Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chavez wins referendum

With 94% of votes counted, 54% backed an end to term limits, a National Electoral Council official said.
More than 11 million voters out of almost 17 million who were eligible took part in Sunday's referendum, said the head of the electoral body, Tibisay Lucena.
International observers said the ballot was free and fair, and opposition leaders were quoted as saying they would not contest the vote.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A cure for common cold (and asthma attacks)?

A very interesting scientific finding reported in today's NYT.

Curing the common cold, one of medicine’s most elusive goals, may now be in the realm of the possible. Researchers said Thursday that they had decoded the genomes of the 99 strains of common cold virus and developed a catalog of its vulnerabilities.
“We are now quite certain that we see the Achilles’ heel, and that a very effective treatment for the common cold is at hand,” said Stephen B. Liggett, an asthma expert at the University of Maryland and co-author of the finding.
Besides alleviating the achy, sniffly misery familiar to everyone, a true cold-fighting drug could be a godsend for the 20 million people who suffer from asthma and the millions of others with
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The common cold virus, a rhinovirus, is thought to set off half of all asthma attacks.
The rhinovirus has a genome of about 7,000 chemical units, which encode the information to make the 10 proteins that do everything the virus needs to infect cells and make more viruses.By comparing the 99 genomes with one another, the researchers were able to arrange them in a family tree based on similarities in their genomes.That family tree shows that some regions of the rhinovirus genome are changing all the time but that others never change. The fact that the unchanging regions are so conserved over the course of evolutionary time means that they perform vital roles and that the virus cannot let them change without perishing. They are therefore ideal targets for drugs because, in principle, any of the 99 strains would succumb to the same drug.
The researchers, who conducted the genetic decoding with the aid of Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett at the University of Maryland, published their insights into the rhinovirus on Thursday in the online edition of Science.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tom Daschle's nomination

Today's excellent editorial of the San Francisco Chronicle on the issue.

PS. I have just read that Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to be US health secretary. In a statement, Obama said he regretted the way he had handled the case. "I've got to own up to my mistake which is that ultimately it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules," he said, according to a transcript. "You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes."

Does anyone important in Washington pay taxes? Or is that civic duty - like jury duty or serving in the military - now something that only the "little people" in America, those without deep pockets and connections, do?

Tom Daschle is the latest Obama appointee to make the American middle class feel like suckers. Daschle's confirmation as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services is in jeopardy over his failure to pay $140,000 in back taxes and interest, as well as the odious revelation that he's been raking in cash ($5 million in the last four years alone) "advising," "consulting," "speaking" and "fundraising" for a string of industry clients seeking influence with the government. Included in that string of clients were many members of the health care industry that Daschle would be expected to regulate, as Health and Human Services secretary, and eventually, retool, as the architect of Obama's health care plan. Daschle's wife is also an influential lobbyist.

Daschle's troubles are unlikely to deter the Senate from approving him. For one thing, Daschle was once the Democratic leader in the Senate, and it'll be hard for the Senate's 58 Democrats to tell him no. Also - and here is where things get really odious - by the standards of Washington, Daschle's misdeeds really aren't that bad. Treading the well-worn path from Capitol Hill to K Street (where Washington's lobbyists reside) is a longstanding and bipartisan tradition. And the taxes? Pfft. Let them eat cake!

But here's where Obama needs to remember his campaign promise to restrict the influences of lobbying. Daschle, for all of his experience and knowledge of health care, has disqualified himself from this important position because of his own personal greed. The Senate should reject his nomination.