Waiting for Cures

Good news for the new year. New Scientist reports that a deal struck in a London pub a few years is leading to new hope for 200 million people worldwide suffering from the fatal liver disease, hepatitis C. The researchers' aim was to bypass big pharma's patents on interferon treatments, since their $13,000-a-year drugs were affordable to only 1 in 6 sufferers. Best of all, the new interferon drug , which will be available to the poor, actually cures hep-C.

The British Medical Journal publishes a paper out of the Mayo Clinic on mining historical documents for clues to potential new drugs. The authors cite a 400-year old report by Georg Everhard Rumphius, an employee of the Dutch East Indies Company, who described the anti-diarrheal properties of extracts from the fruit kernels of atun trees. Turns out to be an antibiotic new to science, old news to the Ambon islanders of Indonesia.

Delayed gratification was nothing new to Rumphius, say the authors:

It is amazing that Rumphius's work was ever published. In 1670 he went blind, and four years later his wife and daughter were killed in an earthquake. Thirteen years later, in 1687, a fire levelled the capital of Ambon's European quarter, and his manuscripts and the botanical illustrations that he had drawn himself were burnt. Yet Rumphius took this opportunity to begin the herbal again; he dictated a new and revised text in Dutch to scribes, and he commissioned draftsmen to do the illustrations.

Finally, in 1692, the first half of the Ambonese Herbal was finished, and the governor general at the time ordered the manuscript and the illustrations to be copied. This order was fortunate, as the original herbal text was destroyed on the way to Holland when the transport ship was sunk by a hostile French naval squadron. Again, upon notification of the disaster Rumphius did not surrender to despair. Rather, he took the opportunity to augment and correct the first half of his text while he completed the six volumes of the second half. Rumphius added new material (to make volume seven) only a few months before his death at the age of 74.

Remember Christine Jennings, the Florida Congressional candidate against whom the Republican Party spent $58 million on robo calls? The people who received such calls about Jennings were misled by the calls' content and thought that they were being warned about her by her own political party. They learned differently only if they listened to the entire call, which most of them did not. But when they hung up, they would be called again. And again. Most people, of course, did not want to listen to the entire call.

In Florida's 13th District, Jennings lost by under 380 votes. In Sarasota County, 18,000 votes did not register on the voting machines, making matters even worse.

Today, it was announced that a Leon County judge has turned down Jennings' request to access the secret software that operates the voting machines in the 13th District of Florida. Just as bad, House Democrats announced they would do nothing to obstruct the seating of the district's new Congressman, Vern Buchanan. The judge said that Jennings' experts relied on conjecture and speculation, and did not provide "credible evidence" that warranted the candidate's inspecting the source code used for the voting machine software.

Yesterday, the Military Times released their annual opinion poll, which serves as a barometer for the military's morale. This year, the report's name says it all. "Down on the war" sends a strong message from American troops in Iraq -- their spirit is down and waning further still. Think Progress has most of the report's highlights, but the most prescient of them are that less than half of the respondents think troop escalation is the answer and even if it is the answer, nearly 75% think the military is "stretched too thin to be effective." The Wall Street Journal reported extensively on the military's economic shortfalls earlier this month. Although the 945 respondents, out of the 4000 active-duty officers polled because they are Military Times subscribers, are not representative of the entire force, they seem to be among the most knowledgeable and experienced. They are on average older and more likely to be officers. 66% have been deployed at least once.

Some worthy points from Phil Nugent at No More Mister Nice Blog:

Man, CNN has spent the evening sitting on the prospect of Saddam Hussein's execution like a vulture. Word was that the execution was to take place 10:00 PM EST. A less hardy network might have slipped a reminder of it into their regular news wrap-ups and then cut to Iraq, say, around ten o'clock. I don't know when they actually started the deathwatch, but for at least three hours, they were focusing on the execution single-mindedly, with a different anchor every hour, Larry King included, checking in with the same poor reporter framed shivering against the night sky to ask her yet again--anything new? Did they get antsy and waste him ahead of schedule and then go to dinner? Did he shoot his way out yet? When the anchors weren't torturing this poor woman, they were asking, over and over again, what will it mean for Iraq when Saddam has been executed? Then they'd interview someone, preferably a scholar or human rights worker who "suffered under Saddam's regime." They'd ask them what it would mean, and this person would invariably say that, although there would probably be a quick spike in violence, in the end it wouldn't mean a goddamn thing. Then the anchor would turn to the camera and say once again that he sure wished there was some way of knowing what it would mean. You kind of came away with the impression that none of the on-air talent at CNN can hear for shit.
You can understand their dilemna. Once upon a time, many basic cable ratings cycles ago, the Saddam-is-boogeyman story was the making of CNN. When Bush launched Gulf War II, it must have felt like old school week in their offices. It must be a bittersweet thing for them to deal with his absolute irrelevance to the current situation. It must sting and confuse them as much as it did Saddam himself. There were a few moments in tonight's coverage that may be as close as I ever hope to see to suggesting what the media reaction would be like if they ever caught Professor Moriarty, such as an interview with some doctor about the mechanics of hanging--the interviewer wanted to know just how much it hurts, and seemed very disappointed with the answer that we don't know for sure, because the only people who know for sure remain unavailable for comment--and people whining that "nobody blames" Saddam for all the Arabs that he killed. Yep, that's how the guy got two cans of whupass opened on him and wound up swinging from a rope--nobody ever held him accountable for anything. Okay, granted, these people aren't so stupid that they mean the things that come out of their mouths. What they're really trying to say is that nobody blames Saddam enough, because as long as there's one person who'd rather finish breakfast than dance on his grave, then he's not being blamed enough. Word of warning: this is how people like Pat Buchanan wound up as Holocaust deniers. They just start off hating Stalin so much that it bugs them whenever they hear Hitler described as the worst person in the world, and then after awhile they go haywire and start believing that because so many people hate Hitler, then people must not really hate Stalin at all, because if they hated him as much as they should then they wouldn't have any room in their hearts to hate Hitler too. The next thing they know, they find themselves hinting that they don't think Hitler was really all that bad.
The cutest moment in the coverage I saw was probably when Anderson Cooper said that there was some speculation that Saddam would be taken out of the protected Green Zone for the execution, but this must have been rejected because how could American soldiers go outside the Green Zone, with the hated Saddam Hussein in tow, and not risk violence. The likelihood that American soldiers who went outside the Green Zone might be asking for trouble if all they were carrying was Rice Krispies in milk was not considered. Saddam will not be missed, and anyone who tries to turn him into a martyr is making a sad comment on the validity of his own cause, but still, a hollow feeling remains. If it's possible for a guilty man to be railroaded, that's what's happened here, and it's possible to feel squeamish about the official mechanics of politicized "justice" without mourning the man. In a world where a Pinochet can die in his sleep, Saddam was executed with an unseemly sort of haste for the same reason we went to war in Iraq, evidence and arguments to the contrary be damned--because the Bush administration decided it wanted it to happen and was not inclined to consider that there might be reasons not to give itself what it wanted, or even postpone it. If it leaves a bad aftertaste, that may be because people who hold human life so cheaply, who can take anyone's life, even a monster's, as casually as correcting a bookkeeping error, should be a little more bashful when it comes to lecturing the world about who gets to live and who needs to die.
(Is Pat Buchanan a holocaust denier? Google it and judge for yourself. Or go to this forum on the subject.)

Right next to a NYT story that begins:

A giant ice shelf has snapped free from an island south of the North Pole, scientists said Thursday, citing climate change as a ''major'' reason for the event. The Ayles Ice Shelf -- all 41 square miles of it -- broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 500 miles south of the North Pole in the Canadian Arctic.

Is an ad for the company that's done more than any other to fund global warming denialists (as a Mother Jones story nominated for a National Magazine Award reported last year):

Why not take wastes that would end up in landfills and recycle them so they end up as roads? Learn more about our committment to the environment. ExxonMobil: Taking on the world's toughest energy challenges.

So I've noticed this is a pattern with ExxonMobil, which seems to always just happen to run a corporate responsibility ad next to NYT op-eds and stories that have to do with global warming. So is the NYT ad sales staff selling against this content? Does ExxonMobil have a standing request to place ads next to global warming content? Or is it all a coincidence? (And don't forget that ExxonMobil also sponsored all the major election coverage in 2006. Maybe because it didn't like the fact that lawmakers were beginning to stand up to it.)

Back to this particular ad. Follow the link and you learn that ExxonMobil is touting its program to take waste from its operations (presumably tar, how innovative) and turn it into roadbeds, "another example of how we're maximizing energy output while minimizing environmental impact." Not harm, not damage, mind you, impact.

More outrageous is the list of links on this page to other of ExxonMobil's good works, including...wait for it..."Promoting math and science in the classroom." This from the company that funds 40 think tanks that expressly deny the science of global warming.

What are these efforts that ExxonMobil is making to addle, uh, improve the minds of our children? Further down the line of links we learn that:

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson made the announcement in Dallas on Oct. 6, where he was joined by PGA Tour golfer Phil Mickelson, astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris and several prominent educators. The first step in ExxonMobil's expanded educational outreach is to significantly broaden the scope of programs founded by Mickelson and Harris and supported by the company.
ExxonMobil will add new sessions of the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps, providing funding to universities for 20 camps across the U.S. Designed to enhance students' knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, camp activities include classroom study, experiments, individual/team/group projects, weekly field excursions and guest speakers who motivate and inspire students.
The Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers' Academy, launched in 2005 as an annual event in Fairfax, Va., will expand to new academies in Texas and Louisiana. The Academy was created to provide selected third- through fifth-grade teachers from school districts around the country an opportunity to enhance their math and science teaching skills, and discover new ways to motivate their students. With the new locations, 600 teachers will have an opportunity to attend the academies annually.
In addition to expanding its support of the Harris and Mickelson programs, ExxonMobil announced continued funding for Reasoning Mind, Inc., and UTeach. Reasoning Mind is developing an innovative Internet-based learning environment for fifth- and sixth-grade math students. UTeach is a unique University of Texas program that prepares and supports secondary math and science teachers.

So, helping ExxonMobil (at best) whitewash its horrible environmental image and (at worst) spread misinformation to teachers and students is a champion golfer, an astronaut, and UT. Hook 'em horns!

By the way, that ice shelf? That's really bad news. Read more about what it means here and here.

Hanged at dawn, according to news reports just coming over the transom. Will the Baathists retaliate? Stay tuned.


"Independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman just stepped out of his time capsule and penned an op-ed on his nostalgic trip to 2003:

I've just spent 10 days traveling in the Middle East and speaking to leaders there, all of which has made one thing clearer to me than ever: While we are naturally focused on Iraq, a larger war is emerging. On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States. Iraq is the most deadly battlefield on which that conflict is being fought. How we end the struggle there will affect not only the region but the worldwide war against the extremists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001.

Apparently, Lieberman never got the memo that said Iraq no longer has anything to do with 9/11 or the war on terror or exporting democracy or making Iran quake in its boots. No matter. Lieberman goes on to say that the crisis there is the result of a "conscious strategy by al-Qaeda and Iran" to throw the country into "full-scale civil war." Never mind the whole al-Qaeda=Sunni, Iran=Shiite thing; apparently opposing extremists agree on the shared goal of total chaos. The only answer, of course, is to send in more troops. Which brings us back to 2003, back when more U.S. boots on the ground could have secured Baghdad and the rest of the country, possibly averting the mess we're in 3 years later. Lieberman seems to get this. He writes, "In nearly four years of war, there have never been sufficient troops dispatched to accomplish our vital mission." However, that just means that now is the time for a big do-over: "The troop surge should be militarily meaningful in size, with a clearly defined mission." Clearly defined mission? You mean like linking Iraq to 9/11? Fire up the Wayback Machine...


Up to 30 percent of Iraq vets suffer from depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Pentagon. And those numbers go up with repeat deployments. So whatever may happen in the months ahead, we can expect a surge of soldiers with serious mental health needs. In the meantime, the Pentagon is gearing up for dealing with them with a series of Flash movies for VA employees based on the first documented case of Iraq-related psych issues. The patient is Gilgamesh, who, as you'll recall, was the king of Uruk—the ancient land that would become modern-day Iraq. In the new version, Gilgamesh goes off to war, watches his buddy die, and comes home with an epic case of PTSD. It's a cheeky, cheesy take, but hopefully it means the Pentagon is starting to take the issue more seriously. It has a ways to go: It was reported earlier this year that 80 percent of vets with PTSD symptoms didn't get a follow-up. And some GIs who were diagnosed with the disorder were unceremoniously booted from the service.

Some of us consider It's A Wonderful Life to be one of the least appealing films ever made, but even our disdain cannot compare with the FBI's assessment of the 1946 Frank Capra ode to codependence. The Bureau thought that the film was a piece of Communist propaganda with an anti-consumerist message.

According to Professor John Noakes of Franklin and Marshall College:

The casting of Lionel Barrymore as a "scrooge-type" resulted in the loathsome Mr. Potter becoming the most hated person in the film. According to the official FBI report, "this was a common trick used by the communists.

What's interesting in the FBI critique is that the Baileys were also bankers," said Noakes. " and what is really going on is a struggle between the big-city banker (Potter) and the small banker (the Baileys). Capra was clearly on [the] side of small capitalism and the FBI was on the side of big capitalism.

In a memo entitled "Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry," agent D.M. Ladd tells FBI director J. Edgar Hoover that it was totally unnecessary to portray Old Man Potter as a "mean character," and that making him such meant that the Capra "deliberately maligned the upper class." It is possible, of course, that Ladd actually believed the case he made, but it is just as possible that he was doing his best to get on the good side of Hoover, who made a career out of seeing Communists under every rock and around every corner.

Capra, by the way, also made Why We Fight, a series of documentary films commissioned by the U.S. government during World War II to convince both military personnel and the American public that U.S. involvement in the war was necessary.

A good number of recent corporate scandals have had to do with stock options for CEOs. Paying executives in company stocks gives them heady incentives to focus narrowly on profits and engage in insider trading. (I mean, come on, if you knew your company wouldn't make its expected quarterly earnings, wouldn't you sell some stock before the price dipped?) Stock options also give executives the chance to hide their earnings in the technical fine print of annual corporate reports. The most recent spate of corporate wrongdoing involved setting stock options at outdated lower prices, allowing CEOs to maximize their capital gains. (For Mother Jones' quick and dirty coverage of corporate pay abuses, click here.)

The SEC has had just about enough. Err, scratch that. The SEC wants to make it easier for companies to pay their top executives in stock options and harder for investors to determine just how much they're handing over. The commission announced the Friday before Christmas (in a move that was clearly not designed to skirt media attention) that it will allow companies to account for executives' earnings from stock options by spreading them out over the full vesting period. Just this summer, the SEC had demanded for the first time that companies include annual estimates of executives' stock-options earnings.

That was then, this is now, baby. But Rep. Barney Frank, who is expected to lead the House Financial Services Committee, has cried foul and promises to look into the matter. So perhaps there will be some brakes on the robber barrons' trains this session.