Friday, November 30, 2007

Another North Korean atrocity

Time to do a human-rights post.

On A16 of today's WSJ, author Shin Dong-hyok briefly narrates his experience as a recent North Korean prisoner. Shocking? Read on.

"I was born a prisoner on Nov. 19, 1982, and until two years ago, North Korea's Political Prison Camp No. 14 was the only place I had ever called home." Chilling first sentence.

"Under North Korea's "Three Generation Rule," up to three generations of the criminal's family must be imprisoned as traitors." I guess the Great Leader takes Ex. 20:5b a bit too literally.

After being "tortured severely for seven months," he bears physical and emotional scars: "On Nov. 29, 1996, my mother and brother were found guilty of treason [he still cannot figure out what this 'crime' was] and sentenced to public execution. I was taken outside and forced to witness their deaths."

Why are we even considering this idolatrous regime as having a possibility of being good? This did not stop with Dong-hyok: "Today, tens of thousands are suffering silently in government-sponsored political prison camps in North Korea. Inmates...often fight with one another in hopes of getting one more meal...Women often undergo forced abortions and children have no childhood."

Dong-hyok writes from Seoul. "We must become their voice." Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Too few Scrubbing Bubbles

On A18 of today's WSJ, Betsy McCaughey opines on the discrepancy between the cleanliness standards for restaurants and for hospitals. Surprise! Restaurants are cleaner. Why? Answer: more frequent inspections. Any given eatery can be shut down for "unclean cutting boards and floors, workers who fail to clean their hands, and improper food handling that could lead to bacterial contamination."

L.A. isn't the only city doing this, although it is exemplary: "After L.A. instituted this [once-a-year randomized] inspection system in 1998, the number of people sickened by food-borne illnesses fell 13%, according to the Journal of Environmental Health." However, surprisingly, hospitals don't have these inspections and therefore cause the deaths of many more people:
These infections are caused largely by unclean hands, inadequately cleaned equipment and contaminated clothing that allow bacteria to spread from patient to patient. In a study released in April, Boston University researchers examining 49 operating rooms at four New England hospitals found that more than half the objects that should have been disinfected were overlooked by cleaners.
Something even more (medically) foolish:
Hospitals used to routinely test surfaces for bacteria, but in 1970 the CDC and the American Hospital Association advised them to stop, saying testing was unnecessary. The CDC still adheres to that position despite a 32-fold increase in MRSA infections. CDC officials say that lab capacity should be reserved for tests on patients.
Guess what? Hospitals are only inspected ONCE every THREE years; physicians, because of patient privacy concerns, are not inspected AT ALL unless a spate of diseases occurs. Case in point:

It was serendipitous that a Nassau County, N.Y., health official noticed cases of Hepatitis C and called for an investigation of Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, a Long Island doctor. Dr. Finkelstein allegedly was reusing syringes, contrary to universal precautions, and injected patients with contaminated medications.

According to news reports, one of Dr. Finkelstein's patients is confirmed to have been infected with Hepatitis C, an incurable virus. Over a thousand other patients have been notified by health officials that they could be at risk for Hepatitis C and HIV.

The New York State Department of Health called Dr. Finkelstein's reuse of syringes a "correctable error," and is allowing him to continue to practice under observation.

"Correctable?" Not for the 53-year-old patient infected with Hepatitis C or the many other patients dreading the results of their blood tests. Restaurants are closed for far less.

Washing hands isn't enough. Keep the place clean, for once!

The box may contain more goodies than its surroundings do!

The Informed Reader (B5) scoops the December Harvard Business appears that brainstorming, especially when applied to businesses, doesn't work as well as it appears it should. Reasons:
  • "Very few people are good at developing ideas without receiving guidance and boundaries." Oh--so now we find out that limits are good!
  • "More often than not, pushy people dominate brainstorming sessions, while others remain silent." Talkers get the most air time. Shy people don't.
  • "Empowered by the mantra that "there are no bad ideas," the session produces random notions along the lines of "Let's paint it blue!" "We can sell it in Germany!" "How about an upscale version?" and "The problem is the sales force." " Sounds like Dilbert!
So there. Ask specific questions, and you'll get good answers. That's why I don't get these articles out of my own head...just from the WSJ.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ooh...theiw poow sewf-esteem!

On A23 of today's WSJ, by Rebecca Wallace-Segall, is a nice, un-PC article praising "thought competition," a.k.a. individual competitions where students compete on their own individual merits, not on teams. Writing from experience (she teaches an "afterschool writing program" in NY), she in effect mourns the fact that kids in "top-notch New York private schools"--expensive, too, obviously--need the creative writing help at all. She blames "[t]heir schools...offshoots of the 'progressive education' movement" that believes that "'thought competition' is treacherous."

Blame the "psychology and pedagogy researchers" who worry that individual competition might hurt the child's self-esteem. A la "The Incredibles," these are the same people encouraging the celebration of mediocrity--"participation" awards, anyone? These schools allow athletic competitions but not academic ones. Rebecca responds: "Is [teamwork] the only admirable achievement?" Mel Levine, UNC professor and childhood-learning expert, agrees that "the impact of the collaborative education movement has been devastating to an entire generation." (Except the homeschoolers!) Predictably, "older members of Generation Y...expect to be immediate heroes and heroines...grade be told what a wonderful job they're doing."

Gah! While I am a slightly younger member of GenY, my parents homeschooled me. Now I have the Puritan ethic firmly implanted in my psyche--no entitlement (without reason, of course! :D) for me!

Give till it tickles!

From a Presbyterian, Margaret M. in Pennsylvania, comes a follow-up letter (A21) to the article featured in this post (third item). The letter's title matches my style exactly: "God Is So Reasonable, Only Asking For 10%." While I don't care to argue some of the finer theological points (e.g. tithing as a "means of grace") of the Presbyterians, I will reprint most of the text...[emphasis mine]

We encourage tithing at our church, not as a legalism, but as a means of grace. Indeed, not just tithing, but what our pastor terms "hilarious generosity"...Why? First, God is worthy of our best. Giving is an act of worship that, at its best, reflects a genuine response to God's many gifts to us, including the gift of his Son. Perhaps the proper question to ask isn't "how much of my income do I need to give to God?" but "of all God has entrusted to me, how much can I justify spending on myself?" Second, the needs are great. It doesn't take much analysis to notice that small shifts in our own consumption can make a huge difference in the lives of many who are in need. Finally, giving, with tithing as a discipline, helps us unhook from the grasp of our materialistic culture. Give until it hurts? No, give until it helps! God's grace, our gratitude, generous giving: a recipe for a life of great freedom and joy.

Of mice and men

The Informed Reader (B9) strikes again, scooping from the December Harper's Magazine. This post, like all the other ones, will be un-PC, so there's really no point in making a label just for that. But I digress. The topic today is about the mice used in laboratories the world over and how scientists are not treating them ethically, whatever that means. Have dominion over the earth, anyone? Oh yes; there's also a scientific concern or two.

  • Experiments often cause "suffering to rodents." Yes. And? Disease causes suffering to humans. Which do you want? Your mouse to live, or you to die?
  • "The cramped housing and isolation of lab mice affect their behavior and minds in ways that make them less reliable as test subjects." So do overcrowded hospitals affect humans. Sure, I'll admit, that is a legit concern. Just don't concentrate wholly on mouse rights.
  • "The lower value placed on mice also leads to waste -- 70% of male newborns are killed, because researchers mostly prefer calmer female rodents." What's this I hear about female infanticide in certain cultures? What about male infanticide? Start a blogburst or something if you really care about this.
  • "Meanwhile, there is evidence mice feel empathy in ways similar to other mammals. While this makes the rodents potentially more valuable for research, it also is an argument for extending the protection of the federal Animal Welfare Act to rodents, [the author] suggests." Yay! Another sentient being to add to the list of human relatives!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Grapefruit diet

Sylvia Westphal (D1 today) writes about the flip sides of the "grapefruit effect," namely, detailing how it works to increase the blood levels of various medications.

The problem: that certain "individuals have different levels of an enzyme in the intestines and liver, called CYP3A4, that breaks down drugs before they even have the chance to get into the bloodstream. People with very active CYP3A4 get lower amounts of drugs into their systems than those with low levels of the enzyme."

The solution: "But powerful compounds in the grapefruit called furanocoumarins obliterate CYP3A4 in the gut. The result: More drug gets into the bloodstream. For some anticholesterol statins, for example, taking one tablet with a glass of grapefruit juice "is like taking at least 10 tablets with a glass of water," says David Bailey, a pharmacologist at the University of Western Ontario who discovered the grapefruit effect in the early 1990s." With certain drugs (Lipitor, for example) you don't want that effect; for others (in this article, a weak anticancer compound) it makes all the difference.

It does have a flip side! The completely opposite effect...

Meanwhile, the grapefruit continues to surprise the scientific community. Recently, another class of compounds in the fruit was found to block a different set of proteins in the intestine known as "transporters." These transporter proteins actively shuttle drugs from the gut into the bloodstream. Blocking these transporters prevents some drugs from entering the system. This finding may mean that grapefruit is contraindicated with certain drugs for a whole new set of reasons.

Moral: Don't try this at home. Drink your grapefruit juice and take your meds, but not together, at least for now.

Pink poison

On A1 today, by Sebastian Moffett: an article chronicling the Nomura Jellyfish invasion of Japan, a.k.a. an exercise in alliteration for me! These amusing-but-scary 450-pound (!) pink monsters are evidently multiplying because of stupid fishermen, aggravating the problem. Overfishing of algae-consuming sea life has led to fewer fishy secondary consumers of that algae, leaving that much more for the tentacled terrors. Also, by using their infamous toxic tentacles, the slimies slay the fish, diminishing the market attractiveness of their victims, explains one fisherman: "When their mouths are wide open, it means they've died going, 'I'm in pain! I'm in pain!' "

However, these blasted blobs have spurred the seafood market in another direction: jellyfish Jello Jigglers!

One coastal firm, Tango Jersey Dairy, has for the past three years produced 2,000 or 3,000 cartons of vanilla-and-jellyfish ice cream. The jellyfish is soaked overnight in milk to reduce its smell, and is then diced. Fumiko Hirabayashi, a director of the dairy, says the jelly cubes are slightly chewy. Jellyfish is also getting publicity in women's magazines because it contains collagen, a protein used in cosmetics.

Scientists, predictably, are hypothesizing about the causes of this population explosion and are capitalizing on the opportunity to learn more about this jellyfish. Hypothesis one: "a computer model of...suggests the jellyfish are breeding off the Chinese coast near the mouth of the Yangtze River." Number two: "[P]ollution, perhaps linked to industrialization in China, is helping create more algae in the sea. The algae are food for plankton, which is food for jellyfish." Number three: blaming "the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric-power project under construction in the Yangtze, which could be changing water flows to the sea. A dam in a section of the Danube that runs between Serbia and Romania completed in 1972 changed the river flow, after which the jellyfish population of the Black Sea exploded."

The fishermen are also having fun slaying the slayers, either with pronged poles ("three or more bits" ensures that they'll get eaten by other sea predators) or with a "large potato masher" in their nets. Yum!

And we all know that since global warming is happening and that we'll all die, we surely have no doubt as to the accuracy of these computer models...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Apes: luckier-than-thou

Ahhh...evolution must be wholly true after all! According to Dec. 3 The New Yorker (Informed Reader, B4), "damaged remnants of retroviruses make up about 8% of the human genome." As if that weren't enough, "[m]any of those viral fragments are shared with chimpanzees and monkeys." Dude! Second cousin to a chimp! Well, at least we're different from apes in one respect...

A recent experiment showed that humans have developed an effective defense against an extinct retrovirus, called PtERV (pronounced "pea-terv"). Chimpanzees haven't. The experiment suggested that this lack of a defense against one retrovirus actually makes chimpanzees immune to the effects of another, HIV.

Yeah, that's evolution in action, all right. So successful that it protects us from stuff that went extinct *millions* of years ago. Go figure...the intelligent designer ain't so smart when it comes to humans, eh?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Drowning in thankfulness...

Being outraged at the atrocities committed against a group of rehabilitating troops over in England, I figured I might as well post the notable locations of various takes on this.

First: Michelle Malkin (it gets the most hits, apparently).

Next: Aurora (thanks very much for the article on this!).

Next: MK (nice snarky take).

Finally: The Lone Voice (pardon the language a bit. Not such a lone voice after all, eh?).

Think of it! A citizen actually being ungrateful for our troops! Support just went out the window for this lady. So much for wanting the best for the much for wartime sacrifices.

The minichurch effect

On Nov. 23, Kyle Wingfield wrote about his personal, mini-church (at least it comes off as that) experience in Europe (W11). He suggests that Christianity on the Continent has less to do today with "[o]ld ladies sitting in otherwise empty churches" than with "smaller groups in caf├ęs and restaurants" - i.e. conventicles? He gives two reasons for this style of meeting: first, that the church (Well in Brussels) doesn't have its own building yet; and second, that a coffee shop is less "intimidating" for the unchurched who happen to stumble upon a service in progress. This is apparently popular in Europe right now, where only 15% (versus 44% here) regularly worship somewhere other than a mosque etc.

In response, Thomas D. in Plymouth, Mich. wrote (A9, Nov. 24) a letter defending classical Christianity. While claiming that Wingfield's article "falls prey to a common fallacy, that of setting up a straw man for classical Christian beliefs and practices (passe, formulaic, anti-intellectual) and then suggesting these are the reasons for its demise, or replacement by more relevant spiritual movements," he sticks in a nice paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton: "[T]raditional Christian beliefs have not been intellectually examined and found wanting, they have been caricatured and left unexamined."

In closing: "When one rationally and objectively views current events and culture, it is classical Christianity that is nouveau, even rebellious. The "well spring" of classical Christianity still provides spiritual refreshment to those with the courage and discipline to seek it." - Thomas D.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hairballs! (warning: slightly gross pictures)

A friend sent me two interesting (to me, anyway!) sites concerning giant hairballs, a.k.a. bezoars, human and otherwise. Mostly human.

Doctors untangle the strange case of the giant hairball!

Examples of various types of bezoars from cattle, humans, mummies, etc.

The "omnivore" label is tongue-in-cheek, obviously--the first person ate, well, anything!

Three biology links

Aurora had another excellent post today that is scary, satisfying, and oddly humorous, all rolled into one. Apparently another rabid environmentalist is trying to increase the baby gap between normal and...abnormal people, all in the name of Gaia.

On the topic of embryonic stem cell research, I discovered this post by MK. Nice conservative view. Also check out this post by The Stiletto re the "legality" of life at conception.

The day-after-Thanksgiving Scalpel

Since my home computer is annoyingly slow, today I will do a Stiletto-esque compilation post rather than a series. Poll: Do you readers like this format better than individual posts, or not?


On age A13 of today's WSJ, Professors Maureen Condic and Markus Grompe write a more fleshed-out editorial about stem cells (see Wednesday's post about the front-page article). I won't repeat all the details, but they do explain the process of obtaining "induced pluripotent state cells (iPSCs)": Grow skin-biopsy cells, treat "with a combination of four reprogramming factors, inserted into the adult cells with a gene-therapy virus."

Not only do these iPSCs have "all the relevant properties that make embryonic stem cells so attractive," but they also avoid the whole issue of immune rejection. However...

It should be cautioned that this astonishing breakthrough will not produce immediate cures...The risk for tumor formation (a feature common to all pluripotent stem cells) is a grave concern, and the risk may be higher in iPSCs than in embryo-derived stem cells, because the genes used for reprogramming remain inserted in the cell.

There's still a lot of good news--not just for patients, but for researchers: since iPSCs are grown in the lab, scientists can "observe how human organs and tissues form. The insights garnered from such studies are likely to lead to the development of new drugs and strategies which can benefit human health."

Best of all: "This new finding offers the best possible outcome to a debate that for too long pitted science and ethics against each other."


On the same page, MI attorney general Mike Cox writes about the Supreme Court case in progress, Parker v. D.C., concerning the individual's right to bear arms (see this post by The Stiletto from November 9). Cox argues, based on the principles of original intent/context and of grammar, that the militia is not the only party to "keep and bear arms."

Reason 1: The rest of the Bill of Rights clearly says that "the right of the people" does not refer to the collective people of America, but rather to "an individual right...The rights guaranteed in the Bill of Right [sic] are individual."

Reason 2: "Consider the grammar. The Second Amendment is about the right to 'keep and bear arms.' Before the conjunction 'and' there is a right to 'keep,' meaning to possess. This word would be superfluous if the Second Amendment were only about bearing arms as part of the state militia."

Reason 3: it's colonial history, stupid!

Our Founding Fathers lived in an era where there were arms in virtually every household. Most of America was rural or, even more accurately, frontier. The idea that in the 1780s the common man, living in the remote woods of the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania and Virginia, would depend on the indulgence of his individual state or colony--not to mention the new federal government--to possess and use arms in order to defend himself is ludicrous. From the Minutemen of Concord and Lexington to the irregulars at Yorktown, members of the militias marched into battle with privately-owned weapons.

Lastly: Guns don't kill people, criminals with guns kill law-abiding citizens who aren't allowed to own guns themselves.


In the Church today, not to mention in other religions, is a large controversy over tithing (W1 by Suzanne Sataline). Some denominations require the full 10% (disclosure: Give your firstfruits and live within your means. I do); others merely exhort their parishioners to give whatever they feel like. Mormonism uses the 10% marker as a bar to "temples where ceremonies take place." Islam requires the zakat (2.5% per year of "the market value of a believer's assets"). Judaism has membership fees (!). So why is this such a big deal?

Opponents of tithing give several reasons not to adhere to the 10%-minimum standard. NJ lawyer John Magrino says that "It's my money to do with what I want." (Really? "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" - Ps. 24:1, NIV) According to professor Andreas Kostenberger (Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC), "if you add up all taxes paid by the ancient Israelites, they exceed 10%, and that in the New Testament there's no percentage rule."

Pro-tithers cite "giving till it hurts" as a marker of God's blessing; a Rev. John Hagee in Texas teaches, "'If you obey God and you tithe, God will return it to you 30, 60, 100 fold.'" In addition, since churches are not tax-supported, "If everyone gives 2% of their income because that's what they feel like giving, you aren't going to have money to pay the light bill and keep the doors open," according to Duane Rice of the Evangelical Friends International.

My take: Since all that you have is God's anyway, joyfully give at least 10%. This article coincides nicely with my church's emphasis on knowing and increasing your "spiritual numbers" - i.e. time (singing in the church choir, going to Bible study, etc.), talents (e.g. using your mechanical skills to fix the church's A/C), and treasures (money and/or possessions). Too many people can't give 6/10 of 1% of their time (one hour out of 168 per week) to even go to church.

One small sidetrack: "Many Christians who don't read the Bible literally say that by tithing they are not misreading the text, but rather interpreting it differently." Really? There's more than one *interpretation* of Scripture? (Note: "Interpretation" does not mean "application" or "fulfillment," as in several prophecies fulfilled at the time given and also later.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We're winning in Iraq? Surely you jest!

As before: No, you do not jest.

On page A18 of today's WSJ: another article of hope about the Iraq War. Is the *mainstream* media reporting this stuff?

Robert H. Scales spent a week with General Petraeus in Iraq, and in this article ("Petraeus's Iraq") he shares a very important happening: the "culminating point," which he says and demonstrates is "psychological, not physical, happenings." His definition: "The culminating point marks the shift in advantage from one side to the other, when the outcome becomes irreversible: The potential loser can inflict casualties, but has lost all chance of victory. The only issue is how much longer the war will last, and what the butcher's bill will be." Exactly. Here are some more quotes:

To bolster local security within May, [Petraeus] began arraying combat units in four successive "belts" around Baghdad. These units painfully ejected al Qaeda influence from the suburbs and satellite cities, effectively choking off reinforcements...

The U.S. operation, called Arrowhead Ripper...was an intelligence-driven battle with precise information, gleaned from overhead surveillance using unmanned aircraft, signals intercepts and willing Iraqis who came forward. The combat was sharp and at times furious. American casualties rose in late June; the enemy fought knowing full well that losing Baquba would force them to retreat...

To be sure, Baghdad and the surrounding belts are not yet safe. But culminating points are psychological events. What I witnessed firsthand in Iraq was a shift in opinions and a transfer of will among Iraqis, not a classic military takedown. This change was palpable and unmistakable...

Gens. Petraeus and Ray Odierno have achieved success on the ground at an unprecedented speed in the history of counterinsurgency warfare. Now it's time to apply the same sense of urgency and commitment to the task of reuniting the tragically fractured nation and bring it back from the brink of annihilation.

And to reach the culminating point with the American public. With the Left's stranglehold on the media (though a staunch Democrat I know insists that the Republicans have a "stranglehold" on it...wonder where he's getting his news!), this may take even longer. No media is better than wrong media.

Stem cell hope

The WSJ (A1) features an article about stem cells, news of which was out on AP yesterday. Gautam Naik reports on this advance that "avoids destroying embryos."

Japan and U.S. researchers have separately come up with a way to create cells that behave just like embryonic ones (able to differentiate into any kind of cell in the body) out of a clever combination of retroviruses and skin cells. Retroviruses are special kinds of viruses that have been used in the past (as in this case) to replace the DNA of the cell they enter. Scientists can take four genes, insert them into a retrovirus, and inject those viruses into a skin cell harvested from the patient.

The good: This eliminates the dual ethical/moral issues of cloning and destruction of embryos; the technique theoretically has all the advantages of embryonic stem cells, with few of the disadvantages. The cells would also come from the patient, so the risk of immune rejection is minimal.

The bad: This is still theoretical. Also, retroviruses have been "linked with cancer," as have embryonic stem cells, which are prone to generate tumors.

Science fiction, rather

As you will shortly see from this Informed Reader blurb (B10; December Scientific American), I used the "scientific method" label quite sarcastically and tongue-in-cheek. "Scientists," not content to believe/know that Earth is the only hospitable planet for life in at least the solar system, are trying to find proof of an "alien encounter" - i.e. "life has emerged twice on this planet." Physicist Paul Davies (AZ State University) says that the "most likely survivors from a first wave of life would be microbes, microscopic organisms like bacteria." Why? They have "no connection" to the currently accepted tree of life (accepted by the shrinking majority, at least) and they probably live in "extreme conditions...such as the bone-dry valleys of Antarctica, California's extremely alkaline Mono Lake or heavily polluted rivers such as Spain's Rio Tinto."

I've got one tiny problem with the last one: if these extreme microbes likely live in rivers that are polluted today, where would they have lived back when the planet was young and water sources were pristine?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Monopoly on freedom?

The Informed Reader (B8) scoops today from the November-December Mental Floss...about Monopoly! Normally I can't stand playing that game, especially with money-hungry siblings, but this could be an exception. Something to think about for this and future wars? Emphasis mine.

The board game "Monopoly" served allied prisoners as a real-life tool to get out of jail during World War II, says Brian McMahon in Mental Floss, a magazine of farflung trivia.

In 1941, the British secret service asked the game's British licensee John Waddington Ltd. to add secret extras to some sets, which the Red Cross delivered to prisoners of war. These included a metal file, compass and silk maps of safe houses (silk, because it folds into small spaces and unfolds silently). Even better, real French, German and Italian currency was hidden under the game's fake money. Soldiers and pilots were told that if they were captured they should look out for the special editions, identified by a red dot in the game's "Free Parking" space.

Of the 35,000 prisoners of war who escaped German prison camps, "more than a few of those certainly owe their breakout to the classic board game," says Mr. McMahon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Unholy trinity

A testimony and a warning to the limits of science: this post by Aurora. Apparently scientists are willing to do nearly anything to satisfy the cravings of carnal mankind. Not only is this manipulating genetics to satisfy alternative lifestyles and psychological orientations, it's another scary step to 1984...or 2084...or sooner.

Last chance for DDT, indeed

Two letters in the WSJ today (A17) comment on "Last Chance for DDT" by Roger Bate (which I archived...a compilation post should be forthcoming). Emphasis mine.
  • Hans Overgaard, PhD (Norway), co-author of the article upon which Bate commented, emphasizes "that a single, silver-bullet solution, such as DDT, to control malaria is not realistic. As Mr. Bate himself states, DDT is not a panacea. Instead, several types of interventions are needed in an integrated approach to vector management. Despite the good track record of DDT in controlling malaria, we need to find alternative control options because evolutionary forces predispose DDT resistance. In addition, the persistence of DDT in the environment affects non-target organisms as well as food and water supplies...A recent study reported in Medscape Today showed that high levels of serum DDT predicted a statistically significant five-fold increased risk of breast cancer among women who were born after 1931."
  • Don M. in Sherman, TX, offers contrary examples about DDT's harmfulness. "I happen to be a survivor of DDT. I grew up on a farm in the '30s, '40s, and '50s. We had about 25 milk cows, several pig sows and many young piglets, horses, and many free range chickens. We also had an outhouse...We sprayed the cows in the milk barn, the pig pens, the horse barn and the out house. We sprayed the window screen at the house and porch but not in the house. The results were fantastic. The flies and mosquitoes disappeared...We, as well as every one else, drank the milk from cows that were sprayed with DDT. I am 76 years old and have suffered no ill effects from DDT. My three sisters and brother have not had any illnesses related to DDT. My schoolmates, neighbors and friends were all exposed to DDT and all have lived normal lives."
As always, DDT is like any other poison, to borrow the old maxim. Depends on the dose. What I am surprised at is WHY does no one seem to advocate a middle ground? Responsible DDT usage? Don't trust Rachel Carson--trust unbiased studies.

Dumb blondes...

In The Informed Reader (B6) was an interesting new take on the "dumb blonde" concept. As a strawberry blonde myself, I couldn't resist!
  • According to Britain's Sunday Times, "[m]en's mental performance drops in the presence of blonde women, apparently because of the perceived link of dumbness with blondness."
  • "The study adds to a body of research of how stereotypes affect peoples' behavior. Other similar research has shown people walk and talk more slowly in front of the elderly."
Ha! However, the fundamental question doesn't seem to have been answered: are blondes really dumb? There's plenty of empirical data saying they aren't.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


According to Blogthings, my blog should be green...but I still like the format as is. Any votes for changing the layout?

Your blog is smart and thoughtful - not a lot of fluff.
You enjoy a good discussion, especially if it involves picking apart ideas.
However, you tend to get easily annoyed by any thoughtless comments in your blog.

What Color Should Your Blog or Journal Be?

A new perspective on gun control

This post by Ronbo (Freedom Fighter's Journal) goes beyond the usual arguments for or against gun control...cough cough. While I neither own a gun or have Southern blood, I found this quite entertaining...if you're a conservative on that type of thing, that is.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Percentage, shmercentage!

According to, my support for Huckabee is somewhat justified. The site is essentially a two-part quiz. Part 1: Weight the issues most important to you with more points (20 points total; you must use them all). Part 2: Mark whether you support or oppose (on a 5-point continuum) various issues. The site will then rank the presidential candidates in order of percent similarity to your beliefs.

A bit surprising: Fred Thompson (84% similarity) came out first, McCain (80%) second. Huckabee was fifth, with a mere 75%.

Then I did an item analysis.
Thompson's top similarities ("very similar") were Taxes and Budget, Abortion and Birth Control, Gay Rights, Iraq and Foreign Policy, and Education.
McCain's order of "very similar" items was a bit different: Taxes and Budget, Gun Control, Abortion and Birth Control, Iraq and Foreign Policy, and Civil Liberties and Domestic Security. Huckabee's "very" similarities were Taxes and Budget, Gay Rights, Civil Liberties and Domestic Security, and Abortion and Birth Control.

Hmm. I guess it all depends how you weight things...obviously. I have actually been considering Thompson, given several negative editorials about Huckabee. However, given the amount of headway we would have to make on abortion, tackling gay rights seems easier right now. Any thoughts?

Three odd things about me*

The second and third quizzes are actually fairly close! As for the first -- I've always thought I was a tomboy, but not quite this much!


***You Are 45% Feminine, 55% Masculine*** [Again, this relies on stereotypes, but it's still a little disquieting.]

You are in touch with both your feminine and masculine sides.
You're sensitive at the right times, but you don't let your emotions overwhelm you.
You're not a eunuch, just the best of both genders.

Are You Masculine or Feminine?


***You Are Likely A Forth [sic] Born*** [Actually, I'm third of four.]

At your darkest moments, you feel angry.
At work and school, you do best when your analyzing.
When you love someone, you tend to be very giving.

In friendship, you don't take the initiative in reaching out.
Your ideal jobs are: factory jobs, comedy, and dentistry. [Dentistry, maybe. What about teaching? Blogthings is giving me mixed signals here.]
You will leave your mark on the world with your own personal philosophy.

The Birth Order Predictor


***You Will Not Be a Cool Parent*** [whatever "cool" means. Baby boomer? Amoral?]

And that's pretty okay. While your kids may not think of you as a friend, they will respect you.
You know that kids need discipline and structure, and you're not afraid to give it to them.
Just be careful that your strictness doesn't lead to rebellion.
It's good to have standards and rules, but you don't need to have an iron fist when enforcing them.

Would You Be a Cool Parent?


*Again, this has nothing to do with "Seven True Things About Me."

Two true things about me*

Oh boy...two more indicators that I may not be as Republican/conservative as I thought:


Item one:

***You Are 60% Capitalist, 40% Socialist***

While you are definitely sympathetic to a free economy, you also worry about the less fortunate.
Wealth and business is fine, as long as those who are in need get helped out too.
You tend to see both the government and corporations as potentially corrupt [it's called "sinful nature," dude!].

Are You a Socialist or Capitalist?

(Yes, I do occasionally have issues with free-market economy, such as big, irresponsible businesses. However, I am by no means a supporter of any form of socialism existing today or proposed by a certain group of politicians on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.)


Item two:

***You Are 64% American***

Most times you are proud to be an American.
Though sometimes the good ole US of A makes you cringe
Still, you know there's no place better suited to be your home.
You love your freedom and no one's going to take it away from you!

How American Are You?

(All right. It's mainly the issues I have with stupid things the government does. I just wonder what allegiance the other 36% has. According to that quiz, my US blood isn't even 2/3!)

*This post is in no way related to the "Seven True Things About Me" meme floating around.

Ahh...pork, my favorite!, part II

Woohoo! The opposite political party is doing something useful, albeit reluctantly! A10 today (Review and Outlook): "Divided They Cut." This article tried to follow the Democrat logic...
  • "Whatever the argument over Iraq, Democrats campaigned loudly as more responsible fiscal stewards and promised to scrub down Capitol Hill. Now back in power, however, they are reverting to their tax and spending habits." Hmmm...makes you worried, right? Read on!
  • "Mr. Bush is exercising his veto power, and Democrats don't seem to have the votes for overrides. On Thursday, Congress failed to reverse Mr. Bush's rejection of the overstuffed Labor-HHS-Education appropriation. If divided government ends up producing spending restraint, it will be a rare moment of fiscal virtue." Ironic...can a Congress divided against itself stand for America?
  • "There's a lesson here in the importance of the Presidency, since Congress obviously won't police itself. Mr. Bush's great mistake was that he never said no to Republican spending monarchs like Jerry Lewis and Roy Blunt. If he's now curbing Democrats David Obey and Kent Conrad, Mr. Bush is doing what he should have done all along." Rats. At least Bush is reforming now.
  • "Democrats say their increases are urgent for pent-up domestic priorities, but that doesn't square with the pork. Typical is a $3 million earmark inserted by South Carolina Democrat James E. Clyburn -- in the defense appropriation signed this week by Mr. Bush -- for youth programs at the James E. Clyburn Golf Center. Also typical is $301,500 for the International Peace Garden, in Dunsieth, North Dakota, courtesy of Mr. Conrad." Yeah, we really need more, better, younger golfers. Just the thing to help the working man.
  • "Then there's the Democrats' favorite game of three-card monte, that military spending in Iraq and the larger war on terror is somehow displacing domestic social programs. But Iraq hardly presents some unique or overwhelming fiscal burden. As a percentage of the total federal budget, the U.S. is spending relatively little on defense, even including the Iraq supplemental currently jammed up in Congressional feuding." Yes, money is limited, not infinite, and a bigger slice of the pie may necessitate the shrinking of other slices. But the "war" slice is shrinking...go figure.
  • "Democrats are planning to suture together the remaining appropriations into an "omnibus" bill that will split the $22 billion difference between Congress and Mr. Bush. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that surgery would involve "some tremendously difficult cuts." We can only imagine." Hey, another reference to surgery (see previous post)! And you can't beat that last sentence.

Surgeon, heal thyself!

Book to be reviewed: The Surgeons.
Author: Charles R. Morris.
Reviewer: Ira Rutkow, W11.
Topic: Cardiac surgery.
Diagnosis: First half exciting. Second half woefully dry.

The medical magazine's stark headline said it all: "Stab wound of the heart -- suture of the pericardium -- recovery -- patient alive three years afterward." It was 1897 and Daniel Hale Williams, an African-American surgeon, reported what would become the country's earliest widely publicized case of successful heart surgery. At a time when the importance of monitoring blood pressure was little understood and the use of antibiotics, intravenous fluids and transfusions was decades away, the 39-year-old Williams's accomplishment opened a new vista in American medicine.

...[T]he author lapses into a soporific -- and unconvincing -- discussion of statistical analysis and "the promise of propensity scoring" to glean information from patient databases. The promise, it seems, is that alternatives will be found to random clinical trails: "Many RCTs, perhaps even most, are useless or worse. Partly that's because pharmaceutical companies have abused the trial process, but it's also because of the great difficulty and expense of running good trials." Such a complicated subject deserves a fuller, fairer and more expert treatment.

To read the closing chapters of "The Surgeons" is to long for the scalpel stories. Is the book an insightful and captivating account of heart surgeons and their amazing craft -- the subtitle, after all, is "Life and Death in a Top Heart Center" -- or a dreary socioeconomic study of health-care policy? "The Surgeons" has complications and cries out for a content transplant.

Oh well. You just can't have excitement and professionalism together, I guess.


The Informed Reader (A8) brought up something from the Nov. 15 Scientific American that I've known for some time: if a baby animal doesn't bond with its mother at birth, and if the mother doesn't "stick around," that baby will bond with the next adult (or "even an object") it sees. Cases in point:
  • "[A] researcher with a group of goslings" -- there have been a few instances of this. These infant geese followed a "moving target," a.k.a. the process of imprinting.
  • "A female whooping crane reared in captivity later showed no interest in the company of male cranes -- she only laid an egg after a human moved in with her." This one is, understandably, more than a little weird.
Although this biological phenomenon is fairly common, it could potentially be construed in the future as support for alternative lifestyles. Think about it a bit.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cruel and unusual punishment, eh?

This post, courtesy The Stiletto, combines two of my favorite subjects: correctional institutions (OK, so that's not on my top ten) and bacteria!! The URL is

For those of you who don't want to bother with that huge string up there, here's the full text:

Jails Not Hotels, Judges Say by Joe Carlson, Nov. 12

Although the Constitution does not require prisons to have the comforts of a hotel, inmates who contract preventable infectious diseases could claim they were subjected to cruel or unusual punishment.

That's the early lesson emerging from several judges' opinions in the 25 lawsuits that prisoners in Lake and Porter county jails have filed in U.S. District Court since Aug. 23.

All of the prisoner-rights lawsuits are handwritten, and complain of the same conditions, often in word-for-word identical language. The inmates say they are exposed to staph infections, forced to use dirty showers and clothes, and viewed by female corrections officers on security cameras.

And in the cases where judges have made rulings already, nearly all of the complaints have been dismissed.

"The Constitution doesn't mandate comfortable prisons or jails," wrote U.S. District Court Chief Judge Robert Miller Jr. on Nov. 2 in a complaint brought by Porter County inmate Corey Taylor.

Taylor complained that the jail's showers and lavatories were "filthy and nasty." The conditions contributed to what he called a widespread pattern of bacterial staph infections among inmates at the jail.

Miller ruled that Taylor's complaints did not meet the high bar for substandard care outlined in a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said inmates can sue only if they are denied "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities."

Taylor, who faces eight counts of violent crime and drug distribution, was not actually harmed by the exposure to dirty conditions because he did not contract staph, Miller wrote.

Not so with Jackie Hernandez, who was the first of the 25 inmates to sue after he was incarcerated at Porter County Jail on a heroin distribution charge.

Hernandez did contract staph, after his cellmate had it, and neither man was properly treated, he said.

U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann ruled Oct. 16 that Hernandez's case could go forward without immediate dismissal because contracting the disease could be considered cruel and unusual punishment, which is forbidden by the Eighth Amendment.

In all, only four of the 25 suing inmates claim to have gotten the disease -- two each in Porter and Lake county jails.

Porter County Sheriff David Lain has defended the conditions at his jail, and said his medical officials take steps to quarantine and treat sufferers. Lake County officials imposed a prisonwide quarantine last year when an outbreak was discovered.

With the exception of one inmate who claimed to have been made to sleep on the ground, every other allegation in the lengthy complaints has been dismissed, including the issue of naked males being viewed by female guards.

"Female guards ... see male prisoners in states of undress. Frequently. Deliberately. Otherwise they are not doing their jobs," the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1995.


Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, are common bacteria found in armpits, groins, genitals and noses that normally do not cause illness, unless they enter the body through a break in the skin. They can cause small infections like pimples and boils and create serious bloodstream infections or surgical wound infections. The bacteria are spread through direct skin contact or indirect contact through towels, soap, bandages and athletic equipment.

Therapy or radical surgery?

"Houses of Worship" (WSJ--today's Weekend Journal) by Christine Rosen is this week about atheism and "bromide" conversions, i.e. "therapeutic Christianity." The tone of this column is a little hard to discern at the beginning, but here are some quotes:

  • A few reporters and bloggers have raised questions about the octogenarian's [Antony Flew] mental competence as well as the motivations of his co-author, Roy Abraham Varghese. But questions about competence aside, Mr. Flew is not quite the crusading convert his book title suggests: He did not embrace Christianity, but Deism. As he told Christianity Today, he feels more spiritual kinship with the skeptical Thomas Jefferson than with Jesus.
  • So who are the other writers manning the ramparts against atheism while espousing their new devotion to Christ? They are typically sappy types armed mostly with therapeutic bromides.
  • To be sure, the Jackson and Weldon books have inspired many readers. But the most enduring conversion stories in modern times don't offer tales of perky piety triumphing over personal malaise. They are far more ambiguous and attentive to the challenges of living a spiritual life in a secular world.
  • Perhaps now more than ever, converts must combat a pervasive cultural cynicism that views conversions -- particularly those made during moments of crisis -- with suspicion. It was only his decades-long devotion to his Prison Fellowship ministry that eventually silenced those who doubted Mr. Colson's sincerity. Mr. Flew's claims have prompted many to wonder if his rejection of atheism and embrace of a deity is driven less by genuine faith than by the normal fears of old age.
  • The most persuasive conversion narratives recount not merely emotional surrenders to faith but also intellectual grapplings with it... The Road to Damascus is paved with theology not therapy.
Conversion doesn't necessarily have to be dramatic. Granted, there have been spectacular ones. But God works through His Word which, while cutting like a two-edged sword, can and does work faith silently in the heart. Only afterward does the faith show itself through works (James 2:18 -- the NIV says it well). Rosen has it exactly right.

Surface protein of the virus that bit you

B7: The Informed Reader...scooping Nov. 17 The Lancet, notes how homeopathy in India is messing up the country's health care system. Exemplary of the tensions:

...Many doctors trained solely in homeopathy have been giving their patients conventional drugs such as antibiotics, often in unconventional cocktails, which the Indian Supreme court considers quackery. Despite efforts to stop homeopaths practicing in areas they aren't qualified, about 90% of them are administering pharmaceutical drugs. Last month, a homeopathic doctor made national headlines for selling a homeopathic HIV cure for about $3,800 to hundreds of patients. He was prohibited from advertising the claim that he had cured 2,000 people of AIDS and is under investigation from medical authorities.

Yes, yes, the title may have been a little weird...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Anciente rootes

The Informed Reader (B8) scoops the November Texas Monthly. The topic -- English spelling, root words, and the discrepancies between the two -- is tangentially related to another topic of interest to me: dyslexia. According to several studies, English-speaking kids may be more prone to this "word-blindness" than speakers of other, *phonetically regular* languages.

The speller in question (a near-spelling-bee-champion, 13, named Samir) apparently has given up spelling bees in favor of math competitions because (at least in part) English is too phonetically irregular and of complex etymology for him. (BTW -- I competed in math competitions from 7th to 12th grade; they are quite fun!) Samir's sad demise:

In English, the same root can give rise to divergent spellings. Gentile, genteel, and gentle all come from the Latin word gentilis. Also, a single word can suggest multiple roots. In 2006, Samir lost in the seventh round because of just such a word, "eremacausis" ("gradual oxidation of organic matter from exposure to air and moisture"). The word sounds like it should come from the Greek eremos (suggesting solitude) or aero (for air). In fact, it comes from erema meaning "gently" or "gradually," the only word in Webster's to do so. Samir opted for aero and crashed out with a-e-r-o-m-o-c-a-u-s-i-s.

This year he blew his last chance to win a title due to clevis (a U-shaped piece of iron). He panicked over the detail that it was "probably Scandinavian" and opted for c-l-e-v-i-c-e.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ahh...pork, my favorite!

Do a quick blood pressure/pulse check BEFORE READING THIS POST.

It just gets your goat, doesn't it? Politicians promising "fiscal discipline" but, once elected, reverting quickly to "earmarks-as-usual"? The WSJ (A16) calls them on it excellently: "Return to Spender." Some quotes:

If they're wondering why the bottom's fallen out of their approval ratings, here it is...

Ostensibly the $606 billion "minibus" -- combining funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education -- is "only" $12.2 billion beyond the President's budget request for discretionary spending. But that's more than half of the $22 billion that Democrats want to spend for 2008 above the Administration's top line. (That $22 billion, by the way, swells to at least $205 billion in additional outlays over five years.)...

The Members also reverted to habit by using a House-Senate conference to "airdrop" $155 million in earmarks that were not included in earlier editions -- in violation of the 2006 ethics "reform." The conference also clandestinely removed a provision barring federal funding for the "hippies museum" near Woodstock...

Since there aren't enough votes to override Mr. Bush, it's back to the drawing board. Maybe next time Democrats should try something new -- say, spending less money.

Now check your blood pressure/pulse again.

Note to self: in red

The Informed Reader (B12) scoops the Nov. 12 Cognitive Daily. Apparently, red pens DO have an adverse effect on students. I know this well; fortunately, several of my instructors have used green pens, for a very calming paper appearance. The question is: is fear of red "instinctual" or does inspire fear from a Pavlovian conditioning? Or is it that "in nature, a lot of unpleasant things are red, starting with blood, hot coals and lava"?

A short test--which looks better?

94% -- Keep up the good work! OR

94% -- Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Not quite 100% :D

Apparently, according to two Blogthings quizzes, I am 76% Republican and 20% Democrat. That leaves 4% for...what? Links to these two quizzes (what percent Independent are you? :D)"


Too many U.S. scientists? Surely you jest!

No, you do not jest (B14, today's WSJ, Informed Reader). I long held to the archaic notion that all the good scientists were overseas, that India and other Asian countries are going to overpower us dumb Caucasians because THEY were turning out all these smart engineers and surgeons. Apparently I was wrong...

According to the Nov. 16 Chronicle of Higher Education,

The federal dollars pumped into university science departments has created more scientists and engineers than the market wants, said Michael S. Teitelbaum, vice president of Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which sponsors research, at a hearing in Congress last week. Mr. Teitelbaum said the federal government should find a way to adjust how it funds university research so that university departments don't end up using the extra money to add graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Engineers and scientists have started to grumble about poor job prospects. Many advise their children against following in their footsteps, says Harold Salzman, who has interviewed engineers at technology firms as part of his work for policy think tank the Urban Institute.

D'oh! At least there's still plenty of room for a high-school/community-college biology teacher...for now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Master race no more?

Mark Helprin (A17) calls Germany "The Soft Underbelly of Europe" for several reasons. That the particular country most susceptible to Islamic takeover, in his opinion, is my ancestral homeland (I'm about 75% or 80% German by blood) is more than a little worrying to me. Decide for yourself. Do you really want Europe to fall?

Germany must fascinate the Jihadists, too -- not for displacing America as the prime target, but as the richest target least defended. Though it will never happen, they believe that Islam will conquer the world, and so they try. Unlike the U.S., Europe is not removed from them by an ocean, and in it are 50 million of their co-religionists among whom they can disappear and find support. Perhaps out of habit, Europe is also kind to mass murderers, who if caught spend a few years in a comfortable prison sharpening their resolve before they are released to fight again...

For its own protection, and thus that of Europe, Germany could more closely integrate and where appropriate reintegrate itself into the expeditionary and nuclear retaliatory structures of the U.S., Britain, and France without moving nuclear weapons forward to German soil; end leniency for terrorists; step up defensive measures as if it is just about to be hit; and embrace limited missile defense against potentially nuclear-armed Iranian intermediate-range ballistic missiles rather than accept the Russian thesis that 10 interceptors will perturb the nuclear equation.

What are the chances of this? Though the West comprises the richest grouping of nations the world has ever seen, it has somehow come to believe not only that it is not entitled to its customary defenses but that it cannot afford them. And looking ahead strategically so as to outmaneuver crisis and war has, unfortunately, long been out of fashion.

Equality for all?

Richard Q. from Verona, N.J. (A15) explains why we have capitalism (vs. "equality" in socialist countries) and why it works. Why do people complain about "inequality"? Emphasis mine.
  • "Clearly a shrinking middle class is of concern, but what is the reason for it? It can't be as simple as concluding that the middle has less because the top has more."
  • "Simply put, there are limited dollars each year for raises. The best performers get a disproportionate piece of the pie and average workers get less. Is this wrong? If one accepts the sharing concept on its face, all workers would receive an average wage. Is that how we encourage innovation and risk taking? If you accept the sharing concept, then you must also accept mediocrity.
Hmmm...yes, I know there's a poorer class that doesn't make as much money. But if you're expecting handouts for doing your duty, go somewhere other than this free capitalist country.

At last: something for both messy-desk and clean-desk people!

According to the Nov. 19 Newsweek (WSJ, B10), there has just been a new crop of studies about meditation. Apparently the ones done in the '50s and '60s ignored "the possibility that only calm people like to meditate." Now, says columnist Sharon Begley (also, coincidentally, the WSJ Science Journal author), not only do we have less-flawed studies, we have also found more positive effects besides relaxation.
  • "[A]n eight-week course in compassion meditation -- in which people focus on a wish for all beings to be free from suffering -- shifts brain activity in a way that usually gives a sense of well being."
  • "Mindfulness meditation" enables practitioners "to keep better track of numbers scattered among a list of letters. Their brains were making more effective use of the mechanisms that govern attention." In mindfulness meditation, one lets random thoughts dance around in the mind; one does not judge them.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blood conflict? :-D

I had to try this out...found it on a friend's blog. Funny thing is, ethnically I'm German.

***Your Inner European is Dutch!***

Open minded and tolerant.
You're up for just about anything.

Who's Your Inner European?

End times

We had a guest pastor today. He gave an excellent sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17...

Jesus Christ will come back--they didn't believe Him then, and don't believe Him now. Like Easter--surface belief is always there. Paul wrote this 2nd letter after an abnormally short time because false notions had arisen about Christ's return. These made them frantically search for signs of it. We're like the Thessalonians--some quit their jobs and depended on charity; some feared not being "blameless at Christ's return/" Paul reminded them that "rebellion" and "the man of lawlessness" (cf. Daniel)--a demonic counter-kingdom--had to precede the Day of the Lord. The man of lawlessness is a straw man (Jesus' breath will kill him) but powerful nonetheless.

The signs repeat themselves in each age to reinforce awareness. Don't worry about "soon"--it's in the LORD's hands. Don't worry--God chose those who now believe that they would be saved.

What is "spiritual"? Yoga? Mysticism? Mixing animism and Christianity? Respond by seeking a Christian identity, speaking to descendants the truth they must believe in. Apostasy often begins at home. The Gospel still applies--believe in it. Means of grace--food, drink, washing of Baptism. Don't look back. Love Christ more than parents or children. Following Jesus--denying oneself--has the highest priority. Christ will care for you. He knows your sufferings. He will triumph, and we with Him. He's coming soon!--whatever "soon" means.

Friday, November 9, 2007

A glass three-quarters full

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." (Proverbs 17:22, NIV)

On B1 of today's WSJ: the "Science Journal" column (by Robert Lee Hotz) details a recent study about optimism. It appears that, even though optimism makes us act stupidly if we have excess of it, it does have its benefits. Duh. Lawyers are exempt from this happiness, however--Dr. Martin Seligman, surveying U of VA law students, found that "pessimists got better grades, were more likely to make law review and, upon graduation, received better job offers." Why? Science? No--"In law...pessimism is considered prudence." Oh well.

Reasons not to overindulge in optimism (like "two bottles a day" of red wine, says Manju Puri, a co-author of the study in question): behaving like a "day trader" and doing things like not paying bills on time will quench your sunny mood in a short hourglass.

However, there is good news for those who like it in moderation. It helps you survive. Breakdown of the part of your brain responsible for the rose-colored glasses (called the rostral anterior cingulate cortex) will likely get you clinically depressed. An excellent paragraph summing it up:

Medical evidence is suggestive. Optimistic people at risk for skin cancer are more likely to use sunscreen. Optimistic coronary artery bypass patients are more likely than pessimists to be taking vitamins, eating low-fat foods and joining a cardiac-rehab program five years after surgery--and living longer, studies show.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Justice vs. jihadis, part II

An article by David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Lee A. Casey appeared on A23 of today's WSJ. Its title ("Judges vs. Jihadis") bearing an eerie resemblance to my first post about this (although a slightly different aspect of the topic), it commemorates Spain's role in combating terror while reminding the U.S. courts what their job is supposed to be (emphasis mine):

As the great Italian legal scholar and reformer Beccaria wrote in the 1760s, to prevent crime, "make sure that men fear the laws and only the laws." Where respect fails, of course, there also is fear of punishment under the law -- deterrence. The system breaks down, however, when the criminals neither have respect for the law nor fear its potential punishments.

This is exactly the situation in which the West now finds itself. The followers of violent jihad do not respect the laws of democratic governments, but claim a superior legitimacy in the form of their own interpretation of Islam's Quran and Shariah law. Many of them also do not fear punishment. If proof of this were needed, it can be found both in the very nature of al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. by suicidal operatives, and the self-immolation of the seven ringleaders who masterminded the 2004 attacks on Madrid. When Spanish police closed in on their safe house outside that city, these men blew up the house -- and themselves.

Let that be a lesson to us.

Whatever happened to kids being kids?

Page A23 of today's WSJ documents the sad slide of society into over protectiveness. Appropriately titled "Adult Supervision," the article by Charles Sykes details only the latest updates in this (stupid) trend. Some details that will make you snort and weep:
  • Cincinnati Little League "nannies" now nix saying such things as "Swing, batter" because it might hurt the child's self-esteem if s/he misses an inordinate amount of balls...
  • A Colorado Springs grade school is the most recent to ban tag. Why? Because children and parents have complained that some kids don't like being chased. Granted. But why have other schools also prohibited "swings, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters, crawl tubes, sandboxes and even hugs"? Keep reading!
  • In California: more banned stuff! "[T]ag, cops and robbers, touch football and every other activity that involved 'bodily contact.'" Hmmm...cooties? A subtle anti-war statement? (Okay, maybe that's a stretch. But it gets funnier/sadder!)
  • A recent ABC news story (I am so glad I didn't watch this!): 59 out of 60 playgrounds they investigated had--GERMS or evidence thereof! What shall we do?
Here's a final, summary salvo:

In some schools free play has been replaced by organized relay races and adult-supervised activities, in order to protect children from spontaneous outbreaks of creativity. This makes sense to the sort of person who thinks children must at all costs be protected from the scrapes of life and insulated from the prospect of having to deal with social interactions or disappointment.

Childhood -- or at least the fun part -- is falling victim to a potent stew of psychobabble, litigation and over-wrought over protectiveness...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

And yet more about MRSA...

On page A21 of today's WSJ was a group of follow-up letters to "Attack of the Superbugs" (see Oct. 30 entries). As usual, I shall excerpt from the valuable opinions of a Ph.D. and an M.D., respectively. Emphasis mine.

According to the Ph.D., Betsy McCaughey: "Recent studies at Rush Medical College in Chicago and Boston University in Massachusetts show that training cleaners not to overlook surfaces and to allow detergents to remain on surfaces for at least three minutes, rather than just giving a quick spray and wipe, can curb the spread of germs from patient to patient." Primarily, she chides Gottlieb (author of the original article) about the underrepresentation of preventative measures.

Bernard M. Churchill, M.D., adds a few useful pointers to extend the scope of the already good article, namely:
  • MRSA is not the only superbug! Even causal agents of urinary tract infections, for example, are becoming more and more resistant.
  • On "biofilm and nosacomial [sic] (hospital acquired) infections," Churchill casts an important light. Biofilms are essentially films made up of bacteria. You get them on your teeth if you don't brush--then they harden as plaque. However, there are more sinister biofilms--even MRSA can colonize a cathether, become a hard plaque, and spread over the intubation and into the body.
  • Good news! A NIH-funded study has discovered a rapid test that "can rapidly (under 30 minutes) identify uropathogens in clinical urine by using an electrochemical DNA biosensor"!! He describes it as working somewhat like a telephone, converting bacterial jabber into electrical pulses.
  • There is also another potential kind of antimicrobial: "Aganocides (developed by Nova Bay Pharmaceuticals) are based on small molecules generated by our own white cells that defend against invading pathogens. In the body these compounds are produced "on demand" and are transient." This is very cool. What could be better than using something based on the body's own defenses?

Just when you thought bamboo was a keeper...

According to the Nov. 5 Salon (WSJ--B5), bamboo may or may not be such a good thing for the environment. Yes, you've probably heard about how fast it grows or how little energy it uses, BUT there is always a caveat...or two, or three. Their bullet points:

* Manufacturers often use sodium hydroxide, a contributor to pollution, when making bamboo textiles.

* Bamboo growers sometimes apply pesticides to boost yields.

* The expanding market for bamboo could prompt developing-world growers to clear native forests, disrupting fragile ecosystems.

Oh well. I guess I'll have to have my furniture be not bamboo, but instead "of clay and wattles made," as Yeats did in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Reading, _______, and 'Rithmetic

This is great! My personal take: my mom taught us Getty-Dubay italics many years ago; it's a very quick, functional, pretty script. Although my handwriting has deteriorated somewhat since then, the speed is still there. Try it. Emphasis mine, as usual.

Improved Writing Helps With Two of the Other R's -- NEWSWEEK -- NOV. 12 (B8, Informed Reader)

Even in the age of the BlackBerry and the computer keyboard, educators are aiming to improve kids' handwriting in the belief it will make them better students, writes Newsweek's Raina Kelley.

The educators aren't looking for beautifully crafted letters. They want students from kindergarten to the fourth grade to write more fluently and more quickly. Studies suggest that writing and thinking in those early years go hand in hand. If children don't work on penmanship enough, they risk wasting valuable mental energy later on when they struggle to craft letters, according to studies by Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham and others. Lack of handwriting practice tends to breed problems in spelling and arithmetic.

Evil pencil makers!

The Informed Reader (B8 today) quotes from Nov. 22's New York Review of Books. According to Duke University biologist John Terborgh, the rain forests are in danger from fire (hmmm...yes, wet wood makes a lot of smoke, i.e. nasty greenhouse gases) and sudden climate change. Predictably, loggers increase this chance of fire by "creating a path for sunlight and providing extra kindling on the ground."

Well, what do you think happens if wood dries? It burns and presto! we've lost another pristine rain forest. But since (according to Them) we've gone through a couple ice ages already and therefore a couple dry periods (without rain forests, perhaps?), what's so bad about this one?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Doing what perhaps no military has done before...and we get killed for it!

On page A17 of today's WSJ: a letter you don't see very often. Written by Rich B., USMA 1990, in New York, here it is in its entirety (emphasis mine):

As a former Army officer from Long Island, I was moved by Mark Lasswell's account of how Lt. Michael Murphy won the Medal of Honor and the story of the one Navy SEAL who made it back to tell the story ("Lone Survivor," Oct. 27, editorial page).

What struck me was that Lt. Murphy's unit was discovered by three goat herders. If the SEALs executed those herders, Lt. Murphy and his men might have survived. But we train officers in morality in the U.S. military. By doing the right thing, Lt. Murphy and 18 other Americans perished. Why didn't the media pick up on this part of the story? Is it because it doesn't fit the assumption that our soldiers are murderous thugs, killing and terrorizing women and children in the night?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Happy All Saints' Day! (celebrated)

We had another good sermon this morning, on 2 Thess. 1:1-12...

  • "Little" epistle? Don't we expect the reading from Revelation (7:9-17) for today--saints in glory? But we're not there yet. We're being persecuted and living in the world.
  • The Thessalonians weren't cultured or wealthy, but they started the second church in that region. Pastors Paul, Silas, and Timothy (v. 1) preached the Word, not personal opinion.
  • v. 2--not just "hello," but a prayer for blessing on them. Praised for their faithfulness in long and hard persecution. Assurance of God's protection from persecutors: vv. 5-10.
  • Central in heaven--what we look forward to--is Jesus Christ enthroned; marvel at Him. Being with loved ones is secondary.
  • According to God's grace, pray that Christ would be glorified above ALL in our midst. He has promised to be with us forever--Matt. 28:20.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Classifying: weak science or strong science?

On page W8 of today's WSJ was a book review so entertaining I have to quote from it. Reviewed by Paul McHugh, the book's title is "Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness" by Christopher Lane. The gist: apparently some psychologists are causing an over-diagnosis of mental disorders that are really just personality quirks - physiognomy, anyone? Some quotes (emphasis mine, as usual):

  • "These days, almost any restless and active boy, especially if he attends a school that has cut back on recess, runs the risk of being labeled as suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A military hero might well be assessed as having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if he shows any unease after battle. And it seems that no one can be sad in our time without being prescribed a pill for major depression rather than given consolation."
  • "Field guides work for identification purposes, and when nothing better is available they stand in for a diagnostic tool resting on more essential distinguishing characteristics. But just as the field guides of naturalists can lead to a mixing up and confusion of species and varieties that look similar (as many "birders" will attest), the field-guide method in psychiatry has now, as Mr. Lane notes, often mixed up truly ill folks with shy, restless, sad and worried people -- in other words, just about everyone at one time or another."
  • Although McHugh does not criticize the subject matter entirely, he insists that "the truth is that scientific investigations into brain mechanisms, behavioral controls, vulnerabilities of temperament and responses to life-adversities will gradually solve the problems he has identified. A return to either the master from Vienna himself or the mannerists who followed after him will paralyze the effort."
This is partly why I've put off the required psychology class so long--I'm a mathematician at heart and therefore prefer precise, not-overdone answers to questions and problems.

What about natural selection?

William T. in San Diego wrote a letter appearing in today's WSJ (A7) that makes a very good point about stewardship of property. It seems radical, really: a human actually interfering with the natural course of the wildfire-prone forests in order to save human lives! Imagine! What about all those poor, underrepresented underbrush plants that would have to be removed to prevent wildfires? I digress. However, his strategy is just as good: plant "succulent green apple trees" or some other such firebreak to block the blaze.

The trouble is, the city allows "absolutely no firebreaks" even in "wilderness areas." Why not? Oh, that would be introducing human elements into the normal perfection of nature? Is this really stewardship of the earth God gave us, or is it survival of the trees?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Truly gross biology (stink alert!)

A friend in Florida sent me some information about a newly popular-with-high-school-students, illegal drug called "Jenkem." Basically, it is the result of fermentation of raw sewage (eew, gross!). Like so many other icky things (HIV, Ebola, Marburg, etc.) it had the unfortunate luck to come out of Africa. Google it for more information than most would care to know.

"Raw sewage" is a euphemism for...shall we say...various bodily excretions. Notwithstanding the source of materials, the gas is similar to cocaine in effect, except that it also brings back memories and not just hallucinations.

Sickening! Well, at least the drug's users aren't ingesting/imbibing the original materials which would make them sicker (but they're definitely not addictive!)...

Hmmm...incomplete truth?

According to the November-December MIT Technology Review (B6, today's WSJ), scientists can't accurately predict the course of global warming because WE DON'T EVEN UNDERSTAND ICE SHEETS! Not to mention the convenient omission by the media of the Antarctic ice sheet being at an all-time high thickness...

Initially, scientists believed that as the Earth's temperatures rose, water would flow off the surface of the ice sheets into the sea. But now it appears that cracks have formed in the sheets as they warm, allowing water to travel to the bottom of the ice. That would speed the rate at which water flows into the ocean. Meanwhile, other climate changes such as increasing snowfalls could mitigate the impact ice sheets have on sea levels.

So, to increase their knowledge (like all scientists should, unlike a certain unnamed author who extrapolated too much for his own good some decades ago), these same scientists plan to go to Greenland and investigate these sheets. Drilling down to something formed "115,000 to 130,000 years ago" sounds like a good academic pursuit. Let's see what becomes of it.

Hunker down, everyone--the world is ending! (?)

On page B6 of today's WSJ: The Informed Reader quotes from the Nov. 15 Rolling Stone about where the world is going. And, if you don't think it's going down the drain already, you will after reading these [emphasis mine, as always]...

  • "Craig Venter, a biologist known for cracking the human genome, says disease is a bigger worry than global warming." - (Ha! That's why I'm a biologist, not an environmentalist...)
  • Jane Goodall implies that China's energy hunger will destroy the world's "pristine forests." - I like forests as much as the next They're lovely expressions of God's handiwork and help us breathe easier and communicate in today's paperful world. They're also fun to make artworks of--"I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree" (don't remember the original author, but Ogden Nash parodied it, and I parodied him in my 'kidney' post). However, there's also the fact, which I have stated several times before, that non-human organisms are the culprits for 96-98% of greenhouse gases.
  • Quoting Tom Hanks: "[T]wo issues threaten to tear apart U.S. society: abortion and gay marriage. 'These are the things we're going to be arguing about, fighting about... It's going to be vehement.'" - Good for you, Tom, to say this! Not quite sure what side you're on, but at least you're getting the question plainly on the table. Shall we begin more Civil War preparations, anyone?

Too sad for words, part II

Lo and behold, as usual, there is a group of follow-up letters on A11 of today's WSJ to Ari Brown's Oct. 27 editorial. Here's the gist of each...

  • Jerry Miller, Jr. M.D., president of Augusta Pediatric Assoc. and associate clinical professor of Augusta, GA's Medical College, agrees wholeheartedly: "I often tell parents that if they could only see what these diseases do to children, if they could only see what I have seen firsthand, they would have no hesitation about deciding to immunize their loved children."
  • On the other hand, "the grassroots Internet campaign against vaccines is little match against the institutional propaganda machine that pressures families to immunize"--i.e. vaccines are not "truly voluntary," according to Craig S. in Lee's Summit, MO.
  • Another professional, Andi L. Shane, M.D. MPH, assistant professor of Pediatric and Infectious Diseases at Emory Univ. School of Medicine in Atlanta, agrees with Miller [emphasis mine]: "We have the ability to provide our children with health-care advantages through immunization that are duplicated only by hand-washing. As a pediatric infectious disease physician, I enjoy counseling parents about the risks and benefits of vaccinations. My discussion of the former is brief and the latter long."
  • Marilynn Krull R.N., BSN in PA. also agrees. Three professionals to one...?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy All Saints' Day!

Yes, I know it's only "officially" celebrated in Mexico. However, this day still deserves recognition, given the previous swamping of Reformation Day by Halloween. Today we commemorate all those who have gone before--famous saints (Peter, Paul, John, etc.) as well as lesser-known (i.e. all other Christians).

Remember--each person who believes in the Triune God is a saint! Perhaps I will edit this post later to include various Scriptures as evidence.

How heartening is this quote!, part II

John Christy, recent refuser-to-share-in-the-Nobel-Prize, was quoted by yours truly in his interview a week or two ago. Today, on A19 of the WSJ, he wrote a follow-up article. His combination of great phraseology, excellent logic, and cool photo (showing the Antarctic ice at its thickest mere weeks ago) made for an impressive essay, excerpts from which I will quote... [emphasis mine]

  • "I'm sure the majority (but not all) of my IPCC colleagues cringe when I say this, but I see neither the developing catastrophe nor the smoking gun proving that human activity is to blame for most of the warming we see. Rather, I see a reliance on climate models (useful but never "proof") and the coincidence that changes in carbon dioxide and global temperatures have loose similarity over time."
  • "As we build climate data sets from scratch and look into the guts of the climate system, however, we don't find the alarmist theory matching observations."
  • " difficult it is to accurately predict that system's behavior over the next five days."--in reference to why in the world scientists are trying to forecast the next century.
  • "As my high-school physics teacher admonished us in those we-shall-conquer-the-world-with-a-slide-rule days, 'Begin all of your scientific pronouncements with "At our present level of ignorance, we think we know . . ."'"
  • According to Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus 2004, "spending on health issues such as micronutrients for children, HIV/AIDS and water purification has benefits 50 to 200 times those of attempting to marginally limit 'global warming.'"
And that is why I'm a biologist.