab television broadcaster al-Jazeera, British newspaper the Daily Mirror said , citing a Downing Street memo marked "Top Secret".

The five-page transcript of a conversation between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair reveals that Blair talked Bush out of launching a military strike on the station, unnamed sources told the anti-war-in-Iraq daily.

The transcript of the pair's talks during Blair's April 16, 2004 visit to Washington allegedly shows Bush wanted to attack the satellite channel's headquarters.

Blair allegedly feared such a strike, in the business district of Doha, the capital of Qatar, a key western ally in the Persian Gulf, would spark revenge attacks.

The Mirror quoted an unnamed British government official as saying Bush's threat was "humorous, not serious". [...] A spokesman for Blair's Downing Street office said: "We have got nothing to say about this story. We don't comment on leaked documents." [...]
I don't know what could be humorous about that.  Plus, there is more text in the original article that casts doubt on any attempt to write this off as a joke.

Update: here is the CNN story, which includes a link to the video of their newscast. Also, thank you to Bald Headed Freak for linking to this.

Update: two days later, Washington Post finally writes about the subject...

AArrggh...Not Another Internet(s) Quiz

You are DNA. You're a smart person, and you appear incredibly complex to people who don't know you. You're incomparably full of information, and most of it is useless.

Which Biological Molecule Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

HT Virushead

Update: I really thought I was going to turn out to be dopamine.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More on Global Warming

This is a follow-up to the post on that I posted earlier today.

Greg P prompted me to look into the issue a little more.  There is a comment thread at Huffington Post, but it is not very informative...or at least it wasn't until j7uy5 added a substantive comment earlier today.  I've expanded on that here.

Greg cited an article in Science (abstract) by Ola M. Johannessen et. al., that shows that the thickness of the ice cap is increasing, at least in the areas of greatest elevation.  The abstract, however, is not very informative.  The authors were interviewed by reporters, and some additional detail is available on CNN, here.  The CNN article includes information from some other scientists:
[...] And the scientists said that the thickening of the ice-cap might be offset by a melting of glaciers around the fringes of Greenland. [...]

"Ice sheets now appear to be contributing modestly to sea level rise because warming has increased mass loss from coastal areas more than warming has increased mass gain from enhanced snowfall in cold central regions," it said.

"Greenland presently makes the largest contribution to sea level rise," according to the report by scientists led by Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University in the United States.
Similarly, the authors of the paper cited by The Independent have been interviewed elsewhere.  An interview published by TerraDaily, with the lead author, Ian Howat (a UCSC doctoral candidate in Earth Sciences), and his advisor, Slawek Tulaczyk, includes the following:
Satellite images dating back as far as the 1970s show that the front of the glacier has remained in the same place for decades.

But in 2001 it began retreating rapidly, moving back four and a half miles between 2001 and 2005. Howat's measurements also show that the Helheim glacier has sped up from around 70 feet per day to nearly 110 feet per day and thinned by more than 130 feet since 2001.

As the glacier speeds up and retreats, new factors come into play that cause further acceleration and retreat, Howat said. "This is a very fast glacier, and it's likely to get faster," he said. [...] "Outlet glaciers may have been thinning for over a decade," Howat said. "But it's only in the last few years that thinning reached a critical point and began drastically changing the glacier's dynamics. [...] "Our research provides strong evidence that rapid melting processes such as we observed at the Helheim glacier will play a role in ice sheet reduction, but they are currently not included in the models." Tulaczyk said.
Us non-geophysicists* can't really assess the science in all the papers written on the subject.  Even if we could, it would not be valid to cite just a few papers and pretend that we have a comprehensive understanding of the subject.  As perpetual sophomores, however, we are free to read a subset of the relevant literature and say what we think.  

The information here would indicate that the melting around the edges of the ice cap is more significant than the thickening of the top.  That certainly is what Howat, Tulaczyk and Alley believe.  Since they undoubtedly have already read the Johannessen paper, and have taken it into account, I tend to think they are correct.  However, we really need to wait until the Howat paper appears in print, and the experts have a chance to mull it over.  After all, that is how science works.  People publish their stuff, and everyone else tries to pick it apart.  If it survives, it becomes the latest version of the truth.
* Usage note: "non-geophysicist" sounds better than "non-earth scientist," and is not ambiguous.

Not Exactly As Planned

U.S. President George W. Bush reacts as he tries to open a locked door as he leaves a news conference in Beijing November 20, 2005.
Washington and Beijing will cooperate towards making the yuan's exchange rate more responsive to market forces of supply and demand, visiting U.S. President George W. Bush said on Sunday. (Jason Reed/Reuters)
U.S. President George W. Bush reacts as he tries to open a locked door as he leaves a news conference in Beijing November 20, 2005.

Washington and Beijing will cooperate towards making the yuan's exchange rate more responsive to market forces of supply and demand, visiting U.S. President George W. Bush said on Sunday. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Update: Bob has the link to the video.

The Big Thaw

Posted without comment:
The big thaw
Global disaster will follow if the ice cap on Greenland melts. Now scientists say it is vanishing far faster than even they expected.

Geoffrey Lean reports
Published: 20 November 2005

Greenland's glaciers have begun to race towards the ocean, leading scientists to predict that the vast island's ice cap is approaching irreversible meltdown, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Research to be published in a few days' time shows how glaciers that have been stable for centuries have started to shrink dramatically as temperatures in the Arctic have soared with global warming. On top of this, record amounts of the ice cap's surface turned to water this summer.

The two developments - the most alarming manifestations of climate change to date - suggest that the ice cap is melting far more rapidly than scientists had thought, with immense consequences for civilisation and the planet. Its complete disappearance would raise the levels of the world's seas by 20 feet, spelling inundation for London and other coastal cities around the globe, along with much of low-lying countries such as Bangladesh.

More immediately, the vast amount of fresh water discharged into the ocean as the ice melts threatens to shut down the Gulf Stream, which protects Britain and the rest of northern Europe from a freezing climate like that of Labrador.

The revelations, which follow the announcement that the melting of sea ice in the Arctic also reached record levels this summer, come as the world's governments are about to embark on new negotiations about how to combat global warming. [...]
OK, one comment: oh shit.

Propaganda 99

"The Chinese People's Liberation Army is the great school of Mao Zedong Thought"
 circa 1969
From Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages

We may find artwork such as the Mao poster to be amusing, and feel at least faintly proud that our government, here in the USA, does not publish things like that.  Those of you who are amused and faintly proud might be interested in this remedial course, Propaganda 99.

Probably all governments engage in propaganda.  Surely, any of the Administrations in the history of US government could be accused of such infractions.  

In this post, I propose an idiosyncratic definition of the term propaganda, and lecture in my usual stultifying fashion about what it is and is not, then give examples to illustrate the points I make.  I conclude with an offer for others to help create a new blog that would serve as a remedial course in government propaganda.  Continue reading here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Maiden Overseas

'Maiden Overseas' (Katrina Loncaric) and 'Mr. Wal-Mart Smiley Face' (L.J. Jellison) react to objections during a mock wedding at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada November 18, 2005. Maiden Overseas left Smiley Face in the aisle after the objections by 'Maiden America' and a variety of celebrity impersonators. The skit was held to draw attention to Wal-Mart's negative business model, said Jeralyn Lutty, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International union. Representatives from seven unions are attending the 'New Hope for American Workers' union organizing conference. Actor Bobby Rogers (C) portrayed a reverend. 18 Nov 2005 REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Nomothetic and Idiographic

There is a nice post on Shrinkette (I love that name) that contains an excerpt from an interview with Nancy Andreasen, MD.  The original was published in New Scientist, in their subscription-only section.  There is a lot one could say about the material, but I am going to focus on one little bit:
There is less emphasis on careful observation. The fundamental point is that the individual patient and his or her uniqueness should form the centrepiece of clinical practice...There is an increased tendency to make diagnosis through checklists, with less emphasis on the interesting uniqueness of each individual patient and on the humanism that lay at the heart of early .
Obviously I agree with the proposition that there should be a strong emphasis on observation (observations are gold...), but I think the statement about emphasis on "the interesting uniqueness of each individual patient"  deserves some clarification.

There are two different perspectives that one can use to understand a person within the context of a social system: the nomothetic, and the idiographic.  See the blurb from Encyclopædia Britannica for an explanation of those two terms.  Or read this, which is from a paper I wrote 14.5 years ago:
When I evaluate people, I try to collect two kinds of information in order to answer two conceptual questions about the client.  The first thing I want to know is: "What features does this client have in common with other, similar clients?"  The  (nomothetic) information needed to answer this question is objective and descriptive in nature.  It allows you to compare the client to the population in general, as well as to the subpopulations of people with similar difficulties.  The second question I want to answer is: "What makes this client different from everyone else?"  The (idiographic) information needed to answer this question is personal, individual, historical, and may even be subjective. 
It is not that one perspective is better than another; rather, the point is that there are two perspectives and each has the potential to reveal things that the other does not.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Greater Care for the Needy

Top government officials today called for "local governments at all levels to intensify efforts to assist urban and rural poor people across the country, saying it concerns social stability and economic and social development. Policies and measures should be improved to help the poor and difficult groups, and those who have been affected by natural disasters should be assured to have housing to stay, clothes to wear and meals to eat" [...]

That seems to contradict what has appeared in recent headlines, doesn't it? But it sounds good...except the government that is making this call, is the government of China.

Preparing Our Medical Frontline For the Future

This article at Eureka Alert caught my attention.  It makes some good points.  However, it was written in Australia.  To address the same issue fully in the United States, one would have to pay attention not just to medical training, but also to reimbursement.
Preparing our medical frontline for the future

The medical workforce of the future will not be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow's disease burden unless drastic changes are made to introduce flexible work patterns and multidisciplinary teamwork, according to a health policy expert.

The Director of the Menzies Centre for Public Health Policy and Practice at ANU, Mr Robert Wells, told the International Workforce Conference tomorrow's doctors and nurses will be faced with patients who will be older, more likely to suffer from a chronic condition and informed by the Internet.

"It's going to be a much more complex health picture in the future and the workforce shortage is unlikely to improve considering the lower birth rate numbers since the 1970s - we're not likely to have enough doctors to replace the ones we have.

"There needs to be urgent change in models of training so our workforce is ready for the challenges. Training needs to enable better team working, multidisciplinary approaches to care and more emphasis on primary care training."

Workforce numbers continue to highlight the need for changes in training and working, Mr Wells said. [...]

The main points here are that, as the average age of the population increases, the average complexity of medical cases will increase.  This will increase demand for health care professionals, and will require that the practitioners be well-versed in interdisciplinary teamwork.  Those are good points.  In a nation with a national health care plan, that is as far as it goes.  In the (rather perverse) system we have in the USA, though, it would not be sufficient to  increase the supply of health care practitioners and to make sure that they can work in teams.

The way health care reimbursement works in the USA, doctors do not get paid for sitting and thinking about their patients; nor do they get paid for conferring with nurses, informally checking with colleagues, etc.  In other words, they do not get paid for teamwork.  Teamwork is good, but it takes a lot of time.  Therefore, unless the reimbursement system is changed, care for the elderly (or any patient with complex problems) will only get worse over time.

Group Seeks Further Inquiry in Frist’s Stock Sales

HT to Doctor Blogger for this one, which I missed:

A consumer advocacy group called Wednesday for the Securities and Exchange Commission to expand its inquiry into the stock trades of Senator Bill Frist, the Republican leader, saying it had uncovered “questionable transactions lucrative to Frist family members.”

The commission is already investigating the senator’s decision to sell all of his stock in HCA Inc., the healthcare giant founded by his father and brother, shortly before the price hit a peak and then plummeted. Mr. Frist, whose records, along with company’s, have been subpoenaed, has repeatedly said that he has done nothing wrong.

Now the advocacy group, Public Citizen, says financial disclosure documents filed by Mr. Frist reveal several additional “exceedingly well-timed transactions” made by trusts that manage investments for his three sons. All involve healthcare companies that at one point had ties to the Frist family.
Repeat after me: innocent until proven guilty, innocent until proven guilty, innocent until proven guilty...

That's fine, except it is starting to stretch the limits of credibility for him to claim that it was just luck for him and his family to have such serendipity when it comes to timing the market.  I suppose I might look at this differently, if it turned out that that they used the profits to fund free medical clinics, or something like that.

Regardless of the outcome, we can at least hope that his Presidential aspirations are fading.

What's Your Funky Inner Hair Color?

Your Hair Should Be Orange
Expressive, deep, and one of a kind.
You pull off "weird" well - hardly anyone notices.

Friday USB Snowman Blogging

From Think Geekhttp://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/lights/707b/images/

The Other Downing Street Memo

This is headline news at The Independent:
Two charged over leak of Blair-Bush conversation on conflict
By Jason Bennetto and Ben Russell
Published: 18 November 2005

A civil servant has been charged with trying to leak a transcript of a confidential and controversial conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush about the Iraq war.

A document containing a transcript of a conversation between the two leaders was sent to a rebel Labour MP, allegedly in an attempt to cause Mr Blair embarrassment over Iraq.

But the MP returned the document to Downing Street, who called in the Metropolitan Police's Special Branch to investigate.

The transcript of the conversation, understood to have taken place in a face-to-face meeting in the US, is believed to reveal that Mr Blair disagreed with Mr Bush about aspects of the war in Iraq.

The document also revealed details that, if disclosed, could have endangered the lives of British troops. [...]
It looks as though, this time, we do not get to see what was said.  I wonder what could possibly be in that document, that would cause Mr. Blair more embarrassment than he already has endured.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Update on Primordial Soup

One of the good things about the public debate about Intelligent Design is the introduction of the term testable hypothesis into common usage.  The idea is that a scientific theory should generate testable hypotheses.  That is, it should be possible to use the theory to make guesses about what one would find, if certain experiments were done.  If the experiments are done, and the results conform to the guesses, then the theory is strengthened.  If the guess turn out to have been wrong, the theory is weakened.  The overall validity of the theory is determined by the accuracy of the guesses.  

Evolutionary Theory predicts that experiments done under primitive geological conditions should show that it would have been possible for certain organic molecules to be formed.  Note that there is no single experiment that can be done that would prove or disprove the entire Theory.  That is not the point.  The point is to do the experiments, see what happens, and continue to modify the Theory as indicated by the results of the experiments.  Just like evolution itself, the scientific method has no predefined endpoint.  

Those who misunderstand evolution often believe that evolution progresses to some kind of ideal endpoint, as though some mysterious is guiding the organisms to mate in such a way as to produce offspring that are "better" in some way.  That is not the case.   Organisms do what they do, and what happens, happens.  If what happens works, then more of it happens.  Theories evolve in much the same way.  Sometimes they reach a dead end, when experiments repeatedly show that the hypotheses are fruitless.  

Now, Arizona State University geochemists, led by Lynda Williams, have added another notch in the stock of Evolution:
Williams' research suggests how some of the fundamental materials necessary for life might have come into existence deep in the sea. The results of Williams' experiments were published in the article, "Organic Molecules Formed in a Primordial Womb," in the November issue of Geology.

Williams and her team mimicked the conditions found in hydrothermal vents along the lines where tectonic plates converge on the ocean floor. The vents are fissures in the seafloor that spew out super-hot water much like an underwater volcano. [...]

Williams hypothesized that the expandable clay surrounding the hydrothermal vents might have served as a "primordial womb" for infant molecules, sheltering them within its mineral layers. She devised an experiment that would test whether the organic compound methanol would be protected between the clay layers.

Williams and her team simulated the intense heat and pressure of the ocean floor within a pressurized vessel. The reaction of the clay and methanol was monitored over six weeks. The team found that the expandable clay not only protected the methanol, but also promoted reactions that formed even more complex organic compounds. The mineralogical reaction between the clay and methanol was facilitating the production of new organic material. [...]
This is not a really big deal.  It is pretty much what we expected.  Was is notable is that, while scientists continue to make notches in the stock of , practitioners are still looking for their first testable hypothesis.  One reason they are stymied is this:  Implicit in their theory is the belief that the things we see around us in the world, are so complex that they could not have been formed by evolution.  In order to find experimental evidence of that, they have to come up with experiments to show that evolution could not have produced the organisms we see.  That's a tough one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bruce Springsteen is Better Than Me

I was going to write a song about myself, but it is difficult to sing the words:

"Born in the Universityofmichiganhospital"

and get it to sound like anything that someone else would want to listen to.

Demolition of Stereotypes

Juan Cole has a must-read post, which absolutely demolishes common stereotypes about Islam.

Chickenhawk Revealed

Now, for the first time anywhere, the Corpus Callosum reveals to the world what a chickenhawk really looks like:

Clyde pardoned Alabama Gov. Bob Riley pardons the life of a turkey named "Clyde" during a ceremony on the lawn of the Governor's Mansion Tuesday in Montgomery, Ala. The annual Thanksgiving tradition is in its 58th year.
(AP photo by Rob Carr)
Posted November 15, 2005

Jump-Start a National Debate?

This could get interesting.  Too often, when people think about a national health program, or debate the topic, they think and talk in terms of abstractions.  Or they cite results from other countries, which generally is only peripherally related to the issue here in the USA.  Having some home-grown empirical data just might provide us with some material for a more informed and meaningful debate.
States working to expand access to health coverage
Some experts think efforts could jump-start a national debate over insurance issue
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Originally published November 14, 2005

WASHINGTON // Health care reform may be dead in Washington, but a growing number of states - under Republicans and Democrats alike - are taking steps to expand medical insurance coverage.

Faced with a problem they find increasingly hard to ignore, governors and legislators in at least 20 states have hammered out agreements to expand access to health care by squeezing money from existing health programs and taking other politically difficult steps, including tax increases. [...]

"The fact that nothing is happening in Washington is not deterring states," said Alan R. Weil, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. "The lack of action in Washington is not because of the lack of a problem. It's because of a lack of agreement and, frankly, a lack of consequences for failing to address the issue. At the state level, if you have a Medicaid budget problem or a growing number of uninsured, you have to tackle the issue." [...]
Of course, it can be hard to make sense of data from a hodgepodge of programs in different States, but it is better than nothing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

More Problems with Sony XCP

Word to the wise:

Don’t Use Sony’s Web-based XCP Uninstaller
 Monday November 14, 2005 by Ed Felten

Alex Halderman and I have confirmed that Sony’s Web-based XCP uninstallation utility exposes users to serious security risk. Under at least some circumstances, running Sony’s Web-based uninstaller opens a huge security hole on your computer. We have a working demonstration exploit.

We are working furiously to nail down the details and will report our results here as soon as we can.

In the meantime, we recommend strongly against downloading or running Sony’s Web-based XCP uninstaller.

Kudos to Muzzy for first suggesting that such a hole might exist.

UPDATE: If you’re technically sophisticated, and you have run the XCP uninstaller on your computer, you may be able to help us in our investigations. It won’t take long. Please contact Alex to volunteer. Thanks.

Things Found While Looking For Other Things

This is disgusting, frankly:
Start your own online pharmacy and cash in on America's obsession with quick fix health medications. We provide free web hosting, affiliate program, e-commerce, inventory, warehousing, shipping, and 24/7 customer service. Set your own retail prices and sign your own affiliate to promote your own online pharmacy. call Xxxxxxx-(1)NNN-NNN-NNNN toll...
Basically a turnkey operation, to set up your own online pharmacy.  However, it does correctly point out "America's obsession with quick fix health medications."  For reasons that I hope are obvious, I did not include the links, name, or phone number.

Arrrgh! Not Another Internet Quiz!

What kind of humanist are you?

You are an atheist, a rationalist, a believer in the triumph of science and of reason over libido. You can’t stand mumbo jumbo, ritual, spiritual nonsense of any kind, and you refuse to allow for these longings in others.

Astrologers, Scientologists and new–age crystal ball creeps are no different in your view from priests, rabbis and imams. They’re all just weak–minded pilgrims on the road to easy answers. Nature as revealed by science is awesome enough for you, but it’s a nature that needs curbing and taming by us on our evolutionary journey to perfection.

Your heros are Einstein, Darwin, Marx and — these days — Gould, Blakemore, Watson, Crick and Rosalind Franklin. Could you be hiding a little behind those absolutist views, worried that, if you let in a few doubts and contradictory ideas, the whole edifice might crumble? Loosen up a bit and try to enjoy the amazing variety of human belief systems. Don’t worry — it’s unlikely you’ll end up chanting your days away in some distant mountain cult.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.
That seems a little harsh.  New-age crystal types are far preferable to Scientologists.  Plus, I don't believe we are on an evolutionary journey to perfection; evolution proceeds without attention to the endpoint.  Overall, I would have to say this particular quiz misses the mark by a parsec or two.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Quote of the Day

From Empty Days:
To live inside reality and be able to bear it, one needs to constantly fill one's head with unreal imaginings.
--Andrei Platonov, Diaries

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Medicare Part D Will Complicate Things

A lot of blogging has been done regarding the prescription drug benefit, so much so, that there is no point in rehashing it.  You may recall the allegations that the budget projections were falsified, that unseemly political arm-twisting was done to get the votes in the House, and that the plan is a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies because it prohibits negotiation for better prices.  Now, the big theme is the complexity of the Plan.  It is turning out to be difficult for people to figure out exactly what they should do and how they should do it.  Headlines on the subject (as aggregated by Google News) include: US "greatest advance" in health care puzzles elderlyMedicare Prescription Plan Confuses Elderly, Medicare drug plan confusing seniors, CONFUSED BY COVERAGE CHOICES, New drug plan is prescription for confusion, the Medicare maze, Drug plan's side effects: Confused seniors, and Medicare's Part D as Plan B.  Just looking at the headlines, you get the impression that a lot of people are having trouble figuring this out.

The one point that I have not seen covered in all of this, is the problem that will occur after everyone gets signed up for one of the plans.  People think that the real problem is figuring out what plan to choose, but that is just the start.  

There would be little point in complaining about all of this, without offering a suggestion for improvement.  Continue reading here.

Facets of Alzheimer Disease

As pointed out by Dr. Serani, this (November) is National Alzheimer Disease Month.  She has a number of useful links for those interested in finding more information.  If you are wondering how various causes get to be associated with various months, or weeks, or days, or years, or decades, it is done by decree.  In this case, President Reagan declared November as National Alzheimer Disease Month, back in 1983.  
Acetylcholine chemical structure
Another historical note: one of the earliest findings in the neurobiology of Disease was the discovery that brain cells that release acetylcholine die prematurely.  This is what led to the idea of using acetylcholinesterase inhibitors to treat the disease.  The idea here is fairly simple: if those cells die, there won't be enough acetylcholine in the brain; if you inhibit the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, then the amount of acetylcholine will be increased.  

The thing is, nothing in the brain is that simple.  Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors do help, but the improvements are modest at best.  Obviously, it would be far better to keep the neurons from dying in the first place.  There is some evidence (1 2) that fish oil can help, at least in mice; it is not yet clear how much clinical benefit, if any, can be expected from fish oil supplements for humans.  

Another line of attack was suggested by the finding that acetylcholinesterase inhibitors have an additional, unexpected effect.  In addition to increasing the amount of acetylcholine available in the synapses in the brain, the drugs also cause a reduction in the production of the inflammatory mediator, interleukin-1.  Researchers at the Hebrew university of Jerusalem have discovered a drug, EN101, that destroys the messenger RNA that cells use to produce interleukin-1.  Although it is way too early to know in EN101 will have any clinical utility for humans, it certainly is encouraging to see new developments that present promising new avenues of attack.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Critics Question the Logic

AP informs us that urban planners in California are considering building a traffic tunnel in LA.  Critics wonder why on earth anyone would consider building a nine billion dollar tunnel that put thousands of people underground,  in an area prone to earthquakes.  It is a good question.  
Critics question the logic of building a multibillion-dollar project in a region so prone to earthquakes that an alternate proposal for a double-decker highway was deemed too dangerous. The tunnel would begin barely a mile from a fault that produced a 6.0-magnitude earthquake about a century ago.
Call it the tunnel to nowhere.  

Critics point out, also, that if the tunnel is built, the resulting improvement in congestion will encourage further growth.  Then it will just be a matter of time before things get to be worse than they are now.

The solution, I am sure, lies not in civil engineering, but in social engineering.  That means mass transportation.  That means people learning to regiment their lives so that that go to work on time and leave work on time, and use their cars much less.  That would require a mental readjustment.  It also would require some economic adjustments.  There would be winners and losers, economically speaking.  It seems obvious, though, that as a whole, the area would be better off.  

Quote of the Day

From Common Dreams:
"I wasn't protecting America. I was protecting Halliburton trucks going to military bases," she said.

'This doesn't make sense to us.'

Finally some good news out of Washington.  In Senate Finance Committee wrangling, a lot of Senators, some Republican, said some things that are good to hear.  The money quote:
Voinovich said the budget rebellion reflects increasing voter unease about Republican priorities: "There's uncertainty. There's anxiety," he said. "It's the common sense of the American people looking in on us and questioning what we're doing. People say, 'This doesn't make sense to us.' "
That's right.  It doesn't make sense to us.  Thank you for noticing.

Other high points:
In an 82 to 9 vote yesterday, the Senate approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to require Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to disclose to Congress the existence of clandestine terrorism detention facilities in foreign countries.
Joining the panel's Democrats, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) declared she could not support a tax cut that primarily benefited the rich as Congress was trying to cut programs for the poor.
Olympia Snowe, by the way, gets my vote for having the most aesthetically pleasing website.  I don't agree with much of what she has done, but at least her site is not so garish as most congressional sites.  

The conclusion of the whole affair is encapsulated nicely here:
"The fractures were always there. The difference was the White House was always able to hold them in line because of perceived power," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster. "After Tuesday's election, it's 'Why are we following these guys? They're taking us off the cliff.' "
Some might say the whole country already has been taken off a cliff.

canyon in New Mexico

Friday, November 11, 2005

Defending Yourself by Complimenting Your Enemy

There's a fairly good article in Salon today.  I don't necessarily recommend that you read it, unless you are willing to watch one of their annoying advertisements first.  Besides, the article is only fairly good.  In this post, I examine the rhetorical tactics used by Mr. Bush in response to his critics, regarding the use or misuse of intelligence prior to the Iraq War; I then examine the rhetoric used by those who criticize his criticism of the antiwar movement.  

Although this post is partly about Mr. Bush and his war, it is mostly about the tactics used in the various arguments.  Continue reading here.

Cut Off Funding for the War

Afterdowningstreet.org has this post, regarding an effort to bring an end ot the war:

Cut Off Funding for the War Activism

Link to this page: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/end

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) has introduced legislation to stop funding the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq: H.R. 4232, the "End the War in Iraq Act of 2005." The bill would allow Defense Department funds to be used only to provide for: the safe and orderly withdrawal of all troops; consultations with other governments, NATO, and the UN regarding international forces; and financial assistance and equipment to either Iraqi security forces and/or international forces. In addition, the bill would not prohibit or restrict non-defense funding to carry out reconstruction in Iraq.

Current Co-Sponsors.

Call your Congress Member: http://tinyurl.com/dwsww

The following members (all Democrats) are original co-sponsors: Frank, Schakowsky, Serrano, Velezquez, Woolsey, J. Lewis, D. Payne, Waters, Stark, C. Kilpatrick, Kucinich, B. Lee.

There is not much chance of it passing, but at least it keeps the discussion going, and keeps the pressure on.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Latest E-Mail

The 10th Edition of I and the Bird, the bi-weekly
carnival of the best in bird blogging, is now up at
Thomasburg Walks,

This edition includes 28 posts from four continents:
posts describing bird identification, migration
events, unlikely birding, lucky (and unlucky) birding,
endangered birds, birds in recovery, and more.


The next edition will be hosted by The House and Other
Arctic Musings
on November 24. Deadline for submissions, November 22.
Send them to Clare(clareleah@qiniq.com) at The House
or Mike(mike@10000birds.com), founder of I and the
Bird, at 10,000 Birds (http://www.10000birds.com/).

Thomasburg Walks

I Missed It!

If I watched more television, maybe I would have known about it...

Worldwide Day of Play

Posted by Yvonne at 2005/09/26 23:29

How often does a television network tell its viewers to turn off the tube and head out to play?

For Nickelodeon, the answer is once a year. This Saturday, October 1st, is the second-annual Worldwide Day of Play.

Nickelodeon will culminate the summer-long on-air campaign on Oct. 1 by celebrating the second annual Worldwide Day of Play and going off the air for three hours. The network will pre-empt regularly scheduled programming with full-screen images showing kids playing, a Worldwide Day of Play logo and messages encouraging kids to be active and engage in physical play. More details about this year’s Worldwide Day of Play will be announced in the coming months. The first-ever Worldwide Day of Play, held in 2004 as part of the “Let’s Just Play” program, resulted in 1800 grass root events and participation from more than 250,000 kids and families.

Perhaps the grown-ups should spend a little more time playing this weekend as well? I know I plan to!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

New Concepts in DTC

Bird Flu Panic Spreads

Not even the are safe!

Smoking Doubles Risk of PTSD

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a major problem in soldiers returning from war, those exposed to domestic violence, and those exposed to serious accidents or injuries from any cause.  Now there is evidence that some of the problems may be preventable.
Smoking doubles risk of post-traumatic stress

18:31 08 November 2005
NewScientist.com news service
Gaia Vince

Smokers are twice as likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder than non-smokers , according to a study of twin soldiers.

It is estimated that after experiencing severe trauma, about one-third of people go on to suffer , a mental illness characterised by anxiety, flashbacks and panic attacks.

Nicotine dependence has been associated with PTSD before, but the exact nature of the link has never been clear. The new study establishes smoking as a key risk factor in pre-disposing people to PTSD. [...]

“Nicotine stimulates some of the same neurobiological pathways – the dopaminergic pathway associated with reward and fear – implicated in stress and addiction,” Koenen told New Scientist. “Smoking may sensitise these pathways, so a subsequent severe stressor is more likely to give someone PTSD.”

Koenen does not know “whether giving up smoking makes the increased risk go away”. Nevertheless, she suggests the military conducts smoking cessation and anti-smoking programmes and pays special attention to caring for soldiers with a history of nicotine dependence who are deployed in combat situations.

The researchers also found that people exposed to trauma, whether or not they developed PTSD, were more likely to take up smoking.

Journal reference: Archives of General Psychiatry (vol 62, p 1258)
Of course, this does not actually prove that getting people to quit smoking would decrease the incidence of posttraumatic stress problems, but it is highly suggestive.  Of course, it does not really add any new information, in that we already know that everyone who smokes ought to quit, in order to minimize health risks.  On the other hand, it could suggest lines of research into the pathophysiology of the problems, which could turn out to be interesting.  

Why does anyone care?

Why does anyone care?
Lichen Can Survive in Space

Summary - (Nov 9, 2005) Scientists have found that hardy bacteria can survive a trip into space, and now the list of natural astronauts includes lichen. During a recent experiment by ESA, lichen astronauts were placed on board the Foton-M2 rocket and launched into space where they were exposed to vacuum, extreme temperatures and ultraviolet radiation for 14.6 days. Upon analysis, it appears that the lichens handled their spaceflight just fine, in fact, they're so hardy, it's possible they could survive on the surface of Mars.
I have no idea why anyone wants to study this, but I will defend to the death their right to do so.  Perhaps that is overstating the point, but still, it is important to understand that even research that seems pointless, may have a point after all.  

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

copied from NASA site

Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2005 November 9
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download

A Solar Prominence from SOHO
Credit : SOHO - EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA

Explanation: What happened to the Sun? Nothing very unusual: the strange-looking solar appendage on the lower left is actually just a spectacular looking version of a common solar prominence. A solar prominence is a cloud of solar gas held above the Sun's surface by the Sun's magnetic field. Pictured above in 2002 October, NASA's Sun-orbiting SOHO spacecraft imaged an impressively large prominence hovering over the surface, informally dubbed a flame. Over 40 Earths could line up along the vast length of the fireless flame of hovering hot gas. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, and may erupt in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) expelling hot gas into the Solar System. Although somehow related to the Sun's changing magnetic field, the energy mechanism that creates and sustains a Solar prominence is still a topic of research.

This Could Change Everything

A new study was summarized on the Scientific American website, published today.  It could change everything.
Science Image
Image: CDC
Malaria Vaccine Proves Effective in Clinical Trial

A new vaccine stimulated human immune cells to recognize and kill malaria parasites in a recent clinical trial. The vaccine proved effective in both infected human blood samples and mice whose immune systems had been modified to mimic that of humans.

"This is the first malaria vaccine clinical trial to clearly demonstrate antiparasitic activity by vaccine-induced antibodies," writes Pierre Druilhe of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, who led the study. Malaria -- a parasite carried by certain mosquitoes -- sickens more than 300 million people worldwide every year and causes at least one million deaths, primarily of young children, according to the World Health Organization. Vaccine development has been hindered by the microscopic parasites adaptability and complexity...

Well, maybe it won't change everything, but it could change quite a bit.  The morbidity and mortality from malaria impose a large negative impact on the world economy, in addition to causing more suffering than one can imagine. The study that is causing all the excitement was not exactly a clinical trial, as the headline suggests.  Rather, people were given the vaccine and their blood was tested to see if it generated an effective immune response to the malaria parasites.  It did.  The response was sufficiently robust to suggest that the people would have some protection against the disease.  They did not expose the people to the disease directly, for obvious reasons.  The original journal article is here, at PLoS Medicine.  Here is their conclusion:
In this initial trial of a MSP3-based vaccine in humans, preliminary results in 30 volunteers indicate that even low doses of MSP3-LSP injected with simple adjuvants readily induced antibodies of cytophilic classes directed to fully conserved epitopes, induced long-lasting effects, and showed strong biological activity against P. falciparum erythrocytic stages. Within the limitation of the actual predictive value of these biological assays, which can be confirmed only under Phase II trials, the results indicate that this vaccine can overcome a large number of the identified bottlenecks.
You can tell from their wording of this, that the Pasteur Institute scientists are positively bubbling with excitement.  We anxiously await the results of the Phase II studies. 


Seeing a post at The Bulldog Manifesto reminded me to mention here, that there is new evidence of the alleged use of napalm and white phosphorus in Iraq. Searching on Google News shows several articles on the subject, but most are rehashes of the same thing. The Christian Science Monitor has a nice roundup of what little is known so far. Basically, an Italian news agency has aired a film that is claimed to offer evidence of the use of the weapons. Obviously, a formal investigation would be needed to see if the evidence constitutes proof. I must say, though, that it looks pretty damning.

I won't trouble anyone with expressions of my feelings of the subject, other than to link back to what I already wrote, back in June of this year.

Surfing a bit more reveals this: Information on the US mishandling of chemical weapons is found at the destination of a link at the bottom of the CSM article. It goes to an article in the Miami Herald, which requires registration. Some poking around leads to the original articles, here, which are open without registration.
The Army now admits that it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste - either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels. A Daily Press investigation also found: These weapons of mass destruction virtually ring the country, concealed off at least 11 states - six on the East Coast, two on the Gulf Coast, California, Hawaii and Alaska. Few, if any, state officials have been informed of their existence. The chemical agents could pose a hazard for generations. The Army has examined only a few of its 26 dump zones and none in the past 30 years. The Army can't say exactly where all the weapons were dumped from World War II to 1970. Army records are sketchy, missing or were destroyed.
It's good investigative journalism by John M. R. Bull, of the Newport News Daily Press. Just don't read it during mealtime, or before meals, or after meals. Yuck.

The one other comment that I have is this: it is really really really strange that we are spending billions of dollars to keep terrorists from bringing weapons of mass destruction into our country, yet we are letting our own WMD corrode in the sea, just off our own shores.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ironic Screenshot

TechRepublic has a preview of Microsoft's new version of Internet Explorer, the beta version of IE 7.  They go through a list of new features, in some cases pointing out the ones that Firefox, Netscape, Opera (and others) have had for years.  The new features are illustrated with screenshots.  One of them is rather amusing:

The screenshot serves to illustrate a feature of the links toolbar (the area highlighted in red) in Microsoft IE 7.  But the screen itself shows a message that Microsoft would rather not publicize.

Switching from Windows XP to Longhorn will, in many cases, require RAM expansion, possibly a new graphics card, possibly an entirely new computer.  Linux will continue to run on older computers, and for most routine office tasks, will do everything as well or better than Windows.  Factoring in the cost of upgrading the hardware, just to be able to run the new OS, many companies will have a hard time justifying the expense.  

I'm An Accident Waiting to Happen"

Actress breaks arm performing 'Accident'

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Actress Sutton Foster was rehearsing a number called "I'm An Accident Waiting to Happen" earlier this week when she fell and broke her arm.

"I wasn't even dancing," the Tony-winner said Thursday. "I was just stepping backward, and my feet went forward, and I fell backward and caught myself with my hands."

She was rehearsing the musical "The Drowsy Chaperone," which is scheduled to open November 18 at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre.

Foster said the show will go on, although she'll have to modify her performance until her arm heals. Such planned stunts as a dive roll through a hoop, cartwheels and complicated lifts are being eliminated.

Foster won a Tony in 2002 for the Broadway production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie."