Wednesday, October 31, 2007


A day or two ago I read The Stiletto's post on an article from The Washington Post about how immodest the Halloween costumes for young girls (think ages 6-tween) have become. Boys apparently do not have this problem when looking for costumes; girls must either make their own (if their mothers have sense) or wear additional clothing with such costumes as a super-short-and-midriff-baring schoolgirl costume.

The irony of this (besides the moral sadness): As I wandered the halls of my college today, several students had gotten into the spirit of Halloween and were elaborately dressed. I even saw a young woman dressed as a fairy--the skirt of her costume reached almost to her knees! Is it true everywhere that collegiate trick-or-treaters generally dress more modestly than their grade-school counterparts? Please comment on this.

Stick-y benefits

A third time the Informed Reader (B13 today) strikes! This time it's quoting the Oct. 30 Slate about a relationship between cars and global warming. According to columnist Brendan I. Koerner, drivers of stick shifts help the environment by being more efficient RPM-wise--but only if they do it right. Unskilled users negate the benefits of efficient and timely shifting.

When I finally get a car, it'll be automatic transmission. So there! But I'll make up for it by getting a Civic or a Prius or some such small sedan.

Will we be seeing empty madrassas anytime soon?

The New Republic (Nov. 5), quoted in today's "The Informed Reader" (B13, WSJ) had a blurb on Iran that could potentially be interpreted as comforting. Iran's birthrate has plummeted over the last quarter-century or so, from around 6 to about 1.7 (2 children per woman, assuming mutually monogamous relationships, is the standard replacement rate--i.e. number needed to keep the population constant).

Philip Jenkins, professor of religious studies at Penn State, says that this low birthrate is more significant than the fact that the average age of Iran's current population is fairly young--20. Why to rejoice:

"In general, low fertility rates are found in stable, democratic and secular nations. Mr. Jenkins predicts that in a decade or so, Iran's declining birth rate will increase the pressure on the state to introduce democratic changes. That is because with fewer children to support them in their dotage, Iranians are likely to turn to the state to provide for them, making them more vested in how the government operates."

Also, fewer children means fewer potential terrorists. Yeah, that's probably politically incorrect. But just think about it...

Moody Halloween?

The Informed Reader (B13 of today's WSJ) strikes again, this time from the Oct. 29 L.A. Times. The topic: "sugar highs" that are not necessarily/directly from the prodigious quantities of Halloween candy normally consumed by youngsters everywhere. (There! I've used up my big-words quota for the post.)

According to the authoress, Karen Ravn, scientists are now looking in a different place than the normal high-glucose-leads-to-sugar-high hypothesis. Since the body normally regulates its blood glucose level quite well, scientists suspect that it is really either caffeine or "a certain kind of carbohydrate found in foods such as potatoes, white bread and some cereals"--methinks it is starch--that causes the infamous mood changes.

As always, the moral(s): (1) Wash your hands before eating Halloween candy. You never know who's been touching it! (2) Don't eat all your candy at once! Although your dentist may feign that s/he enjoys filling cavities for weeks on end, it's not true.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Middle-class mediocrity, part II

On page A17 of today's WSJ is a group of letters responding to the article I commented on last week ("Middle-class mediocrity").

According to Richard J. in Michigan: "...[G]iven that colleges and universities are standing in line to enroll serious-minded and morally tuned-in homeschool graduates, and especially given that two of the major nationwide academic deficiencies, math and English, are hardly rocket science, then another choice, home-schooling, by concerned and committed parents everywhere ought to be sweeping the country. And it is. Though demanding and challenging, independent research shows it outperforms by far any of the "yes, but this way the federal government's nose of incompetence and control is still under the tent" faux choices of charter schools, tuition tax credits and school vouchers."

(Since I myself am a homeschool graduate, and a biology major no less, I was extremely happy to see some coverage of this.)

Robert Kesten, Executive Director of the Center for SCREEN-TIME Awareness in Washington, says simply: "Schools...don't operate in a vacuum." He sees a need for local government to be more involved in the supervision and running of schools. I look at this a little differently--what about all the homeschools that are doing fine with minimal supervision?

According to Steven Andelin, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Pennsylvania State University (Schuylkill Haven, Pa.), colleges are also at fault. Because they continually try to fill seats for tuition money (that's another issue in itself!), they have needed to expand the number of remedial courses they offer. Andelin's proposal: Send the "'unprepared' applicants" back to secondary school. Some kids just need a little more time, and this could be a boon.

(I can't resist making another connection to homeschooling--time spent. When parents teach their own children, the goal is mastery rather than a specific amount of time. If a child is a little "slow," parents spend more time with him or her. If a child is faster at performing tasks and learning, parents by all means can let him or her advance as far as s/he is able.)

Even more about MRSA

In today's WSJ (A19) was yet another article about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a.k.a. MRSA ("mersa"). (Don't you just love long technical words?) Its dramatic title: "Attack of the Superbugs." The author's (Scott Gottlieb) main argument is that we should concentrate on developing new drugs that work in fundamentally new ways, rather than simply focusing on preventing the spread of these bacteria. Sure, alcohol-sanitizer dispensers and general sanitary practices are good, he says, but we are "educating bacteria at our own expense" by antibiotic overuse and misuse.

He makes his case very effectively, although part of me wants to just go back to the good old days of soap and water, letting your kids eat dirt (courtesy of my microbiology teacher--when they're young and running around in the yard, eating about a teaspoon in the course of a day can actually help their immune systems!), and perhaps even eating organic. You're going to live about 80 years anyway, so don't get frantic about absolute sterility of everything you touch.

Why don't large drug companies develop more antibiotics? According to Gottlieb, there are several reasons. One: Infections generally last only up to a few weeks, and the doctors generally keep good drugs off-limits "as a last resort." Two: The regulation process is "capricious"--should developers use the "non-inferiority" test (i.e. the drug is "no worse" than similar ones already existing) or the better-than-a-placebo test? Three: As a result of this muddle, the FDA has raised qualifications for drugs in certain areas, worsening the morass.

Gottlieb's proposed solutions...(1) Incentives! Extraordinary drugs for extraordinary bugs. (2) The FDA should clarify its guidelines by collaborating with other pharma-related industries and organizations. (3) Develop faster screenings (such as the "'rapid' strep test") that cut down to hours the days that are usually required to identify a pathogen.

And don't forget to wash your hands!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Happy Reformation Sunday!

Yes, I know that Reformation Day (unfortunately paired with Halloween, a corrupted form of All Saints' Day, which is November 1) isn't until the 31st. But I thought today's sermon, on Romans 3:19-28, was too excellent to go unpublished. So here are my unedited notes...

Not "living in the past"; rather, the 3 "Alones" - grace, faith, Scripture. The church is not a "civic organization." Yes, we actually believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Yes, we actually read the Bible because of this. Yes, we believe that there's a thing called SIN etc. Truth is, we live in the present, before God. Why? See the Romans indictment (collection of Ps. verses [3:10-18]).
Rom. 3:19-20--the Law is referred to in the present tense. It still condemns and silences. God is still holy and just.
v. 21 - "But now the righteousness of God...apart from the law"!
v. 23 - ALL have sinned. Continue...v. 24 - ALL are justified. !!
Jesus Christ's blood (in the past, for Adam and Eve's past sin) turned away the wrath of God. This is GOOD NEWS! By faith in Jesus Christ, we receive (not earn) forgiveness of sins. We honestly see things as they are - sin, grace, forgiveness. Give the Gospel its full weight. Live in Christ (= let Christ live in you). Share Jesus with your circle/web of friends. We are free, but we choose to serve others (Luther).

And that is why I am a Lutheran.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Too sad for words

On A8 of today's WSJ, Ari Brown comments on the unfortunate hype about the supposed connection between today's vaccines and autism (the title, of course, is "Vaccines and Autism"). In particular, she takes issue with actress Jenny McCarthy's claim that vaccinations caused her son's autism.

Why does she take issue? Answer: mercury, used as a preservative in some vaccines (chicken pox, for example) and linked to some instances of autism, was REMOVED from all vaccines in or before 2001. McCarthy insists that the MMR vaccination series her son was given AFTER his birth in 2002 caused his autism. She even wrote a book about it--"Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism."

Yes, mercury (or rather thimerosal, the mercury compound in question) has been known to cause various health issues, perhaps including autism. However, that chemical is long gone from vaccines, so today's parents don't have to worry about that. There are several more discrepancies (Brown opines that the Ph.D. from "University of Google" contributed to McCarthy's, shall we say, incomplete knowledge about some facets of autism) in the book.

Brown, a longtime Texas pediatrician, understandably terms this hysteria "New McCarthyism," i.e. "Who cares about 100 years of scientific research? Vaccines are evil, because the Internet says they are." I'll end with Brown's 1994 pre-chicken-pox-vaccine, tear-jerking anecdote...

...Cradled in the arms of her parents, a seven-year-old girl was brought to the emergency room at Children's Hospital Boston. The girl had come down with chickenpox a few days earlier -- she had a fever and hundreds of itchy skin lesions. That night, she had taken a turn for the worse. Her fever shot up to 106 and she became confused and lethargic. She was unresponsive and limp in her mother's arms.

The ER doctors suspected that her open sores allowed Strep bacteria to get under her skin and rage through her bloodstream. Now she was in "multiple system organ failure" -- every square inch of her body was shutting down all at once. IVs were placed into her veins to start fluids, antibiotics and medications to stabilize her heart and blood pressure. She was placed on a ventilator machine to breathe. Then she was brought to the Intensive Care Unit.

By the time I met my patient, she had tubes coming out of every opening and weeping skin lesions all over her body. I was used to blood and gore, but it was hard to look at her and not cry. Imagine how her parents felt when they saw their once-beautiful little girl in this grotesque state, struggling to survive.

My attending physician told me to grab dinner. This child would need me for the rest of the night. I returned to the ICU to find that my patient had gone into cardiac arrest and died. I watched, helplessly, as the nurses placed the little girl into a body bag.

Fast forward five months: The first chickenpox vaccine was approved. That day, I vowed never to let a child on my watch suffer from a disease that was preventable by vaccination.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The farther we get from 1984, the nearer we creep

Here's an even more ominous title (A17; Wendy Kaminer) than the previous post about Huckabee: "The Return of the Thought Police." Daah daah daaaaaaaaah! The first paragraph says it all (as a grammar police myself, I rejoice--someone knows how to write a proper essay! Ha!)... [emphasis mine]

I mean no disregard for the sufferings of crime victims when I say we should be wary of laws named after them. However well-intentioned, penal laws that memorialize victims deter reasoned debate about the rights of the accused. They rely on emotional blackmail: Oppose a law named for a murdered child, and you seem to insult her memory and exacerbate her parents' grief.

Yes, the ACLU is heartily supporting laws of this type. Basically, if you happen to precede a "hate crime" with speech that could be construed as related, you are sentenced for your thoughts as well. It's another disheartening example of how liberals are only liberal (i.e. tolerant) toward those who share their viewpoint: that secular humanist views should prevail over real justice (read: the Ten Commandments, which worked for 4,000+ years with the societies who adopted them). Am I writing a diatribe? Perhaps. Am I calling for an increased expression of sanity? Most definitely.

Strange bedfellow positions

The title (A16 of today's WSJ) is ominous enough: "Another Man From Hope" by John Fund. Describing second-tier candidate Mike Huckabee (from Hope, Arkansas, in case you haven't been reading the newspapers for the past months), Fund contrasts the approach of today's conservative candidates with that of Ronald Reagan. Noting that, for example, Giuliani is running on "modified" "socially liberal views," he complains that Huckabee is also split--on social issues he is "hard right," but on economic issues he is "liberal populist." Fund warns that this fellow may surprise those who elected him if (when, I hope) he wins, just as Clinton (not Hillary!) did years back.

Given the Journal's conservative stance on economics, I understand Fund's fear. However, social issues like abortion and gun-control laws are more important to me, at least for this election. We've survived high taxes before. And as for opposing tax hikes--isn't that what Congress is for?

Oh wait...they're the ones who are earmark-happy. Maybe the Supreme Court? Or will it have to be voting with feet?

Justice vs. jihadis

On page B5 of today's WSJ: a blurb from the Nov. 5 Time on a subject quite pertinent to me: ethics. It seems that civilian doctors don't know the Geneva Convention's catechism. According to Dr. J. Wesley Boyd of the Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, many med schools spend "less than an hour" on the Geneva Convention and its rules on torture. As a result, many non-armed-forces-trained doctors said they would willingly do such things as "threaten to inject a detainee with a psychotropic drug without intending to" or "inject a harmless saline solution into a detainee while saying it was lethal," both of which are prohibited by the Convention.

Yes, the Geneva Convention prohibits these kinds of "torture." And I do agree that they are (mostly) in line with my understanding of the Hippocratic Oath. And I do agree that each human, having been made by God, has rights to life and happiness. But this is a time of war. Why do we let our enemies go contrary to the same Convention that prevents us from obtaining potentially valuable information to save the lives of some of our troops? Does anyone see inconsistency here?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yet more on global warming!

On pages A21 and A23 of today's WSJ: an interesting pair of opinions about global warming, in response to David Botkin's article (see post: "Scientific method, eh?"). The first is a group of four letters, all commending Botkin's logic. The second is a "Notable & Quotable." I'll try to get the gist of each here...

  • Letters: Chris B. of Saint Louis, MO, complains about the government/policy "pendulum" that affords only a lopsided approach to various problems, including the ethanol issue. A great quote encapsulating my opinion on you-know-what is encapsulated by Donald S. of Whitefield, NH: "global warming alarmism being preached by environmentalist true believers based largely on cockamamie climate model pseudoscience." He comments on the sad state of affairs when a "credible scientist" (read: Botkin) is forced to say "I am not a naysayer." Michael M. of NY agrees with the other half of Botkin's article - that regardless of whatever stupidity various 'scientists' are propounding, we still should try to minimize adverse climate change. The final letter, from William. I., Senior Vice President Conservation Programs Defenders of Wildlife Washington, also insists that action needs to be taken.
  • Notable & Quotable: Miles O'Brien of CNN interviews John Christy on why he didn't want to share the Nobel Prize with Al Gore. Two great quotes by Christy: (1) "Well, as a scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, I always thought that -- I may sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas here -- that prizes were given for performance, and not for promotional activities." Hmmm...radical concept! (2) "And when we build -- and I'm one of the few people in the world that actually builds these climate data sets -- we don't see the catastrophic changes that are being promoted all over the place. For example, I suppose CNN did not announce two weeks ago when the Antarctic sea ice extent reached its all-time maximum, even though, in the Arctic in the North Pole, it reached its all-time minimum." Again - what is the climate doing, anyway?

Coming soon: diabetes 1.5?

In the Oct. 27 edition of New Scientist (qtd. in today's WSJ, B7, Informed Reader): "Are There Really Two Types of Diabetes?"

Patients with diabetes are increasingly experiencing unprecedented mixes of symptoms, according to several scientists. Type 1 diabetes is child-onset, where the immune system destroys pancreatic cells that make insulin. Type 2 is known as adult-onset--the body "slowly becomes resistant to insulin"; the disease is linked to obesity and only infrequently needs insulin shots. A good diet helps.

Symptom combinations are coming from both sides. Some children with type 1 develop type 2 later on. This is fairly common. BUT!--some adults with "classic" cases of type 2 are also experiencing the immune attack characteristic of type 1. Dr. Terence Wilkin, a UK scientist, has a theory (hypothesis?) that the "real" diabetes is "type 1.5" - a hybrid. However, other UK researchers point to genetic evidence of two distinct types, not two faces of the same disease.

How will this turn out? No one knows. For now, doctors might try a customized approach for each patient; everyone should manage their conditions in the best way they can.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Middle-class mediocrity

On page A20 of today's WSJ: "Worse Than You Think" (Review & Outlook). The second paragraph says it all...

Conventional wisdom holds that upscale communities tend to have "good" schools, and parents often buy homes in expensive neighborhoods so their kids have a shot at a decent public education. But the PRI [Pacific Research Institute] study, which focused on California, found that in nearly 300 schools in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods, "less than half of the students in at least one grade level performed at proficiency in state math and English tests."

Finally! Something about the middle class. This is partly why I stick with the Republicans - although I agree that the Democratic focus on the poor is laudable, I believe it is overdone at the expense of the rest of society. Granted, the meek will inherit the earth. But Jesus never condemned the middle class for earning more money than less-privileged societal strata.

Unfortunately, it's still bad news about the middle class. The problem of schools that stink is not limited to California. It's even rampant in my home state. The community college district in which I live has the same circumstances: McMansions (a term I think is from CNN), lots of middle-class residents (reportedly the living wage in a nearby city is $14--!!), and far too many remedial classes. This is at the nation's largest community college. I work with many of these students to improve their writing and reading skills, and the general lack of knowledge about grammar and so forth is shocking. Even some ESL students have a better grasp of these concepts and rules.

There's another facet to this problem that the article doesn't mention: Might the parents and their children themselves be at least partly at fault? Let me toss out some phrases: lack of responsibility, no self-motivation, entitlement generation. Yes, there are exceptions (case in point: The Stiletto). Decide for yourselves whether I'm complaining about the schools or about the culture from which these students and parents come.

To eat meat or not to eat meat?

Also on B13 of today's WSJ: comparing the relative effects of vegetarianism and plain ol' omnivorism on the environment. According to Slate, vegetarianism (including milk and eggs) is better if you have good soil and can therefore grow more vegetables more easily. But if you have poor soil, it makes more sense to have a chicken farm than a crop farm.

Dousing the hopes of meat-eaters everywhere: the recommendation to eat only two ounces of meat and eggs daily. The average American eats 3.8 ounces more than this recommended maximum. Rats!

Victory gardens, anyone?

On page B13 of today's WSJ (Informed Reader), Alasdair Roberts (quoted) noted the paucity of sacrifices that Americans are making for the war effort. (Who do you think is undermining it?) "Even after January's surge of troops to Iraq, the U.S. has fewer troops there than it did in Japan 10 years after World War II." Perhaps causing this, Bush has not asked the American public or politicians to be a little selfless.

Given that 96-98% of greenhouse gases are caused by non-humans (see "Another reason to doubt climate change models" post), I'm not so sure we should go about making victory gardens as the WWII generation did.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More on MRSA

An aptly paired pair of articles appeared today on page D1 of the WSJ. The first: "Putting Superbugs on the Defensive" by Theo Francis. The second, with practical applications: "Wash Your Hands and Don't Shave Your Legs: Advice to Avoid Infection" by Laura Landro. There is so much information of interest to me as an aspiring biologist/microbiologist that it would make too long a post, so I'll just summarize.

Francis: More states are disclosing infection rates etc. (While heartening, this could be scary...) Staphylococcus aureus usually infects those with compromised immune systems, i.e. transplant patients, the elderly, and anyone hospitalized for a while. Staph's typical points of entry are scratches (see next article), catheters, IVs, and unwashed stethoscopes or hands. MRSA deaths:infections::19,000:94,000 annually, according to JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). How hospitals are combating MRSA's spread: alcohol-gel dispensers, keeping stuff sterile, and testing patients for the bug. (Any microbiologist will tell you that this is what they should have been doing all along.) Clostridium difficile, another bug that causes diarrhea, has also become resistant to several antibiotics, but its infection rates are falling as well as MRSA's.

Landro: Yes, it's about personal hygiene! (and getting a flu shot, but not necessarily for what you might think.) About 14% of MRSA infections are "community-acquired," which means you get it from normal people around you who may harbor the strain in their noses or throats without realizing it. How to prevent an infection: clean and drain the wound; cover the wounds with "clean, dry bandages"; wash your hands at least 15 seconds, rubbing hard, under hot water (I admit that I sometimes don't do this); wash and dry clothes HOT; and don't share personal items.

How often can I emphasize this? Commonsense stuff like washing hands? And, by the way, flu shots not only protect you from the flu (hopefully, if the researchers guessed right), but they also strengthen your immune system against microbes in general, AND also prevent your throat from becoming rough and therefore easier for bacteria to latch onto.

Bought for 30 pieces of silver?

On page D8 of today's WSJ there is a book review - "A Congregation of Consumers: Shopping for God." The book, by James B. Twitchell, describes the megachurch movement and argues the claim that church members really are consumers.

I take issue with this for several reasons. One, this is a violation of the separation between church and state (or maybe the two kingdoms - secular and spiritual) in the sense that Jefferson meant it: the secular world is encroaching on the sacred. Two, Jesus plainly said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36, NIV); therefore, the church should not try to emulate the world, but instead should strive to be different. Otherwise, Christ becomes denigrated from God incarnate to a mere commodity. There's a lot of good reading on this subject; read it to keep yourself informed.

How heartening is this quote!

Notable & Quotable
October 23, 2007; Page A19

Michael J. Totten writing in the magazine Azure:

It is hard to overstate how pro-American the people of Kurdistan are. They are possibly more pro-American than Americans themselves. If Bill Clinton was America's first "black" president, people in at least one part of the world say Bush is the first "Muslim" one: He is sometimes referred to in Kurdistan as "Hajji Bush" (meaning that he made the Muslim pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca), an undeniably high honor for a Republican Christian from Texas. No, Kurdistan is not a "red state," and Kurds are not Republicans. Nor does it occur to most of them to prefer America's conservatives over its liberals. Rather, their warm feelings of gratitude and friendship extend to all Americans and both political parties for having liberated them from the totalitarian dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

If you ask them, it was a real liberation -- but one need not ask. Any reference to the Iraq war as an invasion will be quickly corrected.

(I know some bloggers who will take issue with this, but it's great to hear that there are people who actually love America - more than a lot of voices here - in the places where we least suspect them. The WSJ has admirably backed up the claims of this writer with a spate of editorials which I hope will eventually become a book after the war.)

What's this about again?

On page B14 of today's WSJ is a blurb about whether forgetfulness can actually be beneficial. It mentions the only known case (a woman named AJ) of someone who remembers every single detail of her life. Granted, that can be scary, but who doesn't want a perfect memory for certain things? Remembering where your keys are? Cramming for exams?

Of course, the answer is (as usual) to take what memory we have and make the best of it. Our brains are not quite what Adam and Eve's used to be. Go find a book of memory helpers or do what I do: crosswords, Sudoku, and just plain reading widely.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tell THIS to your freshly recruited son or daughter!

On page A19 of today's WSJ: "Getting Serious About Torture" (David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Lee A. Casey). Some thoughts I took away (and wholeheartedly agree with):

* Whether something is "torture" or not is a matter of degree. Standard: "shock the conscience."
* Circumstances - Marine basic training is OK for fit 20-year-olds but not for "middle-aged lawyers or politicians." I had to laugh at that!
* Bush critics have not had "a detailed and reasoned discussion" of whether 'torture' is really torture, but have instead just complained against the whole range of interrogation methods. They really have a superior rhetorical position, don't they?
* Should we have as our standard basic training? Or maybe a little more severe for hardened terrorists?

Mosquitoes and terror and death, oh my!

According to the Oct. 21 Boston Globe (WSJ: The Informed Reader, B12, Oct. 22), terrorists could use mosquitoes as vectors for terrible disease. Yep - just like in the Black Death, when certain hostile forces catapulted rotting, infected bodies over walls of certain European cities. Now we have yet another thing to be worried about - not only can we get West Nile virus from mosquitoes, scientists worry that we could soon get Rift Valley fever too.

I know this may sound silly, but Christians have nothing to fear except the possible suffering that would result from either of these diseases. There is no fear of death before our eyes. It's just those who don't care what happens after their deaths who want to prolong this life as long as possible. I'll leave it at that.

So THIS is why there are so few conservative biologists!...maybe

This letter from today's WSJ (A17) was so good...I love the borrowing of Al's terminology. A clever twist.

"I find it fascinating that the left-wing guardians of political correctness would have us believe that there is no genetic/neurochemical basis for gender differences in career choices or success therein (which I suspect is false), but that there is such a basis for sexual preferences (which I suspect is true).

"This way they can claim gender discrimination against women in science and engineering ("Academic Inquisitors" by Christina Hoff Sommers, editorial page, Oct. 16) while supporting gay rights by simply selecting or deselecting the same reasoning. A convenient inconsistency."

Preston R. L.
Gainesville, Fla.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Today's Bible study on the Lutheran teachings on the sacrament of Holy Baptism was better than normal. Our Pastor was brimming with good points (not that he doesn't have them usually)...

* There is a God. We can't save ourselves. God graciously gives us means to be saved (note passive voice). These are the means of grace - Word and Sacrament.
* The Christian faith is a baptismal faith.
* Exodus 4 - God would have killed Moses because his son wasn't circumcised; He relented when Zipporah circumcised her son. If circumcision were only a symbol with no effect back then, this story would make no sense at all. (Why would an all-powerful God be moved by mere symbol?)
* Here, as in other Biblical stories, God attached His promise to a physical thing, here blood.
* The discontinuity: American Evangelicals, while believing that the serpent on the pole indeed healed those who looked at it, that Jesus's death on the cross indeed forgave our sins, and so forth, yet insist that Baptism (a physical element plus God's Word) can't forgive sins and is only symbolic.
* "Born again" is always in the context of Baptism. Every instance it occurs in the Bible.
* Baptism isn't a work - i.e. it's not the ONLY way to be saved. But it is a sacrament (divinely instituted, having a physical element, and having the Word fixed to it) and therefore forgives sin.
* "Making disciples" (Matthew 28:19) involves baptizing and teaching.
* No Word is optional. It's a command (NIV gets Matt. 28:20 wrong - the Greek is "observe," not "obey"). Observe/treasure all of it.
* Acts 2:37 - "were cut to the heart" by the Spirit. Passive. Verse 39 - "and for your children." Promise = Baptism. Just as you give an infant a birth certificate when s/he is 'too young to understand its importance,' so also you baptize them at that age.

The five pillars of singing...or is it six?

I just got back from a very relaxing choir retreat yesterday evening. Our Cantor presented to us that morning the "five pillars of good singing." It wasn't until a few hours ago that I recognized the play on words. But anyway - here they are:

* Posture: envision your hip bones as the center of your body, rather than letting your heels bear all the weight and letting your clavicles be dragged down.
* Breathing: use the breath you take! Oxygen is the chorister's best friend. Try to open your throat when you take a breath (and use your belly, not your chest! This allows deeper inhalations) so you won't sound like you're drowning.
* Konsonants (yep, with a "k"): spit these out, as they add energy to your singing. (We sopranos never win the consonant award; the tenors always do because they have my similarly-trained brother in the front of the section.)
* Vowels: there are five pure ones (ah, eh, ee, aw, ooh) and diphthongs (combinations of these - for example: "I" = ah-ee).
* Listening: you are not the only one singing! Listen to your section members and also to the choir as a whole. This will help the choir stay in tune with each other, if not with the starting key (those pesky a cappella pieces!). Rule of thumb: Don't sing so loud that you can't hear your neighbor. If your voice sounds unnaturally breathy, you may be singing into your folder. Don't.

These five pillars apply to any choir; the sixth one, applying to only Christian ones, is to have Jesus in your singing. A favorite quote: "Be Jesus with skin on."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bad news for cancer cells

In today's WSJ, on page A17, there is an article titled "The New Ways We Fight Cancer" by Samuel Waxman and Richard Gambino, oncologist and philosopher, respectively. Here's a summary of the good news for us:

* Over 5,000 fewer patients are dying every year from cancer! - a 1.1% yearly decline.
* Vaccines, such as the one for cervical cancer (although one wonders why mothers are not managing their nine-year-olds enough to not warrant this particular vaccine), are being developed and used for prevention of several cancers; also, research is progressing on one for hepatitis C.
* Epigenetics, a.k.a. using special proteins to change the mutated, cancer-causing genes back to their normal selves.
* Targeted therapies, a.k.a. "personalized molecular profiles" - because all cases of breast cancer are not caused by the exact same protein.
* Targeting suspected "cancer stem cells" - stem cells more likely to mutate and wreak havoc.

Another reason to doubt climate change models: letter to editor

Calm Down, Read This
October 18, 2007; Page A15 (WSJ)

Even thinking that it is credible to suggest that we study "geo-engineering" our planet's atmospheric shield to reduce global warming ("Thinking Big On Global Warming" by Fred Ikle and Lowell Wood, editorial page, Oct. 15) tells us how completely out of control and fear-based the global-warming issue has become. Let us not forget three key issues with climate change hysterics: (1) there is not one climate change model in existence that can accurately predict the past, so even thinking known erroneous models can predict the future is nonsense; (2) 96%-98% of greenhouse gas emissions come from our planet's environment, not from humans. From the media, the U.N., Al Gore and many others you would assume the opposite; (3) it has long been shown that when a large proportion of politicians and the media fall in love with an issue, as they have with global warming, we are being had. What we need is long-term, well- funded, diverse scientific studies of climate, not hundreds of front-page solutions to a perceived problem that no one really understands.

Andy W.
Bedford, Mass.

(See, humans ARE smarter than computers!)

(Also, note the extremely high percentage of blame that non-human life forms deserve. Should we go contrary to liberal logic and cut down some trees to throw in the ocean to combat global warming, then?)

Moral: wash your hands!

On page 3 of the first section of yesterday's Chicago Tribune: "Superbug deaths may top AIDS" by Judith Graham.

This article surveys the wide range and scariness of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. Let's just say it's a bacterium too powerful to be quashed by normal antibiotics...and it's also a lot more powerful than the kind that is not so drug-resistant. Some heartening (or not) facts:

* "This year, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require hospitals to report infection rates, test patients in intensive-care units for the bacteria and to take specific measures to prevent its spread."
* "African-Americans may be more vulnerable because they have higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, which require more visits to health-care providers, [R. Monina] Klevens said. Infected individuals may then unwittingly spread the bacteria to other household members." I'm sure that some overactive anti-conservative will take this as 'racial discrimination,' but it's actually called a 'fact' or 'statistic.'
* According to the AMA, a frightening quarter (26.6%) of nearly 9,000 cases of MRSA in several U.S. states began in hospitals.

This article has two morals: one, wash your hands with soap and water (the single best way to get germs off) before your hands even approach your mouth; two, get whoever takes care of you in a hospital or otherwise to wash their hands before doing such things as using a stethoscope, taking your temperature, etc.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oooh...another resistant organism!

Ear Bacteria Resist Treatment

October 17, 2007; Page D8

WASHINGTON -- Researchers have found a strain of bacteria that can cause ear infections that is resistant to all antibiotics approved for use in children.

Doctors at the University of Rochester have found the resistant bacteria in at least nine children diagnosed with ear infections during a three-year period.

Specifically, they found a type strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria known as serotype 19A in the children's ear fluid. The type of bacteria isn't included in a pneumococcal vaccine, Wyeth's Prevnar, commonly given to children to protect against seven strains of bacteria that can cause ear infections, pneumonia and meningitis.

Michael Pichichero, a pediatric infectious diseases researcher at the University of Rochester and a pediatrician in private practice in Rochester, N.Y., said he and a colleague, Janet Casey, started tracking whether bacteria that commonly cause infections in children would start to shift following the introduction of Prevnar in 2000. Dr. Pichichero's study appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

In an interview, Dr. Pichichero noted that the incidence of pneumococcal disease, along with the number of ear and other infections, has dropped significantly in children and adults in the years following Prevnar's introduction. However, in 2003 researchers started documenting the emergence of bacteria not covered by Prevnar.

What's alarming, Dr. Pichichero said, is that the 19A strain of bacteria he's seen in his patients is resistant to all antibiotics approved for use in children.

From 2003 to 2006, Dr. Pichichero and Dr. Casey looked at 1,816 of their patients in which an ear infection was diagnosed. In 212 patients, they performed a procedure known as tympanocentesis, which uses a needle to remove fluid from the middle ear, in order to test the fluid for the type of bacteria causing the infection.

They found 59 cases of S pneumoniae infection, and of those, found nine cases of the 19A bacteria. Dr. Pichichero said in two cases it was the child's first ear infection. Two cases each were documented in the 2003-2004 and the 2004-2005 cold seasons, with the other five resistant cases documented in 2005-2006.

"If it's [the bacteria] in Rochester, it's probably in New York City or Baltimore this season," Dr. Pichichero said of the resistant strain of bacteria.

Dr. Pichichero said the first four patients had ear tubes inserted to treat the infection and the other five were successfully treated with levofloxacin, a powerful antibiotic only approved for use in adults. Levofloxacin is sold under the brand name Levaquin by a unit of Johnson & Johnson. Dr. Pichichero urged doctors treating patients who aren't responding to antibiotics to test the ear fluid for antibiotics resistance before using Levaquin in children, otherwise it will likely generate new bacteria that's resistant to Levaquin.

Dr. Pichichero said Levaquin isn't approved for children, so it's not clear what the drug's side effects might be in people age 18 and younger.

Wyeth is currently developing a new version of Prevnar that would help protect against 13 strains of bacteria, including serotype 19A. Lili Gordon, a Wyeth spokeswoman, said the company is planning to file for regulatory approval of the vaccine in 2009.

(What this means is: don't overuse antibiotics for ear infections or any other infection - if you don't take the whole course, or sometimes even if you do, the chance increases that resistant bacteria will survive. Side note - don't ask the doctor for antibiotics if s/he says you have a VIRAL infection; they won't do any good.)

(Just to warn y'all, I may use this article or another one as a launching pad for a story starring microbes. Each story will be one post, but I will write in installments - so check the post you're following frequently! I was inspired by my introductory microbiology teacher a few summers ago, and it just went from there...)

Scientific method, eh?

On page A19 in today's WSJ, there is an article titled "Global Warming Delusions," authored by Daniel B. Botkin, a noted environmental scholar and author. I here excerpt two of my favorite paragraphs, again clearly expressing the logic I go by (emphases mine):

"You might think I must be one of those know-nothing naysayers who believes global warming is a liberal plot. On the contrary, I am a biologist and ecologist who has worked on global warming, and have been concerned about its effects, since 1968. I've developed the computer model of forest growth that has been used widely to forecast possible effects of global warming on life--I've used the model for that purpose myself, and to forecast likely effects on specific endangered species.
"I'm not a naysayer. I'm a scientist who believes in the scientific method and in what facts tell us. I have worked for 40 years to try to improve our environment and improve human life as well. I believe we can do this only from a basis in reality, but that is not what I see happening now. Instead, like fashions that took hold in the past and are eloquently analyzed in the classic 19th century book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds," the popular imagination today appears to have been captured by beliefs that have little scientific basis.
"...Oddly, the forecasts of computer models have become our new reality, while facts such as the few extinctions of the past 2.5 million years are pushed aside, as if they were not our reality."

(Granted, I do take issue with his estimate of 2.5 million years - the evidence I've studied so far indicates a total age of closer to 8,000 years. But anyway - the rest of his views I agree with: use the scientific method and not guesses, for once!)

Is this fuzzy logic or not?

Here is a letter, from James T. in Houston, printed in the WSJ today on A17:

"In response to Jay Lewis, the U.S. was not 'soundly defeated' by a pyjama-clad [sic] army carrying AK-47s (Letters, Oct. 15). South Vietnam was defeated when the U.S. Congress pulled the plug on all aid. Then North Vietnam, sensing weakness, violated its treaty with the U.S. and South Vietnam and attacked. The U.S. stood by and watched as one of our allies fell. Many members of Congress are ready to do the same in Iraq."

This letter clearly encapsulates the logic I go by. So what if "all of Europe" hates our President? They're not the ones with a huge stake in Iraq.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Does this sound familiar?

Here are two paragraphs from page 602 of The American Experiment: A History of the United States, vol. 1, 2nd ed., by Gillon and Matson, 2006. Change the names a little bit and you have a newspaper article:

The Democratic Party met in Chicago in August [1864], proclaimed the war a failure, demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities, and called for the restoration of the Union by means of a negotiated peace. They nominated the former head of the Army of the Potomac, General George McClellan. Many in the South rejoiced at McClellan's nomination--"the first ray of real light," said Vice President Stephens, "since the war began."
Democrats, early in the campaign at least, hoped to capitalize on the war weariness that was sweeping across the North. They made much of Lincoln's arbitrary use of executive power and the infringement of civil liberties. They objected to the unfairness of the draft. They accused the Republican Congress of rewarding northeastern businessmen at the expense of midwestern farmers by enacting protective tariffs, handing out railroad subsidies, and creating a national banking system. The Democrats endlessly harped on the antiblack theme, protesting that the Lincoln administration had changed the war for union into a war for emancipation. If Lincoln was reelected, they charged, Republicans were planning to amalgamate the black and white races. The word miscegenation (race mixing) made its first appearance in an 1864 campaign document.

(See, I knew all along that history repeats itself!)

Monday, October 15, 2007

WSJ comments...

Today's WSJ featured an article (began A1) about - guess what - a three-way kidney swap:

Kidney Swaps Seen as Way To Ease Donor Shortage

Unfortunately, my somewhat limited technical skills (and lack of an online WSJ account) prevent me from posting the permalink. But the gist is this: Three couples at two different hospitals were involved in three donations and three reciepts. Pertinent medical information: Type O blood people are "universal donors" - i.e. they can donate to others with any blood type. Type A blood can only give to A, and B only to B. The cool part of this story, however, is that two couples were in a Baltimore hospital, while the third was in San Francisco; as a result, the surgeon in Baltimore raced the proper kidney, encased in a GPS-equipped cooler, all the way across the country, "burst through the doors," and completed the final transplant successfully.

Learned: I think that I shall never see
An organ nice as a kidney.
And without scalpels, God, and Paul,*
I'll never get my transplant at all.

*(Okay, so maybe the surgeon's name wasn't Paul. But it has to rhyme, and I'm pressed for time.)

Finally - something about biology!

A friend told me several days ago about some new research about the appendix. Far from being a vestigial organ, the appendix has immune functions.

But wait - there's more!

If you've ever taken a course of antibiotics, you've likely depleted the "good" bacteria in your intestine as well as the "bad" bacteria you were trying to fight. The appendix actually replenishes those good bacteria; it acts as a storehouse or rebooter for the intestinal flora.

As I've believed all along, God never designed a truly useless organ.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Islam link

Since I can't seem to get my blog to recognize links, go to the Answering Islam website (.org) and click on the "Prove to me that the Quran is preserved" link. The whole website, as a matter of fact, is a stupendous compendium of answers to every question a Muslim could ask about Christianity, as well as several challenges (e.g. the above article).

Latin link

Check out this link of a post by The Stiletto; the "reader" is a good friend of mine:

(sorry, for some reason the link doesn't show up) - visit The Stiletto Blog and read "On the Cutting Edge: In Acie MMVII."

The obligatory first post

Here are some random factoids you'll want to read before forming an opinion on this blog:

  • I am LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), a fairly far-right Republican, and generally critical of organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Snooty Democrats (not that such a group exists), and the like.
  • I enjoy commenting on blogs like No Compromises and The Stiletto. Google them if you're interested.
  • My interests include Islam (thanks to several Muslim friends and no thanks to a certain Muslim Student Association at a previous college), apologetics, biology (especially names of weird bacteria), long words in both English and German ("Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung"), Latin (check out the Vicipaedia homepage), proofreading, and the like.
  • Most of this blog will likely be synopses of Wall Street Journal/WORLD/USNWR articles of interest. Probably politicized. Highly opinionated.
  • As for comments - I will not tolerate any profanity whatsoever, even "tame" words. If you want to rant against me or the things I am allied with, feel free - but know that I will come back with a snarky reply.
There you have it!

4 April 2008 update: By this measure, at least, this blog is safe for kids (and thank y'all for honoring the last bullet point).

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