Some leading English soccer players are storing stem cells from their newborn babies as a potential future treatment for their own career-threatening sports injuries, according to a report in the UK Sunday Times newspaper.
Players are freezing the cells taken from the umbilical cord blood of their babies as a possible future cure for cartilage and ligament problems. Stem cells can be used to regenerate damaged organs and tissue because they are the earliest form of cells.
The paper quoted one unnamed Premier League player from a north west club as saying: ‘We decided to store our new baby’s stem cells for possible future therapeutic reasons, both for our children and possibly for myself.
‘As a footballer, if you’re prone to injury it can mean the end of your career, so having your stem cells — a repair kit if you like — on hand makes sense.’
The player is one of five who have frozen their children’s stem cells with Liverpool-based CryoGenesis International (CGI), a commercial stem cell bank.
The Times said that in the past five years more than 11,000 British parents have paid up to 1,500 pounds ($2,837) to store their babies’ stem cells in order to grow tissue, should their children become ill.
Thousands of successful umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants have already been carried out to treat children with severe blood conditions or immune disorders.
James McCormick reviews Bryan Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization:
If one wants a great historical bridge between the writings of Victor David Hanson and Robert Kaplan, few titles can beat The Fall of Rome. Throw in Alfred Crosby’s The Measure of Reality for some early Renaissance insight, and you’ve got a solid train of interesting historical reading stretching from ancient Athens to yesterday’s Baghdad.
In a few weeks, The Fall of Rome will be out in affordable paperback from Oxford University Press. Let’s hope this “if you only read one book” title makes it into the hands of new generation of young historians, and onto the holiday gift list of anyone who’s wondered what “the end of a civilization” really looks like. This compact summary of the fall of Rome will amaze you, maintain your interest, and cause the odd shiver.
NPR looks at A Charter School’s Unconventional Success:
Five years ago, the American Indian Charter High School in Oakland, Calif. was about to be closed down because of poor attendance and rock-bottom academic scores.
But then Ben Chavis joined the school as principal — bringing his controversial political philosophy and unconventional curriculum with him — and now the school has the highest academic scores in the city and a nearly 100 percent attendance rate.
The on-line blurb doesn’t spell out Chavis’s controversial philosophy, but the interview brings out some evocative soundbites.
Of white liberals, Chavis says, “They have no standards for minorities,” and mocks their condescending teaching methods: “Let’s understand their learning style.” Then he goes one step further: “They wiped out many more people than the Klan has.”
He’s not afraid to praise or shame students, asking a student “How are you making the black population look good?” and warning another, “Do you know what people are going to call you when you get older? They’re going to call you a lazy Mexican.”
You can read more about Chavis’s middle school in Hard Line, Top School.
Selective Breeding Gets Modern — in order to sidestep fears of genetically modified foods:
Some of the largest agricultural biotech companies in the world, including Monsanto and DuPont, are turning to marker-assisted selection, or MAS, as a way to circumvent the controversy surrounding genetically modified foods.
Scientists say it’s an efficient and relatively noncontroversial way to create designer fruit and vegetable crops with superior disease and pest resistance, as well as enhanced flavor, texture, skin color or shelf life.
MAS involves analyzing plants for genetic markers associated with desirable traits, then using conventional breeding methods to introduce the genes into a host. The markers are used to quickly identify which seedlings are the superior progeny.
For example, a wild apple variety might have a brilliant red skin. In order to bring that trait to a domesticated apple, researchers first scan the apple’s genome for the gene that determines skin color. Then, looking at the wild apple, they search the chromosome containing the skin color gene for a unique and easy-to-identify segment, which becomes the marker. After crossbreeding the two apple trees, scientists look for the genetic marker rather than waiting a few years to see which of the seedlings picked up the red skin trait.
The technique allows researchers to sort new hybrids in the lab long before any fruit is grown. This involves taking a DNA sample from each sapling and using methods such as gel electrophoresis to look for the red skin marker in the genetic code. Companies are compiling databases of MAS genetic markers, and while some are making the data freely available, others are treating marker information as a trade secret.
Most fruit and vegetable species have far more wild varieties than we see in the grocery store, and many contain valuable traits, such as pest resistance or luscious fruit, that could be bred into common varieties.
Scientists at Seminis, a seed company acquired by Monsanto in 2005, found that a wild tomato variety had a natural resistance to tomato yellow leaf curl virus, which causes a disease that can devastate domesticated tomatoes. They identified the gene responsible for the resistance and bred it into a domestic variety.
Retired military intelligence officer and counterinsurgency specialist Terence J. Daly says that Killing Won’t Win This War:
There is a difference between killing insurgents and fighting an insurgency. In three years, the Sunni insurgency has grown from nothing into a force that threatens our national objective of establishing and maintaining a free, independent and united Iraq. During that time, we have fought insurgents with airstrikes, artillery, the courage and tactical excellence of our forces, and new technology worth billions of dollars. We are further from our goal than we were when we started.
Counterinsurgency is about gaining control of the population, not killing or detaining enemy fighters. A properly planned counterinsurgency campaign moves the population, by stages, from reluctant acceptance of the counterinsurgent force to, ideally, full support.
American soldiers deride “winning hearts and minds” as the equivalent of sitting around a campfire singing “Kumbaya.” But in fact it is a sophisticated, multifaceted, even ruthless struggle to wrest control of a population from cunning and often brutal foes. The counterinsurgent must be ready and able to kill insurgents — lots of them — but as a means, not an end.
Counterinsurgency is work better suited to a police force than a military one. Military forces — by tradition, organization, equipment and training — are best at killing people and breaking things. Police organizations, on the other hand, operate with minimum force. They know their job can’t be done from miles away by technology. They are accustomed to face-to-face contact with their adversaries, and they know how to draw street-level information and support from the populace. The police don’t threaten the governments they work under, because they don’t have the firepower to stage coups.
James Surowiecki discusses Private Lies:
In the late nineteen-nineties, every bright young entrepreneur with a startup was dying to take his company public. In a time of generous stock options and irrationally optimistic markets, I.P.O.s seemed to offer a reliable road to riches. But lately the opposite approach — taking a company private — has become popular. Since the beginning of 2005, nearly a hundred top-level executives at public companies have participated in management buyouts, or M.B.O.s, joining private-equity investors to buy their companies from shareholders.
What the executives in these deals don’t say is that such buyouts create huge conflicts of interest. The C.E.O. of a public company is legally obligated to look after shareholders’ interests, which in the case of selling the company means getting the highest price possible. But when that same C.E.O. is trying to buy the company, he wants to pay the lowest price possible. [...] A study of buyouts over the past two years suggests that when management is the buyer it pays, on average, thirty per cent less than an outside bidder.
Even more troubling, management buyouts give executives at public companies an incentive not to maximize the value of their companies before the sale. In 1987, for instance, after the textile giant Burlington Industries was taken private by a buyout group that included top Burlington executives, it quickly sold off the company’s “nonproductive assets,” including ten separate divisions and a host of manufacturing plants, for well over half a billion dollars. The executives could have done those deals while Burlington was a public company. But doing them after the buyout, when they owned more of the firm, meant that they reaped more of the benefits. Similarly, management buyouts are often associated with major restructurings to make companies leaner and more profitable. With few exceptions, these restructurings could be done before buyouts. But they’re not, in part because executives would rather wait until they own a bigger chunk of the company. A study of buyouts in the U.K., for instance, found that C.E.O.s who planned to buy their own companies were less likely to embark on restructuring than C.E.O.s who weren’t.
Also, executives, before making a buyout offer, use accounting gimmicks to make their company’s performance look worse than it really is. In a study of more than sixty companies that went private, Sharon Katz, of the Harvard Business School, found that, in the two years preceding a management buyout, companies recorded lower than expected accounts receivable, which drove profits down. Similarly, a study by two accounting professors found that executives pursuing M.B.O.s tended to accelerate the recognition of expenses and delay the recognition of revenue, making their companies look less profitable than they were. Management buyouts have a reputation for dramatically improving companies’ performance. But these studies suggest that part of the reason is that executives were making them look bad while they were public.
It gets worse:
But if management buyouts were really about the virtues of private ownership you’d expect companies that go private to stay private. The reality, though, is that, with high-profile deals, this rarely happens. Instead, after a company has been buffed and shined, it’s generally taken public again.
Tyler Cowen feels that “there are way way way too many books on gender differences,” and “most of them just string together the usual well-known templates,” but he read every page of The Female Brain with interest. Two factoids from the book:
New mothers lose an average of seven hundred hours of sleep in the first year postpartum.
In one study, mother rats were given the opportunity to press a bar and get a squirt of cocaine or press a bar and get a rat pup to suck their nipples…. Those oxytocin squirts in the brain outscored a snort of cocaine every time.
In You heard it here first, Jane Galt refers to Greg Mankiw’s recent post, which points to a new paper that explains that 70% of the burden of the corporate income tax falls on employees. She says, “you can’t tax a corporation; you can only tax that corporation’s employees, shareholders, or customers,” and points to her earlier post on the subject:
As my favorite macroeconomics professor pointed out, it is impossible to tax a corporation because the corporation is just a fictional entity designed to pass profits back to its owners. When you say you’re going to “tax a corporation”, the corporation doesn’t go to the money farm to harvest some more cash to give to the government so we can expand job training for unwed mothers — some real person is going to pay that tax. When you put a tax on wages, such as social security or the unemployment tax, the employer doesn’t say, “oh, well, profits dropped 15% this year; better tell Merrill Lynch to issue a ‘sell’ rating” — they pay their employees less, both to lower the tax burden and to recover the lost profits. They hire fewer employees, because each employee is now more expensive. This costs real people money. When you up the corporate tax, either the employees pay, because the firm can’t afford as many of them; the customers pay, because the firms have to raise their prices to cover the taxes; or the shareholders pay because dividends are lower and the company is worth less. And before you liberal types start rubbing your hands in glee at the thought of those pained shareholders, keep in mind that the largest shareholders in companies are insurance companies, which invest in stocks in order to make the money they need to pay off when your house burns down; and pension funds, making the money to take picketing US Steelworkers off the streets and put them into good homes. The other big holders are mutual funds, which is what most of us have our 401(k)’s in. So when you say “I want to tax corporate profits”, try silently saying to yourself “so that Mom can sell the condo in Florida and move in with me.”
If the goal is “to redistribute money from the company’s richer owners, customers, and managers to its poorer employees,” then we already have a way to do that: “It’s a little thing I like to call the progressive income tax.”
Apocalypse Not explains how “welfare reform’s success is a lesson in modesty”:
Welfare reform turned 10 this week, and more remarkable than its near-total success is the near-total amnesia that seems to have gripped its one-time opponents. The results and the history are both worth revisiting today because they offer some useful political and policy lessons for the future.
When Bill Clinton signed the bill ending a federal entitlement to welfare, a leading liberal newspaper called it “nasty,” “atrocious” and “odious” — adding with typical nuance that “the children will suffer the most.” Three Clinton Administration officials resigned over the bill. Georgia Congressman John Lewis not too subtly raised the specter of fascism as he literally screamed on the House floor, “They’re coming for the children. They’re coming for the poor. They’re coming for the sick, the elderly and the disabled.” Even as sensible a social scientist as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan lost his head and called it “something approaching an apocalypse.”
The real story has been apocalypse not. Welfare reform has worked so well that its success runs the risk of going almost unnoticed. Welfare rolls are down to about two million today from a peak of five million in 1995. The last time welfare caseloads were this low was 1970, when America had 100 million fewer citizens. But what about the children? The rate of black children living in poverty in America was more than 40% in 1996 and stands at 32% today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the 25 years prior to welfare reform, that number had only briefly ever dipped below 40% and stood as high as 47% in 1980.
The article notes, “One lesson here is the familiar American one that states can play a useful role as policy laboratories.” Many of the new federal welfare policies had been tested at the state level.
Tyler Cowen notes the “neuroeconomics critique” of big box sets of CDs or DVDs:
There is a neuroeconomics critique of Big Box Sets. So much of the pleasure of a purchase lies in the anticipation of the buy rather than the having. The anticipatory pleasure of a Big Box Set, no matter how large, is not so much greater than the anticipatory pleasure from a single CD. Yet once you own a large box it sits around. You can’t listen to the CDs all at once. They start to feel “stale,” and then you go out and want that anticipatory fix again.
Dave Sim discusses his fighting aardvark comic, Cerebus, with the CBC in this interview from their archives:
It began as a satire of Conan the Barbarian mixed with Howard the Duck. But over the years Cerebus the Aardvark turned into something much more, an intricate socio-political allegory, an epic labour of love for its creator and eventually, the longest running English-language comic book story ever. In this 1983 radio clip, cartoonist Dave Sim along with his wife and publisher Deni Loubert, discuss his then young comic and its unlikely hero.
Joel Johnson picked up an original paste-up of Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work — “or some interesting ways to get some variety into those boring panels where some dumb writer has a bunch of lame characters sitting around and talking for page after page!” — and has placed fairly hi-res versions on-line.
Guy Kawasaki suggests Ten Things to Learn This School Year — but he can’t stop at just ten:
- How to talk to your boss.
- How to survive a meeting that’s poorly run.
- How to run a meeting.
- How to figure out anything on your own.
- How to negotiate.
- How to have a conversation.
- How to explain something in thirty seconds.
- How to write a one-page report.
- How to write a five-sentence email.
- How to get along with co-workers.
- How to use PowerPoint.
- How to leave a voicemail.
Nick Szabo describes book consciousness:
Marshall McLuhan, Elizabeth Eisenstein and others have described the importance of the “printing revolution” to European developments such the Reformation, Renaissance, and science. According to Eisenstein, printing finally foiled the entropy that had destroyed the vast majority of written works since ancient times. Printing also enlarged the bookshelves of scholars all over Europe: by a factor of fifty or more by the middle of the 16th century.
I’d go even farther than Eisenstein. Printing soon brought literacy to vast numbers of people (eventually to the vast majority of us). Printing, especially printing in newly standardized vernaculars, changed the very consciousness of people, and turned a small corner of the world, Western Europe, into a culture that in many ways conquered the world. Widespread decentralized printing and the accompanying book markets, new schools, and rise of literacy gave rise to a new form of consciousness — book consciousness.
Colombus was among the first generation of navigators who had been reading avidly and widely since a child. On his bookshelf was Marco Polo’s Travels. On his voyages he carried maps made by geographers who had been literate sincethey were children, and he carried astronomical tables that had been printed widely across Europe. These tables had been made by a Hungarian-Italian mathematician whose bookshelf was full of ancient Greek science and mathematics. Such information had been rather inferior and far less available just a few decades before.
With the easy conquest by tiny Portugal of Asia’s vast and ancient sea trade routes, rapidly literizing Western Europeans were by the early 16th century demonstrating a vast superiority in naval affairs. In navigation as in battle officers using accurate charts and astronomical tables were at a premium. (Europeans did not have quite such good luck on land against the Turks). Western Europeans would retain completely uncontested (except among each other) naval superiority on the world’s oceans until the Japanese victory over Russia in the early 20th century. The Japanse by then had long since taken up printing and had a very well read population . Even on the ground by the 18th century English merchants, officers, and civil servants, practically all of them literate and widely read since young children, were finding it quite easy to conquer and take over the administration in far larger and otherwise highly advanced civilizations like India.
Szabo notes that widespread literacy allowed western organizations to grow beyond the Dunbar number, which was popularized by Gladwell in The Tipping Point as the “rule of 150″:
Soon after the spread of the printing press, the very fundamentals of organization in Western Europe began to change. In the late Middle Ages organizations, even royal and papal bureaucracies and banking “super-companies”, rarely engaged more than a few dozen employees. Organizational size came up against the severe limit of the Dunbar number. By the end ofthe 16th century, the colonial companies and bureaucracies of Spain and Portugal were vast, highly literate, and well coordinated. Officer corps had often been raised on military books and thus able to draw lessons from a wide variety of ancient and recent battles. Even a minor salt extractor in Wear, England, was employing 300 men by the mid 16th century. (Large organizations in manufacturing would largely have to wait until the 18th century and the industrial revolution, however).
Read the whole article.
Incidentally, the Dunbar number has also been popularized as the “monkeysphere”:
In its popularization, the research of Dunbar and others is taken as an upper bound of the number of fellow humans that an individual can view as being “truly human”. In this form, the “monkeysphere” functions as a reductionistic and biologistic explanation for why humans can treat some humans with consideration and other humans indifferently or even inhumanely.
Some example explanations using the notion of a monkeysphere are:
- “Whenever you make new close personal friends, you have to drop some old personal friends to make room for them in your monkeysphere.”
- “The reason that the people in village X don’t mind doing Y to the people in village Z is because the people in village Z are not in the monkeysphere of people in village X.”
- “Because the number of people in that department exceeded 150, which is the size of the human monkeysphere, they had to split the department into two.”
For one test, White put a piece of paper in front of [Cardinals slugger Albert] Pujols. Capital letters were strewn about the page. White told Pujols to locate and cross out all of the As.
White realized she’d never seen anyone scan the page “I’ve never seen anyone scan that way, but it would be important on the baseball field,” White said, noting the skill would allow Pujols to scan the field and know where everyone is without missing any action.
In another test, Pujols replicated 133 symbols in a minute — a testament to Pujols’ hand-eye coordination. The test makers don’t even list a score that high.
In a test of finger-tapping speed, Pujols tapped at 2.4 standard deviations faster than average — placing him in the 99th percentile.
“It just doesn’t get any better than that,” White said.
In fact, Pujols popped the screw right out of the finger tapper. He was contrite, even fixed the machine, tightening the screw with a fingernail.
White said Pujols’ performance on any one test doesn’t explain his abilities; it’s the whole package that probably counts.