30 November 2007

One more reason not to binge drink


If you thought a hangover was bad ...


When doctors warn of the dangers of binge drinking, exploding bladders may not immediately spring to mind. However, last week a report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) made alarming reading. In the report, the medics discuss the unprecedented appearance in emergency wards of women who have suffered alcohol-induced "bladder rupture": their bladders have quite literally torn apart under pressure of a big night out.

Oh god. As if a night of binge drinking didn't sound unappealing enough. What the hell is up with those Brits? The biology of in is pretty simple, as the article explains.

The mechanics of this gruesome problem are relatively straightforward. Alcohol is diuretic - it makes you urinate more - hence the sight of drunk people urinating in the streets on a Saturday night. Alcohol is also an anaesthetic: it dulls the urge to go. The combination of large volumes of urine, and a dimmed, possibly non-existent urge to pee can result in a seriously over-full bladder.

When they tell you that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, they really mean it. When you're so pissed that your body can't tell you that you need to piss, my god. So after the bladder bursts, urine is is the abdominal cavity and this is a very bad thing. Urine is all the stuff that your body has decided it doesn't want; mostly urea, but also by products of different metabolic processes. When urine is in the abdominal cavity, the urea is going to be reabsorbed into the blood stream and you're going to feel really crappy.

I don't drink, but I did go to college and party with people who do and I sort of understand the social reasons for heavy drinking. But from what I've read the Brits seem to approach freshman-in-college level drinking as a weekly hobby well into their thirties. Thats... interesting.

29 November 2007

Democracy in Pakistan

Musharraf Says Emergency Rule Will End on Dec. 16
To be honest, I'm not sure if I believe him. Having taken power in a coup d'├ętat, suspended the constitution and dismissed the Supreme Court when he knew they were going to rule against him, I don't exactly trust that he will end martial law.

But he said parliamentary elections would now go ahead as scheduled on Jan. 8 without the need for continued emergency rule, and he called on the opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to participate fully.
....
Mr. Musharraf took the oath of office as a civilian president here in the capital a day after relinquishing his role as the country’s military chief.

At the official ceremony, he warned assembled foreign diplomats not to force democracy and human rights on developing countries, but to let them evolve in their own time. Many of them had been highly critical of his recent actions.


To sum up, he was sworn into a second term that was probably not exactly legal. But he did finally take off his uniform. He says that there will be a return of the constitutional rule and there will be an election for parliament in January, both of which are very good things. But, like I said, I'll pleased when those things actually happen.

One thing that has to be kept in mind, whatever Musharraf's real opinion on the matter, the region is destabilized. Most of Afghanistan is run by warlords and the boarder is hardly secure. With its immediate neighbor so fragmented, any leader of Pakistan would be in an unenviable position. We can hope that Pakistan will make democratic reforms, but with a leader prone to dictatorial means, an unstable neighbor to the north and lets not forget its long running dispute with India, I hope Pakistan can do this.

Its interesting to read that since the dissolution of the Supreme Court, lawyers have been in the streets protesting. Here, lawyers are pretty low key people and the thought of a huge group of lawyers taking the streets sounds like something out of the Onion. Then again, if the rule of law was being suspended, I would like to think that at least some lawyers would come to the defense of their profession.

The really interesting thing Musharraf says is this:

“There is an unrealistic or even impractical obsession with your form of democracy, human rights and civil liberties, which you have taken centuries to acquire and which you expect us to adopt in a few years, in a few months,” he said, addressing the diplomats.

“We want democracy; I am for democracy. We want human rights, we want civil liberties, but we will do it our way, as we understand our society, our environment, better than anyone in the West,” he said.

While I disagree that an obsession with democracy and civil rights is a bad thing, I can see how one could argue that you can't force democracy. I system that requires the population to be active participants cannot be built overnight. That said, we look back at the lawyers in the street and see that Pakistanis do want to participate in their government. I hope that their desire to participate is strong enough and that Musharraf is able to recognize when that the time has come.

28 November 2007

Bush appointees do science badly

7 Decisions on Species Revised

In the course of those reviews, for example, Mitch King, then the agency's Region 6 director, said in a June memo to headquarters that while the field and regional office's scientific review concluded there is "substantial" evidence that the white-tailed prairie dog faces a risk of extinction, "the change to 'not substantial' only occurred at Ms. MacDonald's suggestion."

A Bush appointee rewriting the recommendations from scientists in the field? This should be shocking, unheard of and we should all be appalled that a political appointee would dare do such a thing. But of course we aren't. Because this has happened before in this administration, notably with global warming.

What does it mean to the animals that they were probably improperly sorted as not endangered? Well it means that the land they live on might have been given away to some human habitation. The water that they live in might have been siphoned off to water some farm or flush some toilets. What does it mean to you when you have to wait another day to see a doctor? Sucks doesn't it? That extra day can make a big difference to you.

I guess it comes down to the fact that I'm disgusted that politics gets to dictate science. Its happened here, it happened at NASA about global warming. It started with the dissolution of the Office of Technology Assessment in 1995 by Newt Gingrich and all the Republicans that came into office after the 1994 election. Since I was all of nine years old at the time of that election, I don't really remember what life was like when science was taken seriously and the conclusions of scientists were not met with purely political opposition.

Changing the data or changing the conclusions drawn from the data to fit a predetermined goal is not science. Thats why Young Earth Creationism isn't science, thats why Intelligent Design isn't science, and thats what this administration has been doing. Ignoring the science about species extinction and global warming means that big businesses get to do what they want. "Drill for oil in ANWR? Sure! Hold Detroit to emission standards? Whatever for?"

Another reason I want to like Hillary, she says she'll work to reestablish the OTA.

27 November 2007

Wont someone PLEASE think of the children?

Indiana's Legal High: Teens Turned On To Powerful Drug
Here it is again, the horrible, terror inducing, the thing that strikes fear into every parent; the legal high.

The plant provides a quick high that some have compared to LSD, and it's readily accessible to anyone.

This sentence is totally misleading. Firstly "high" is usually reserved for marijuana. Think of the "round the table" scenes in "That '70s Show." LSD is not generally described as a "high" but rather as a "trip" as are many other hallucinogens. This quibbling about words is not without a point. The media's portrayal of this powerful drug is barely more than a scare story. They don't bother to try to understand what this drug is doing or why people find it attractive. Instead they throw around loaded words that are bound to get a rise out of people.

Drug counselors said they are worried salvia is a gateway drug to other harmful substances.

Ah yes, the slippery slope argument. While its true that for many drugs, users can build up a tolerance that sends them looking for another high, the idea that one chemical leads to another is usually pretty silly. The gateway aspect comes from the social atmosphere; the illegality, the sneaking around, the discovery that this chemical they authorities don't want you to use is actually kind of fun.

"You do have to keep in it check. It's something that you do need to use responsibly," Sidler said.

There is any number of low activity psychoactive substances that he could be talking about. Hell, I'm pretty sure I've heard people saying that about alcohol, even late night caffeine use.

Considering the intensity of the short trip, and the fact that this society likes its acceptable psychoactive substances to be low concentration/high dilution, I think that there will be laws passed making this illegal. The active substance is Salvinorin A and its potency starts at 200 micrograms. It acts on an opioid receptor, unlike LSD and other hallucinogens which act on seritonin receptors. Marijuana acts on cannabinoid receptors. So this drug, while highly active, is not acting in the same manner as LSD or marijuana as many of the news stories claim.

So is this really a post about regional news? Not really, but the biochemistry part of me just takes over at some point and I can't resist.

26 November 2007

The Japanese go Whaling

Japan Hunts the Humpback. Now Comes the Backlash.

Vessels from the groups Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace tail and harass the whaling fleet, while strong protests are lodged by environmental groups, many marine biologists, and officials from the United States, Australia and other countries. But this year those complaints have intensified, largely because Japan has added a new animal to its planned harvest of more than 1,400 whales from seven species — the humpback, Megaptera novaeangliae.


Usually I can understand both sides of a debate and at least appreciate where those I disagree with are coming from. I can usually understand that reasonable people can disagree. I can usually accept that people coming from different cultural backgrounds can look at the same thing and see different things.

Usually I don't feel like I need to dress in black and hurl Molotov cocktails.

On this point I feel the need to do spectacular physical damage, I feel the need to send these people to Sea World followed by a long stint in a small cell.

There is no reason for the Japanese to continue to hunt any whales. Their appeal that they are doing real scientific is totally undermined by the fact that most of the whales end up on the market as food.

The interesting comment comes near the end of the article.

The Japan Whaling Association, a private group representing the whaling operations, has described complaints as cultural imperialism on its Web site, whaling.jp:

“Asking Japan to abandon this part of its culture,” the association says, “would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers and the English being asked to go without fish and chips.”

Whaling was part of American culture once too. At some point we got over that. Yeah, it hurt, whole communities were upset and people were put out of work. And while thats horrible, society moves on and culture adapts. Besides, how much of Japanese culture is still dependent upon this whaling culture? Falling back on the idea of respect for other cultures to defend this horrible act is a pretty ridiculous.

There is no reason for Japan to be whaling and the rest of the world needs to call them on it. In fact you should go over to Green Peace and send a letter to Condoleezza Rice urging her to put pressure on Japan. I am doubtful that Condoleezza is going to actually do much, but something is better than nothing.

24 November 2007

Scandal as a tease and a ghost.

Publisher: McClellan doesn't believe Bush lied

Peter Osnos, the founder and editor-in-chief of Public Affairs Books, which is publishing McClellan's book in April, tells NBC from his Connecticut home that McCLellan, "Did not intend to suggest Bush lied to him."


Hrmm. When things aren't totally clear, its best to go back to the original source document.

What Happened Inside the Bush White House and What's Wrong with Washington

The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

There was one problem. It was not true.

I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the President himself.


The key word here seems to me to be "involved" in the last sentences. How could Bush be involved in "unknowingly passing on false information" and not be lying? Was Bush passing false information to the press secretary because he was told false information? Someone in that group of five people must have known the information was false.

There is another side to this. McClellan "Did not intend to suggest Bush lied to him." Maybe not, but the publisher knew damned well the stir that those three short paragraphs would cause. A little bit of scandal helps hustle dead trees, everyone knows that. And that is the real reason for all this. The idea that McClellan might know who gave Valerie Plame's name to those reporters is a tease. A tease as surely as a flash of lace at the top of a stocking.

The scandals that haunt this administration do little more than haunt. They players get shuffled on and off the stage, get rearranged a bit, cause a little panic each time a new one shows up. But nothing substantial seems to have really happened. We still have no time table for withdrawal. We still have detainees being tortured I'm sure. None of these scandals seems to be able to solidify into anything that can throw the White House off track. All the ghosts of all the dead in Iraq don't even seem able to scare away the saber rattling with Iran. Maybe they've got some killer ghost traps over there.

21 November 2007

The rights of the unpopular.

Victor Rabinowitz, 96, Leftist Lawyer, Dies
Sometimes you only hear about really neat people when they die. I had never heard of Victor Rabinowitz until I read this obituary.

Victor Rabinowitz, a leftist lawyer whose causes and clients over nearly three-quarters of a century ranged from labor unions to Black Panthers to Cuba to Dashiell Hammett to Dr. Benjamin Spock to his own daughter, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 96.

Thats pretty damn interesting. I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to help the people the public despises. Defending Cuba's right to its land that had been held by US corporations? Sheesh, that couldn't have been popular at all. Its that idea about doing whats right versus doing whats popular. And this reminded me of a blog post I read a few days ago at Emeriblog. Kim, the writer, posted a letter from an annonymous Army Nurse.

Somewhere in the midst of the War on Terrorism, there are nurses that have been called to duty to care for, none-other-than, the very people that are being accused of attacking, plotting against, funding attacks on, and killing the very same forces that these nurses work along side of.

Didn’t we all take some oath when we became nurses? Something along the lines of caring for all humans regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or situation? I can’’t recall, I think I have become jaded. None-the-less, somewhere detainee nurses are putting to test that oath everyday as they struggle to cope with their actions


Lawyers defending the rights of spies, hated foreign governments, radicals and murderers; doctors and nurses treating the enemy, the terrorist and the detainee; these are people that we should all be proud of. Anyone willing to stand up for people who are already down is to be applauded. Its not just about defending the innocent from system, but also the guilty from unfair punishment by that system.

The idea that the guilty still have rights by the simple virtue of being human is hard to act on.

When the misdeed is a nicked candy bar, thats no big deal. But the idea that Slobodan Milosevic deserved medical attention? It's not like I've ever really had to deal with anything that weighty, but I would like to think I'd be able to do what needed to be done.

20 November 2007

Security costs money, money we don't have right now.

Security Funds For Conventions Tied In Stalemate

A stalemate in Washington is holding up money for security during next year's GOP and Democratic conventions and could force Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver to front tens of millions of dollars, lawmakers warned Monday.

This could also go under DC Drama, but since I am currently in the Twin Cities this is pretty local. St. Paul's downtown is tiny and Minneapolis is bigger, but its really not that big. Minneapolis, St. Paul and Denver don't have enough money right now to get the security contracts signed. I don't know about Denver, but St. Paul is trying to plan but running up against a lack of information. If you have enough time you can get planned enough for most things. You can even plan enough to be flexible for any strange things that might happen. But with no information and no money to get the ball rolling, you end up planning at the last minute. And thats fine for picnics and potlucks, but national political conventions for the two major parties should not be planned like a pot luck.

The bill that is being held up would give $25 million each to the Twin Cities and Denver. That is not a small bit of money. What happens if the cities don't get the money? I'm really not sure how things like this work. I guess the security contracts need to get signed. Where would the money come from? I could speculate, but I'd rather not. I'd rather see the feds or the respective parties cough up the money.

But lets not get too downhearted about all this. The mayors St. Paul and Minneapolis don't want this to be a riot, and there are promises that there wont be "pens" for the protesters. And some of the proof can be found at The Uptake. Good stuff.

19 November 2007

There is no reason for this...

Other than the fact that I want to brag.
cash advance


This is probably partially due to the fact that make liberal use of block quotes. Lets see if I can keep this up. The key seems to be big words. Maybe I can add footnotes.

Homeopathy, dilution is not the solution

Since I did science on Friday, I'm going to do some health today to make up for it. These two articles appeared in the Guardian only a few days apart. Homeopathy is "Western Medicine" in that it was invented by an Englishman, but it is not modern nor is it scientifically supported. Its a much bigger deal in England than it is here in the US. The first article is by Jeanette Winterson and is appropriately titled In defence of homeopathy. She starts, as many do, with an anecdote.

Picture this. I am staying in a remote cottage in Cornwall without a car. I have a temperature of 102, spots on my throat, delirium, and a book to finish writing. My desperate publisher suggests I call Hilary Fairclough, a homeopath who has practices in London and Penzance. She sends round a remedy called Lachesis, made from snake venom. Four hours later I have no symptoms whatsoever.

Interesting sure, but as the quote says "The plural of anecdote is not data." So lets get down to where Winterson starts talking about the real criticisms of homeopathy, mainly its use of absurdly diluted substances to treat illness.

Objections to homeopathy begin with what are viewed as the impossible dilutions of the remedies, so that only nano amounts of the original active substance remain, and in some cases are only an imprint, or memory. Yet our recent discoveries in the world of the very small point to a whole new set of rules for the behaviour of nano-quantities. Thundering around in our Gulliver world, we were first shocked to find that splitting the atom allowed inconceivable amounts of energy to be released. Now, we are discovering that the properties of materials change as their size reaches the nano-scale. Bulk material should have constant physical properties, regardless of its size, but at the nano-scale this is not the case. In a solvent, such as water, nano particles can remain suspended, neither floating nor sinking, but permeating the solution. Such particles are also able to pass through cell walls, and they can cause biochemical change.

The argument that water somehow remembers the chemical activity of a substance that was is absurd. If water remembered and acted like all the chemicals it had come into contact with you could be bathing in water that is going to act like Queen Victoria's stomach acid. I don't even know what the argument for their pills is. Winterson's use of the "nano" is an appeal to the authority of buzzwords that most people don't understand.

So, three days later Ben Goldacre asks if its A kind of magic? He discusses the placebo effect and regression to the mean as the real reasons that the anecdotes support homeopathy. He goes on to talk about how supporters of homeopathy react to this type of criticisms.

With alternative therapists, when you point out a problem with the evidence, people don't engage with you about it, or read and reference your work. They get into a huff. They refuse to answer calls or email queries. They wave their hands and mutter sciencey words such as "quantum" and "nano". They accuse you of being a paid plant from some big pharma conspiracy. They threaten to sue you. They shout, "What about thalidomide, science boy?", they cry, they call you names, they hold lectures at their trade fairs about how you are a dangerous doctor, they contact and harass your employer, they try to dig up dirt from your personal life, or they actually threaten you with violence (this has all happened to me, and I'm compiling a great collection of stories for a nice documentary, so do keep it coming).

They don't take it well. People don't tend to act rationally when defending something that isn't rational. Thats the nature of the beast, so I'm not surprised to find that he has been threatened. But the irrationality of the homeopaths is not the main point of his essay. The point is that homeopaths, like AIDS/HIV, evolution and global warming denialists, hurt science understanding of the general population.

By pushing their product relentlessly with this scientific flim-flam, homeopaths undermine the public understanding of what it means to have an evidence base for a treatment. Worst of all, they do this at the very time when academics are working harder than ever to engage the public in a genuine collective ownership and understanding of clinical research, and when most good doctors are trying to educate and involve their patients in the selection of difficult treatment options. This is not a nerdy point. This is vital.

There are many points on which I am willing to concede that science doesn't or can't know everything. But this is not one of them. A logical look at the dilutions says that homeopathy doesn't work the way it claims. Yet the idea persists. Part of me can understand the need to believe that something simple can cure us, but the logical part of me balks. And I can't ignore that no matter how I try.

17 November 2007

Republicans and the Farm Bill

Farm Bill At Standstill After Vote

The immediate cause of the deadlock has been the insistence of Senate Republicans on their right to introduce a series of politically explosive tax and immigration amendments that Democrats deem not relevant. Harkin said yesterday that these include changes in the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, and a ban on issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.


When I say that there needs to be changes to the Farm Bill, this is not what I had in mind. When I say that I want changes to the Farm Bill I would like to see changes that make healthy food less expensive than a Twinkie. I want this graph on one of those ridiculously big posters used in Congressional debates.

But rather than, Republicans are trying to add immigration stuff and all sorts of other things that have nothing to do with farming or food stamps. Bush is going to veto it anyway so why the Republicans are tacking on random stuff is a little confusing. Holding up the Farm Bill, with or without the kind of changes I would like to see is generally a bad idea. It just doesn't play well, the idea that you are "turning you back on rural America" just can't be spun well.

Really, the farm bill needs to be reworked so that the money is flowing in a way that actually encourages small farmers and farmers that grow food that is good for us and not simply made into high fructose corn syrup. Large Agribuisnesses that pretend to represent small farmers need to be called on their deception.

16 November 2007

When does a species cease to exist?

Off Endangered List, but What Animal Is It Now?

The historic Great Lakes wolf is an enigma, with scientists debating whether it is a subspecies of gray wolf or a distinct species. The Fish and Wildlife Service officially considers the western Great Lakes wolf a “distinct population segment” of the gray wolf, found in a discrete geographic area.

That population today is made up largely of hybrids between the gray wolf and coyote, but some 31 percent of the animals carry genetic material from the native wolf, which appears to no longer exist in pure form. The researchers analyzed mitochondrial DNA, inherited through the mother and often used to distinguish lineages in humans and animals, from 17 early-20th century wolves and 68 contemporary wolves.

I must admit I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, saving species from extinction resulting from human actions is a noble goal and one that we need to work harder on. On the other hand, there is a point at which a distinct species ceases to exist in a pure form. When that happens, in order for any part of the genome to survive, hybridization happens. There is a point at which it is too late to save a species, and if that species is so lucky as to have a near relative with whom to interbred, its better than going totally extinct.

So should the Great Lakes grey wolf, be taken off the endangered species list? I don't think so. The pure species is still endangered and very possibly totally extinct. The hybrids are not the same species, even if their genome is similar. Just because some animals out there are similar doesn't mean that the animal is safe. This isn't just about the loss of a set genome, its about the loss of an ecosystem and everyone in it. The existence of the hybrids does not change the ideals of the endangered species act.

There is something bigger here that I could talk about, either the political (This administration and their utter disregard for this sort of thing) or more philosophical about the change in populations over time as they interact with other species ( H. sapiens in this case). However an accident here at home has me a bit wiped out so we'll just have to live with the implication that I do in fact think deeper about these things.

14 November 2007

Legalize Industrial Hemp

Farmers Ask Federal Court To Dissociate Hemp and Pot

Hemp, a strait-laced cousin of marijuana, is an ingredient in products from fabric and food to carpet backing and car door panels. Farmers in 30 countries grow it. But it is illegal to cultivate the plant in the United States without federal approval, to the frustration of Hauge and many boosters of North Dakota agriculture.

This is one of those places where the law is stupid. The history of it is at least partially tied up in racism, and partially in the wood paper business of William Randolf Hearst.

Hemp makes a better paper that wood. There is more cellulose in an acre of hemp than an acre of trees. And unlike trees, hemp can make fabrics as well as papers. Hearst owned a lot of forest, so you can guess that making hemp illegal along with marijuana would bring him into a fair bit more money than he already had. Writing about the "terrors" of stoned Mexican migrants was a win all around for him. He sold more newspapers with these fanatical stories, demonized the Mexicans who he hated, and got rid of a rival product.

So the original reason for the law banning hemp was not really in the best interest of the public, but rather one member of the public and his family. The biochemistry doesn't support the ban either. The main psychoactive component of marijuana is of course THC. I say main because the combustion of organic material is not neat. There are many things that burn and many things that change chemical activity at different temperatures. There might be more compounds present, but they probably have relatively low activities. That said, hemp wont get you stoned.

"You could smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole," Hague said of hemp, "and it's not going to provide you with a high."


The history and the biochemistry don't support the ban. That alone should be enough. Superfluous and stupid laws should be removed. There are also plenty of environmental reasons. Cellulose is a good starting point for biofuels, especially since it isn't a food crop and wont drive up the price of milk the way corn ethanol has. Its a dense crop and doesn't need much in the way of pesticides.

As is almost always the case with an illegal drug, I learned about the history of marijuana and hemp from Illegal Drugs by Paul Gahlinger.

13 November 2007

Jury Duty

I've got jury duty this week so posting will be even more irregular.
Go read Bus Tales for a laugh.

12 November 2007

A bit more precise than burning trash

Fuel Without the Fossil

They believe techniques borrowed from oil refining and other chemical industries will allow them to crack open big biological molecules, transforming them into ethanol or, even more interesting, into diesel and gasoline. Those latter fuels could be transported in existing pipelines and burned in existing engines without fuss. Advocates of the chemical methods say they may be flexible enough to go beyond traditional biomass, converting old tires or even human waste into clean transport fuel.


This isn't the first time I've heard of using waste biomass to make fuels, nor is it the first time I've seen the emphasis on Chemistry rather than Biology. So lets look chemically at what they are trying to make. No matter what the fuel is, whats happening is the oxidation of carbon to release the energy in the carbon-carbon bond.

Ethanol: Has one carbon carbon bond and already has one carbon-oxygen bond. It burns to CO2 more readily because of that carbon-oxygen bond. But it doesn't have as much energy as other hydrocarbons because it only has one c-c bond. Ethanol is usually made using the same process we've always used, brewers yeast digesting sugars. This only produces so much ethanol, because eventually the ethanol concentrations kill the yeast. Some research is looking into using bacteria to make the ethanol rather than the yeast.

Diesel and gas: These are both hydrocarbons, diesel with ten to fifteen carbons and gasoline with 5 to 12. There are no carbon-oxygen bonds and you are more likely to get carbon monoxide, but there are so many more carbon-carbon bonds mean there is a lot more energy in there. I don't know exactly how you get those out of biomass, but I'm guessing that most of it comes from different lipids, thought I don't know how they get broken down. I'm guessing that this is where the chemical processes come in.

The real question is about how well this is going to work. In my opinion its all a matter of time. This is one of those things where the market is going to make this look better and better. The price of oil is going to come up, thats just the way it is with finite resources. Is this specific process viable? At this point just about anything that doesn't burn oil is on the table and really only time will tell.

09 November 2007

Vioxx payout

Merck to Pay $4.85B Vioxx Settlement

Jury trials in the initial suits have produced a dozen decisions in favor of the company and five in favor of the plaintiffs. Today's settlement gives a bit of certainty to both sides, the company and the plaintiff's attorneys said in a news release.

Previously Vioxx said that they were going to fight every lawsuit, but the rulings have been inconsistent. Some have been large pay offs for the plaintiffs, some have been dismissed, many are running into a statute of limitations. So Merck has decided to offer a large settlement by way of a fund that will pay out money once the claim has been reviewed.

I don't really have anything terrible curmudgeonly to say about this. I think its a good idea for the company and the plaintiffs to get something set up to reimburse them for their loss and to get as much of this as they can out of the legal system. The lawyers might not like it as much, but this isn't really about them.

I could say something curmudgeonly about the FDA and Merck both letting this get on to the market despite its obvious problems. But I think that would be beating an already dead, rotting horse. Everyone knows the FDA is broken. What the hell are we going to do about it is the real question. Lawsuits work after the fact, but it shouldn't have to get to that.

08 November 2007

'Lyrical terrorist' convicted over hate records and
'Lyrical Terrorist led double life'

[From the Guardian]Malik, who worked at WH Smith at the airport, was arrested in October last year. When her bedroom was searched police found a ringbinder full of documents as well as a bracelet bearing the word "jihad".There was also a sticker on a mirror inside the door, bearing the words "lyrical terrorist". ... In a box file in the family lounge was a printed version of the "declaration of war" by Osama bin Laden.

[From the BBC]The jury found her not guilty of possessing articles for terrorist purposes. But they did convict of the lesser terror charge of collecting articles "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

My first thought about this conviction is that it couldn't happen here. But my second thought is "Of course it wouldn't, here she wouldn't even get a trial." Pretty god damn depressing.

People should not be convicted for having books and documents about terror, or for writing poetry about terror. She did not act on her self proclaimed desire to be a martyr, she did not kill, hurt or attempt to hurt anyone. Could she have? Would she have? We can't actually say. We know from things such as the tragedies at Columbine and Virgina Tech that some people will act upon such writings, but that doesn't mean they should get jail time. She should get psychological help to deal with her desire to be martyred, rather than get jail time and become a sort of martyr.

07 November 2007

The Feminine Critique
First off, this is in the Fashion and Style section. If only I could purse my lips and arch one eyebrow in a manner that would sufficiently convey my confusion and disappointment.

It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

This isn't something I hadn't heard before, but why oh why is this in Fashion and Style? Its a pretty good article about how women are perceived in the workplace, it summarizes some new research about why women still are underrepresented in positions of power. It seems pretty obvious to me, I've seen it a dozen times in the "Tom Boy" narrative, but thats the point of this type of research. Is something that many of us think to be true, true at a statistically significant level? It is, and thats interesting.

But why is this in Fashion and Style? I just can't seem to get past that. Its a good article and its relevant to business, so why is it here?

06 November 2007

Its still not fair, even if it was a drug deal.

Police: Drug Dealer Charged In Bicyclist's Killing

According to the criminal complaint, Jackson admitted they were selling drugs on the corner of 38th and Chicago Avenues when they saw Loesch and decided to rob him. Jackson told investigators his friend hit Loesch with a bat three times before removing $40 from his pants pocket.


I was in the Cities when this happened and it hit me hard. Now the cops have arrested a drug dealer.

"The information that we received from the drug dealers was that this was a drug transaction," said Minneapolis Police Lt. Amelia Huffman.
....
"The first thing that comes to mind is a public relations idea. It sounds better. The people of Minneapolis can sleep better if they know it's just a drug addict," said Mark's father-in-law, David Barnes.

I'm probably projecting, but I find it hard to believe that a forty year old with four kids would be out buying drugs. The Star Tribune article about the slaying at the time characterized him as a pretty harmless bike nerd. I know middle aged bike nerds that go on night bike rides. My father is one, many of his friends are others.

But this got me thinking, the police do this all the time. They arrest someone saying that it was a drug deal gone bad. And most of the time I don't question it. Its not the same as being Nancy Grace who assumes that if you were arrested you must be guilty, but its in the same line. Just because the cops say that this is how it went down, doesn't means it necessarily so. How do those families feel? They are grieving their loss and then the people investigating basically say, hey he put himself in that situation. And as much as they can say that even drug buyers don't deserve to be beaten to death, the truth is that our society doesn't usually see it that way.

05 November 2007

Another disease has anothere gene

New gene clue to arthritis is found

Scientists have found a genetic marker that might predispose people to developing rheumatoid arthritis. The discovery could lead to a better understanding of the debilitating disease and provide clues for treatments or even cures.

Now you're never going to find me saying that research into which genes are associated with which diseases is a bad thing. These write ups in newspapers however are pretty useless. Its getting to the point where we don't need to hear about ever gene, just like at some point launching a satellite stopped being news.

Tell me when the scientists get a model for what is going on with rheumatoid arthritis, but I don't need to hear every time we can add another acronym for a gene to the list for every disease.

Bah, maybe its just a slow science news day.

03 November 2007

Oh Hillary...

Victim or a Party Crasher in the 'All-Boys Club'?
This is not just DC drama, but I can't just ignore the presidential election. I want to like Hillary more. I think there is a Stephen Colbert word for that, but I can't recall. Anyway, I want to like Hillary, a strong liberal woman running for president. When I was younger I feared that the first woman president would have to be a conservative, a la Margret Thatcher.

Even the many women who populate and play increasingly important roles in presidential and other campaigns recognize -- often to their annoyance -- that the vernacular of politics is that of blood sport and gamesmanship and that the pressurized atmosphere inside these campaigns is more a combination of locker room and fraternity than classroom and sorority. So there is a ready audience for what Clinton is saying about the world she seeks to conquer.

Politics is not the first place we have seen this language as a road block to women becoming involved. In business, in science, in anyplace that has been dominated by men, we see that the language used is more violent and aggressive than people think women should use. Then of course we get caught in the catch 22, to make it we have to be aggressive, but if we are aggressive as women that is seen as off putting.

The language of evolution and natural selection used to be just as violent and aggressive. It was thought that all the choices, all the selection, was done by aggressive males. It took decades to show that females have just as much of a role. In some species the females really have most of the power about who they mate with and which genes are passed on. But now we are in a place where the role of females in evolution is more acknowledged, if not fully known.

The language of politics hasn't changed and neither has the expectation about how the candidates should treat each other. Hillary is left walking a fine line between acting in the same aggressive manner as the other candidates, and pointing out the aggressive manner in which the other candidates are acting. She is asked to be able to hold her own, but also not point out that history is stacked against her. They say that she can't both play by the rules and critique the rules at the same time. But if your not in the game in the first place you can't critique the rules either. Great.

That said, Barack Obama has a point.

"Look, I don't think that people doubt that Senator Clinton is tough," Obama said. "She's used to playing in national politics. And in fact, that is one of the things that she has suggested is why she should be elected is because she's been playing in this rough and tumble stage. So it doesn't make sense for her, after having run that way for eight months, the first time that people start challenging her point of view that suddenly she backs off and says, "Don't pick on me." I think that that is not obviously how we would expect her to operate if she were president."

The valid point is that Hillary is making what might generously called a critique of the aggressive nature of politics after a poor performance at the debate and a stinging ad by the Edwards campaign. The timing is a little questionable.

I want to like one of the candidates, really like one, but none of them are perfect and its hard to choose. Its easy after the primaries, but thats not the point. Sigh.

02 November 2007

Just in case you couldn't alread tell, the FDA is broken

F.D.A. Is Unable to Ensure Drugs Are Safe, Panel Is Told

The Food and Drug Administration cannot guarantee the safety of the nation’s drug supply because it inspects few foreign drug manufacturers and the inspections it does carry out abroad are less rigorous than those performed in this country, witnesses told a Congressional subcommittee yesterday.

The FDA is overwhelmed and broken and has been for a while. Fen-phen and Vioxx come to mind quickly, but its not just about drugs with side effects. This testimony tells us that even drugs that would be safe, might not be because we can't ensure that whats in the pill matches whats on the bottle.

This is one of the problems with globalization, not everyone has the same standards. That goes for quality and for labor. How do we make sure that the goods we get from other countries are up to the standards we want? One could leave it to the market to take care of these things, but I don't trust that invisible hand. It moves too slow and too often greed stills it all together. In the mean time people get hurt. Kids get another dose of lead, people die because their toothpaste poisons them, and drugs don't work like they should.

Thats why we have regulation by the government. The idea is that the only dog the government has in this race is the health of the people. But government can be just as big and slow and cumbersome as that invisible hand. It comes down to who you trust more. The answer for me is neither, but the government slightly more because my government is a democracy and I do have at least some control over it.

With lead painted toys, and germ infected foods we the consumers can simply not buy them or buy from companies we trust. In season we can even grow our own vegetables. But the drugs our doctors prescribe? Some systems you can't simply drop out of. This is where the regulation by the government must happen, and it must be funded fully. Our tax dollars should be spent protecting us and ours from those things that can really hurt us, not on searches for things that might hurt us if they actually existed.

(The key to doing this is finding the article the night before.)