Saturday, December 31, 2005

On The Purported Absence of Progressive Message, And So-Called Liberal Elitism

Two of the prevailing contrived myths about progressives are these: that progressives don't have a positive message -- all they do is criticize the majority party; and that they are elitist.  In this post, I demonstrate the fallaciousness of these notions.

One of the leading progressive sites on the 'net is Think Progress.  Take a look at their home page.  At this moment, four leading stories are these:
Granted, that does look a little harsh; they are all negative stories -- deservedly negative, but still negative.  But look over on their sidebar.
What you see is that they are presenting positive messages, and that they have ideas that they think are good ones.  Regardless of whether one agrees, it is inaccurate to accuse them of not having a message of their own.  Clearly, they have adopted a reasonable strategy: they present their own ideas in a positive light, and the actions of their opponents in a negative light.  Seems sensible.

I think that whatever unfavorable impression of progressive politics there is, is partly contrived by the opposition, but partly an artifact of selective reporting.  There is so much to criticize about the current administration, that the criticisms tend to dominate the headlines.

As to the oft-floated allegations that progressives tend to be elitist, just take a look at what is happening in the economy these days.  No surprise, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.  Leading the charge are the oil companies, defense contractors, and top CEOs.  Meanwhile there is stagnation of real wages, widespread loss of health insurance and other benefits, record levels of long-term unemployment, record levels of household indebtedness, and increasing levels of poverty.  Sure, home ownership is at an all-time high, but so is homelessness.  The number of children living in poverty is increasing, while Congress brags about cutting programs that would enhance upward mobility of the impoverished.  So who's being elitist?

FDA News - Fraudulent Bird Flu Treatments

December 13, 2005

Media Inquiries:
Catherine McDermott, 301-827-6242
Consumer Inquiries:

FDA Acts to Protect Public from Fraudulent Avian Flu Therapies

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warning letters recently to nine companies marketing bogus flu products behind claims that their products could be effective against preventing the avian flu or other forms of influenza. FDA is not aware of any scientific evidence that demonstrates the safety or effectiveness of these products for treating or preventing avian flu and the agency is concerned that the use of these products could harm consumers or interfere with conventional treatments.

"There are initiatives in place to deter counterfeiters and those who sell fraudulent or phony products to prevent or treat avian flu," said Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, Acting FDA Commissioner. "The use of unproven flu cures and treatments increases the risk of catching and spreading the flu rather than lessening it because people assume they are protected and safe and they aren't. I consider it a public health hazard when people are lured into using bogus treatments based on deceptive or fraudulent medical claims."

FDA issued Warning Letters to nine firms marketing products making unproven claims that they treat or prevent avian flu or other forms of influenza. Eight of the products purported to be dietary supplements. Examples of the unproven claims cited in the Warning Letters include: "prevents avian flu," "a natural virus shield," "kills the virus," and "treats the avian flu." These alternative therapies are promoted as "natural" or "safer" treatments that can be used in place of an approved treatment or preventative medical product.

In the Warning Letters, FDA advises the firms that it considers their products to be drugs because they claim to treat or prevent disease. The Warning Letters further state that FDA considers these products to be "new drugs" that require FDA approval before marketing. The letters also note that the claims regarding avian flu are false and misleading because there is no scientific basis for concluding that the products are effective to treat or prevent avian flu. The companies have 15 days to respond to FDA.

Consumers who believe that they have seen a fraudulent product can report it to the FDA at http://www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline/buyonlineform.htm.

For information on helping prevent flu, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm.

FDA Warning Letters:

Sacred Mountain Management Inc.


Melvin Williams

Iceland Health Inc.

PolyCil Health Inc.

PRB Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Chozyn, LLC


Healthworks 2000

Friday, December 30, 2005

Meme of Fours

I ambled into Middle Earth the other day, on South University downtown (Ann Arbor) and got tagged with the meme of fours.  Seems innocent enough, although self-disclosure has never been one of my favorite activities.  

  • Four jobs you’ve had in your life: This doesn't include my current job.  Here is my big confession: I used to work at McDonald's.  The best part about that is that I only worked for about four hours, total.  I also was a tour guide at a nuclear research reactor, then ended up doing some other things for them, too.  I had a job shuffling paper for a group that does management seminars.  And I had a paper route.  
  • Four movies you could watch over and over: Frankly, it is hard for me to sit through a movie once, much less watch it again, ever.  The concept seems foreign to me.  In fact, I remember when the first videotape stores opened, back in the 70s.  They did not rent the tapes out; they expected you to buy them.  I though it was a strange idea...thinking nobody would ever want to watch the same thing over and over.  
  • Four places you’ve lived: Ann Arbor, MI; Ypsilanti MI; Las Cruces NM; and Franklin Township.
  • Four TV shows you love to watch: I hardly ever watch TV.
  • Four places you’ve been on vacation: I hardly ever go on vacation.  But I have been to Mexico, Jamaica, Mackinac Island, Toronto.
  • Four websites you visit daily: Bloglines, Arborblogs, NYT, WaPo
  • Four of your favorite foods: chiles rellenos, chicken tikka masala, steak, apple crisp.
  • Four places you’d rather be:  seems like a funny question, but anyway, I guess I would rather be in Santa Fe, or Jamaica, or Hawaii, maybe Montana.  But if I would really rather be there, then I wouldn't be here; I'd be there.
  • Four albums you can’t live without: I am really trying here, but this one is tough.  I do like music, sort of, but it doesn't make sense to me to think of albums I can't live without, even allowing for the fact that the usage of the word "can't" is not literal.  Four albums I really like? Horses, of course; Stones in the Road; Bella Donna; Gaucho.
I am not going to tag anyone, but if anyone wants to be tagged, just let me know; I have four tags left.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Lifelike Robot

3. Ultra-Lifelike Robot Debuts in Japan Quick, which one is the robot? Repliee Q1 (at left in both pictures) appeared on June 9 at the 2005 World Expo in Japan, where she gestured, blinked, spoke, and even appeared to breathe. Shown with co-creator Hiroshi Ishiguru of Osaka University, the android is partially covered in skinlike silicone. Q1 is powered by a nearby air compressor, and has 31 points of articulation in its upper body. [...]
OK, so now we are going to have ultra-lifelife robots. The question is, would John Wayne buy a screwdriver from this robot, and would she sell him one? (mp3 link, 3MB)

Note: sometimes the only way to deal with the absurdity of life is to celebrate it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dropout Rates Revisited

Most often, studies about study design are incredibly tedious and not very interesting.  But this one is different.  It should interest anyone who cares about the design and interpretation of psychiatric drug studies:
Dropout Rates in Placebo-Controlled and Active-Control Clinical Trials of Antipsychotic Drugs: A Meta-analysis Georg Kemmler, PhD; Martina Hummer, MD; Christian Widschwendter, MD; W. Wolfgang Fleischhacker, MD Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62:1305-1312. Context  Dropout rates in randomized clinical trials of antipsychotic drugs have consistently been reported to be high, and the use of a placebo-controlled design is hypothesized to be one of the reasons for this.

Objective  To investigate this hypothesis in a meta-analysis of available data from pertinent clinical trials.

Data Sources  Comprehensive search of PubMed- and MEDLINE-listed journals.

Study Selection  Double-blind randomized controlled clinical trials of the second-generation antipsychotics risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, amisulpride, ziprasidone, and aripiprazole meeting the following criteria: unselected patient population with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, change in psychopathologic symptoms as the primary end point, and trial duration of 12 weeks or less.

Data Extraction  Sample size, mean age, baseline disease severity, dropout rate, trial design, trial duration, and publication year.

Data Synthesis  Thirty-one trials meeting the inclusion criteria were found, comprising 10 058 subjects. Weighted mean dropout rates in the active treatment arms were significantly higher in placebo-controlled trials (PCTs) than in active-control trials: 48.1% (PCTs) vs 28.3% (active-control trials) for second-generation antipsychotics (odds ratio, 2.34; 95% confidence interval, 1.58-3.47) and 55.4% (PCTs) vs 37.2% (active-control trials) for classical antipsychotics (odds ratio, 2.10; 95% confidence interval, 1.29-3.40). Within PCTs, attrition rates were significantly higher in the placebo arms than with second-generation antipsychotics (60.2% vs 48.1%; odds ratio, 1.63; 95% confidence interval, 1.37-1.94). Within the subset of trials in which both second-generation and classical antipsychotics were used, dropout rates were significantly higher with classical antipsychotics.

Conclusions  Use of a placebo-controlled design had a major effect on the dropout rates observed. Because high dropout rates affect the generalizability of such studies, it is suggested that, in addition to the PCTs, studies with alternative designs need to be considered when evaluating an antipsychotic’s clinical profile.
It appears that patients are more likely to drop out of (withdraw from) the active arm of a placebo-controlled study, if the study medication is a second-generation ("atypical") antipsychotic, compared to similar studies that compare classical antipsychotics to placebo.  At first glance, this seems counterintuitive.  In clinical practice, patients are much more likely to stop taking classical antipsychotics than second-generation ones. 

It is not possible to be sure why this study had the outcome it did.  However, I suspect that it has to do with the fact that it is much harder for patients to be able to tell if they are getting the active drug or the placebo, if the active drug is a second-generation antipsychotic.  Pharmaceutical companies that have dropped certain investigational drugs, due to difficulty demonstrating consistent separation from placebo, might want to go back and look at their dropout rates.  It is conceivable that some promising agents might have been abandoned when the preliminary studies were limited by this effect. 

I wonder, too, if the same thing might turn out to be true for antidepressants, but I can only speculate about that. The whole business of interpreting drug studies keeps getting more complicated.

Riluzole: Incipient Anxiolytic?

I've written about riluzole before (1 2), because of preliminary evidence that it might be effective for treatment of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Riluzole is a presynaptic glutamate release inhibitor, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  It is marketed by Aventis under the brand name, Rilutek.  

Now comes another preliminary study that shows a possible benefit for generalized anxiety disorder.  The study also indicated the drug could have an antipanic effect.  
Open-Label Trial of Riluzole in Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Sanjay J. Mathew, M.D., Jonathan M. Amiel, B.S., Jeremy D. Coplan, M.D., Heidi A. Fitterling, B.A., Harold A. Sackeim, Ph.D., and Jack M. Gorman, M.D.

OBJECTIVE: There is a need to identify novel pharmacotherapies for anxiety disorders. The authors examined the safety and efficacy of riluzole, an antiglutamatergic agent, in adult outpatients with generalized anxiety disorder. METHOD: In an 8-week, open-label, fixed-dose study, 18 medically healthy patients with DSM-IV generalized anxiety disorder received treatment with riluzole (100 mg/day) following a 2-week drug-free period. The primary efficacy measure was the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A) score at endpoint. RESULTS: Twelve of the 15 patients who completed the trial responded positively to riluzole. At 8 weeks, eight of the 15 patients had HAM-A score indicating remission of their anxiety. The median time to response was 2.5 weeks. CONCLUSIONS: Riluzole appears to be an effective, well-tolerated, and rapidly acting anxiolytic medication for some patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Larger, placebo-controlled studies are indicated.
Although the study was not designed to assess the effectiveness of riluzole for panic attacks, a subgroup of patients with comorbid panic disorder did exhibit improvement in panic symptoms.  

The study mentioned here is highly limited, both because of the small number of patients, and because of the open-label design.  The placebo response rate for anxiety disorders tends to be pretty high, so you really need a large, double-blind study to draw any firm conclusions.  

This raises an interesting question.  Since there now are a few preliminary studies with encouraging findings, what is the delay in coming out with a larger, definitive study?  

According to ePocrates, the average wholesale cost of Rilutek is $815.82 for sixty pills, a one-month supply.   That's  a little steep.  The price might by justified if the drug is useful only for ALS, because of the small number of patients.  Aventis has to recoup their investment, and that is hard to do when the number of patients is small.   But if the drug really is effective for common conditions such as depression, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, it would be hard to justify the cost.

Thus the conundrum: I suspect that the high cost is dampening enthusiasm for more research.  But unless more research is done, it will not be possible to justify prescribing the drug to larger numbers of patients.

Personally, I think it would be good for Aventis to take the plunge and fund more research, even if it does mean that they would then be under pressure to reduce the cost of Rilutek.  After all, if Soj is correct, anxiety disorders are going to become much more common in 2006.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Krauthammer's Flawed Logic

On the delightfully-named blog, Preemptive Karma, Carla wrote a post about the impeachment question, and predictably got a snide comment.  I then wrote a response, which turned out to be rather lengthy.  When I do that, I usually promote the comment to a full post, since otherwise few people would read it.

There are three instances on record, in which Bush states that a warrant is needed before the government can spy on US citizens. Those were all lies. Furthermore, the fact that he would lie repeatedly to cover up his behavior indicates that he knew his behavior was wrong.

Regarding Krauthammer's editorial: he published the same article on the editorial page of the Washington Post. There, the title is "."

Krauthammer's argument is ridiculously flawed. He states:

Some even suggest that Bush has thereby so trampled the Constitution that impeachment should now be considered. (Barbara Boxer, Jonathan Alter, John Dean and various luminaries of the left have already begun floating the idea.) The braying herds have already concluded, Tenet-like, that the president's actions were slam-dunk illegal. It takes a superior mix of partisanship, animus and ignorance to say that.

Indeed there may be people who think it is a slam dunk, but in point of fact, -- one of the luminaries he does not mention -- has introduced a resolution asking for an investigation. Conyers states explicitly that he is not ready to say that Bush is guilty of an impeachable offense. Rather, he thinks the matter should be investigated.

Krauthammer also includes the following quote in his article:

George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr (one critic calls him the man who ``literally wrote the book on government seizure of electronic evidence'') finds ``pretty decent arguments'' on both sides but his own conclusion is that Bush's actions were ``probably constitutional.''

If it is true that one could make a reasonable ("pretty decent") argument that what Bush did is unconstitutional, then it would be reasonable to launch an investigation. That being the case, it is illogical for Krauthammer to talk of "impeachment nonsense." If there is a reasonable argument to be made, then it is not nonsense.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Finding Inspiration

As 2005 winds to a close, and we all reflect upon the past year, it may be helpful to think of something inspirational. You won't find it in the newspaper, or on CNN, and I will mention Fox News only to highlight the dearth of positive develpments in the world.

Even so, there are sources of inspiration, if only one takes the time to look. On the University of Michigan Health Systems news site, there is a story entitled: Medical student flexes muscles.

This is Jaffer Odeh, one of the leading rugby players on the team, Great Lakes Storm. Jaffer was born in Stockbridge, Michgan, and was injured in an automobile accident while a senior in high school. The rugby team he plays on is composed entirely of persons in wheelchairs.

But that is not all. Mr. Odeh is also a third-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. By all accounts, he's a good student, and an exceptional athlete.

There is no doubt that the world is populated with inspiring persons such as Mr. Odeh. Finding them is a gift, but it is a gift that we can get for ourselves. All it takes is a few moments to look, and to listen.

This is sort of like the advice to stop and smell the roses, except it is not advised that one stop and smell rugby players, at least not during a game.

And when it comes to listening, here is what Mr. Odeh has to say about relating to patients:
“I’m more humble than I would have been before the accident. I really connect to the patients. At first, I wondered if the patients would be apprehensive seeing me, a student doctor, in a wheelchair, but no – there’s an instant connection. They know without any words being spoken that I’ll be able to relate to them because I’ve gone through something catastrophic,” he says.
I know that all medical schools struggle to teach their students how to relate well with patients. It sounds as though Jaffer is off to a good start. Let's hope that other physicians can learn something from his experiences.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Take Half Off

This is from a store window at Middle Earth, on South University Street, in Ann Arbor. The signs say, "Take Half Off."

Playing Around


Merry Christmas!

Although it may seem like it, I have not really joined the war on Christmas. This is not shaping up to be one of my best Christmases ever, though, and I am only 1:17 into it.

One bright spot: I got an electronic Christmas card from Dr. Emer, in the Philippines. It really is sweet. And the best thing is...no paper. It is made entirely from 100% recycled electrons. Every single one of those electrons can and will be used again. And even after they have been recycled, the original spark of joy will remain.

Next Blog...

Discovered via Blogger's "Next Blog" function...

You never know what you'll find. This person is taking a self-portrait meme to the extreme.

Another Rambling Post:
A Psychiatrist's Own Free Associations

This is one of those long rambling armchair-musing-type posts that I put up on the companion blog, so as not to clutter up the main page. In this post, I start out with criticisms of the US Environmental Protection Agency, go on to some specifics about air pollution and the protective effects of fish oil, to Tom Lehrer, to Tom Cruise, with side trips to the land of psychopharmacology. Continue reading here.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Inside the Corpus Callosum

Cover image: Myelination by galactocerebrosidase-deficient oligodendrocytes transplanted in the corpus callosum of the myelin-deficient shiverer mouse. Provided with the missing lysosomal enzyme, mutant oligodendrocytes (green) derived from the twitcher mouse, a model of globoid cell leukodystrophy (Krabbe's disease), survive and maintain stable myelin (red) wrapping of naked host axons. See the article by Kondo et al. on pages 18670–18675. Image courtesy of Yoichi Kondo.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The War on Everything

Recent observers have noted that when someone does not say "Merry Christmas," the absence of a mention of the holiday must constitute a war on Christmas.  

Today, we got some greeting cards from the Nature Conservancy, along with the usual request for money.  When I opened the cards, I discovered, much to my horror, that they are completely blank inside.  Now, the Nature Conservancy is not normally considered to be a warlike organization.  But their failure to mention Christmas surely means that they have joined the war on Christmas.  What is worse -- far worse -- is the fact that their failure to mention anything must mean that they have declared war on everything.

Modafinil, Attenace, CME, and Drug Marketing

There is a reasonably good, brief CME program at Medscape (link, free registration required), about a film-coated version of modafinil.  Modafinil is already available as a scored tablet, under the brand name Provigil.  It is used for treatment of narcolepsy, among other things.  However, modafinil is nearing the end of its patent life.  That means that it is time for the maker, Cephalon, to get a new indication.  If they can get it, then they get a little extension on the patent.

I wrote about this earlier this year, back in January.  At the time, it was becoming common knowledge that Cephalon was doing studies on a new formulation of modafinil, Attenace.  This is something that I think is fine, although some people take issue with the idea of giving patent extensions.  

What interests me now, is that a CME program has emerged.  What does this mean to industry watchers?  This is something I cannot prove but it really seems to be the case.  CME programs can, in some cases, serve as free advertising for a new product.  Based upon this my speculation, I would say that Cephalon is now confident that they are going to get final approval for Attenace, and that it will be on the market soon.  I suspect that drug companies have learned how to work the system so as to get these articles presented as CME programs, just before the new product hits the market.

If this is true, it is important for physicians to be aware of this, and to be a little bit skeptical of these presentations.  

Note that I explicitly am not implying that I am skeptical of the safety or potential usefulness of Attenace. To the contrary, I actually am looking forward to having it available.  But I do think it is important to keep in mind the possibility that pharmaceutical companies are learning how to manipulate the medical education system.

It Is Machiavellian

OK, I figured out how to put it into words.  Scanning the Arborblogs aggregator, I encountered a post from Juan Cole, with this:
One thing that is increasingly clear is that the Bush administration is stuck in the Cold War. It is using illegal spying on US citizens to monitor the Catholic Workers and interlibrary loan requests for Mao's Little Red Book. (This library incident cannot be dismissed as a hoax on present evidence. It turns out that the student ordered the book over the phone. University authorities are looking into it.)

The obsession with Catholic Workers and Mao is *so* 1950s, and demonstrates that the administration doesn't really care about al-Qaeda and isn't even mainly using the act to combat that sort of terrorism. In fact, with all its powers, it is hard for the Federal government to point to any successful domestic investigation and prosecution of al-Qaeda-type terrorists in the US.
This actually is connected to the creationism/ID movement, peripherally; and more directly, to the Republican war on science.  Note that I appreciate the fact that not all creationism/ID proponents have the same agenda; some are sincere.  What bothers me is that some are not sincere, and they provide a convenient platform for the broader war on science.  And that is positively Machiavellian.  

One of Machiavelli's principles was this: those who would consolidate power, need to sweep aside any group that could potentially raise a challenge to their power.  That, of course,  is Dr. Cole's point.  The fact that government surveillance is partly directed at college students studying Mao, and a Catholic Worker's organization, indicates that they are using the Global and Perpetual War on Terrorism as a cover for their agenda of sweeping aside any potential opposition.  

In other repressive regimes, students, scientists, and other intellectuals often turn out to be leaders of dissent.  Thus, anyone who wants to grab power in the USA needs to find a way to invalidate the voice of those potential dissenters.  That is what the war on science is about.  And that is why the creationism/ID efforts disturb me so much.  It is one little slice of the broader agenda of the PNAC folks (1 2).  The fact that it is appealing to some innocent people, who unwittingly hop on board, makes it especially distasteful.

Another Great Zombie Claus Post

Another Great Zombie Claus Post is up here. Unfortunately, I can't read a word of it, but I am sure it is great.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why Dover Interests Me

I generally refrain from getting into the evolution-creation thing, because so many people do it and a lot of the commentators have a more thorough and current eduction on the subject than I do.  It occurs to me, though, that there is one aspect of this that I haven't seen anyone else comment upon.

The Editor & Publisher, ("America's Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry"), has a short article on the role of the local newspapers in the Dover creationism/ID case.  They quote Margaret Talbot of the New Yorker:
One consistent division I noticed, and that I wrote about, was between people who read and trusted the very good local newspapers [nearby York has two, which is pretty unusual for a small American city these days] and those who just didn't trust them. The plaintiffs were the newspaper readers; the pro-intelligent-design school-board people were the newspaper rejecters.
The two local papers she refers to can be found here: The York Dispatch, The York Daily Record.

Reading the local articles on the subject, it is clear that the issue stirred up a lot of emotional intensity in the community, as well as in the editorial offices of the papers, and the courtroom itself.  I would like to know why the subject is so provocative for such a large proportion of people.  

I know why is is provocative for me, but I doubt many people share my view on it.  I think it is worrisome because I think that the adoption of ID teaching in the schools would move us more vulnerable to a highly repressive form of government.  In fact, I am more worried about ID than I am about creationism.  But I doubt that that is what makes this subject provocative on a near-universal level.

Ms. Talbot's assertion of an association between newspaper readership and a person's pro/anti evolution stance may be a clue to this, but if so, it is not entirely clear why it is important.  

In case  you are wondering, I am not going to end this post with some kind of conclusion.  I wrote it because I have this nagging intuitive sense that it is important somehow, and the most effective way I know of, to let that intuition work the way I want it to, is to write about it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

News Flash: President Caught in Direct Lie

George W. Bush spoke on the constitutionality of wiretaps during a speech on April 20, 2004.  The speech was intended to boost support for the Patriot Act.  The transcript is on the White House web site.
President Bush: Information Sharing, Patriot Act Vital to Homeland Security
Remarks by the President in a Conversation on the USA Patriot Act
Kleinshans Music Hall
Buffalo, New York

[...] So the first thing I want you to think about is, when you hear Patriot Act, is that we changed the law and the bureaucratic mind-set to allow for the sharing of information. It's vital. And others will describe what that means.

Secondly, there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. [...] 

[emphasis mine]

Recent events have shown that the President of the United States was lying to his own people.  In fact, a federal judge has resigned in protest:

A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources. [...]

By the way, the polling editor at the Washington Post is annoyed by the email jams that he gets periodically, asking why the Post hasn't polled public opinion on the subject of impeachment.  He's going to learn that he should pay attention to these things.  If they had done such a poll, they might be able to see the effect of things such as this, from John Conyer's blog:

Today, I am releasing a staff report entitled, "The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Coverups in the Iraq War.

Sometimes, the farther you get from power, the closer you get to the truth.  At least the WaPo is now linking to blogs.  If they actually read those links, perhaps they will get closer to the truth, or at least, get a hint of the storm before it comes.

HT: Todd Tyrtle (homepage) reminded me to check the ImpeachPAC website.  A link to the transcript of Bush's speech was sent to David Swanson by Michael Jay.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Yet Another Impeach Bush Sign

We finally got our own sign, thanks to Mark Dilley. I'll put up a post if I find a place where people can order them on line.

Here is your son back | Thanks for the loan

Most of my posts are not so bizarre as the last one, although with up to three years remaining for the current Administration to rule, you might see some increasingly bizarre things here, with increasing frequency.

Now I am working on something more serious, which is an explanation of why I oppose the war in Iraq.

Photo credit: The photograph is from Time magazine's Best Photos of the Year 2005 series.

HT: I encountered the photo on YBLOG ZA, contained in a thoughtful post about America, from a South African perspective.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Zombie Claus Exposé

DIFFERENT STRIPES. A normal zebra fish (top) has larger and denser pigment-containing cells than a golden zebra fish (bottom)
Much excitement was generated in the news media by the publication of the article, SLC24A5, a Putative Cation Exchanger, Affects Pigmentation in Zebrafish and Humans (Science 16 December 2005: Vol. 310. no. 5755, pp. 1782 - 1786).  Unfortunately, the story is completely bogus.  However, The Corpus Callosum is now free to publish the real story.

Although much of this information was uncovered approximately one year ago, publication was withheld at the request of the White House, citing national security concerns.  Recent events, however, have caused the editors to update this decision, because now there is reason to believe that public safety would be promoted more effectively by releasing the information to the general population.

This is a serious decision, not undertaken lightly by our editors.  The editorial board understands fully that the publication of this information will incite the wrath of the Administration and they probably will say nastys things about us.  The last time we did something like this, they said we were "irresponsible," and -- gasp! -- unpatriotic.  

Even though our feelings are easily hurt, we decided that the brave thing to do would be to go ahead and publish this, especially in light of the misinformation that is now being spread by the Administration's well-financed media machine.  When we saw the following outrageous statement -- obviously pure propaganda -- we decided to take matters into our own hands:
The evolutionarily conserved ancestral allele of a human coding polymorphism predominates in African and East Asian populations. In contrast, the variant allele is nearly fixed in European populations, is associated with a substantial reduction in regional heterozygosity, and correlates with lighter skin pigmentation in admixed populations, suggesting a key role for the SLC24A5 gene in human pigmentation.
The truth is far more sinister than the abstract indicates.  

The media have indicated, falsely, that the research was conducted at the The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, in Hershey, PA.  This is false, very false.  In fact, the research was conducted in a top-secret Level Five Biosecurity Facility underneath the Maynard Street Parking Structure, in Ann Arbor MI.  (We have the photos to prove it.)

Laboring in utter secrecy, the Maynard Group,  performed secret research on human subjects.  There were no zebra fish; that is utter hogwash.  No, they did their research on human brains.  

The Corpus Callosum has learned that the brains were harvested from unsuspecting secular humanists in downtown Ann Arbor, using an old scheme that preys (literally) upon nice people.  Experienced flim-flam men refer to the scam as the "Starship Troopers' Arachnid Ploy."

Details of the plot were revealed by satellite monitoring (9MB MP3 file) of zombie chatter.  Note that the audio file contain much spurious information at first, designed to throw the NSA off the scent.  The pertinent information starts about 5 minutes into the file.  

Part of the Administration's disinformation campaign include reports that the satellite surveillance was directed at Al Qaeda.  No.  That is so very false.  The program was intended to help the Pentagon monitor the  efforts of its own civilian contractors.

In this case, the Maynard Group attracted the attention of their masters in the Potomac Puzzle Palace  when first-responder resources were diverted from the Maynard area to help in the aftermath of Katrina.  There was concern that the understaffed security forces could be inadequate in the event of a security breach.

Security breach at Maynard Site

On Friday, December 16, 2005, the Unthinkable happened: the supposed "skin color" gene mutated and spread to laboratory personnel. Initially, this was thought to be merely a cosmetic inconvenience.

skin color alteration

However, it became apparent rather quickly that the gene did not merely affect skin color.  Rather, it led to the development of highly infectious prions, with the capability of http://www.flickr.com/photos/a2community/74343361/in/photostream/leading to bizarre chimeric life forms.  What is worse, it led to dramatic changes in the behavior of its victims.  

The worst part of this unfortunate affair stemmed from the television viewing habits of the lab personnel at the Maynard Group.  When the mutation occurred, they were watching an O'Reilly Special Report about the War on Christmas.  The neurotrophic effects of the prion caused the victims to actually believe O'Reilly; theyhttp://static.flickr.com/36/74445475_a2c01d715a_t.jpg actually thought there was a war on Christmas.  And they thought that they were supposed to go out and fight that war.  

http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=74471510&size=sThe results were devastating.  Holiday shoppers were converted en masse.  The newly-undead caroused city streets, silencing carolers and causing eager yuppies to lose their appetites for sushi.  Drinkers at Starbucks swore off their high-priced brews forever more.  Cash registershttp://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=74471881&size=m stopped their rhythmic ka-ching-ing as college kids fled for the safety of their RA's, who were powerless to stop the evil menace.  

Run for your lives!

There was no way out.  The masses of the undead developed a clever strategy to prevent escape.

Undead chimera blocks travel agency

Domestic and International flights were impossible to arrange.  To make matter s worse, due to an horrendous blunter by FEMA, Amtrak trains were diverted to Ypsilanti, North Dakota, and were unavailable for evacuation.  Then, instead of vaccine, President Bush ordered a heck of a lot of brownies to be delivered by helicopter.   This only enraged the Undead even more.

ARRGH! Not another Brownie!

President Bush, in a desperate bid to boost his sagging polls, declared that the United States would not cut and run. He insisted that we would settle for nothing less than a complete victory.  Pfizer responded by sending him an entire case of Viagra.  The Undead merely jeered.

The Undead respond to President's speech

Because of his medical expertise, Senator Frist was called in to help.  He immediately called his "blind" trust and ordered the sale of his remaining HCA stock.  

Senator Frist's Blind Trust

Sensing the weakness of the top leadership in the entire country, the Undead quickly formed a political party and nominated candidates for the 2008 Presidential election.  

ZLF Presidential and Vice-presidential candidates

When asked if the civilian spying program would continue, President Bush stated that the need is even greater now, with the threat posed by the Zombie Liberation Front.
The NSA "authorization is a vital tool in our war against the ZLF," Bush said. "It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their precious little brains. And that is exactly what I will continue to do, so long as I'm the president of the United States."
The ZLF could not be reached for comment.

A Gold Star goes to Paanta, John Baird, and Community for their photojournalistic contributions.

Obligatory Fair-and-Balanced Post

The Corpus Callosum presents itself openly as a left-of-center blog, but occasionally, in the interest of being fair and balanced, I devote some of my precious blogspace and your precious bandwidth to amplify the voices of those with whom I disagree.

Today's selection comes from the chairman of the Warren County Republican Party. (North Carolina)
Don't buy from Diebold

To the editor:

North Carolina's recent history of elections problems raised concerns among citizens, statewide, casting doubt on a process that must be beyond question, beyond suspicion, beyond reproach.

Warren County's own history of elections problems has tainted the county's citizens' opinion of our local board of elections even though the county officials involved have been, thankfully, long removed from office.

It has only been during the past two years that any level of citizen confidence has been restored in the integrity, credibility and competence of the Warren County Board of Elections.

It is the opinion of the Warren County Republican Party that this confidence may again be shaken due to the lack of clarity surrounding the North Carolina State Board of Elections certification of Diebold as a provider of electronic voting machines for use in our state.

Several newspaper articles, editorials and published commentaries have raised questions about the process in which Diebold's certification was obtained. Further questions have been raised relative to State Board of Elections Commission Chairman Larry Leake's relationship with a Diebold lobbyist. And, as you know, the State Board of Elections is being sued for alleged statutory violations in their certification of Diebold as a provider of electronic voting machines.

The Warren County Republican Party respectfully asks that no taxpayer money be appropriated for the purchase of electronic voting machines from Diebold, or any other provider, until such time as all questions regarding the certification process and the relationship between Chairman Leake and Diebold's representatives have been satisfactorily answered.

Mike Wilburt,


Note to readers: The writer is the chairman of the Warren County Republican Party.
I have two things to add.  First, I would like to point out that also makes ATMs.  Then, I would like all of those persons involved in purchasing decision at banks and similar institution to ask themselves if they really want to do business with Diebold.  After all, if the company can't secure our votes, do you really think they would bother to secure a little thing like money.  Don't buy from Diebold.

Diebold Variations
The graphic was found at Diebold Variations. There's more here.

Friday, December 16, 2005


See this page from the Bentley Historical Library for background on this.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Michigan Snow Day Activity

Quote of the Day

From Bill Moyers' talk on government secrecy, In the Kingdom Of the Half-Blind:
Funny, isn't it, how the farther one gets from power, the closer one often gets to the truth?

The Result of Bush's Most Recent Speech

Via Electric Counterpoint, on which Dan has a nice recap of his personal experience watching the speech, I went to a BBC article on the subject.  The article is chock-full of faint praise, meaning that Bush did not embarrass himself too badly.  What got my attention, though, was this:
On Fox News.com, Liza Porteus noted that "since the White House put Bush on the offensive with four speeches against war critics and others calling for timetables for troop withdrawal, the president has seen a slight uptick in his formerly sagging poll numbers".
What this fails to recognize is this: the way polls work, the President could spend an hour doing an infomercial on the Veg-O-Matic, and see a slight uptick in his approval rating.  

Improved Veg-O-Matic II, 1975 Improved Veg-O-Matic II, 1975

"This is Veg-O-Matic, the world-famous food appliance! . . . the only appliance in the world that slices whole, firm tomatoes in one stroke, with every seed in place. . . . French fries? Make hundreds in one minute! . . . Isn't that amazing?!" The inventor, Samuel J. Popeil, also created the frenzied ads that made his product a late-night-television sensation in the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1986 Popeil's family donated this Veg-O-Matic II, along with a recording of a commercial.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More on Electronic Voting

I believe that the use of electronic voting machines that do not leave a paper trail is wrong.  I am not really an expert on electronics, although I was building my own radios at age 11, repairing televisions at age 15, learned programming at age 17, and have built several computers.  That makes me an informed amateur, not an expert.  So don't take my word for it.  Instead, read Avi Rubin's site.  He is a professor of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins; he has three degrees in Computer Science from the University of Michigan.  Avi is an expert.

He posted an article here; excerpts follow:
My experience as an Election Judge in Baltimore County on November 2, 2004
by Avi Rubin

On March 2, I served as an election judge in the Super Tuesday primary. When I got home that night, I wrote up my thoughts and published them on my web site. Yesterday, I worked as an election judge again for the general election, and I wanted to write down my thoughts the same way, but when I got home, I was too tired. My precinct had a 91% turnout, not counting absentee ballots, and I was quite busy most of the day. I woke up this morning at around 5:00 a.m. and tuned in to see if we had a President yet. The news said that it was still hanging on four states that were too close to call. I couldn't fall back asleep, so I'm up now at 5:30 a.m., writing about my experience yesterday. [...]

The big difference with DREs is that tampering that is undetectable can change the vote count. Again, let me stress that I do not have any reason whatsoever to believe that my fellow judges did anything untoward. In fact, I believe strongly that they did not. My only point here is to observe that there are vulnerabilities in the system, vulnerabilities that someone could exploit someday and that ought to be eliminated. [...]

The Diebold Accuvote TS machines were shown to be highly vulnerable to tampering. With physical access to the machines, for example, one could change a few bytes in the ballot definition file and votes for the two major Presidential candidates would be swapped. In that case, none of the procedures we had in place could detect that votes were tallied for the wrong candidates. At the end of the election, we packed up the machines and left them in the same room with the door locked. Any malicious changes that had been made the night before could have been undone then. Each machine had a plastic seal on it, but the seal did not look like something that would be impossible to find. In fact, our supply packet contained a number of extras. This is just an example; there are many other ways someone with unfettered access to the machines could tamper with the election.  [...]

We had several minor glitches. Some of the smartcards did not work very well, and voters got unusual error messages on the screen. I did not see them, but one of the other judges told me they looked like "strange computer messages." [...]

Inside them were the little memory cards, not unlike the one in my digital camera at home, with 725 votes stored on them. One by one, we removed the memory cards from the machines. I held them in my hand as chief judge Marie was ready to load them into one of the machines that we designated as the accumulator. How fragile. All of the votes from the entire precinct in my hand. Substituting those cards with five identical looking cards, one could replace all of the ballots that were cast with bogus ones.  [...]
I know I am cluttering up my main page with these long posts on electronic voting, but it is one of the most pressing issues we face today.  You should must click on the graphic in the upper (left) sidebar to sign the petition supporting HR 550.

Sense and Non Sense: Diebold is Caught

This makes sense. It is from the website of the , wherein they describe their efforts to improve the most secure operating system there is, SE :
Unfortunately, existing mainstream operating systems lack the critical security feature required for enforcing separation: mandatory access control. As a consequence, application security mechanisms are vulnerable to tampering and bypass, and malicious or flawed applications can easily cause failures in system security.

The results of several previous research projects in this area have been incorporated in a security-enhanced Linux system. This version of Linux has a strong, flexible mandatory access control architecture incorporated into the major subsystems of the kernel. The system provides a mechanism to enforce the separation of information based on confidentiality and integrity requirements. This allows threats of tampering and bypassing of application security mechanisms to be addressed and enables the confinement of damage that can be caused by malicious or flawed applications.

It seems obvious that any OS that is supposed to be secure should have the security features built in to the kernel. The implication is that add-ons to the OS cannot provide the same level of security as you can get from building the security features right into the core of the system. Even so, the NSA is not yet completely confident in SE Linux:
There is still much work needed to develop a complete security solution. Nonetheless, we feel we have presented a good starting point to bring valuable security features to Linux. We are looking forward to building upon this work with the Linux community. Security-enhanced Linux is being released under the same terms and conditions as the original sources. The release includes documentation and source code for both the system and some system utilities that were modified to make use of the new features. Participation with comments, constructive criticism, and/or improvements is welcome.
Note that the NSA -- the world's best code-breaking agency -- feels that the best way to develop a secure computer system is to use open-source software. By releasing the details of the inner workings of the system to the entire community of programmers, hackers, and crackers, it is more likely that any security holes will be found, and subsequently fixed.

This does not make sense. , the manufacturers of the infamous "black box" voting machines -- the ones that leave no paper trail -- use software that is not open-source. How is it that the taxpayers have already paid for the NSA to develop what they believe is the most secure operating system in the world, yet they pay again for Diebold machines that use a lower quality OS?

Needless to say, secure voting is the cornerstone of Democracy. Obviously, we could not tolerate having the NSA develop our voting machines. But if they have developed a pretty secure OS, and that OS has withstood the slings and arrows of the open-source community, it really would make sense for us to use that technology. It might prevent embarrassments such as this:
BREAKING: Due to contractual non-performance and security design issues, Leon County (Florida) supervisor of elections Ion Sancho told Black Box Voting that he will never again use Diebold in an election. He has requested funds to replace the Diebold system from the county. He will issue a formal announcement to this effect shortly. Finnish security expert Harri Hursti proved that Diebold lied to Secretaries of State across the nation when Diebold claimed votes could not be changed on the memory card.
With SE Linux, an election worker would have to enter a password to "mount" or "unmount" a memory card. Thus, it would be possible to keep track of exactly who mounted the card, and keep a record of the event; to have the system verify the absence of votes on a newly-inserted memory card; and to encrypt what is written to the card in such a way that the results could not be tampered with undetectably after the fact. Every step of the process would be auditable.

Note: The CEO of Diebold, Walden O'Dell, was quoted as saying he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." Mr. O'Dell might now be wishing Diebold used SE Linux:
Diebold’s Walden W. O’Dell has abruptly resigned his positions as chairman and chief executive officer with Thomas W. Swidarski, currently the firm’s president and chief operating officer, named to take over as chief executive officer. Diebold, a manufacturer of ATM, security, and voting machines, made the announcement late Monday. The company has faced questions about the software used in some of its voting machines.
Diebold now faces a stockholder's class-action lawsuit.

For the latest updates, see the Black Box Voting site; for the most in-depth coverage, see US Rep. John Conyers' site.

A Closet Subversive

An image of the Cat in the Hat looking cheerful, wearing his trademark red bow tie and red-and-white striped hat.
The Cat in the Hat (1957)
Dr. Seuss Enterprises /
Random House
“I'm subversive as hell!  I've always had a mistrust of adults.”

Read more here, about Dr. Seuss' (Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel's) political inclinations.

Sitemeter Reveals...

...Some seemingly strange search strings, sometimes.
new brain cells develop abstinence buffalo
Apparently, someone was searching for this, an article from the University of Buffalo regarding alcohol abstinence. People do grow new brain cells when they quit drinking too much.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

YAFOP: Yet another fish oil post

Yet another fish oil post.  (I've posted on this subject before.)  

There probably are beneficial effects from fish oil, ranging from treatment of depression, to treatment of vascular disease and arthritis.  Now comes a study that shows it oculd be helpful for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis).  The original article ( Matsuyama, W. Chest, December 2005; vol 128: pp 3817-3827) is not up on the Internet yet, so this is from a news release.

Fish Oil May Treat Lung Disease
Diet Rich in Omega-3 Fats May Help Treat Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Dec. 12, 2005 -- New research from Japan shows that eating foods like salmon, herring, walnuts, and flaxseed oil could help treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Those foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are scarce in the typical American diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been studied for conditions including heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and depression.  

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are examples of COPD. Smoking is a significant cause of the disease.  Japanese doctors put omega-3 fatty acids to the test. They led a two-year study of COPD patients.  They found diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids helped curb COPD. [...]

People in the omega-3 group had two advantages. They had a significant drop in lung inflammation. They also walked farthest in the six-minute walking test.  Side effects seen with two or three patients on each diet included diarrhea and nausea. Those problems were mild and controllable, write Matsuyama and colleagues.  The researchers suggest that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may be a "safe and practical method for treating COPD."

Since their study was small, they call for bigger, longer studies to check their results.
This could be important news for smokers and ex-smokers.  Note that one of the common side effects, a fishy taste in the mouth, was not mentioned.  Persons who are troubled by that can try two things: they can keep the fish oil gelcaps in the refrigerator, or they can get enteric-coated capsules.  Keeping the capsules in the refrigerator increases the time it takes for them to dissolve, so that more of the oil is released in the intestines, not the stomach.  Patients who get diarrhea probably would be fine if they started taking just one capsule per day, and increased slowly.  This gives the GI tract time to adjust.  

See these two sites (1 2) for lists of products that have been found to be suitably free of mercury and PCB's.  It probably takes about 5 to 6 grams per day (1 gram = 1000 milligrams) to get the maximum effect.

Think Your Pain Away, for $2 Million

I just read an article today.  First I'm going to tell you what is not interesting about it, then I'll get to the interesting part.
Thinking the Pain Away

By Ingrid Wickelgren
ScienceNOW Daily News
12 December 2005

Researchers have developed a potentially powerful new tool that allows patients to fight pain by literally thinking it away. Volunteers put inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine were able to control the activity of a brain region responsible for pain perception, suggesting that the technology may someday provide a drug- and side-effect-free way to calm troubled nerves. [...]
This is basically an enhanced form of biofeedback.  If people who are experiencing pain can see the level of activity in a certain pain center in the brain, they can learn to make that center less active, thus reducing the pain. The author mentions that the technique seems promising, except that the machines that make it possible cost two million dollars.  

The finding that patients can control pain with this kind of biofeedback is interesting, but the fact is, we already know that biofeedback works for other things, and it is not terribly surprising that this would work, too.  In this post, I pose the (inevitable) question that arises from this research, then go out on a limb a bit by expanding the findings into the sociological realm.  Continue reading here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Learn Something New Everyday

There is such a thing as the Nuclear Magnetic Mom. My goal for tomorrow is to what the Nuclear Magnetic Mom is.


Aspazia has a post up on MMF that is insightful, as well as being wryly amusing.  It "inspired" me to write a lengthy comment.  When I do that, I hate to have the work buried in a comment section somewhere, so I generally elevate it to a full post of my own.

Be advised, this will not make a lot of sense unless you read her post first.  

So, here is my comment, edited and expanded a bit:

I am not clever enough to come up with catchy drug names.  If I were, I would have retired in comfort a long time ago.  However, I would like to comment on what you've said about the DSM, and about psychiatric diagnosis in general.

Advocates of a rigorous approach to diagnosis admit readily, that the DSM is flawed.  That is why it is revised continuously.  It will never be perfect.  Therefore, it is imperative that it be interpreted with extreme caution.  

A good rule of thumb is to remember that one cannot infer anything from the DSM.  It is meaningful only when interpreted literally.  That is, if a person meets the diagnostic criteria for a given disorder, then you can say that the person is "a person with X,” where X is the disorder.  This does not imply anything about good or bad, right or wrong, guilty or innocent, worthy or unworthy, treatable or untreatable.  

When applied properly, the DSM does not generate any value judgments; it also says nothing about treatment.

Having said that, I have found that it does not seem to matter how carefully and repetitively one teaches that point.  It seems that the point usually is missed.

In forensic psychiatry, there are specific criteria for exculpability that are entirely separate from the criteria for mental illness.  Merely having an illness does not get you off the hook, in a court of law.  

I would say that the DSM is an entirely reasonable document, it is the people who read it that are unreasonable.  But as I write that, I am troubled by the parallel with the argument that guns don't kill people, people do.  I think we should not have so many guns around, so shouldn't I think also that we should have fewer DSM's around?

No, not really, just that people need to appreciate how to use it properly.  That caveat could be applied to any highly specialized, technical reference book.  You can't read the CRC Handbook and Chemistry and Physics and think you know everything there is to know about benzene.  More to the point, you cannot read the book and then infer from what you read whether benzene is a good molecule or a bad molecule.  

Value judgment and diagnosis have nothing to do with each other.  Nothing.  To the extent possible, diagnosis is purely descriptive.

I do like her point about drug companies rushing products to market to treat the new diagnoses, but that it partly an artifact of how the FDA approves drugs.  Drugs are approved for a specific purpose, to treat a specific disease.  No disease, no approval.  That actually does not make any sense, but it is the way things are done.  

To be fair and balanced, though, it is not just the drug companies that do this.  You can bet that all kinds of  healers of all stripes -- some legitimate; others not -- would open offices claiming to have expertise in the treatment of X.  And there would be a proliferation of web sites full of claims for various remedies.  Books too; It seems as though everyone gets into that particular act.

HRT = Harmony Replacement Therapy?

It Really Is Important

It really is important to avoid promoting bad people to high court positions, and it really can happen.  
Brad DeLong points to an article on Reason, which is about something that Robert Bork wrote recently.  
Sandwiched between Clint Bolick on school choice and Ward Connerly on colorblindness is Robert Bork on censorship. Just to be clear: He is for it.

"Liberty in America can be enhanced by reinstating, legislatively, restraints upon the direction of our culture and morality," writes the former appeals court judge, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Censorship as an enhancement of liberty may seem paradoxical. Yet it should be obvious, to all but dogmatic First Amendment absolutists, that people forced to live in an increasingly brutalized culture are, in a very real sense, not wholly free." Bork goes on to complain that "relations between the sexes are debased by pornography"; that "large parts of television are unwatchable"; that "motion pictures rely upon sex, gore, and pyrotechnics for the edification of the target audience of 14-year-olds"; and that "popular music hardly deserves the name of music."
DeLong and the author at Reason, Jacob Sullum, point out how paradoxical it is that Bork advocates censorship in the name of freedom.   I agree with that, but would like to add one more point.  The opinions expressed by Bork are so whacky, so incongruent with the Constitution, that it is hard to believe that he once was nominated for the Supreme Court.  The point is this: it is entirely possible for bad candidates to be nominated, and it would be very bad for them to be confirmed.  It is not OK for us to assume the best when it comes to these nominees.  We need to scrutinize them very carefully.  It would be unpatriotic to do otherwise.  

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Autism Epidemic Revisited

I am ambivalent about writing an post, since there has been so much blogbuzz on the topic.  Much of the controversy has to do with two things: the notion that the incidence of autism is increasing, and the notion that mercury in vaccines has contributed to the increased incidence of the disorder.  The mercury issue has been pretty well hashed out by Orac, Paul, Skeptico, Autism Diva, and others...too numerous to count.  The "autism epidemic," likewise, had led to an epidemic of writing -- most of it bad.  A Google search on "autism epidemic" (with the quotes) turns up over 66,000 hits.  

And now I've come across another one.  It isn't new.  It was published in July 2005 on Medscape.  (Medscape articles require registration, which is free.  It is a bit of a nuisance, but Medscape is a pretty good resource, so it is worth the trouble.)  I mention this article because it may be one of the better articles on the question of whether the incidence of autism is increasing.  Furthermore, it illustrates some good general points about one of my favorite topics: .  In this post, I take a look at what is known about the controversy over the increase in reported rates of autism, then use that as a example to illustrate some points about critical thinking and skeptical thinking.  Continue reading at The Rest of the Story.

Impeach Bush Sign, One of Many

One of 13 signs, found along the rectangle formed by Crest, Liberty, Seventh, and Huron. I think this one is in front of Mark's house.

I don't recall this many signs when Clinton was impeached.

Levitra Trinket

If anyone cares to see what trinkets Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline are handing out to promote their ED drug, Levitra, you can watch this short video clip at: http://media.putfile.com/Levitra-drug-company-demo

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Sense of Relief

I am nerdier than 96% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

The final question: which is more important to you: the joy of getting a high score, or the relief of not getting a mediocre score?

What Does Happiness Cost?

Two dollars and seventy-six cents per day:
[...] Moreover, they add that the combination of low incremental costs and a high clinical benefit in terms of depression-free days resulted in "the lowest incremental outpatient cost per depression-free day that has been reported in primary care trials: approximately $2.76 per depression-free day." [...]
In fact, though, happiness is not the same as being depression-free.  Merely eliminating depression does not necessarily make a person happy, any more than eliminating tuberculosis makes a person happy.  

To illustrate: imagine a person with tuberculosis, who just had his home, family, and means of livelihood wiped out by a tsunami.  Some folks from the UN come by and cure his tuberculosis.  He's still not happy.    In contrast, imagine someone with sleep and appetite disturbances, low energy, impaired concentration, anhedonia, who has a wonderful family, a decent home, and a good job.  Take away the symptoms; that person will be happy.  Well, probably.  

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging

Friday Impeach Bush Blogging

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Science in the News

The dreaded Hodag.

Fans Remember John Lennon

Fans remember John Lennon in Central Park, New York, Dec. 8, 2005. John Lennon, killed by a deranged fan 25 years ago Thursday, left a towering legacy as a member of The Beatles.

From Xinhua.

Hippocampal Myo-inositol and Cognitive Ability in Adults With Down Syndrome

Arch Gen Psych brings us some hope-inspiring news about .  They report on a finding of a correlation between myo-inositol levels in the brain, and the severity of cognitive impairment in patients with DS.  There appears to be a strong correlation: the higher the level of myo-inositol, the worse the impairment.  There is a understandable interpretation of the study in a BBC News story here.  There is a somewhat understandable explainer about myo-inositol at the PDR Health website, here.  
structure of myo-inositol
Of course, the usual caveats apply: this is a basic science study that is a long way from clinical application.  However, it is a finding that occurs in the context of a large body of knowledge about myo-inositol, the role of myo-inositol in the brain, and various ways of influencing the amount of the substance floating around up there.  For example, it is known that brain cells clear out proteins that are prone to aggregation, via a process known as autophagy.  This process is regulated, in part, by an enzyme that controls the metabolism of myo-inositol.  Note that there are reasons to believe that excessive aggregation of certain proteins is known to be a factor in several neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer disease.  We know that some of the changes in the brains of persons with DS are similar to those seen in AD.  So finding out that there is a link between the regulation of the level of myo-inositol and the degree of cognitive impairment in DS is entirely consistent with what already was known about the neurobiology of DS.  It helps provide some direction for further research into treatment for the disorder.  The challenge is going to be this: since the degenerative changes occur over a very long time scale, it is going to take a long time to demonstrate the effectiveness of any intervention intended to halt the progression.  Also, since persons with DS develop impairment early in life, it will be a challenge to figure out what interventions to begin and when in life they should be started.  

If I were asked to anticipate the potential clinical significance of this, I would say the benefits could be important, albeit modest.  If we can find an effective way to slow the neurodegenerative changes of DS, it will result in greater quality of life for patients and caregivers, and probably will prolong life.  Unfortunately, it is only a microscopic step toward an eventual cure.