October 6, 2009
The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Charles Kao, Willard Boyle and George Smith. Kao calculated how to transmit light over long distances via optical glass fibers, leading to today’s fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of most data networks. Boyle and Smith invented the first successful imaging technology using a digital sensor, a CCD (Charge-Coupled Device). The CCD converts light into electronic data, e.g., as the electronic eye of the digital camera, enabling conversion of the light signal sent through the fiber-optic cable.
October 5, 2009
On Friday I wrote about the bleak unemployment numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the weekend, I heard some talking heads presenting a more optimistic economic picture (e.g., Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday). The preponderance of true expert opinion I heard over the weekend via internet streaming was much more gloomy than I bargained for. Because you probably wont have an opportunity to hear a detailed analysis of the numbers, I decided to provide links to audio streams that will do so.
The Korelin Economics Report is a weekly radio and internet webcast with a libertarian perspective with a distinct focus on precious metals. That said, Al Korelin, the host, interviewed former Labor Dept chief economist under George W. Bush, Diana Fuchgott-Roth for this past weekends program. Furchgott-Roth is a Stanford-trained labor economist who is a wholly mainstream conservative now working for the Hudson Institute in Washington. John Walter Williams is an economist and labor statistics guru. I recommend listening to them in this order: Furchgott-Roth, Williams segment 1, Williams segment 2 (you can stop around half-way through Williams / segment 2 when Korelin and Williams discuss whether gold is a good investment).
A main point both analysts make is that the most comprehensive unemployment number (U-6) now has a seasonally adjusted rate of 17.0%. Here is the definition of U-6 taken from Table A-12 of the BLS Household Data:
U-6 Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.
17.0% comes to about 1 in 6 as a truer measure of unemployment or underemployment. As Furchgott-Roth notes, it is most unfortunate that policy makers in Washington are not focused on doing those things that will create jobs, so the potential for a rapid improvement in economic activity and employment is not great.
In the final segment, Williams discusses the fact that the new report indicates BLS has greatly underestimated the decline in payroll numbers by 824,000. (BLS News Release, USDL-09-1180, p. 5.) This prompted Williams to conclude that in May (approx.) with this revision included the U.S. reached the steepest decline in payroll employment since the Great Depression.
October 5, 2009
Read this story of a poor young woman, just 26 years old, who was depressed about not being able to have a child. Shes now dead, thanks to her Living Will which forbade emergency medical treatment to save her life after she swallowed antifreeze.
Whether the doctors were actually forbidden from saving her life or not, I dont know mightnt her depression have impacted her competency to refuse live-saving treatment? — but they believed they were and the result is now irrevocable.
The story calls this the first case of a Living Will used to commit suicide. How can we know this? Perhaps its only the first obvious case.
The point here: these are powerful legal documents, and Congress is poised to create a government-run health care system which will pay doctors to encourage patients to execute them. Think of the perils. People who are sick or in pain are inherently vulnerable. They are also often depressed. It would not take much to persuade them to sign away their right to future care. Remember, the Hemlock Society drafted this section of the heatlh care bill. I wonder what they think of the death of poor Kerrie Woolterton.
October 5, 2009
Awarded today to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak, for their discovery of telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. Human chromosomes are long linear strands of DNA, which present problems regarding degradation from the ends. Telomeres are special sequences of DNA at the ends of the strands which protect the DNA from degradation and aging of the cell. The enzyme telomerase rebuilds these sequences at the ends of the chromosomes, thereby maintaining a cell’s viability. Cells that lose their telomerase activity show decreased growth, e.g., bone marrow stem cells in aplastic anemia, while cells with high levels of telomerase grow rapidly, e.g., cancer cells and embryonic stem cells.
October 2, 2009
Does the Director of the National Institutes of Health not know the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells? Or is he just biased?
In an interview with the New England Journal of Medicine, Francis Collins talks about the number of “stem cell” clinical trials:
Steinbrook: What will the results of stem-cell research mean for human health?
Collins: My crystal ball is just as cloudy as everyone elses. However, the developments in understanding stem cells and how they could potentially be brought to bear for a whole host of medical problems are some of the more exciting things that have happened in the last decade. In terms of therapeutics, we are just so early on. The one clinical trial approved by the Food and Drug Administration - for spinal cord injury - is currently on hold.
What?!? The “one clinical trial” Collins refers to is the one embryonic stem cell experiment with patients that is out there. And it is indeed on hold.
But there are at least 2,000 clinical trials for Adult Stem Cells (this search term doesn’t capture them all).
By the way, there are quite a few done on the NIH campus itself.
Remember, it’s the National Institutes of Health…
October 2, 2009
Speaking of clinical trials, in case you missed it the FDA has put another hold on Geron’s proposed experiments to put embryonic stem cells into human spinal cord injury patients. Geron’s human experiment was approved back in January 2009, and they were supposed to start experiments with patients in July.
As an aside, one excuse offered by Geron as to why the trial had not yet started was car airbags… apparently the airbags in accidents are keeping patients from getting severe spinal cord damage to qualify for the trial.
Many have expressed concern about the risky nature of Geron’s experiments with patients, including some embryonic stem cell researchers. Evan Snyder, a leader in the stem cell field, has noted that “A clinical trial is nothing more than an experiment on a human,” he says. “Most experiments fail.” And James Wilson, gene therapy researcher, warns stem cell scientists not to repeat the mistakes of his own field, including rushing into unsafe clinical trials.
The FDA hold is likely due to further safety concerns with embryonic stem cells. That would seem to be the only grounds for a hold based on federal regulations under CFR sec. 312.42. Geron claims that no teratomas have been observed in animal studies, though they do admit “In some animals, human non-neural differentiated cell types were observed in the injury site”. After the current FDA hold was iissued, Geron put out a statement explaining that cysts developed at the injury sites of treated animals, and they are working with FDA to answer any questions. They claim no teratomas have been seen, and hopefully nothing like this.
Still, there is cause for concern. Dr. Steven Goldman says
Its not ready for prime time, at least not in my mind, until we can be assured that the transplanted stem cells have completely lost the capacity for tumorigenicity.
But with the political pressure in favor of embryonic stem cell research, the hold will likely be release and the experiments on patients move ahead. And Geron will likely claim success (to get another stock bump.) Despite the fact that adult stem cells have already shown documented evidence not only of their safety, but of their efficacy at treating spinal cord injury.
Evidence of adult stem cell success for spinal cord injury patients has already been published by groups in Portugal, Australia, and Ecuador. Adult stem cells—real hope and help now.
October 2, 2009
Wednesday, September 30th, FRC was very pleased to announce the release of a groundbreaking report, A Passion to Serve, A Vision for Life: Pregnancy Resource Center Service Report 2009 which coincides with the 40-year anniversary of the pregnancy resource center movement (PRC) in the United States. A collaborative project with the three major pregnancy resource center networks Care Net, Heartbeat International, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, and LIFE International the report tells the story of a movement contributing in significant ways daily to the enhancement of maternal and child health nationwide, as well as around the world.
Go to www.apassiontoserve.com to learn more about the PRC movement and the report, view news stories, to order/download a copy of the report, and/or to view the press conference web cast. My remarks from the release Wednesday afternoon at the National Press Club are below:
Comments, September 30, 2009
Good afternoon, it is good to see you all. I am Moira Gaul, fellow of womens and reproductive health at the Family Research Council here in Washington.
The 2,300 pregnancy resource centers represented in A Passion to Serve are affiliated with the three major national networks: Care Net, Heartbeat International and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. This group of PRCs assist over 5,000 Americans daily with sexuality- and pregnancy-related concerns. Small staffs and the tremendous numbers of trained volunteers and professionals offer a whole person approach whereby - emotional, medical, spiritual, and practical needs are met through tangible help, support for safe and healthy pregnancies, and resources.
The vast array of education, medical, and outreach services PRCs provide, and that we will hear more about today, combine powerfully to enhance womens and maternal health, as well as reproductive and childrens health. Given the thousands of women served daily - this translates into a substantial public health benefit to our Nation.
The compassionate care offered unconditionally through a faith-based setting at PRCs, offers hope and well-being. I witnessed this love in action first-hand while working at the Charlottesville Pregnancy Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, from 2000 to 2002. As client services director, I oversaw outreach to clients including counseling on pregnancy options, education materials, community referrals, and the coordination of medical services offered at the center. Some 2,500 client visits later, no client was turned away by a volunteer each one was welcomed, valued, and cared for. This was faith-based social service shining at its brightest!
More recently while earning a masters in public health, within the maternal and child health track at George Washington University, it became increasingly apparent that the tremendous work and impact of the PRC movement were unrecognized and understudied. For an organized movement of its size and scope, this left a void to be filled. A Passion to Serve aims to recapitulate the extraordinary contributions from what has been characterized as … a quiet campaign …
Let me briefly mention two aspects of this quiet and humble campaign: First, as thousands of client exit surveys confirm, the trust that women place in those who assist them at PRCs is high and a sign of broad acceptance by both women and communities. Because of this trust, PRCs have multiplied in number across the country and they have become an essential link in community networks of care. This report takes a closer look at specific work with underserved and special populations in various geographic locations, from metro-Portland to Coastal Georgia to rural Arizona and beyond. Case studies highlight center outreach to women in prison, youth in communities of crisis, at-risk populations, as well as centers serving Native Americans. Accompanying the case studies are statements of praise from county health departments, social service agencies and other organizations that validate PRC work and echo their respected role as community partners.
Second, following delivery of the baby, PRCs fulfill another vital function. Parenting education has become a core service provided by pregnancy centers, equipping new mothers, and fathers, to be stronger parents and preparing nurturing environments for child raising. Nationally, nearly 70 percent of pregnancy centers offer this specialized education either through direct services on premises or in nearby churches, schools, and other locations. Curriculum topics span child development, safety and injury prevention, and positive discipline strategies.
Classes typically cover life skills to strengthen parental development and resilience. The meetings often provide opportunities for women to connect and grow with other new moms, helping to build a social support network which contributes to positive maternal mental health outcomes.
Were grateful to have such a distinguished and generous panel of physicians, network presidents and past clients — women who will attest to the active and flourishing role of pregnancy resource centers in caring for the whole woman and her unmet needs. Today we are taking a major step toward the awareness that PRCs so richly deserve.
October 2, 2009
Todays economic news was not good. This from Reuters via Yahoo! Finance:
U.S. employers cut a deeper-than-expected 263,000 jobs in September, lifting the unemployment rate to 9.8 percent, according to a government report on Friday that fueled fears the weak labor market could undermine economic recovery.
The consensus was for a loss of 180,000 jobs. Furthermore, highly respected banking analyst, Meredith Whitney, wrote in yesterdays Wall Street Journal that credit available for small business, the job creator in the American economy is non-existent:
Anyone counting on a meaningful economic recovery will be greatly disappointed. How do I know? I follow credit, and credit is contracting. Access to credit is being denied at an accelerating pace. Large, well-capitalized companies have no problem finding credit. Small businesses, on the other hand, have never had a harder time getting a loan.
This is not a good sign for getting people back to work. This credit contraction in conjunction with the make-believe economy of zero percent interest rates, money printing, and too-big-too fail has to undermine ones confidence in any data about current economic relationships. That, in turn, will make a recovery far more difficult due to the increased level of risk and uncertainty. Its going to take a long time for things to work themselves out I am afraid.
October 2, 2009
The state of morality on the American college campus seems to be in perpetual decline, and I have shuddered to think about what it will be like in a dozen years when my own daughters will be getting ready for college. But from a liberal college in a liberal state comes a small ray of hope. Tufts University has revised its guest policy for dorm visitors for the new school year to include the following new rule: You may not engage in sexual activity while your roommate is present in the room.
Shouldnt this be obvious? Word from my friends with kids in college is that, shockingly, its not. Nor is it a problem unique to Tufts.
So a tip of the hat to the Tufts administration for having the courage to draw a line. And if Tufts can do it, any school can.
October 2, 2009
Wednesday night, the Empire State Building in Manhattan shone red and yellow as a tribute to the sixtieth anniversary of the Communist takeover of China.
When lit, the Empire State is a lovely sight. Yet last nights display cast a rather ugly glow. Why? Because given the nation it is honoring, we must ask the sponsors of this celebration which highlights of Chinas history during those sixty years they especially want to honor.
Might it be the murder of Christian missionaries in the late 40s and 50s? How about the killing of millions of Chinese during Chairman Maos Great Leap Forward campaign of the mid-fifties? During those years, Communist authorities pressed rural Chinese to modernize, demanding such insanities as backyard steel mills.
China enveloped Tibet in the late 50s. That ancient Buddhist land is still being suppressed and its unique culture eradicated fifty years later. The Dalai Lama and many other Tibetans still live in exile.
In the mid-60s, Chairman Mao initiated the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which left more millions dead. Fanatical Red Guards beat and brutalized anyone who had exposure to Western Cultureand even trashed Chinas revered cultural heritage.
China scholar Simon Leys wrote in Chinese Shadows about the Little Red Book of Maos banal thoughts. Millions of Red Guards memorized, chanted, and used that book to beat their elders over the head. Leysthe nom de plume of a respected expert in Chinese antiquitiesdescribed the Cultural Revolution as an exercise in which people had their skulls opened, their brains scooped out, and their brain pans filled with Maoist concrete. He didnt mean it literally; at least, I hope he didnt.
When, in utter exhaustion and desperation, the rulers of China opened up to the West in the 1970s, Communist Party leader Teng Hsiao-p’ing charmed liberals here with his supposed reforms and rationality. But Teng also instituted one of the most brutal of population control programs in history.
Stanford University scholar Steven Mosher courageously exposed to the world the massive forced abortions that resulted from Chinas One Child policy. An estimated 50 million forced abortions have occurred in China, almost all of them attributable to the Communist Partys inflexible rule.
President Obama, in one of his first acts, revoked Ronald Reagans policy of preventing U.S. foreign aid from being used to fund abortion. Mr. Obama is once again giving our tax money to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has been complicit in Chinas One Child policy since its inception.
And lets not forget Tienanmen Square. In 1989, thousands of student demonstrators were brutalized by soldiers ostensibly given drugs and alcohol to inspire them to murder. Tanks and armored vehicles rolled over young men and women. Others were gunned down by order of the Communist rulers in Beijing.
Wang Wei-Lin was the lone demonstrator who stood up to a column of tanks from the Peoples Liberation Army. His unforgettable image was seen around the world. What the world did not see, but what Chinese democracy advocates told me ten years ago, was that Wang Wei-Lin was escorted into a nearby hotel and there strangled to death by the regimes security forces. Also summarily executed, I was informed, was the tank driver. He was killed, they say, for not running right over Wang Wei-Lin.
Last year, Chinas Communist rulers put on a brave face and invited the world to come to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. Their factories had to be closed down, however, and motorists banned for weeks before the Olympic crowds arrived. That was to allow the deadly smog to clear so that the runners could be seen by the spectators and so that the archers could see their targets.
Its one thing for Communists to do vicious and shameful things. Its entirely something else for free peopleat least people who think themselves free and who, presumably, would like for their children to remain freeto honor such an odious regime. Sixty years of inhuman tyranny is nothing to celebrate.
Ive always been proud to be a New Yorker. I have an ornament of the Empire State Building on my Christmas tree every year. Not this year. Im too red-facedwith shame, shame for my city.