Thursday, June 29, 2006

Covering The Basics

There's some encouraging news on the homelessness front, from William Tucker, at The Weekly Standard. Homelessness is on the decline, and in a significant way:

At a remarkably underreported conference in Denver in May, advocates for the homeless met to discuss a pattern of falling homeless populations across the country. In the past six months, New York has announced a reduction of 13 percent, Denver 11 percent, Portland 20 percent, Miami 30 percent, Philadelphia 50 percent.
It appears that one of the most successful solutions is simply the availability of truly basic shelter, which was disappearing rapidly with the enforcement of ever stricter building codes and requirements. According to Tucker, much of the single room transient housing had been lost:
The principal victim of "reform" has been SROs--the single-room occupancy hotels that were the last resort of winos and stumblebums in bygone days. Entrepreneurs used to take old factory floors and other buildings and turn them into "partition hotels" where people could sleep behind thin walls for as little as $2 a night. It might have looked like blight, but it was functional housing for transients. "In Chicago, SRO units declined 80 percent between 1960 and 1980," reported veteran social worker Richard White in Rude Awakenings: What the Homeless Crisis Tells Us (1991). "In the past twenty years, there has been a net loss of 22,000 low-rent units in downtown Seattle. . . . [A]n increase in the number of homeless singles there in the past five years has corresponded directly to the loss of these SROs."
That was in 1991. Apparently, however, now that trend is reversing, and Tucker credits the declining rate of homelessness to the development of housing, like the fifty units recently put in in Seattle, where single rooms share a kitchen and bathroom facilities. This may sound "substandard" to anyone who has never lived in a dorm, but it's a reason to be grateful for people who would otherwise be living under a bridge. It's an interesting article, and for those of us who tend to be sceptical that the government ever does anything to make problems like the issue of homelessness any better, Tucker points out some actual public policy successes. Check it out.

Sonic Boom

See Michael Totten's very brief post about Syria's leader, Bashar Assad, and what happened recently with Israel. Make sure you read the update. It's short, but makes a very good point.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Here's a "Duh" moment from lessons learned in childhood. Do you remember when you were a kid and all the small fry in the neighborhood would run around from house to house all through the hot summer days, usually barefoot? How many times did you eech and ouch your way across the scorching pavement to get to the new hangout of the moment? Why has no one ever thought of saving up all that heat exploding off the blacktop--translation: energy--and using it to provide power for some of the various endeavors of humanity, especially cooling us off when we finally get where we're going? Well, now somebody has. They're even saving the heat up to use in the winter. I just love human ingenuity.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

We're Doomed!!--Let's Get Off This Rock

There's an interesting piece by James Pinkerton at TCS, about the looming threats hanging over mankind, and the little planet we call home. He points out some of the efforts being made to get us re-started if there's some global disaster, including an arctic seed vault designed to preserve the makings of a floral revival, post doomsday. His plans get grander, though. He's bucking for a population shift--to space. Now, y'all know I am enamored with the idea of exploring the galaxy, starting with our own neighborhood. Heck, I hope that space travel is on the itinerary when I get to heaven (and yes, I do believe in heaven. I think we might be surprised at some of the contents of black holes.) I also hope that before I die we're sending out brave bands of colonists to some of the real estate in the general vicinity of Earth. However, I'm not quite as pessimistic as Pinkerton, who fears it's possible we will need space as a lifeboat when we blow up the planet.

Pinkerton makes some good points about the precarious situation in which man finds himself, or in some cases has put himself. The world is pretty scary with crazy people controlling nuclear devices, and all. Even without that incentive, though, I think space exploration is worth it. People thrive when they have challenges that seem to hold some meaning. For some people that means feeding the hungry, for others, curing cancer. For some of the brilliant minds at the world's disposal, this means facing the challenges of space exploration and learning what we can "out there". I can go with Pinkerton to where his conclusions lead, i.e. space travel as a good thing; I just can't go there for the same reasons. Read the article and tell me what you think.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fat Schmat

Good grief--could the fat police stop walking the beat and just leave the rest of us alone--please? It's no body's business (or fault) if I choose to add cream to my coffee, or eat fried chicken. Do not bring a lawsuit in the name of protecting me from fast food companies. I can protect myself--if I so choose. Besides, if I had a nickel for every time the experts change their minds about what's good for us (eggs. butter, coffee, alcohol--even tobacco used to be "good for you", and someday, somebody will probably say so again), I could afford my own lawsuits. I'd start by suing all the people driving up the price of things I want to buy with ridiculous, frivolous litigation!!

Milk It

Dr. Henry I. Miller at TCS Daily is, as ever, keeping an eye on advances in medicine and agriculture, and pointing to a potentially life-saving treatment coming out of biopharming--and the inevitable objections coming out of the woodwork. According to Miller, two million children a year die in the developing world due to diarrhea, which presents little real threat to people in more advanced countries, but is a serious danger in places without ready access to the clean water and the many medical advantages that most of us with easy access to the Internet enjoy. Moreover, this illness, which can lead to death by dehydration, can also become chronic, with damage to the digestive system making victims more vulnerable to further attacks, leading to malnutrition and anemia, among other conditions. However, this scourge can be lessened in duration and intensity by an innovative twist on nature developed by a California company called Ventria Bioscience, and pursued in cooperation with "...researchers at the University of California, Davis, and at a leading children's hospital and a nutrition institute in Lima, Peru." The twist is the introduction of two human proteins into rice, which is then used to produce an oral rehydration solution.

Oral hydration as a treatment for diarrhea is nothing new. In fact, Miller says that an orally administered glucose-based, high sodium liquid has become, "the standard of care for childhood diarrhea in the developing world," and has saved countless lives. He points out, though, that this treatment does nothing to address the problem of shortening the length of illness, nor reduce its severity. That's where the modified rice comes in. You might ask what adding human proteins to a hydration solution could do to put the clamps on a bout of the revenge. Miller explains that these proteins, lactoferrin and lysozyme, are present in breast milk, and breastfed children, "...get sick with diarrhea and other infections less often than those fed with formula. " Lysozyme has an anti-microbial effect, and lactoferrin "...promotes repair of the cells of the intestinal mucosa damaged by diarrhea," thus reducing recurrence.

So, the proteins help heal kids quicker, and have the long term effect of making them more resistant to future infection. I guess this could make one draw the conclusion that children should be weaned at high school graduation, but this is hardly practical, eh? What Ventria has done is make the protein easy to incorporate into an oral treatment solution:

What makes this approach feasible is Ventria's invention of a method to produce human lactoferrin and lysozyme in genetically modified rice, a process dubbed "biopharming." This is an inexpensive and ingenious way to synthesize the huge quantities of the proteins that will be necessary. (In effect, the rice plants' inputs are carbon dioxide, water and the sun's energy.)
If the proteins are grown in the rice, which is then used to grow more rice, a lot of the chemistry is done up front, with the rest being a matter of farming. The rice is then used as the base for the hydrating solution--another example where scientists are basically "growing medicine". This is where the objections are raised. Opponents cite fears that the modified rice will contaminate other rice fields, cross-pollinating and spreading the modification. Miller points out, however, that because rice is self-pollinating, this is unlikely, but even if it were to happen, it's hard to conceive of actual danger, because the proteins in question are already in us anyway, not just in breast milk, but in our tears and saliva as well. It's interesting to note that the people objecting, at least the ones Miller references, are mostly rival rice producers. It looks to me like that might be more fear of competition than a real concern about the dangers of modified rice. I don't mean to belittle legitimate concerns about biopharming, and the need for caution and safeguards, but, at least judging by Miller's article, the objections seem weak in this case.

I continue to be amazed at the ways that scientific ingenuity is taking the blocks that God created and building with them. I suspect there are limits beyond which God will not let us pass, but who knows where those limits are? Until we find out for sure, I'm getting more and more comfortable with the notion that searching for answers to the common problems that plague mankind, by utilizing the elements He used in our creation, is a good use of resources, and part of the stewardship with which He entrusted us. I don't want to see people start to tinker with other people, but rice? Grow forth and multiply.

An Iraqi Cadet At West Point

Interesting little blurb at Yahoo! News. There's an Iraqi teenager who will soon be attending West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. He's taking some pretty big risks (let's not forget that any Iraqi holding hands with America puts himself and his loved ones in jeopardy), hoping to take home what he learns and transfer that knowledge to the Iraqi army. Brave kid--I hope he does well.

Via: Four Right Wing Wackos

Thursday, June 22, 2006

You Gotta See These

MSNBC has some out of this world photos, from May of 2006. Some are pictures of the Earth, snapped from space, and some were taken of other amazing cosmic features, by Earth's various wandering photographic toys. I'm a sucker for pics like this. You had to imagine these kinds of spacescape images when I was a kid; now they're almost commonplace. Almost, but not quite. In a few years we may be yawning, but for now, start the slideshow. Number 15 is particularly spectacular.

Note: If your computer blocks popups, simply click on the "click here" link and it will take you to the photagraphic tour.

WMD In Iraq

The news broke yesterday that Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) has been working for the last two and a half months to get papers declassified that showed coalition investigators in Iraq have found Desert Storm era chemical weapons, with mustard or sarin nerve agents--500, or so, since 2003. I'm just going to link to a few of those in the know: Austin Bay, Captain's Quarters, Michelle Malkin. Instapundit has a big roundup, including a transcript of the press conference with Senator Santorum and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-NY), where they announced this development. (Just scroll down a bit.) It's curious to me that the Pentagon and the White House seem to have resisted this information being released. You'd think they would have been bellowing it loud and long, to the detriment of their political rivals. I'm not the only one wondering about that, of course. Follow the links, where they've been updating the story since yesterday, and if you don't have time for anything else, make sure to read the transcript of the press conference at Instapundit. It's important information, considering the current and ongoing debate about the war and its justification. Just yesterday, during Senate debate, several Senators made blanket statements that there were no WMD in Iraq. These statements are hard to support given what we now know.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The U.N. Fiddles...

Lou Minatti says that greed for oil is preventing the U.N. Security Council from imposing sanctions on Sudan, aimed at trying to stop the genocide in Darfur. Greedy for oil--that would be the Americans, right? Think again. The sanctions have been proposed by the Brits, strongly supported by the U.S., and blocked by...? I'll give you three guesses. They might all be right. Meanwhile, Darfur is looking a lot like Rome under Nero, at least figuratively. (Yes, I know that he didn't really fiddle while Rome burned, but work with me here. It's creative license, okay?)

HT: Instapundit

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's The Network

I'm feeding my reading habit today. I haven't had many opportunities to read much of anything in the past couple weeks or so, focusing instead on a mad rush to get the prep work done before the contractors poured the footings for Power Tool Heaven (our new garage for those of you unfamiliar with our shop project), so I'm finding I have a lot to catch up on. They poured said footings yesterday. It was fun to watch the process. I'm looking forward to the day the concrete's ready to back-fill, so we can reduce the size of the mountain range of dirt that grew during the excavation. I get to figure out ways to tuck all the remaining soil into raised beds (yet to be built) and other creative repositories. Clearly, I'm still not nearly done with all the work outside, but I'm taking a couple of days off to regroup for the next big push. Lest you think my husband's a slacker (far from it), he hurt his back a few weeks ago, and I'd rather have him take care of himself than see him push it now only to end up down all summer with a chronic condition.

So anyway, I'm getting in some much longed for reading, and TCS Daily is my focus today. As a result, I'm going to direct anyone who's interested to a TCS article by Alan W. Dowd on the advancements in the U.S. missile defense system--you know, shooting missiles down out of the sky with other missiles, or lasers. There are some impressive gains, both technologically and in terms of the growing network of our allies working together to blanket the globe with the ability to defend the U.S., Australia, Japan, Turkey, and various European nations, among others, from the errant missiles increasingly threatening to come our way from the growing list of hostile or unstable countries that are getting their hands on advanced missile technology. The gains are impressive, and the threats are also increasingly daunting. It's a good rundown of where things stand.

Taxing Immigration

Nathan Smith, at TCS Daily, has some really interesting ideas about immigration and border enforcement, in a rather long, but quite readable article titled "Don't Restrict Immigration, Tax It". At the root of his examination of the open and closed border debate in the U.S. is the notion that whatever policy America establishes should have a net benefit to as many people as possible, immigrant and native resident alike. From Smith's perspective, this means open borders (not to include terrorists and other security threats, but the average person who wants to come here to improve their lot in life), with the proviso that people who come here to work, no doubt improving their situation, be subjected to additional taxes to compensate those who might be harmed financially by the competition from these guest workers. He calls his ideas the "rational middle ground", and while I would need to see this ground thoroughly covered by rational debate to be completely sure whether I agree with Smith's analysis, I see some merit in his propositions.

The article really is too full of content for me to summarize it for you, but I'll hit a few highlights. First, in advocating an open borders policy, Smith says that it "...must be resolute in denying welfare and taxpayer-funded social services to (most) immigrants, because any social safety net provided in the US will represent a higher standard of living than what prevails in many countries." This seems absolute common sense; we can't open our doors, and then pay to support everyone who would show up. Smith proposes that every guest worker be required to deposit with a government or authorised agency " amount equal to the cost of deporting them. Having made this deposit, the guest worker should be deported at his or her own pre-paid expense if he becomes unable to support him- or herself."

Second, Smith recommends a mandatory, automatically withdrawn from their paychecks, savings program for all guest workers, available for withdrawal only in the worker's country of origin, providing for incentive to eventually return home. As an alternative, when the account reaches a certain "citizenship threshold", the worker could forfeit the account and become a U.S. citizen. Smith's notion is that the money accumulated from such forfeiture would be distributed to all U.S. citizens, on an annual basis. As the final piece to this taxation-based border policy, "... a surtax will be charged to guest workers, the proceeds of which will be paid out either to all American workers, or targeted to the working poor, ensuring that American-born workers will have a higher standard of living than guest workers who earn the same market wage." This would probably alleviate resentment from the lower wage earners here, and since the guest workers would doubtless still be much better off than in their own countries, despite the extra taxation, could be agreeable to the visiting workers as well. If not, they could simply choose not to come. No harm, no foul. Something Smith didn't indicate, but that seems to me an additional point of merit from the perspective of the immigrant, is that once they became citizens, these guest workers would also be eligible to receive the annual sum. This would be some incentive to cooperate with the tax from the outset, offering eventual compensation for the initial sacrifice.

Smith looks at why he thinks our current border policies are both too restrictive, and basically unenforceable. He discusses how this new approach would make violations of the laws of the country more an issue of tax evasion than illegal entry, resulting not in deportation so much as confiscation of property, which he says would fit better into our general tenor of government. (He spends a lot of time discussing the source of authority of government, which I won't go into. He wrote an article on this topic that I read last year called "Hobbes, Locke and the Bush Doctrine", that I highly recommend. It's also long, and not an easy read, but worth the effort for understanding the philosophy of the roots of governmental power.) Smith goes into much more in his discussion of the reasons for, and the effects of a more open border policy, so as I said, I won't try to sum it all up here, or even try to decide at this point whether I agree with him. What I will say is that I hope I see more non-partisan, idea-oriented debate on this topic. Smith's ideas may, or may not, be viable and the solution to all our border woes, but at least they could move the highly divisive topic a little farther down the road toward a commonly acceptable resolution. I'll give Smith the next to last word:

In principle, since taxing rather than restricting immigration is in the interests of the median voter, a majoritarian democracy should be willing to pass it. Yet the idea of using immigration as a revenue source to offset perceived negative externalities has hardly been mentioned in the immigration debate. I don't think doubts about its feasibility are the reason. Rather, there's an ethical hang-up: people think it's discriminatory to make immigrants pay higher taxes, yet somehow it's not discriminatory to keep them out altogether, which hurts them much more.
Still, I think taxing immigration is an idea with a future, simply because it's the "rational middle ground" for which everyone is looking.
As for me, I'll reserve judgement, but keep an open mind.

Update: I think I should note that in his article Smith is critical of Duncan Currie from The Weekly Standard, relating to an article that he wrote, and I blogged in May, calling for a more substantial border fence. Smith approaches it from the perspective that our country allows very few people to immigrate legally, so fencing won't send immigrants through proper channels, but shut them out entirely. I, however, do not see the two notions as mutually exclusive. There is simply no rule that says if you guard your borders closely you can't also let in any number of immigrants you choose.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Why Can't I Get Pictures Like This From My Olympus?

New Scientist has a really cool picture of a galaxy 2.4 million light years away, taken by a "turbocharged" digital camera--340 megapixels. Be sure to enlarge the image. God does nice work, don't you think?

HT: Futurismic

You Can't Say That

Is tolerance tolerant when it doesn't tolerate intolerance? Or something like that--From the D.C. Examiner.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Cooking Up A Good Idea

Have you been waiting to remodel your old avocado and gold 70s kitchen until 1) the retro craze passed into merciful oblivion, or 2) someone finally came up with something really new in a stove design? If the answer is #1, I can't help you, and not to be too harsh on you here, but I actually have my doubts that anyone can. I can only recommend that when you wake up every morning you repeat to yourself, "I will not be a slave to fads today. I will not be a slave to fads today." This may have no effect at all, but at least you will be starting your day sensibly, no matter what the rest of it holds. If the answer is #2, the folks at Yanko Design may have just the thing to jump-start your kitchen's entry into the twenty-first century--the Simmer Stove.

The new stove concept is based on the notion that existing stove design is unsafe and lacking in energy efficiency. In myriad kitchens throughout the world plentiful pots possessing piping hot potions perch precariously atop open elements. (I have now reached my alliteration quota for the day.) The new design involves lowering the cooking element into the counter, so that the top of the pot is flush with the counter-top. This makes it impossible to knock a pot off the stove, and when the pot is removed, the element is still tucked safely below the surface where hands can't accidentally land on a hot burner. It also makes for much more efficient cooking, since the pot inserted into the opening encloses and traps the heat, a nice feature on a hot day, (It would at least slow the process of heating up your kitchen down a good deal.) Another nice feature is that the elements are separate units, so the kitchen design can be very flexible. If you want two burners on one side of the room, and three more on another, you can make it so. Cool.

I do have a question or two about the stove's functionality. The blurb I read wasn't long, just a brief description, and a couple of photos to illustrate the idea. I get the concept of a pot of soup, or boiling potatoes, or what have you, sitting below the surface, for all the above mentioned reasons. I'm not as clear on how that would work, however, for frying things, or making omelets, for example. When I'm frying splattery chicken, I don't particularly want to reach my hand inside a several inches deep pot to turn the pieces over. Call me crazy. I assume there must be some sort of adapter for shallower pans where they're required. Perhaps you simply use the shallow pan and wait longer for the heat to rise up and reach the bottom of it. That sounds simple enough, if a bit irritating. I also assume there must be some possibility of pulling out portions of each unit for cleaning, since trying to reach down into a burner well just out of one's easy reach could be a pain in various places. I'm sure these are things the designers have all figured out already; I just didn't see the answers spelled out in writing, and would need them before plunking my money down. Otherwise, I think below-the-counter is a great idea. The main problem being that my husband and I did not wait to get rid of our 70's kitchen, ditching it at the first opportunity, in fact, so we'll have to wait a while before the next remodel. I'm going to be keeping this idea on the back burner though--so to speak.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Media And Iraq

From TCS Daily today--Max Borders has an interview with J.D. Johannes, "a former Marine Sergeant and embedded reporter who linked up with his old Marine Corps unit for syndicated TV news reports on the current conflict in Iraq." It's really interesting to get his take on how things stand in Iraq with the military, and the state of the media coverage of the war, since he's familiar with both the soldier's job, and the reporter's. Summing it up: If it bleeds, it ledes. Most reporters in Iraq never get out of their hotels, so the only stories they cover are the explosion and body count related ones--the stories that come to them, really, rather than the other way around. They're not covering the daily military routine, and the improving relations between the military and the Iraqi locals. We all see that, of course, when we watch the news, or read the papers. You just don't see the stories about non-violent interaction between the locals and coalition forces. This suits the terrorists just fine, since the perception then continues that they are wreaking havoc, and ultimately have a chance to win the war. Johannes has got a definite perspective as to why the coverage is the way it is, and how the way the war is covered affects the way it's fought by the enemy. Here's a sample:

Also, and this is probably the most disturbing part, many journalists have not figured out that they're being targeted by the enemy on purpose to help shape the coverage of the war. The insurgents don't want the reporters out and about running around. They're completely satisfied with the "balcony" report and some video shot by a stringer of the daily car bomb. That's the message that the insurgents want to get out. They don't realize that warfare is both the kinetic and non-kinetic. And, therefore, they miss how they're being played by the insurgents. I wish more reporters realized that.

Borders asks if more reporters would help balance some of the coverage (emphasis mine):

Borders: Would we better off with more reporters -- even at the risk of getting stories of bored soldiers in the dessert?

Johannes: More would be better. I've pointed out before that at the height of the Michael Jackson trial, there were some 2,200 credentialed reporters covering that trial. At the height of the invasion, there were 450-some credentialed reporters embedded with the coalition, and probably a couple 100 others out running around on their own, doing a great job. The number of -- especially of western reporters credentialed in Iraq -- is very small. And that does a great disservice to the American public. Because news forms history, which informs public opinion, which shapes foreign policy for generations to come.

Johannes talks a little bit about why he's an optimist regarding Iraq:

Borders: It looks like you have a slightly more optimistic view of things than the mainstream media.

Johannes: I am an optimist. What really sealed my optimism was when I got to spend some time at the national assembly there at the convention center in the international zone, when the delegates were hammering out the constitution late last summer. I got to see the delegates working; I got to see press conferences. At one press conference I think I was the only western reporter. There might have been another one (I think he was from the LA Times.)

And what I saw there: everyone talking about the matter; coming out to do the press conference; 12 or more television cameras from the Arab media; a big pit of print reporters just peppering these Iraqi politicians with questions -- just badgering them, man... It just looked like a White House press conference. I realized there and then -- a free press. Three years ago, that didn't happen in Iraq. And then you see all the other factions and parties coming out to the podium, putting on their spin, blaming the other guy -- it looked like Washington, D.C. Spin sounds the same in every language. And when I saw that, I said, "OK, these people get it."

This by no means sums up what he has to say, so read the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Persective Is Everything

You know the freaky little tendency where you buy a new car (or at least new to you), and then you see that model everywhere you go? It's like the roads are suddenly filled with Civic hatchbacks, or whatever your car du jour happens to be. My husband and I have been experiencing that phenomenon on an entirely different level lately. Since we're in the middle of our own building project (the oft-mentioned garage/shop), we've been noticing new construction everywhere. There's a new Asian market/mini mall going in near our house, which is causing much rejoicing in Meowville, because my husband loves to cook Thai food, and you just can't beat a good Asian market for fresh herbs and vegetables. There's a giant 24 Hour Fitness going in near his office, which might come in handy for burning off all the phad thai noodles the new market will engender. There are office buildings and retail outlets springing from the ground like demented jack rabbits, new housing projects galore, and, it being the all too brief pot-hole repair season in Portland, road crews are making life miserable for commuters all over the City of Roses.

I'm still hearing complaints about our lousy economy, though--complaints still largely settled on how Bush is leading us to hell in a hand-basket, with his tax cuts for the rich and all. I've wondered where all this construction can be coming from, if things are indeed as bad as the woe-is-me set would have us believe. So, I read an article today with great interest which pointed to the signs that things are flowing along quite nicely with the American economy, thank you very much. Jed Graham, at Investor's Business Daily, has a rundown of how we're doing as a country economically, and where we're headed.

The first big news is that we're ahead of schedule in terms of deficit reduction, at least ahead of the schedule that President Bush proposed when the economy was still looking pretty shaky in 2004. At that point, he promised to cut the deficit in half by 2009, but it looks like that promise might be fulfilled three years early. Jumping revenue, due to increased wages and salaries, and corporate income taxes that have risen by 30% over last year, are filling the national coffers. (Well okay, making them less empty.) That's not the corporate tax rate that's gone up 30%; that's the taxes generated by the same rate applied to a bustling economy:

Tax revenues are running $176 billion, or 12.9%, over last year, the Treasury Department said Monday. The Congressional Budget Office said receipts have risen faster over the first eight months of fiscal '06 than in any other such period over the past 25 years — except for last year's 15.5% jump.

The 2006 deficit through May was $227 billion, down from $273 billion at this time last year. Spending is up $130 billion, or 7.9%.

Did you catch the part about tax receipts increasing by more than they have at any time (except last year) in 25 years? This despite the lowered tax rate. That means that there's a lot of profit to be taxed, and higher wages to be taxed as well. That means we're headed toward lower deficits (as long as the politicians don't go on a spending spree.) An interesting note in Graham's article was that increased salaries in the higher tax brackets led to the most gains, in terms of individual taxes, for the government's piggy bank. Because those in the upper brackets earn more, they pay more:

While gains are broad, those at higher-income levels are enjoying bigger salary hikes. Because they pay higher rates, federal tax revenues soar when they do well.

Those making over $200,000 now pay 46.6% of total income taxes, presidential adviser Karl Rove recently said. That's up from 40.5% — despite Bush's tax cuts.

This dispels the tax cuts for the rich myth, if ultimately the rich end up paying a higher percentage of the tax burden as a result of the cuts. Looks to me like the evidence is pretty solidly in the camp of tax cuts stimulating the economy, which is good for the federal bottom line. People and corporations make more money, and pay more taxes. Everybody wins.

According to Graham, budget experts claim that economic growth can't wipe out the entire deficit on its own. That makes sense. If the budget hawks in Washington (or is that an oxymoron?--no, I'm sure there are a few) don't throw their weight around a little more, the spenders will always find a way to keep the government in the red. However, the growth is encouraging, and remember that a good deal of the deficit also has come from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hopefully, those conflicts will cost less and less as the new governments in those countries continue to gain strength. Of course, we will always have military needs, the world being filled with sinful humans, inclined to exercise their free will.

So, if the economy is continuing to gain ground at a beating-the-predictions rate, why is there the perception for some that things are still so bad? Well, part of it is probably individual experience. It's hard to tell someone that just lost their job that the economy is booming, even if their job got cut because of hot new technologies that made the job obsolete. It doesn't matter to most people if ten people got new jobs at the time they lost theirs. We each see things from our own little corner of reality. Another reason for the idea that the economy is bad is that certain areas of the economy only gain our notice when we're not happy with them. Gas prices for example are very much on the national radar. It's ironic actually that high gas prices stem to a certain extent from the economy doing well. Everyone wants to go someplace or ship something, driving up the price. Of all the possible reasons that some people still think we're on the verge of economic ruin , however, Instapundit has hit on one of the most plausible, striking me as pretty darned accurate anyway. While linking to the Investor's Business Daily article that I've cited here, he points out the New York Times take on the deficit being cut in half three years early:

MORE BAD NEWS FOR BUSH: "Aided by surging tax receipts, President Bush may make good on his pledge to cut the deficit in half in 2006 — three years early."

The New York Times headline: "Bush deficit reduction plan falls off-schedule."

Perspective is everything. For some people, no matter how good the news, it's all in how you spin it.

Update: James Glassman is also examining this trend of Americans' economic perspective not lining up with the facts, and drawing some interesting conclusions.

Iraqi Security

I don't have much time for reading right now. We have an excavator coming this week to start prepping the ground for our new play room (you know, the shop we're building.) I did catch this news tidbit this morning, though. It seems that there's a bit of momentum being gained in Iraq, coinciding with the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and a surprise visit to Baghdad by President Bush. The visit by the President was expected to last about five hours, and included a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to discuss future steps in achieving security for the country. Associated Press writer Kim Gamel writes today that Iraq's new prime minister is promising to show "no mercy" to terrorists:

Security officials said tens of thousands of Iraqi and multinational forces would deploy Wednesday throughout Baghdad, securing roads, launching raids against insurgent hideouts and calling in airstrikes if necessary.
It looks like the new Iraqi government is starting to get serious about securing the more dangerous areas in Baghdad, which is at the heart of ongoing terrorist activity. Gamel went on to say:

Iraqi security forces planned to deploy 75,000 Iraqi and multinational forces in Baghdad as part of al-Maliki's ambitious plan to crack down on security in the capital, a top Iraqi police official said.

Bush's visit came on the final day of a two-day work session aimed at keeping up the momentum generated by last week's swearing-in of key Iraqi national security officials, and the U.S. airstrike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Maj. Gen. Mahdi al-Gharrawi, the commander of public order forces under the Interior Ministry, said al-Maliki's plan includes securing roads in and out of Baghdad, banning personal weapons and implementing a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew.

Al-Gharrawi told The Associated Press that the plan to be launched at 6 a.m. Wednesday would be the biggest operation of its kind in Baghdad since the U.S. handed over sovereignty to Iraq in 2004.

Although the country is not there yet, Iraq continues to make strides toward a fully functioning society. With the new government in place, there are escalating efforts to establish safety for its citizens. The Iraqi government is also taking steps to clarify to citizens which of the forces operating in the city are actually government employees, rather than "sectarian death squads" believed to have infiltrated the legitimate police. Special uniforms and badges will distinguish the real deal from the impostors. It may seem like standard operating procedure to anyone growing up Averageville, Anystate, USA, but this country is just starting to operate in anything like an organized fashion. Checkpoints and raids of terrorist strongholds are also in the offing, something we don't generally see much of in Averageville. These are some important steps for the government to be taking, especially as they take more and more responsibility for their own security concerns.

Some of the intended raids will be carried out based on intelligence gathered from the "safe" house where Zarqawi met his end. Officials expect terrorist action in Iraq to increase substantially in the weeks to come, in revenge for the death of Zarqawi, and, in fact, it has increased already. The government, however, is taking action of its own, according to Gamel:

More than 200 raids have been carried out since al-Zarqawi's death June 7, some directly connected to what the U.S. military has described as a "treasure trove" of intelligence gleaned from his safehouse. U.S. troops killed seven insurgents in a raid Monday that also killed two children not far from the U.S. bombing raid that killed al-Zarqawi.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, also said a "high-value individual" with a $50,000 price on his head was detained. He did not name the suspect, but said he was picked up based on a tip.

That's good news. The more terrorists they capture, the more information they obtain, leading to the capture of more terrorists, which leads to more information. It's a bit like a perpetual motion machine, except that the intended goal is to stop all terrorist motion completely. Hopefully the momentum will continue to swing in the direction of increased security. It certainly looks like both the Iraqi and U.S. governments are making a concerted effort toward that end.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Yon Fights Back--And He's Asking For Help

Michael Yon is speaking out, and asking bloggers to spread the word about a battle he's fighting to preserve the integrity of a picture he took that has become a visible symbol of our soldiers and the work they are doing in Iraq. The photo has enormous emotional impact, and has appeared previously, with his permission, on the cover of Time Magazine. The picture, which is an image of an American soldier cradling a little Iraqi girl injured in a terrorist car bomb attack, was printed, without permission, on the cover of the first issue of a new magazine, called Shock. According to Michael, the magazine stole it, and then when he objected, they started stonewalling him, while the issue stayed on the shelves, despite his request that they stop selling the magazine with his photograph, and remove the image from their website. That in itself is reprehensible, but what has Michael the most upset, is that the publishers of the magazine used the image to paint our soldiers, and the work they are doing, in a negative light. That's something he would never agree to; he says the photo is sacred to him--and they timed it with Memorial Day, no less.

If you've read my blog, you know that I believe that Michael's is a crucial voice, which has given invaluable perspective on the conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He's asking people to sign on to an Internet list, letting the corporation responsible, HFM, know how many of us object to their theft, since Michael says they have already proven unfaithful in negotiations about this matter with him privately. Here is the link, where you can go to Michael Yon: Online Magazine to sign the list, and find other related information, including: a list of the magazines that HFM produces, the distributors that are continuing to sell the magazine (despite Michael's request that they stop), publisher contact numbers and email addresses, and links to pdf files containing his dispatches related to this story and the origins of the photo. I'll link those dispatches directly, in order of publication--Little Girl, Memorial Day, Dishonor, Actions Speak Louder.

Whether you agree with the war in Iraq, or not, it's important that Americans object to the defamation of our soldiers, even more so when it's done by theft. They are doing an extremely difficult job, with very little thanks. Michael Yon has given them the recognition that they deserve, and been a voice for them when much of the media only looks at each day's body count. At the very least, it's worth noting the publications this company is responsible for, and refraining from buying these magazines. Financial impact always seems to have the most power when dealing with any corporation, whether they're honest, or not.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bottled Water Without The Guilt

Here's an advancement in the world of environmentally-friendly modern convenience. My husband and I have been watching the Food Network tonight, and we just saw something really unexpected and cool. I bet you'll be surprised when I say it's bottled water. I remember when bottled water first came into vogue, and my husband and I used to laugh and mock the people who would spend a dollar for a bottle of something that you could get out of the tap for practically free. (Back when a bottle only cost a dollar.) Well, in the ensuing years we have discovered that sometimes there's a lot to be said for the convenience of just grabbing a bottle when we're heading out the door for a hike, and have to admit that bottled water usually tastes better than the stuff coming through the city water system. Still, all those bottles have weighed on our consciences all these years, and I cringe at the landfills I'm sure are overflowing with the plastic we've used and discarded. Well, now there's an alternative I hope catches on in a big way. Have you ever heard of biodegradable plastic? There's a company in Colorado called Biota that bottles water in plastic made from corn, plastic that holds its form indefinitely on store shelves, but when exposed to high heat, high moisture and micro-organisms can actually be composted in 80 days. It burns cleanly, too, producing no soot. I knew it was just a matter of time before alternatives to petroleum based plastics started showing up. It's nice to be right.

Electricians, Nanoparticles, And Dancing

We’ve had electricians buzzing around here for the last couple of days. They’ve been amazing. Because we’re building a garage this summer (also known as a power tool recreation area), we needed to beef up our electrical system. We had to reroute the power where it comes into the house, because if you do any upgrading the city likes you to commit to a total overhaul. We put in a new meter with a main circuit shutoff up at the front of the house (the old one was in the back, with open wires that looped all the way around the building—scary and messy), and then ran a giant cable through the attic to a new circuit panel in the basement. By putting in a bigger panel, we will have room to expand the service into the garage, thus providing power to lots of lovely tools. Power tools. My eyes are glowing even as I type this.

This electrical upgrade went so smoothly. It was fun watching the experts at work. We had already replaced the panel once ourselves, about fifteen years ago. (We obviously did not upgrade enough, or we wouldn’t have had to repeat the process.) At the time, poverty made us brave, so my husband did most of the work himself, with a little consulting from an electrician we were acquainted with back then. The projects then and the project now were night and day. Ours took days, and we had to deal with the power being down for long stretches, some trial and error, a lot of frustrations, some damage to other systems on the side (plaster specifically), and an adequate, but not outstanding result. Theirs flowed like a waltz, intricate and precise. They were so fast, and so competent, and the results are so clean and orderly. They didn’t waste any effort, or damage any other parts of the house. Everything was purposeful and directed toward a specific goal. There was nothing random about how they did their job, and it made them an object lesson in efficiency. Our power was off for a sum total of two hours. Two hours--that’s efficiency for you.

So anyway, I started reading this article that I couldn’t help relating to the difference between our electrical fumblings and the productivity of the experts that we’ve witnessed over the last couple of days. It’s on a completely different subject, medical nanotech applications, but the lessons of efficiency hold, and the comparison to an intricate dance. In a report titled “Magnetic Field Acts as 'Remote Control' to Deliver Nanomedicine", reports on advances in efficiency in the fight against cancer (with potential applications for neurological and cardiac diseases as well), being developed at the University of Buffalo. It looks at nanoparticles as a delivery method for cancer fighting medicine, but with some interesting twists. As with any complicated dance, there are several steps involved.

The first is the development of the cancer treatment, in this case, photodynamic therapy. According to, Paras Prasad, Ph.D., is the executive director of UB's Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry in the UB College of Arts and Sciences:

According to Prasad, photodynamic therapy is one of the most promising treatments for cancer; it's also being investigated as a treatment method for cardiovascular, dermatological and ophthalmic diseases.

PDT exploits the propensity of tumors to retain higher concentrations of photosensitive drugs than normal tissues. When exposed to laser light, these drugs generate toxic molecules that destroy the cancer cells.

Interesting, huh? The drug makes toxins when lasered, and tumors hold onto the drug more than normal tissue, so the toxins get concentrated in the tumors when the laser is applied, thus sparing the normal tissue to a certain degree. Cool. The photosensitive drug is not totally limited to the cancerous tissue, though, which does result in some side effects, the main one being that the patient has a strong sensitivity to light for four to six weeks after treatment, from the drug accumulating in the skin. The article doesn't go into how that manifests, but I would assume we're at least talking about a high risk of sunburn. No doubt there is damage to non-cancerous tissue from the toxins released by the photosensitive drugs when the skin, and probably the eyes, are exposed to light. Finding a way to keep the drug from wandering to parts hither and yon would be a good thing.

This leads to steps two and three in the medical dance. Two is how to get the drug to the tumor in very small quantities, just sufficient to damage the cancer and not the surrounding tissue. Three is how to get the drug to head for and stay in the target area, and not wander off into healthy tissue, so the side effects can be minimal. Step two uses our old friends, nanoparticles. For this application the University of Buffalo team created nanocarriers, developed from polymer micelles (whatever they are), tiny receptacles designed to carry the medicine, and hold onto it well during transport. Step three is where the twist comes in. They added iron oxide nanoparticles inside the nanocarriers. So what, you say? This is where it gets neat. They discovered that if they apply a magnetic field to these iron oxide enhanced nanocarriers, they can direct them where they want them to go:

In the experiments, nanocarriers were shown to be efficiently taken up by cultured tumor cells in the area exposed to the magnetic field, as demonstrated by confocal microscopy.

While the team has demonstrated this concept with PDT drugs, Prasad said the technique would be useful in delivering gene therapy, chemotherapy or practically any kind of pharmaceutical treatment into cells.

"Because the nanocarriers proved to be significantly stable and because they retained the PDT drugs, we are optimistic that they will be able to deliver a wide range of therapies to tumors or other disease sites in the body without any significant loss in the circulatory system or in normal tissues," said Prasad.

They now move on to step four in this medical Waltz--in vivo testing, which is a fancy way of saying they're going live. Preliminary studies in animals indicate that the magnetic fields work in the body the same way as in the test tube, with the magnetic fields causing the medicine to accumulate at the tumor site. That's way exciting if you ask me. I've seen people suffering the effects of chemotherapy before, and it's really incredibly hard what some cancer patients go through. The more they develop ways to limit the effects of various drugs to just the targeted tissue, the better. Advances like these are such a blessing to the people who are already dealing with the trauma of life-threatening illness, and the pain and exhaustion that come with them. What a great thing for doctors to be able to limit the trauma of the treatment itself.

I just find it amazing all the things that science is discovering as they build more and more on existing knowledge. The dance gets more intricate and the dancers get more adept. The treatment they're developing at UB is so like the work that our electricians did this week, efficient, precise, and clean, without wasted effort, or damage to other systems. They're combining the knowledge of photodynamic drug therapy, nanoparticles, and magnetic field theory, and making the whole system work. There's more work to be done, I grant you, and it's not a two day job, like our electricians pulled off, but considering what they're doing, I think they deserve a little more time--at least a couple weeks.

Zarqawi Is Dead

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the operational commander of terrorist forces in Iraq, and the man called Osama Bin Laden's "Prince", is dead at the hands of the US military. This is a good thing in so many ways, especially for the new Iraqi government and the state of mind of the Iraqi people, who have suffered a lot at his hand. I don't have time to digest and synthesize a lot of information right now, so I'll just send you to some of the pundits who are all over this development. National Review Online has President Bush's statement from the Rose Garden this morning. Michelle Malkin has a rather celebratory roundup of info and links, including some not-so-pretty pictures. The Mudville Gazette has a link to Centcom video. Instapundit, of course, can get you anywhere else you need to go, including links to various Iraqi bloggers, starting with Iraq the Model. Finally, There are traffic problems at Michael Yon's site, so I haven't read it yet, but I get an email alert when he's posted something new, so I know that he's got a piece on Zarqawi's death. He's always worth reading for perspective.

Update: Michael Totten has a roundup of reactions to the news. It's an interesting mix. (Warning--some of the language is rather colorful.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Organic Wal-Mart

Would the organic food industry lose its raison d’etre if buying organic became just about eating healthy, rather than social consciousness? James H. Joyner, Jr. raises that question at TCS Daily. Right now there's the perception if we buy organic food that not only are we doing something good for our bodies, by avoiding pesticides and preservatives, but we are helping protect the environment, supporting sustainable/environmentally responsible local farmers, and in some cases encouraging the humane treatment of animals. They all go together in a sort of do-gooder package--IF we can afford it. All this social consciousness comes at a rather steep price, and not many people make the decision that organic is worth the expense. Not many can.

What if the cost for organic wasn't so high, but the grand benefit total wasn't either? What if there were an alternative that made the food healthy, but still kept the cows that provide our beef in less-than-idyllic conditions? What if instead of supporting small, local farms, buying organic meant supporting giant companies that shipped the food over vast distances quickly, using lots of petroleum in the process? What if this organic bastardization came from the anti-Christ of the socially responsible--Wal-Mart? According to Joyner, "The retail giant has announced plans to stock a wide variety of organics in its stores later this year with prices only ten percent higher than for similar non-organic items it now carries." It will do so by focusing on the pesticide and preservative-free portion of the organic equation, without adding the expense of all the other layers of "the organic movement". This is raising an outcry from some who think that the health benefits of organic food cannot be separated from the socially responsible side of things, regardless of the cost. Joyner quotes University of California at Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan who says, "To index the price of organic to the price of conventional is to give up, right from the start, on the idea, once enshrined in the organic movement, that food should be priced not high or low but responsibly."

However, Joyner points out that most people simply can't afford to be motivated by the social consciousness more than the cost:

Remember, now, at the moment most people simply cannot afford "organic" food. They're consuming food that's been sprayed with pesticides and prepared with preservatives to give it a long shelf life. And whatever cost to the environment that comes from these practices is already being borne. So, we're comparing an ideal -- growing foods that yield some health gains to the consumer in addition to various environmental benefits -- that does not presently exist at anything but a niche level because of cost against a proposed reality where the health gains are made possible for the masses but without the ancillary environmental gain.
That sums it up in a nutshell to me. It seems unreasonable that there not be middle ground for those who do not have the luxury of surplus income, or the desire to promote a particular social agenda in their grocery shopping, at the cost of other things they consider more valuable. I for one will be glad to see Wal-Mart offer healthier food alternatives at a reasonable price. I have often lamented the cost of organic foods, and how I can't reasonably make the choice to invest my money so heavily into my grocery basket. It would be nice to see sustainable farming, and happy cows too, but people can't always prioritize according to what would be nice. Joyner takes the pragmatic approach:

The perfect should not be allowed to become the enemy of the good. In an ideal world, local farmers would produce delicious foods grown without any harm to the environment at prices we could all afford while simultaneously making an excellent living. The livestock would all live happy lives, singing their little animal songs, dying a natural death and yet remaining tender and tasty. We would then get together and cook them over our campfires which produce no smoke, sing our little campsongs, and eat our meals in perfect harmony.

That world, unfortunately, does not exist.

We could take the tack that says that the organic approach must be holistic, all or nothing. That would entail a world view that might ultimately come round to this way of thinking: "Its probably a good thing that people without the proper perspective aren't eating organic. We simply can’t have people eating healthy who aren’t going to be socially conscious. Those are the people who should die young and leave the world to people who have the right attitude--and to the happy cows." I doubt any but the most hardened "people are the scourge of the earth" crowd would go there, though. Most would probably see the good in people eating healthier food, even if the solution isn't perfect, and even if it does come from Wal-Mart.

Of course, there are some who will raise a fuss, and thus we have Joyner's article. I hope that they can see the benefit eventually, though. The less expensive organic food becomes, the more people will buy it. The more people buy it, the more profitable it is to produce; so production goes up, which brings the price down. The more popular organic food becomes, the more people will see it as worth a little extra cost, and some who buy it for health might see their way to add just a little more money to see that it is grown responsibly. It could work out fostering both aims in the end.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Yon On Haditha

Michael Yon on Haditha, military transparency, and the media. It's long, but read the whole thing. Trust me.

Benefiting Seniors

I just finished reading a short article at The Weekly Standard, by Gary Andres, about how the new Medicare prescription drug program is going. It's actually looking pretty good, with seniors who were once frustrated at the confusing process of choosing from the myriad of plans now settling in and feeling comfortable with their choices. Andres says that 90 percent of eligible seniors now have prescription drug benefits, and are responding very favorably in opinion polls as to their satisfaction with their coverage. What's more, it's becoming clear that the program is actually going to cost the government considerably less than first predicted, due to private sector involvement and market competition.

Andres focuses on the fact that this good news could help the GOP politically, since it was Republicans who pushed the coverage through, despite objections from both the left and the right. (Libs thought it didn't do enough. Cons thought we didn't need another costly entitlement.) Most Americans think there should be some kind of coverage, so Republicans probably won't lose any political points on this one, especially since it's off to a good start.

That concerns me less than the benefit this is to people I know and love. My mom, for example, has been telling me some of the good results she's had from the program lately, with unexpected prescriptions not creating a burden for her financially. She, like so many others, was somewhat frustrated with the choices involved at the plan's inception, but it's looking like a blessing now. I'm not very fond of entitlement programs, particularly when they push individual social responsibilities off onto government. However, if this continues to be a good thing for seniors, especially if the cost continues to fall under expectations, I'd say this may work out all right. If we're making the decision as a society to value our older citizens, and provide the medication that will keep them with us longer, that's a good indication that, at least in some areas, our values aren't totally off base. I don't care politically whether that benefits the Republicans, the Democrats, or the Friends of Green Leafy Vegetables Party, as long as it benefits our moms.

Update: I felt the need to clarify, because of a comment I received. The comment was in essence that the elderly and young should be guaranteed the necessities of life. I sympathize with the sentiment, but can't agree with it in practicality. People ought to provide for themselves wherever possible. I don't believe that anyone should fail to prepare for their own retirement, and expect other people to foot the bill when they get older, which (human nature being what it is) I fear would be the result of a social assurance that all ones needs would be met at a certain age. That concept would foster irresponsibility on the part of the young, and a selfish perspective, only focused on the now, leading to short-sighted decision making. Further, because most would never save for the future, they would have nothing left to share with others who have less than they do, thus depriving them of the benefit that comes from being a blessing to others instead of a burden.

It is not always possible for well-meaning people to prepare adequately for retirement. Life is full of uncertainties. In an ideal world, everyone would earn their way, and have an abundance to give to others. The world is not ideal, however, and there are true needs that we face as a society. My point in the post was that, as entitlement programs go, this one could end up being less troubling than originally expected, and that it is a good thing that we are showing value for our parents--as long as we can do it without stealing from our children at the same time, by contracting them to pay for programs that are financially unsound and provide insufficient benefit to the elderly they are intended to aid. The prescription drug program looks like the benefit might balance the cost (largely due to private sector involvement and the forces of competition in the market), which makes it much more worthy than many government endeavors. As long as it continues in that direction, it's a noble effort that might fulfill its promise.

Another Psychiatric Breakthrough

Okay, maybe I'm missing something, but this seems absolutely ridiculous, and typical of the way our society approaches behavior issues. It seems there's an official psychiatric name for losing your temper and throwing a fit. It's called "intermittent explosive disorder", and (how's this for a waste of study funding) "a new study suggests it is far more common than they realized, affecting up to 16 million Americans." Wow, it took a scientific study to discover that 16 million Americans are prone to temper tantrums. An Associated Press article by Lindsey Tanner at delves into the particulars, and comes up with some real gems. Road rage, broken objects and spousal abuse can all be blamed on this "disorder", although, according to the article not always. Sometimes, apparently, it's just a bad temper that breaks things and abuses people. Parents of teenagers won't be shocked to hear that this condition often first shows up in adolescence, age 14 on average. Most of us also won't be surprised to learn it's pretty common:

About 5 percent to 7 percent of the nationally representative sample had had the disorder, which would equal up to 16 million Americans. That is higher than better-known mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Coccaro said.

The average number of lifetime attacks per person was 43, resulting in $1,359 in property damage per person. About 4 percent had suffered recent attacks.

Too funny. Losing your temper is now called "suffering an attack". I thought it was committing an attack. The article goes on to describe reasons and treatment options, as explained by study co-author Dr. Emil Coccaro:

Coccaro said the disorder involves inadequate production or functioning of serotonin, a mood-regulating and behavior-inhibiting brain chemical. Treatment with antidepressants, including those that target serotonin receptors in the brain, is often helpful, along with behavior therapy akin to anger management, Coccaro said.

Most sufferers in the study had other emotional disorders or drug or alcohol problems and had gotten treatment for them, but only 28 percent had ever received treatment for anger.

"This is a well-designed, large-scale, face-to-face study with interesting and useful results,'' said Dr. David Fassler, a psychiatry professor at the University of Vermont. The findings also confirm that for most people, the difficulties associated with the disorder begin during childhood or adolescence, and they often have a profound and ongoing impact on the person's life.''

Here we go. According to Coccaro, the problem is chemical imbalance (I'm guessing he's not overly fond of the word sin), so the answer is two-fold--the ubiquitous anti-depressant steps forward, as does (here's my favorite part) anger management therapy. The doctor says that the disorder begins in childhood or adolescence and-- hold onto your hat--often has a profound impact on a person's life! Translation from a layman's point of view: The kid was never taught self-control, and now it's a problem. The anger management classes are going to try to remedy the lack of proper childhood instruction and failure to nip the temper tantrums in the bud. This was an incredible waste of research dollars that could have been spent on something useful, instead of giving people another excuse for bad behavior. "I couldn't help smashing your car with a sledgehammer. I have a disorder." I'm not saying that there's no possibility of any physical reason for some people to have temper issues, but come on, seven percent of the population has "intermittent explosive disorder"? Psychobabble.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Here's a useful tool for anybody wanting to keep tabs on Congress, and its Legislators. Its called Thomas, named after Thomas Jefferson, and is the Library of Congress system, instituted in 1995, for making legislative information freely available to the public. If you go there, you can find, among other things, the texts of Bills and Resolutions, their current status, who sponsors them, and who votes for them. You can also find information on the status of Presidential nominations and treaties, and read committee reports from both the House and Senate. I don't expect I'll be reading a lot of committee reports, or treaty information (most of the language is lawyerese), although you never know, but I think I'll probably be checking in from time to time to see how my representatives in Congress are voting on important issues. It could come in handy to have a one stop shopping center for Congressional info.

More Bang For The Poverty-Fighting Buck

Arnold Kling has some interesting ideas about poverty , charity, and government. (Warning: This article contains arguments with libertarian tendencies. The management takes no responsibility for how this will affect you. Read at your own risk.) He examines briefly the roots of poverty (worthy of a discussion in itself), and offers some speculation about what would happen if the 20% of our population with the most money (let's call it the oppressor class, just for fun) was stripped of its possessions and shipped to a deserted land mass, leaving the country and its riches to the rest of us. Which group would be better off in twenty years? An interesting question. He later turns his attention to the effectiveness of government as a remedy to poverty, looking at programs that have succeeded and failed in their stated goals. He makes the case that government should focus its efforts and spending where its programs have proven effective, and leave those areas where its efforts have fallen short to charitable organizations. He proposes some changes to our tax code, to promote a shift of dollars from government programs to charities. I could summarize the article further for you, but then you probably wouldn't read it. I'd really like you to go have a look at it, and then come back and tell me what you think of his ideas. Anybody game?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Old Cures For New Times

It started as a little tickle in the throat, with just the occasional sneeze, or two. It built gradually to an irritating cough that burned her throat each time another spasm took hold. Then the fever kicked in, and the chills, and the Earth's gravity turned up about three notches. Everything felt so heavy she thought she had better go to bed and stay there. The next morning after a restless sleep, she knew that she was really sick, get to the doctor now sick, so she called her MD's office, only to find that they couldn't fit her in. It seemed everyone else in town had come down with this bug too. The receptionist told her not to bother going to the emergency room either. They'd be full up as well, and worse, full of people who were probably sicker than she was. She asked if they could phone in a prescription to her pharmacy, an antibiotic to knock the infection down to size. The receptionist replied that she'd have the nurse phone some time that day.

During an interminable wait, she got sicker and sicker, which surprised her, because she didn't think that was possible. She turned on the TV, hoping to give herself some mental relief, distract herself from her misery. Flipping from channel to channel, she finally settled on a news station, figuring she might as well get caught up with what was going on in the world. What she saw shocked and scared her. They were talking about this bug she had caught as if it were a real news story. Half the country had come down with it, and it was still spreading. Worse, it wasn't responding to treatment. People were dying. None of the antibiotics that should have been working were having any effect. None. Whatever new mutation had brought this thing into being had made it completely immune to the defenses of man. All those years of over-prescribed antibiotics, all that pill popping, "just in case," had finally caught up with medical industry. So few new antibiotics had come out in the last few years, and most of them were simply modifications on the old formulas. They had no way to stop this thing.

Okay, melodrama over. My husband has a work emergency tonight, so I have extra time on my hands. I was just setting you up for the question: Do we have any defenses against antibiotic-resistant bacteria? It's true that very few new antibiotics are finding their way to market. The expense of R&D, coupled with a truckload of regulations are making real breakthroughs more and more rare. Bacteria are getting more resistant, too. Between half-finished prescriptions (stopped when the patient feels better, and not when the infection is really dead), antibiotics prescribed at a patient's insistence (rather than actual need), and disinfectants that kill "most" of the germs they target, what we are doing is making sure the strong survive. The bacteria that come away from the battle with our modern miracles alive, do so because they had some bit of resistance the other bugs didn't, resistance that they pass on to their offspring, who pass it on to the next generation, and so on, until what used to be an easy illness to beat, when antibiotics were the new miracle on the block, is defying treatment and demanding new approaches.

Well, sort of new approaches. Actually, one of them isn't new at all, but has been around at least as long as antibiotics. Daria Vaisman writes at about bacteriophages. What are they? According to Vaisman, they are bugs that eat bugs, and were themselves hailed as a breakthrough until antibiotics took some of the effort out of fighting bacteria:

Bacteriophages are viruses found virtually everywhere—from soil to seawater to your intestines—that kill specific, infection-causing bacteria. In the United States, the drug company Eli Lilly marketed phages for abscesses and respiratory infections. (Sinclair Lewis' Pulitzer-winning Arrowsmith is about a doctor who uses phages to prevent a diphtheria epidemic.) But by the 1940s, American scientists stopped working with phages for treatment because they no longer had reason to. Penicillin, discovered by the Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming in 1928, had become widely available thanks to synthetic production and zapped infections without the expertise needed for finicky phages.
American doctors shouldn't have given up on phages altogether. They are flexible little guys. Apparently, just as bacteria mutate, so can the phages. It takes expertise to lead them in the right direction, but Vaisman says that with that expertise, new batches of phages can be grown to meet the challenge of keeping up with the changing bacteria. A sort of "if you build them, they will eat" scenario. Just as scientists come up with a new flu vaccine each year, to meet the demands of mutating flu viruses, new phages can be developed quickly, unlike antibiotics, which take many years, and many millions of dollars to produce.

As the article in Slate continues, Vaisman discusses the work being done at "...Eliava phage research institute, which Stalin helped set up in Tbilisi in 1923, the treatment center offers personalized cures for a host of infections the United States says it can no longer do anything about." You read it right; after antibiotics were all the rage here in the west, phages were still a cheaper alternative, and continued to be used in the former Soviet Union. (Wow, something Stalin did that has endured in a positive way. Who'da thunk it?) Work on phages is still going on there:
The word phage comes from the Greek "to eat." A phage contains genetic material that gets injected into a virus's host. Whereas "bad" viruses infect healthy cells, phages target specific bacteria that then explode. At Eliava, phages are produced as a liquid that can be drunk or injected intravenously, as pills, or as phage-containing patches for wounds. Though few published articles in Western journals report positive clinical trials—most of the recent long-term research on phages comes out of the Soviet Union—some Western scientists say that phages are safe and that they work.
Vaisman says that the treatment center in the former Soviet Georgia takes on cases of infection on which western doctors have given up. She points out that phages were repeatedly shown to be effective at stopping infection in Soviet clinical trials. Georgia has gone into the "medical tourist" business, gaining patients from western countries, where such treatments are less available:

So, why do American patients need to go to all the way to Georgia for treatment? For starters, in their natural state phages are hard to patent, the route by which drug companies lock up future profits. The first company to spend millions of dollars to prove that a particular phage is safe could allow its competitors to capitalize on the results. As important is the difficulty of regulation. There are two ways that phages are currently used in the former Soviet Union, and both pose problems from the point of view of the Food and Drug Administration. At the Tbilisi phage center, phages are personalized: You send your bacterial sample to the lab, and it's either matched up with an existing phage or a phage is cultured just for you. In the United States, by contrast, drugs are mass produced, which makes it easier for the FDA to regulate them.

Phages are also sold over-the-counter in Georgia. People take the popular mixture biobacteriophage, for example, to fight off common infections including staph and strep. These phage mixtures are updated regularly so they can attack newly emerging bacterial strains. In the United States, the FDA would want the phages in each new concoction to be gene sequenced, because regulations require every component of a drug to be identified. To do so would entail prohibitively expensive and lengthy clinical trials.

Leave it to regulation to be a blessing and a curse. Regulations do protect us. Vaisman reports that early bacteriophages killed more people than they cured. The sources for the phages were dirty water. For example, the first phage found came from the Ganges river. There are other dangers, too, for those who don't know what they're doing. Regulations do protect us to a degree from some of the risks inherent to medical research. However, there's the flip side of regulation as well, the side that makes everything prohibitavely expensive, and take a lot of time--the side that makes it impossible to put out a phage cocktail, because the FDA would require gene sequencing that would possibly make the phage obsolete before it came out of clinical trials.

There are workarounds for some of the FDA issues, and there are companies venturing into this arena here in the States, looking to find ways to make phage production a viable alternative to antibiotics. There are agricultural applications as well, that don't have the FDA restrictions. However, options for the widespread use of phages to fight infection here at home, especially as over the counter remedies, are pretty dim at this point. Georgia may be the best option for a while, so that "medical tourism" thing could really take off, for patients wealthy enough to travel the globe in search of a cure for what ails them. On the other hand, I'm betting that if we did see some major outbreak of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, phages would start looking a lot more feasible in a hurry. Regulations serve their purpose, but if any serious percentage of the population became ill with something our doctors couldn't fight, those regulations would become a whole lot less attractive, even to the regulators, especially if they have children. It's comforting to know that there are other options out there, even if the world would have to look like a made-for-TV disaster movie before they were given the nod. I simply have to believe that even bureaucrats aren't so dense as to watch the country die of some horrible disease because they didn't have gene sequencing data available on the cure yet. The Pollyanna in me insists on having hope.

Just so you know. The girl in our story which introduced us to this topic is fine. She recovered after a couple of weeks in bed, and got a big raise when she went back to work, because her bosses discovered they couldn't get along without her. She also finally made it into her doctor's office, and when she filled out her prescription for a cough suppressant, she met a wonderful young pharmacist who asked her out to dinner. They had a lovely time. (Since I made it up, I get to make it a happy ending. The Pollyanna in me likes a happy ending. My husband says I'm going through a phage.)

Note: If you're interested in the topic of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the obstacles to developing new drugs, here's an article at TCS Daily by Dr. Henry Miller. It's not particularly cheerful, but it's informative.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Stuck On Stupid, Revisited, Revisited

Tuesday, I linked to a media gaffe Down Under. Today, Michelle Malkin at Hot Air has video, and a little video homage to the time-honored tradition of staging the news.

Update: On a more serious note, here's an example of media irresponsibility that could dramatically affect some soldiers' lives. There are allegations of some soldiers killing women and children in Haditha, Iraq, in retaliation for an IED attack which killed one Marine and injured another. It's pretty clear civilians were killed, but there is a big question as to why, and no question at all that the terrorists in Iraq use women and children to do some of their dirty work for them. These charges are being thoroughly investigated, and will, of course, be dealt with according to the law. (You'll remember Abu Ghraib. Although the media doesn't like to point out that justice was done, the guilty parties are now serving prison terms.) From what I've read in the blogosphere thus far on what happened, especially the military blogs, I tend to think the Marines are going to be exonerated, but regardless of whether they are or aren't, much of the media is handling this very badly.

Follow the link above to where The Mudville Gazette analyzes this headline to the story at a CBS affiliate in Denver-- Investigators: Unprovoked Marines Killed Civilians. Wow. Killed and injured Marines don't count as provocation? The Gazette tracks down the source of that headline, and it isn't "Investigators". Not to judge the media as a whole too harshly, but it seems that there is an attempt by some in that profession to try this case in the court of public opinion, prejudicing investigators, the country, and possibly the courts against them, before an ongoing investigation is even complete. Whether this is simply to sell papers and TV commercials, or part of an attempt to further the agenda of showing that the U.S. military is a criminal organization, I don't know, but if these soldiers are innocent, they will spend their lives carrying the added burden that comes from a part of the populace believing they are murderers, simply because the media said so. If you ask me, that's criminal.

HT: Instapundit

Update II: There's a really valuable perspective on the Haditha story, by 1st Lieutenant Jeffrey Barnett, at Michael Yon's Frontline Forum. This forum is a place soldiers in the field can express their views; and a soldier's point of view is something we civilians should all be giving lots of consideration when we are discussing military matters. They're the ones who can speak from experience.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Another funny, but sad, moment. This time it's Greenpeace that's not looking very shiny.

HT: Instapundit, again

A Good Idea Out Of Washington, Shocking But True

Probably very few people in America aren't aware of the huge issue border control and illegal immigration have become in recent months. The ripples continue to spread from this giant stone that has been dropped in the waters of American politics. John Fund, writing at The Wall Street Journal editorial page, looks at how the questions involved will affect the upcoming election, how the illegal immigration issue is conflicting the GOP, as well as how Congress will resolve the impasse between the two pieces of legislation coming out of the House and Senate that take disparate approaches to facing the problems at hand.

All of this is important stuff, and the opinion piece from Fund kept me reading. However, what really got my notice was when Fund explained an idea coming from Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, that I think is quite brilliant. The House has passed an enforcement only bill, focused on securing the border. The Senate passed a bill that deals with securing the border to a degree, but also adds a guest worker proposal that is basically the equivalent of amnesty for the people who have come into the country illegally, but managed to get away with it for long enough to establish lives here. (I don't think a guest worker program is by nature an amnesty, but the way the Senate wrote it there's very little else you can call it.) The House has made it clear they are going to dig in their heels, as is the Senate, which could lead to a no-resolution situation, and both pieces of legislation dying on the vine. The result? No action on the issue of border control, or on what to do about the illegals already here.

Along comes Rep. Pence's idea:

His proposal (which can be found here) would have the U.S. government contract with gold-standard private employment agencies such as Kelly Services to establish offices called Ellis Island Centers in countries that supply the most illegal alien labor today. The centers would provide an incentive for illegals to leave the country and apply for guest-worker visas in the U.S. that would be granted within a week by matching workers with jobs employers can't fill with American workers. They would also make criminal and other background checks. Guest workers would be able to apply for citizenship, but they would have to follow current rules with no favoritism over those now waiting legally in line.

"It would encourage illegal aliens to self-deport and come back legally as guest workers," says Mr. Pence. "They would benefit from no longer living in fear or in the shadows of life and they could return home for visits. And since employers who hired anyone without such a visa would face stiff fines, it would make it increasingly difficult over time for those who weren't legal guest workers to get jobs."

I don't know where this will end up heading, but it's such a good idea, having at its core what is most necessary in this situation: incentive to cooperate for the people who are currently hiding in the shadows of our country. Mass deportations simply aren't practical, and yet there are so many reasonable arguments for not just handing legal status to people who have broken our laws, no matter how strong their incentive to do so, that we simply must have this kind of creative thinking coming out of Washington. Setting these centers up in the countries where most illegal immigrants originate provides an incentive to leave the country voluntarily, since without doing so they can't register for legal jobs, and eventually become eligible for citizenship. One of my favorite things about this idea is that it uses private sector companies to run these remote employment agencies, not a huge government bureaucracy.

I was so taken with this notion, that I actually wrote Rep. Pence's office to say thanks, and he's not even my Congressman. He's not even from my state!! There are politicians on both extremes of the illegal immigration/border debate who are voicing objection, for all of their various reasons, but I was encouraged to see some creative middle ground. Here's where you can contact him if you agree that this kind of thinking should be encouraged.

HT: Instapundit

Update: I got a request in the comments to save my readers some time and tell them how they can get in touch with their own Representatives. Your wish is my command. However, since I don't know where everyone who reads this site lives, I've linked to some general contact sites for the House and Senate, and you can select your Rep. from a list. Okay? Here's a link to the House of Representatives, where you can write your Congressperson. Here's a link to follow to contact your Senators.

Droids In Space

Since most of the people reading this blog are my friends, I know there are a few Star Wars fans out there. This one's for you. NASA has some new toys.

June 1, 2006: Six years ago, MIT engineering Professor David Miller showed the movie Star Wars to his students on their first day of class. There's a scene Miller is particularly fond of, the one where Luke Skywalker spars with a floating battle droid. Miller stood up and pointed: "I want you to build me some of those."

So they did. With support from the Department of Defense and NASA, Miller's undergraduates built five working droids. And now, one of them is onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

"It only looks like a battle droid," laughs Miller. It's actually a tiny satellite—the first of three NASA plans to send to the ISS. Together, they'll navigate the corridors of the space station, learning how to fly in formation.

The idea is to work with the little robots, and refine ways to coordinate their movements. There's only one of them up in the space station now, but the plan is to add two more, and then get them to start working in tandem. Tiny satellites are the wave of the future. They can easily hitch a ride with other payloads, which makes them cheap to transport, and a string of them could replace a larger satellite in orbit. So, instead of one big satellite circling the Earth (or whatever other planet we might be wanting them to circle) and sending back readings from one location at a time, you would have a network of them, covering more territory with more flexibility. If one gets damaged, the others will shift to compensate, coordinating among themselves.

The getting them to coordinate part is where the space station experiments will come in. It's easier said than done. There's an awful lot of complicated calculations and mechanics to get worked out before the little droids will be able get it all together. The hope is that, when they do, the things that scientists have learned in the process will also help with other complicated space activities, like joining large sections of a space ship.
Possible applications include NASA's return to the Moon (see the Vision for Space Exploration). One way to build a moonship is to assemble it piece by piece in Earth orbit. "Software designed to control small satellites could just as well be used to maneuver the pieces of a spaceship together," says Miller.
So, the applications of science fiction to the real world continue to expand. The science keeps progressing, and the fiction keeps just a jump or two ahead. It's awfully cool to see the movie images that so captivated us in our youth inspiring actual scientific advancement, and coming to life out in space. May the trend continue--with one caveat. I hope they never build a Death Star.