2008 - %3, November

Pioneering Stem Cell Surgery Replaces Woman's Windpipe

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 8:07 AM PST

Ah, the wonders of science. Check out this story from the NY Times.

A Spanish woman was hospitalized in March with a windpipe so badly damaged by tuberculosis that she was unable to breathe after walking more than a few steps at a time. The only conventional treatment that doctors saw was the removal of her left lung, a dangerous procedure with a high mortality rate.

Instead, a coalition of doctors and scientists from three European countries decided to try a ground-breaking stem cell procedure. They took a three-inch segment of trachea from an organ donor who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Over a six-week period, the trachea was stripped of donor cells, which were replaced by stem cells taken from the Spanish woman's bone marrow. After just four days of "seeding" the trachea with these cells, the trachea was used to replace the woman's damaged wind pipe.

Two months after the surgery, tests shows that the woman's lungs and wind pipe are functioning like normal. Her body has not rejected the new organ or reacted negatively in any way.

What's great about the procedure is that it was done using the patient's own stem cells, not embryonic stem cells. Thus, it skirts the controversies about life that commonly surround stem cell work in the United States. With President-elect Obama poised to eliminate many Bush Administration restrictions on stem cell research, pioneering procedures like this one may soon happen in America, and we will all live to be 150.

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No Recount in Alaska Senate Race (Probably)

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 7:45 AM PST

You probably know by now that Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat, will be the next senator from Alaska. Ted Stevens (R-Felonies), the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, will now spend his time mulling over legal options.

What you may not know is that a recount is not in the offing. According to Alaska law, if the difference in the vote is less than 0.5 percent, the defeated candidate can request a state-funded recount. With just a couple thousand votes left to count, Begich has 150,728 votes and Stevens has 147,004 votes. That's 47.76 percent to 46.58 percent, a 1.18 percent difference.

Alaska law does allow a recount if the margin is larger than 0.5 percent, but the candidate requesting the recount must cover the expense. No word yet if Stevens is considering it. The AP and the Anchorage Daily News are calling the race over, and the state of Alaska will follow suit this week or the next.

New Site Update

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 10:59 PM PST

NEW SITE UPDATE....I think I've mentioned before that we're working on a major redesign of the site (hooray!). We're still a few weeks away from rolling it out, but we're looking for beta testers willing to test drive the new site before the final unveiling. If you'd like to help out, go here and enter your email address. We'll notify you a week or so before the rollout date and provide a URL to poke around on the test site and give us your feedback. All help is much appreciated, since it will help us work out the bugs before we go live. Thanks!

Eric Holder

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 6:40 PM PST

ERIC HOLDER....I've been scanning a bunch of stuff about Eric Holder, Obama's apparent pick for attorney general, and the conventional wisdom appears to be pretty simple:

  1. He's basically a decent guy: sound views, hard worker, smart, honest, and generally well thought of.

  2. Conservatives are going to try their damnedest to work everyone into a lather over his rather modest involvement in the Marc Rich pardon eight years ago.

From what I can tell, though, conservatives would be smarter to lay off. Holder really does appear to be honest, well briefed, straight shooting, and temperamentally moderate. They're going to get a liberal AG whether they like it or not, and they could do a lot worse than Holder if they somehow manage to torpedo his nomination.

Pizza on Demand

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 3:44 PM PST

PIZZA ON DEMAND....Via Hit & Run, my cat's pizza company, in partnership with TiVo, engages in some hyperbole:

"This is the first time in history that the 'on-demand' generation will be able to fully experience couch commerce by ordering pizza directly through their television set. You'll see a television ad for Domino's and you'll click 'I want it' through your remote. In about 30 minutes, your pizza will show up at your door."

Oh please. I worked for a video-on-demand company back in 2002, and even then "pizza on demand" was a cliche. It turns out that just about the first thing every shiny new broadband offering offers is....pizza delivery via your TV. I think the first time was 1994. It never went anywhere, though, because it turned out that ordering pizza by phone isn't really much of a hassle.

But hey — everything old is new again. Maybe this is finally PoD's time. After dozens of tries, it's bound to catch on sometime.

Green Collar Jobs Coming To A State Near You

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 3:07 PM PST

400px-Sweet_Chestnut_Forest.jpg Climate problems are spawning climate solutions. And each climate solution will ripple throughout the economy in the form of new jobs and new materials. This according to a report that says the US economy is poised to grow big-time in a low-carbon world. Manufacturing Climate Solutions names where the jobs are—a first.

The report comes from Duke University's Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness and assesses five carbon-reducing technologies: LED lighting, high-performance windows, auxiliary power units for long-haul trucks, concentrating solar power, and Super Soil Systems (a new method for treating hog wastes).

The conclusion: Many hidden economic opportunities exist within the supply chains providing parts and labor for all five industries. States that stand to benefit most include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. The report also includes detailed breakdown of supply chains, with maps highlighting the location of companies best positioned to support green jobs.

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Louisiana Court to BBI Spies: Testify or Else

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 2:46 PM PST

A ruling by a Louisiana court could shed further light on the shadowy work of Beckett Brown International (BBI), the now defunct private security and investigations firm that spied on Greenpeace and other targets on behalf of corporate clients.

On Monday, state appeals court judge Kent Savoie ordered two of the firm's former officials, Tim Ward and Jay Bly, to testify or face potential contempt charges in a case related to a massive spill of ethylene dichloride in Lake Charles, Louisiana by chemical manufacturer Condea Vista. Working for Condea in the late 1990s, BBI mounted a wide-ranging operation to gather intelligence on the company's opponents, including local activists and lawyers suing the chemical maker on behalf of clients harmed during the cleanup of the 1994 spill. In addition to tailing activists and obtaining the phone records of Condea opponents, BBI installed a mole inside a Lake Charles environmental group to report inside information about the organization's strategy and campaigns.

New Music: Amadou & Mariam - Welcome to Mali

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 2:12 PM PST

mojo-photo-amadoumariamwelcome.jpgIt's a shameful fact that I came across Malian duo Amadou & Mariam's entrancing 2005 album, Dimanche à Bamako, well into 2006, too late to include it in my "best albums" list. While the album was produced with a professional sheen by Manu Chao, it still maintained a direct line to traditional Malian sounds while expanding into more complex musical and lyrical territory. Sure, with Chao's help, Bamako achieved international acclaim, but one can hope that it was the album's emotional purity that resonated with listeners worldwide. The duo's new album is called Welcome to Mali, but oddly enough, it finds them moving even further afield.

Album opener and first single "Sabali" ("Wisdom") was produced by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame, and it's superb, a strange mashup of Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc." with the rising-and-falling computerized tones and melancholy feel of Grandaddy's "The Crystal Lake." It's a fascinating, retro-futuristic re-interpretation of chiming Afropop, with brief lo-fi transmissions from the past laid over the top.

In Congo Conflict, Endangered Gorillas Are Pawns

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 2:00 PM PST

gorilla150.jpg This is a truly heartbreaking story. The New York Times reports on yet another facet of the bloodshed in the Congo: Endangered mountain gorillas are among the rebels' targets:

Congo's gorillas happen to live in one of the most contested, blood-soaked pieces of turf in one of the most contested, blood-soaked corners of Africa. Their home, Virunga National Park, is high ground — with mist-shrouded mountains and pointy volcanoes — along the porous Congo-Rwanda border, where rebels are suspected of smuggling in weapons from Rwanda. Last year in Virunga, 10 gorillas were killed, some shot in the back of the head, execution style, park officials said.

According to this AP story, the rebels often eat the slaughtered gorillas. But it's unlikely that the militias are killing them solely for their meat. The reason? Read on after the jump.

Housing Bust Update

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 1:23 PM PST

HOUSING BUST UPDATE....The latest from ground zero of the housing bubble:

For the first time in the current housing downturn, the majority of Southern California homes sold in October — 51% — had been foreclosed, a real estate information service reported today. The median sales price for homes fell to $300,000, a level not seen since 2003 and a 41% drop from the peak price set in the spring and summer of 2007.

A 41% drop in 18 months. Jeebus.