Researchers find big batch of breast cancer genes

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Researchers find big batch of breast cancer genes:

The researchers, reporting in the journals Nature and Nature Genetics, said the discoveries are the most important genes associated with breast cancer since BRCA1 and BRCA2 were identified.

Women with faulty copies of BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a 50 percent to 85 percent chance of getting breast cancer in their lifetimes. But they are rare genes, and only account for 5 percent to possibly 10 percent of breast cancer cases.
David Hunter of Harvard University and a team at the U.S.
National Cancer Institute looked at more than 2,200 women of European ancestry.

They found four common mutations in FGFR2 associated with the breast cancer in women after menopause who do not have known relatives with breast cancer.

The mutations raise the risk of breast cancer risk by 20 percent if they carry one copy of the gene and by 60 percent if they carry two copies. And close to 60 percent of the women they studied carried at least one copy.

Turning off gene makes mice smarter

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Turning off gene makes mice smarter:

Bibb and colleagues used genetic engineering techniques to breed mice that could be manipulated to switch off Cdk5, a gene that controls production of a brain enzyme linked to diseases marked by the death of neurons in the brain, such as Alzheimer’s.

“Any time we’re losing neurons, Cdk5 may be contributing to that process. That has made it an area of great interest,” Bibb said in a telephone interview.

“We have shown that we can turn off a gene in an adult animal. That has never been done before,” he added. When they had tried to breed mice that completely lacked the gene, the pups died at birth.

Bibb said they put the mice though a series of tests and found the altered mice did better than normal mice.
Bibb said his work was inspired by the 1999 discovery of “Doogie” mice, a smarter breed of mice developed at Princeton University that were named after the TV program “Doogie Houser,” a show that featured a child prodigy.

Those mice were bred by manipulating NR2B, a gene that also plays a role in associative memory.

“It turns out Cdk5 was controlling the regulation of NR2B,” Bibb said.

(Hat tip to Mrs. Frisby. Just kidding.)

Climbers clear mountain of garbage from Everest

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Climbers clear mountain of garbage from Everest:

Climbers from Japan and Nepal picked up 500 kg (about 1,000 lbs) of tins, old tents, food and medicines littered on Mount Everest over decades by mountaineers, the climbers said on Monday.

Hundreds of climbers carrying tons of supplies try and climb the 8,850 meter (29,035 feet) Mount Everest every year, adding to the piles of trash on its slopes.
Noguchi had led several cleaning campaigns to the mountain in the past and has so far collected 8.8 metric tons of rubbish from the Nepali as well as the Tibetan side of Mount Everest.

Jerry Muller on Schumpeter

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Arnold Kling cites a number of a passages by Jerry Muller on Schumpeter:

He argued that it was precisely the dynamism injected into capitalist society by the entrepreneur that made him an object of antipathy. For the rise of a new entrepreneur…necessarily meant the relative economic decline of those ensconced in the status quo…

In attempting to account for the appeal of socialism, Schumpeter borrowed not only from Nietzsche but from the Italian political theorist Vilfredo Pareto…Pareto’s 1901 essay “The Rise and Fall of Elites,” conveys two themes to which Schumpeter would return time and time again: the inevitability of elites, and the importance of nonrational and nonlogical drives in explaining social action. Pareto suggested that the victory of socialism was “most probable and almost inevitable.” Yet, he predicted…the reality of elites would not change. It was almost impossible to convince socialists of the fallacy of their doctrine, Pareto asserted, since they were enthusiasts of a substitute religion. In such circumstances, arguments are invented to justify actions that were arrived at before the facts were examined, motivated by nonrational drives.

It should come as no surprise that academics and politicians often dislike capitalism:

It was no accident, Schumpeter thought, that capitalism had been so productive…For it appeals to, and helps create, a system of motives that is both simple and forceful. It rewards success with wealth and, no less over, it attracts the brightest and most energetic into market-related activity: as capitalist values come to dominate, a large portion of those with “supernormal brains” move toward business, as opposed to military, governmental, cultural, or theological pursuits.

I’m afraid Dan Klein lost me with his comment:

Nice stuff. What I like especially: They highlight how entrepreneurship can be significantly discoordinating in the Schelling sense of mutual coordination, while significantly coordinating in the Coase/Hayek sense of concatenate or extensive coordination.

On this matter, I find Kirzner, Boettke, Sautet, and many others frustrating, because they resist the distinction between the two coordinations. Once you embrace the distinction, it all becomes clear.


Monday, May 28th, 2007

In Clueless, in the New York Times, Gary J. Bass, associate professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, reviews Bryan Caplan’s new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies:

Now Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, has attracted notice for raising a pointed question: Do voters have any idea what they are doing? In his provocative new book, “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies,” Caplan argues that “voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational — and vote accordingly.” Caplan’s complaint is not that special-interest groups might subvert the will of the people, or that government might ignore the will of the people. He objects to the will of the people itself.

In defending democracy, theorists of public choice sometimes invoke what they call “the miracle of aggregation.” It might seem obvious that few voters fully understand the intricacies of, say, single-payer universal health care. (I certainly don’t.) But imagine, Caplan writes, that just 1 percent of voters are fully informed and the other 99 percent are so ignorant that they vote at random. In a campaign between two candidates, one of whom has an excellent health care plan and the other a horrible plan, the candidates evenly split the ignorant voters’ ballots. Since all the well-informed voters opt for the candidate with the good health care plan, she wins. Thus, even in a democracy composed almost exclusively of the ignorant, we achieve first-rate health care.

The hitch, as Caplan points out, is that this miracle of aggregation works only if the errors are random. When that’s the case, the thousands of ill-informed votes in favor of the bad health plan are canceled out by thousands of equally ignorant votes in favor of the good plan. But Caplan argues that in the real world, voters make systematic mistakes about economic policy — and probably other policy issues too.

Caplan’s own evidence for the systematic folly of voters comes from a 1996 survey comparing the views of Ph.D. economists and the general public. To the exasperation of the libertarian-minded Caplan, most Americans do not think like economists. They are biased against free markets and against trade with foreigners. Absurdly, they think that the American economy is being hurt by too much spending on foreign aid; they also exaggerate the potential economic harms of immigration. In a similar vein, Scott L. Althaus, a University of Illinois political scientist, finds that if the public were better informed, it would overcome its ingrained biases and make different political decisions. According to his studies, such a public would be more progressive on social issues like abortion and gay rights, more ideologically conservative in preferring markets to government intervention and less isolationist but more dovish in foreign policy.


Monday, May 28th, 2007

I didn’t know this about the Python programming language:

An important goal of the Python developers is making Python fun to use. This is reflected in the origin of the name (after the television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus), in the common practice of using Monty Python references in example code, and in an occasionally playful approach to tutorials and reference materials. For example, the metasyntactic variables often used in Python literature are spam and eggs, instead of the traditional foo and bar.

(Hat tip to Todd, who didn’t know it either.)

Incidentally, I hadn’t heard foo referred to as a metasyntactic variable either:

Foo is the canonical metasyntactic variable, commonly used to represent an as-yet-unspecified term, value, process, function, destination or event but seldom a person (see Ned Baker). It is sometimes combined with bar to make foobar. This suggests that foo may have originated with the World War II slang term fubar, as an acronym for fucked/fouled/fixed up beyond all recognition/repair, although the Jargon File makes a reasonably good case that foo predates fubar. Foo was also used as a nonsense word in the surrealistic comic strip Smokey Stover that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s.

The popularity of foo and its derivatives with computer programmers and hackers was likely increased by its appearance in the classic 1976 Colossal Cave Adventure, found on almost every mainframe and mini-computer through the 1970s and 80′s, where the graffiti “fee fie foe foo [sic]” is seen in the Giants’ Cave.

Another usage of foo is as an abbreviation of the phrase “forward observation officer” (or observer). Apparently FOOs used to go places well forward of normal troops in battle and leave a stylised chalk graffiti of a person looking over a wall with the words “foo was here”.

Unwanted books go up in flames

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Unwanted books go up in flames as a used-book store owner gets desperate:

Tom Wayne amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero’s Books.

His collection ranges from best sellers like Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October” and Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” to obscure titles like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910. But wanting to thin out his collection, he found he couldn’t even give away books to libraries or thrift shops, which said they were full.

So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books protest what he sees as society’s diminishing support for the printed word.

“This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today,” Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.

The fire blazed for about 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department put it out because Wayne didn’t have a permit to burn them.

Wayne said next time he will get a permit. He said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply — estimated at 20,000 books — is exhausted.

I always thought it was the job of the firemen to burn books.

(Ooh, years ago I missed this allusion: Guy Montag, a flamethrower-wielding hero in the real-time strategy game StarCraft, is named after the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451.)

100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know

Monday, May 28th, 2007

The editors of the American Heritage® dictionaries have compiled a list of 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know — as “a benchmark against which graduates and their parents can measure themselves”:

laissez faire

(I have provided links to definitions — via the Merriam-Webster dictionary.)

Rampage ices Liddell to capture UFC title

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Rampage ices Liddell to capture UFC title:

“I was doing my thing,” said Jackson, who with the technical knockout at 1:53 of the first round raised his record to 27-6-0. “The right hand landed right on the jaw, right where I planned for it to go, and it was destiny.”
“Ya know, I got caught,” said the 37-year-old Liddell, who absorbed a handful of strikes while he remained dazed on the canvas. “What are you gonna say man? I made a mistake, got caught. Nothing else you can say.”

Of course, from my perspective, the big story is that this article is from ESPN.

NPR : DNA Analysis Illuminates the History of Man

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

NPR recently replayed an erudite interview with Nicholas Wade, the New York Times science reporter who wrote Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. I recommend it.

Axe Emergency Exit Sticker Ad

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

When you first see this Axe Emergency Exit Sticker Ad, you might not see why it’s so clever. Then you see it in place, and you see how it might be (mis)used.

Why should we curtail immigration?

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Why should we curtail immigration? the Economist asks:

How many is too many? Well, the foreign-born population of America peaked around 1890 at about 15%. Looking around me, I see that almost no one seems to be speaking Czech, Italian, Polish or Yiddish, or even English with a crusty Irish brogue, so I presume they were all assimilated adequately.

Currently, America’s foreign-born population is about 10%. This suggests that America could increase its immigration by 50% without destroying its prosperity machine. It’s harder to gauge in European countries, which have no established tradition of absorbing massive immigration flows. But it seems likely that most countries could take more than they have. Not endless numbers. But enough to make a lot of lives better. Including all of us who love ethnic food.

NPR : Dick Dale and the Birth of Surf Rock

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Four of Dick Dale’s classic albums have been re-released, and NPR decided to replay its 1993 interview with “the King of the Surf Guitar”:

He launched surf rock in 1960 with his band, the Deltones. Four of Dale’s early albums are being re-released by Sundazed Music: King of the Surf Guitar, Checkered Flag, Mr. Eliminator and Summer Surf.

He described the surf sound in a 1963 article as “a heavy staccato sound on the lowkey guitar strings, with a heavy throbbing beat — like thunder, or waves breaking over you.” It’s also played loud and with plenty of reverb.

In the interview, Dale talks quite a bit about the heavy-gauge strings he uses and about the massive amps he had made for his performances.

When I saw Dick Dale in a small club in Newport Beach, California years ago, the performance was so loud I couldn’t take it — and this was in my rock-concert-going prime. I assumed he was functionally deaf at that point. In fact, I was a bit surprised he didn’t sound deaf in the interview.

Anyway, listen to the interview — and try not to think of the Black-Eyed Peas when you hear “Miserlou”…

Larger Than Hogzilla

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Young Jamison Stone killed a wild pig even Larger Than Hogzilla:

In this photo released by Melynne Stone, Jamison Stone, 11, poses with a wild pig he killed near Delta, Ala., May 3, 2007. Stone’s father says the hog weighed a staggering 1,051 pounds and measured 9-feet-4 from the tip of its snout to the base of its tail. If claims of the animal’s size are true, it would be larger than “Hogzilla,” the huge hog killed in Georgia in 2004.

What did he kill the half-ton hog with? A pistol:

Jamison, who killed his first deer at age 5, was hunting with father Mike Stone and two guides in east Alabama on May 3 when he bagged Monster Pig. He said he shot the huge animal eight times with a .50-caliber revolver and chased it for three hours through hilly woods before finishing it off with a point-blank shot.

Through it all, there was the fear that the animal would turn and charge them, as wild boars have a reputation for doing.

“I was a little bit scared, a little bit excited,” said Jamison, who lives in Pickensville on the Mississippi border. He just finished the sixth grade on the honor roll at Christian Heritage Academy, a small, private school.

His father said that, just to be extra safe, he and the guides had high-powered rifles aimed and ready to fire in case the beast, with 5-inch tusks, decided to charge.

If you have to shoot the beast eight times and chase it for three hours, might I suggest using the high-power hunting rifles you brought along? For the pig’s sake.

Addendum: Read more in Bigger Than Hogzilla. People get so touchy…

Aliens of Extraordinary Abilities

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

If you’ve been concerned about the overabundance of talented people coming to America, don’t worry; our politicians are putting the issue to rest. Top Talent Could Lose Fast Track to U.S.:

For years, foreign-born Nobel Prize winners, corporate officers, and top talents in sports, arts and sciences have had a fast track to permanent residency, and eventually citizenship, in the United States. In the name of attracting the world’s greatest and brightest, authorities have granted these luminaries priority access to green cards under a little-known provision offered to “aliens of extraordinary abilities.”

It has provided a way for a host of notable foreigners — among them John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Venezuelan-born New York Yankee Bobby Abreu — to make America their home.

But the bill now being debated in Congress would do away with the special “EB-1″ preferred-status category, effectively forcing foreign VIPs to take a number and get in line with everyone else. They would be subject to a complex point system to determine their eligibility — assessing education levels, English abilities, experience in the United States and other factors — just as any engineer from India or farmworker from Mexico.
Last year, 36,960 individuals and family members were granted “priority” permanent resident status under the “extraordinary abilities” category. Under the 100-point system established by the bill, “extraordinary or ordinary” ability in a specialized field would offer, at most, eight additional points to a candidate. That is less than the 10 points that would be awarded to applicants holding a two-year college degree.


The article presents “aliens of extraordinary abilities” as VIP celebrities, but then it goes on to note that 36,960 of them were granted priority last year. The EB-1 category is not simply for media darlings; it’s for Ph.D. scientists coming to teach at our universities and work at our corporations and government institutions.

The last thing we want is to set up hurdles for “aliens of extraordinary abilities” who want to come to the US.