Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Houston Doctors Use Stem Cells to Treat Stroke Victims

31.03.2009 (9:58 pm) – Filed under: Health,Medicine ::

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Doctors at Houston’s Texas Medical Center recently pioneered a new experimental treatment for stroke victims in which the patient’s own adult stem cells are harvested and injected into the bloodstream. 

Dr. Sean Savitz, a neurology professor and the study’s lead investigator, hopes to show that the stem cells will take it from there, migrating to the brain and reducing inflammation while increasing blood vessel growth to counteract the reduction in blood flow to the brain caused by strokes.

Tissue plasminogen activator is currently the only demonstrated treatment for stroke victims.  Unfortunately it is only delivered to about 3% of those who suffer strokes.

“We’re just at the beginning, but this could an exciting new area of therapeutic intervention for stroke,” said Dr. Sean Savitz, a neurology professor and the study’s lead investigator. “It could be the next frontier.”

Hopefully Savitz is correct and his treatment will be used to give a higher quality of life to stroke victims, many of whom suffer greatly from the effects of not being able to control their own bodies even while their minds are still intact.

Savitz’s study is also noteworthy for its use of adult stem cells rather than those of the ethically and perhaps morally ill-advised embryonic variety – all the more reason to hope he’s successful.

GM’s Problems Started Decades Ago

31.03.2009 (9:37 pm) – Filed under: Business,Finance,Unions ::

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Nate Silver’s picture is worth at least a thousand words when it comes to communicating how long GM’s financial troubles have been brewing.  Silver also gets the reason behind the company’s demise right: the costs of GM’s retiree pension and health care programs.

On one hand it’s easy to look back to 1950 and second-guess GM’s management for making the decision to pick up the costs for employee’s medical costs and retirees’ pensions.  But as we know it was all but impossible for those executives to foresee the massive increase in health care costs that would accompany government entitlement programs and the increasingly litigious social environment they helped create.  On the other, it’s a wonder that it took labor unions so long to finally destroy one of the greatest companies in American history.

The Washington Post article circa 2005:

GM began its slide down the slippery slope in 1950, when it began picking up costs for medical insurance, pensions and retiree benefits. There was huge risk to GM in taking on these obligations — but that didn’t show up as a cost or balance-sheet liability. By 1973, the UAW says, GM was paying the entire health insurance bill for its employees, survivors and retirees…

And out-of-pocket costs for health care are eating GM alive.

Silver again:

It’s difficult to get a precise figure on these so-called legacy costs, but they averaged about $7 billion per year between 1993 and 2007 and are probably at least $10 billion per year now. Considering that GM has never made as much as $10 billion in profit in a year and that its entire operating losses in 2008 were $13.8 billion, you can see why this is a significant problem.

Unlike politicians who can simply print money or encumber future generations with debt, companies like GM have to deal with the world as it actually is – harsh, brutal, and unforgiving of mistakes. 

GM’s capitulation to the UAW’s demands is clearly a fatal mistake when seen through the 20/20 vision of hindsight.  The question of what Detroit’s automakers could have done differently is nearly moot from a financial perspective. 

Yet it’s very relevant to a country that faces at least 3 years and 9+ more months of Barack Obama’s fashionably liberal policies.  Unionization was a messy business in the post-WW II era and violence, usually originated by labor in response to companies’ refusals to give in to their demands, was if not commonplace at least an ever-present threat during contract negotiations.

60 years ago GM gave in to the threats and intimidation of labor unions.  Now the company stands at death’s door, it’s CEO ordered to resign by a politician who hadn’t even been born when the company made the agreement that would prove to be its undoing.

Unionization is by definition anti-competitive, for unions’ first priorities are create a labor environment in which employees’ job security is substantial and wages and benefits are fixed above market value.  This leads directly to higher costs and decreased quality as the entitlement mentality spreads through the workforce.  Taking benefits away from union employees is like trying to take candy from a baby whose private bodyguard is a mean S.O.B. named Uncle UAW and who carries a pair of brass knuckles in his pocket.

The result is inevitable.  As the Financial Times notes, “Healthcare costs alone account for a gap of $1,500 between the price of a Detroit vehicle and a Japanese one, and are the main reason Detroit cannot compete with the Japanese on lower-margin small cars”.

Texas School Board Rejects Scientific Method

27.03.2009 (8:48 pm) – Filed under: Education,Evolution ::

image The Texas State Board of Education has overturned its own requirement that public schools teach the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories presented in the classroom, watering down its language to this less stringent standard:

“in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations … including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

Republican board member Barbara Cargill says that the old rule had to go because the words “strengths and weaknesses” are creationist code words and under the new rule “we’ll teach all sides of scientific explanation, using scientific evidence.”

Those with long memories will recall that the rule was implemented in the first place because evolution was being force-fed to an audience of captive children as if it were fact rather than the theory it is.  The new language does nothing more than explain the purpose of a teacher’s job, something that was equally obvious 20 years ago when it wasn’t being properly carried out in science classrooms.

Moreover, beating a linguistic retreat from the language of a perfectly fair rule – one that is in precise harmony with the scientific method – because Darwinists see will-o-the-wisps of meaning in plain English grants them high ground their argument does not deserve. 

This is a terrible idea because ceding control over language and its meaning to one’s opponents allows them to dictate the course of future arguments by claiming offense and/or lack of clarity where none exists, as Jeff explains.

Yet even this undeserved verbal victory isn’t enough for some evolution advocates.  Critics of the new rule say it casts doubt on 2 key tenets of the theory of evolution — natural selection and common ancestry. 

This is another attempt to dictate the terms of the debate.  By linking a truth and a falsehood together, this argument deliberately attempts to branding proponents of the status quo as ignorant fools for criticizing both elements of Darwin’s theory when in fact they do no such thing.

Is there really anyone of consequence who disputes natural selection in nature as an established fact?  Certainly not here in the agricultural part of the Bible Belt where it plays out in the fields, farms, and pastures on a daily basis.  And if not there then where?

Common ancestry, on the other hand, deserves to be doubted and must be taught as a theory if teachers are to respect the true state of human knowledge about our origins and the scientific method itself.  The fossil record is missing more than one link – many more – and it’s unlikely that evolution will ever be proven to the same extent as physical laws in chemistry and physics are.  This, coupled with the number of scientists who reject random evolution as the mechanism by which life originated on this planet, mean that Darwin’s theory of creation deserves to be held in question.

Unfortunately that seems less likely to happen now.  To the extent that these questions are not asked in Texas classrooms because of today’s vote, the Board of Education has rejected the scientific method and weakened the science curriculum in this state by removing from schools the one essential element that science cannot function without:  doubt.

ADHD Medicine’s Value Over Time

26.03.2009 (10:45 pm) – Filed under: Child Care,Health,Medicine ::

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In 1999, a group of researchers led by William Pelham released the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD (MTA), a paper that failed to note the benefits that children receive from their medicine decline over time.  The MTA ran into controversy when an academic review of the paper questioned why it played down negative effects of the drug and team members publicly stated that the report was biased in favor of drug treatment programs.

Now the latest data, released in 2007, shows that children who were medicated for 3 years showed no behavioral improvements over un-medicated peers.  Interestingly, the medicated children were shown to be slightly shorter and lighter, implying that the drugs may have interfered with their natural growth processes.

Brooke Molina, also a co-author and a University of Pittsburgh associate professor of psychology and psychiatry…said the data do not “support that children who stay on medication longer than two years have better outcomes than children who don’t.”

And James Swanson, another MTA co-author and a psychologist at the University of California at Irvine said:

“If you want something for tomorrow, medication is the best, but if you want something three years from now, it does not matter,” he said. “If you take medication long-term beyond three years, I don’t think there is any evidence that medication is better than no medication.”

William Pelham, who seems to have done an about-face in regard to his original findings, now says that the primary purpose of ADHD medicine is to give parents an opportunity to get their child behavioral counseling.

A yet-to-be published study, Pelham added, found that 95 percent of parents who were told by clinicians to first try behavioral interventions for ADHD followed through on that advice. When parents were given a prescription for a drug and then told to enroll their children in behavioral intervention programs, 75 percent did not seek out the behavioral approaches.

Obviously that doesn’t bode well for the majority of children diagnosed with the disorder given the short-term nature of drug therapy.  Two reason spring to mind that might explain the drop-off in parental follow-through.  First, the drugs’ short-term effects may lead parents to falsely believe that their child is somehow cured and that no other action is needed on their part.  Second, behavioral counseling undoubtedly takes more time and effort on the part of parents than opening a bottle of pills.  Unfortunately, I think that part of the 75% is simple laziness.

Legalizing Drugs Will Reduce Violent Crime

24.03.2009 (7:53 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Law ::

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As demonstrated by his recent decision to send help to the embattled Mexico border region, President Obama is well aware of the problem posed by drug violence, both here at home and overseas.  His response, as summarized below, is all wrong.  And that’s not just me talking – Harvard’s Jeffery Miron says that same thing.

The Obama administration’s multi-agency plan includes nearly 500 agents and support personnel. However, officials did not say where the additional agents would come from or how long they would stay at the border.

Napolitano said officials were still considering whether to deploy the National Guard to the Arizona and Texas borders with Mexico, which the governors had requested.

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said the combined efforts of the U.S. and Mexican governments would “destroy these criminal organizations.”

If you believe that I have some stock in some bank holding companies I’d like to sell you.

It’s too easy to say that the politicians who champion continuing the War on Drugs don’t understand the problem.  Demand creates supply, as any first-year business student knows.  And there’s a huge demand for illegal drugs in this country, whether we choose to accept it or not.  Couple that demand with prohibition and you get a recipe for a black market, corruption, and violence.  It’s not surprising that we’ve seen all three increase in recent years.  Politicians know that but choose to be “tough on drugs” anyway.

Miron says the proper response to the otherwise insoluble problem is to legalize and regulate drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and others.

Federal, state and local governments spend roughly $44 billion per year to enforce drug prohibition. These same governments forego roughly $33 billion per year in tax revenue they could collect from legalized drugs, assuming these were taxed at rates similar to those on alcohol and tobacco. Under prohibition, these revenues accrue to traffickers as increased profits.

The right policy, therefore, is to legalize drugs while using regulation and taxation to dampen irresponsible behavior related to drug use, such as driving under the influence. This makes more sense than prohibition because it avoids creation of a black market. This approach also allows those who believe they benefit from drug use to do so, as long as they do not harm others.

That should be the bottom line in this debate.  So long as drug users do not directly harm others, their actions should not be considered criminal.  Personal liberty demands it, as do common sense and basic economics

Darwinists Weigh in on Texas Education

24.03.2009 (4:05 pm) – Filed under: Education,Evolution ::

Lisa Falkenberg’s commentary at the Houston Chronicle leaves no doubt that she’s in favor of teaching Texas children that Darwin’s theory about the origins of species as if it were proven, incontrovertible fact.  If only that were the case – then perhaps this tiresome debate could finally be put aside.

Darwin’s theory about our origins is just that – a theory supported by substantial evidence that is, to-date, still far from comprehensive.  Falkenberg and other Darwinists dismiss such inconvenient observations as mere trifles, ignoring the fact that by definition scientific proof is about known evidence and not about shepherding our theories past criticism.

As this debate has clearly shown there are large numbers of those who believe otherwise, including Falkenberg and Houston’s own Polimom, who says:

If the SBOE moves any further off the rails, the voting public (like me) will have to stumble out of our group lethargy and push (shove!!) back.   Hard.

Excuse me?  If Darwinists shove any harder they’ll be starting fistfights with those who dare to question Darwin’s assertion that mankind evolved from a protoplasmic slime mold.

The facts will ultimately speak for themselves.  In the interim, Darwin’s ideas about the origins of species must be taught as the theories that they are if we are to give children in this state the education they deserve. 

The purpose of the education system is to teach children the truth about the world which they are to inherit.  Presenting a theory as fact (or a fact as theory) is a poor way to do that.  Why?

  • It’s a lie and students, being expert liars themselves, see through them
  • The knowledge that their education is not based on truth demoralizes students
  • Demoralized students don’t have the desire to ask questions or to learn.  Why should they if they can’t be sure the answer they’ll be given is true?

Newtonian physics was every bit as entrenched at one point as Darwinism is today.  Yet Einstein’s work ultimately displayed Newton’s as the basis for modern physics.  Where would modern science be had Newton’s theories been brandished about as undeniable facts and Einstein and his contemporaries barred from pursuing their research by Newton’s fanboys?

Every theory has its strengths and weaknesses and these characteristics need to be evaluated objectively for what they are, both in the classroom and in our own lives. 

Barney Frank: Antonin Scalia is a Homophobe

23.03.2009 (10:23 pm) – Filed under: Gay Rights,Politics ::

Modern politicians are often cagey speakers, carefully measuring their assertions so as to allow for maximum wiggle room later if needed.  Not so much with Barney Frank who is apparently feeling his oats these days:

The Democratic lawmaker, who is gay, was discussing gay marriage and his expectation that the high court would some day be called upon to decide whether the Constitution allows the federal government to deny recognition to same-sex marriages.

“I wouldn’t want it to go to the United States Supreme Court now because that homophobe Antonin Scalia has too many votes on this current court,” said Frank.

Charming.  And almost enough to make one wonder what Scalia would say in return – if he were as classless as the feckless Mr. Frank.

Kind of puts that whole Grassley/harakiri tempest-in-a-teapot in better perspective, doesn’t it?

Federal Judge OKs "Morning After" Pill for Juveniles – Parental Consent Unnecessary

23.03.2009 (10:22 pm) – Filed under: Abortion,Child Care,Law ::

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman says that the Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to approve Plan B for over-the-counter use by juvenile girls was politically motivated.

“These political considerations, delays, and implausible justifications for decision-making are not the only evidence of a lack of good faith and reasoned decision-making,” Korman said. “Indeed, the record is clear that the FDA’s course of conduct regarding Plan B departed in significant ways from the agency’s normal procedures regarding similar applications to switch a drug product from prescription to non-prescription use.”

Korman’s justification for his ruling is that the FDA rejected the advice of a committee it assembled to review the question of allowing minors access to the drug.  Was the committee’s opinion binding in some way?  Undoubtedly not.  Still, the facts may be as Korman has stated them.

What is clear is that 17-year-old girls are still subject to parental control, making the issue one that, like abortion, concerns parents just as much as it does the sexually active teen.  The parents’ legal rights and responsibilities now seem to have been swept aside in favor of those of minors engaged in ill-advised activities.

Will another birth control opportunity help reduce total teenage pregnancies?  Or will it provide another excuse for teens to have sex long before they are mentally, physically, or fiscally ready to assume responsibility for their actions? 

Sounds like a Master’s thesis question waiting to be developed.

Cold Fusion Coming Closer?

23.03.2009 (6:53 pm) – Filed under: Energy,Science ::

Pamela Mosier-Boss, a U.S. Navy researcher, isn’t willing to climb out on that limb just yet. But she says that her lab has produced “significant” results, including the generation of highly energetic neutrons, an important byproduct of the fusion process.

Other researchers, including Rice University’s Paul Padley are justifiably skeptical – the Pons-Fleischmann debacle was a mere 20 years ago, after all:

“Fusion could produce the effect they see, but there’s no plausible explanation of how fusion could occur in these conditions,” Padley said. “The whole point of fusion is, you’re bringing things of like charge together. As we all know, like things repel, and you have to overcome that repulsion somehow.”

“Nobody in the physics community would believe a discovery without such a quantitative analysis,” he said.

Also worth noting is the fact that Mosier-Boss has collaborated with on at least some of her Navy research, notably this part of this paper in which their work was unrelated to cold fusion.  Still, it wouldn’t be far afield to wonder if there hasn’t been some cross-pollination of ideas at a minimum.

At any rate, Mosier-Boss seems to be playing her cards close to her vest by framing her results modestly and announcing them well at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society where her work will be featured.

Obama Takes Guns Out of Pilots’ Hands, Risks Public Safety

18.03.2009 (11:17 am) – Filed under: Gun Control,National Security ::

Despite the obvious benefits of having weapons in the right hands during airline flights, the Obama administration is reportedly ending that policy.  There is no justifiable reason for this reduction in public safety.  In fact, the Washington Times reports that there are exactly zero cases of on-board officers improperly using their weapons.

I’ve been willing to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt on some of his ill-advised policies thus far.  Call it a honeymoon gift if you like.  But the insipid stupidity behind this move, stealthily carried out while the public eye is turned away, is too much to bear, even for a person who rarely flies. 

Think we’ll be hearing more about this issue from the men and women who are most directly affected, the flight deck officers themselves? 

Think again.

Pilots cannot openly speak about the changing policies for fear of retaliation from the Transportation Security Administration. Pilots who act in any way that causes a “loss of confidence” in the armed pilot program risk criminal prosecution as well as their removal from the program. Despite these threats, pilots in the Federal Flight Deck Officers program have raised real concerns in multiple interviews.

For those who would put their faith in the Sky Marshall program, be aware that they secure less than 3% of domestic flights, a far cry from universal coverage.

It has been said many times already that the Obama administration must act, must do something now, in regard to various issues.  Perhaps this urgency is advisable in some cases.  However, the first principle of responsibility is to first do no harm.  That principle has been violated in regard to air safety.

This is, perhaps, a minor issue at this point in history.  It is also revealing of a lack of common sense on the part of an allegedly cerebral administration and one that truly deserves to be met with an expression of public outrage that is out of proportion with the importance of the issue itself.