Posted by: ateedub | August 27, 2008

DC Demands the Vote

Thanks DCist, for bringing this video to our attention:

(courtesy Flickr user christaki)

(courtesy Flickr user christaki)

Only in DC would we commission a song to protest our lack of a vote in the legislature, and then play it at the Democratic National Convention. I’m not sure this helps increase awareness about the issue – at least not outside of DC where awareness is already pretty high. My neighborhood is littered with these signs (of course I do live in the more activist Capitol Hill, not in NW).

FACT: DC residents do not have a vote in the legislature.

This may seem like a silly issue, but it’s a matter of principle. We in DC are less equal than the rest of Americans simply because we live in the nation’s capital. The absurdity lies in the fact that Wyoming has 40,000 fewer residents than the District, but has 2 Senators and a Representative in the House (all able to vote) representing them in Congress. To add insult to injury, the city’s budget must be approved by the House of Representatives each year – where we the citizen’s of the District do not have a vote!

FACT: Several bills have gone before Congress to give DC a voting Representative in the House.

I understand the argument that we don’t want to add a single seat in the House that would almost inevitably always vote Democratic. But the proposals include a second seat going to Utah, which would almost inevitably always vote Republican and whose population growth likely warrants another seat. And yet, this hasn’t been passed.

So DC’s non-voting Delegate in the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton, makes a speech about this at the convention (at 3 pm when no-one is in the convention center) and the DC delegation holds a protest outside the Denver mint.

But the voting rights song brings up important messages:

  • Education: We’re ranked 51st in the country. Granted, it’s not a one-to-one comparison, but even among cities, we’re low.
  • Poverty: Income inequality in the District is the highest in the nation.

And there is no state funding to support schools or infrastructure – only the city. And the District’s Mayor and City Council must have their budget passed by Congress each year. I know I was pretty astounded when Mary Landrieu decided to step into local DC policy last year as chair of the appropriations committee. What does she know about DC?

In short, I love the song even though it will be as ineffective as every other attempt, I also noticed Hillary Clinton’s omission last night, and I demand the vote.

Posted by: ateedub | August 26, 2008

Schweitzer Rocks

Wow. I’ve been watching CNN’s DNC convention coverage because it’s the only thing covering ‘all’ speeches at the convention. Of course they skipped Sebelius, who I wanted to see, talking through her speech with their ‘analysis’.

Mark Warner’s keynote was good – focusing on science and technology (yay!). But Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer really brought down the house. He was so authentic and personable. I understand he’s apparently not a “rising star” in the party, but he sure is a great speaker. The DNC was probably right to use him as the primetime lead up to Hillary’s speech for his amazing delivery.

He also seems to have been the first speaker to really challenge John McCain, and made a point of challenging him on the issues: global warming, alternative energy, the economy. Great ‘heartland’ issues for the DNC.

Great job Schweitzer. I don’t know much about you, but to my mind this speech is equivalent to Obama’s 2004 convention speech in my mind. I’d love to see you on the ticket in the future.

Oh, and CNN skipped the first half of the speech until they realized that it was getting amazing reaction from the crowd (not that the “sound on the floormeters budged out of the green).

So Obama’s announcement of his VP selection should be occuring literally any minute now. He’s planning to campaign with him on Saturday, and thanks to the airtight lock on the name of the selected candidate, even the future running mate doesn’t know his fate. So he’ll need at least a day to turn over whatever business he’s currently working on (whether as Governor, Senator, or Congressman).

With this heightened media attention, expectations are extremely high. Obama’s been great with timing his announcements thus far, creating a lot of media buzz by making the media wait (and also by doing things unconventionally).

But can he meet these expectations? Everyone – from the ardent supporters who signed up to receive the txt as soon as they could to the media to those more casually interested – have been at such a heightened state of readiness. Won’t the actualy discovery be a let down after this week-long adrenaline rush?

Think about the number of people just waiting for their phone to buzz with a message. They’ve been on the edge of their seats for a week now. And there’s no way to make everyone happy. I would think that the huge level of anticipation makes the likelihood of a huge letdown higher.

In the end, it’s probably worth the risk. Obama is, as usual, dominating the news.

Posted by: ateedub | August 20, 2008

The Branding Exercise of Punching In

Punching In has a great opening that describes through example what a brand really is. In my mind, it’s the sum of all of the interactions that take place within and with a company/product/etc. It’s so good that I’m assigning the intro to my class as reading on brands. The dive into the first meaty chapter on UPS was also fantastic; Alex Frankel’s experience as a temporary package deliverman drew me in.

But the book kind of petered out. Frankel’s immersive experiences at UPS and Enterprise were very interesting and certainly instructive. But I wanted more of them, and less of the ‘trying to get a job with one of these companies analysis‘. And definitely less reflection on the experience outside of the direct narrative. I definitely prefer to draw the (very obvious) conclusions on my own, and not listen to Frankel restate them.

The Gap, Starbucks, and Apple segments didn’t have the fascination factor for me that UPS and Enterprise did. I think I knew more about those brands and companies going in (thanks to books like this), so there weren’t as many revelations about them. Other readers see some of these experiences as a means to compare companies.Though presumably not the intention of the book, I now have a much greater respect for UPS and their drivers. Despite their spotty service at my house, and the awkward experience of being asked out in the middle of a crowded office hallway by the UPS guy who delivers to my office, I now really appreciate the company and didn’t before (for those reasons). And I realized just this week that the UPS guy at work knows my name, despite having only delivered to me a handful of times over the past 2 years (and having his heart broken by me over a year ago).

Interestingly, I just had a job candidate come through who had spent a year in Enterprise’s management training program. He talked about washing cars in his suit and dealing with a number of customer horror stories. (He decided this was not what he wanted to do, thus the interview.) It seems like Frankel’s experience was pretty spot on, but it didn’t help the candidate get my job.

On a final note, this was the second complete ‘for fun’ book I read on my Kindle, and I loved it. I got through the whole book without needing to charge the battery once. And I think I’ve worked out the right text size and page change rhythm that lets me read at a more normal speed (which I recognize is probably really fast to most people).

Parts of this review are also on my Goodreads.

Posted by: ateedub | August 19, 2008

On White Coats and Med Students

Medical Students (courtesy UofL)

Medical Students (courtesy UofL)

The new crop of med students has just started. As always, they’re noisy, full of dreams, sufficiently sarcastic in conversation with one another to sound jaded, and they think this place is all about them. It’s in their swagger, the way they talk too loudly on the university shuttle, the way they ware their newly bestowed waist-length white coats, and above all, in the way they take up the whole damn sidewalk on their way to and from class.

Tourists on Segways (courtesy Segs in the City)

Tourists on Segways (courtesy Segs in the City)

They are like tourists in a lot of ways. Ignoring the locals trying to go about their daily lives as they ooh and ahh in gaggles that block any forward motion, talk too loudly in public spaces about their plans for the day or what so-and-so said about such-and-such or as they count each and every stop on the metro, checking and re-checking the map after each station.

I don’t really hate the med students. I’m jealous of their exhuberance and annoyed by their thoughtlessness. I’m fascinated by the many reasons they have for subjecting themselves to at least 7 more years of almost certain debt and nearly no control over their daily routine.

The pomp and ceremony and supposed prestige are the carrots for that giant 7+ year stick, so I can’t really be upset with the attitudes that come out when they’re in a group. And now with the white coats distributed, and the stethoscopes duly hung around necks, they begin their new routine. Everyone in dress shoes for clincal rounds on Tuesdays, gross anatomy experiences bonding those who had never experienced death, and study groups meeting at the coffee shop.

Wyle as Dr. John Carter (courtesy NBC)

Wyle as Dr. John Carter (courtesy NBC)

It’s an experience I was never interested in, but I (clearly) view it with some nostalgia. I think I wish I knew all the doctors I now work with as newly-minted white coats. I wish I could watch them develop into the physicians and researchers they are today. And see first-hand how that person’s personality was formed.

I am reading Jerome Groopman‘s Second Opinion right now, and just saw an episode of Hopkins for the first time, which really doesn’t do much to de-romanticize the profession. So these thoughts are far more pronounced now than normal. Plus I can never discount the nostalgia I feel for ER, which I stopped watching in 1996 but is about to start its final season (with a return from Noah Wyle who was my first doctor stereotype after my family’s dry pediatrician).

Of course, I get my sometimes more than daily dose of Orac as well.

Posted by: ateedub | August 18, 2008

1000 visitors

As a side note, and with completely acknowledged self-absorption, this blog has reached its first 1000 readers!

Posted by: ateedub | August 18, 2008

The Personal Impact of the Georgian Invasion

Sandra Roelofs

Sandra Roelofs

I had the unusual opportunity to meet Sandra Roelofs, the Republic of Georgia’s first lady, when she and her husband were on a state visit to Washington, DC last spring. While President Mikheil Saakashvili met with Bush and other state department officials, Roelofs toured medical facilities in the area.

I was struck by her genuine commitment to making a difference. Originally from the Netherlands, Roelofs was not raised as a member of the political elite. She met her husband in Strasbourg while studying at a human rights institute and they were married before Saakashvili was recruited into politics in 1995. After they moved to Tblisi, she worked in a number of professional positions until her husband was elected President. She also makes it very clear that she did not take her husband’s last name, and that she is the “first lady,” not the “President’s wife.”

As first lady, she has continued to support several causes. She has focused primarily on medical care in Georgia – a passion that was renewed after giving birth to her second son in a Georgian hospital. She was struck by the care she received from her nurses and decided to enroll in nursing school. She was due to complete nursing school this summer, and begin working in a clinic about twice a week.

At the same time, she also continued her work championing reproductive health. In 1998 (six years before Saakashvili was elected President), Roelofs founded SOCO, a charitable organization that today focuses primarily on improving maternal and child health in Georgia. This blends with her role as chair of the Reproductive Health National Council under the Georgian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. She has been an international advocate for many issues.

Now I wonder what life has been like for her since the conflict with Russia started. Will she still go into work as a nurse a couple days each week? If her husband is ousted as president, will she independently continue to have an impact on Georgian society? Would she return home?

I’m fascinated by these questions, and have wondered about this a lot since the conflict began. Roelofs seems to be in a very difficult situation, with little control over where her life goes from here. With a platform to some extent independent from her husband’s political career, how will she ride out the conflict that appears to be ripping apart this country, and how will she continue her advocacy work?

She has been in Beijing with the Georgian Olympic delegation (which includes 2 Brazilians) for the past week, and was part of the decision to stay at the Games. The only news relating her to the conflict is a condolence note she wrote when a Dutch journalist was killed by Russian forces.

Posted by: ateedub | August 11, 2008

The Olympic Spirit in Science

The Olympics are an amazing international event. I can’t think of any other organization that is able to bring together (nearly) all of the countries of the world for an equally positive experience. While each country roots for their own athletes, this national pride does not create conflict. Instead, we celebrate each others’ achievements and recognize the incredible skill and dedication of all the athletes.

While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is not without its politics and controversies, compare its achievements to those of the United Nations (UN). The IOC brings the world together every 2 years for a sporting event of unparalleled proportions. Unfortunately, the UN is not able to bring together its member states to deal with some of today’s pressing issues, such as hunger, poverty, and education. Nor do UN summits and events bring forth the excitement and good will seen in the Olympics – from the participants or the general public.

In the United States, the summer Olympics allow kids to dream of becoming the next track star, star gymnast, or swimming star. And that has the effect of pushing kids outside to practice their long jump, sprints, or even badminton. One summer my brother and I hosted a mini-Olympics for the neighborhood kids. We spent days cutting and spray painting silver, gold, and bronze medals made of plywood and strung with green ribbon.

So how can we incite this passion for science? Not just in kids, so they can once again dream of growing up to be PhDs, but in everyone in all countries?

In the United States, the only period that compares is the Space Race of the 1960s that truly captured the imagination of the entire country. Kids wanted to be astronauts and physicists. Adults followed the competition between the US and the USSR, rooting for NASA’s plans for manned spaceflight and the trip to the moon. Astronomy, and more importantly, astrophysics and engineering, were like national sports, with the results closely watched.

Competition helps spur public interest, but it is difficult to imagine a scientific competition today that would spark long-term interest in the general public without creating tensions and animosity toward other countries. The Space Race was such a successful public campaign because of the ongoing conflict with the USSR, which fanned the flames of nationalism.

I can think of several big problems that are worthy of competition: an AIDS vaccine or cure, a cost-effective method for creating biofuels from waste biomass (not edible biomass like corn), or a synthetic ozone layer.

A couple of recent science competitions have received some level of public attention, but less I would have hoped. The Human Genome Project was certainly a hot topic at the beginning of the 21st century when Craig Venter’s company, Celera Genomics, raced the international effort led by the National Institutes of Health. Interest in the race heated up as each side claimed to have completed the project, but fell as the details of the relative completeness were discussed. Gaining even less attention than the HGP was the X Prize competition, which aimed to spur private companies to create vehicles capable of space travel.

So, what can be done to spur public attention to and involvement with a scientific competition or challenge?

In the spirit of the Olympics, ScienCentral posted the results of a science literacy quiz awarding countries medals for their correct answers.

Posted by: ateedub | August 10, 2008

Amazing Sights at the County Fair

After much convincing (of him), my boyfriend and I drove up to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair last night. While I expected the canival rides, the impossible-to-win games, and the cow, goat, sheep, and (really cute) rabbit barns, I was surprised to see two circus freak sideshow tents.

I’ve studied the history of science – in which freaks of nature play a leading role during the middle ages – and I honestly never considered the possibility that these types of displays would continue to draw in customers (for the cut-rate price of only $5!).

I think that most people know that “deformities” – really just physical abnormalities that occur in the developmental process – exist in nature. Think of 6-toed cats. At the same time, most of us have probably not seen examples of this in its most dramatic form: a dog with one head and two bodies, goats with five or six legs, pigs “with human hands on all four legs.” As you walk by this enclosed tent at the Agricultural Fairgrounds, the announcer describes these “amazing” creatures.

The weird and abnormal (read different) will always fascinate people. Luckily, we no longer ascribe these creatures to the devil. We understand that development is a complex process, and that biology sometimes goes haywire. Even so, at what point will we stop demonizing things that are different?

As a society, we now understand what causes goats to grow an extra leg. While the developmental patterns are not completely understood in all their intricacies, the homeobox genes responsible for these patterns were discovered 25 years ago.

I guess I just find it strange that in 2008, I can go to an ag fair in the (far-)suburbs of DC and find a sideshow dedicated to animals that have extra body parts. More than anything else, I find the exhibits sad. I feel terrible for the dog with two bodies – it must be a painful and uncomfortable life.

Posted by: ateedub | July 31, 2008

More on Cell Phones

It’s been a week since Herberman of University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute publicly declared his fear of a link between cell phones and cancer. Several more mainstream media sources have since covered this topic, including Larry King Live.

Larry King’s segment (scroll down to the cell phone transcript) featured only scientists and physicians. This has not been typical in the MSM where health – or science – related panels often include consumer/patient advocates or industry marketing professionals.

Thank god there was a scientist who can talk clearly on camera and whose position reflects the scientific consensus. Ted Schwartz, director brain tumor surgery at Weil Cornell, introduced his perspective (“First let me say…”), then clearly stated that “there is no conclusive evidence” and we don’t create health policy based on inconclusive evidence.

Devra Davis of UPCI’s Center for Center for Environmental Oncology was also on the show, and in fact stayed on for the entire segment (unlike most others who came in mid-way or dropped off). Davis has had good media training, and her message comes across very clearly and rationally. Unfortunately, the first two doctors to appear on the segment with her could not get their message across to counter her claims.

Dr. Keith Black, Chairman, Dept. of Neurosurgery, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center:

We know that microwave radiation can damage cells, and there’s been some experimental evidence to suggest there are harmful effects. As Dr. Davis said, at this point, they’re looking at the relationship between cell phone use and brain cancer. We have conflicting studies. Some studies, which are not absolutely perfect, showed no correlation. We also have some studies that tend to suggest a correlation.

Ok, that’s not terrible – but definitely not great. Compare it to Schwartz’s “there is no conclusive evidence.” Also, the opening statement about microwave radiation is misleading since it’s such a vague statement (what dose damaged cells, and what constitutes damage to cells?). Black continues with:

One of the recent studies from Sweden show that if you use cell phones an hour a day for ten years, your risk may be increased as much as two-fold. The real concern is analogous to this: we’ve only been using cell phones for a short period. Most of the studies are for a short period of time. So if you have a 14-year-old who smokes cigarettes, we don’t expect that 14-year-old to develop lung cancer at 24. We expect them to develop lung cancer at 54. If you have an eight-year-old using a cell phone, we don’t expect them to [do you feel get] lung cancer at 18, but at 48.

He just lost everyone who is not an epidemiologist. There are too many numbers in there, and honestly, don’t think that many people understand the timing of the relationship between smoking and lung cancer – at least not when it’s articulated like this.

Later on, Paul Song, a radiation oncologist from somewhere in LA (institution not identified), injects the idea that your phone getting hot while in use implies radiation exposure:

I think the most important thing is that when we look at any type of radiation exposure, whether or not it’s radio waves or gamma waves, is that the duration of your exposure. So clearly if you’re on the cell phone for a long period of time — I think we all have been in situations where our ear gets warm — that clearly means maybe we’re on a little too long.

There is no direct association here, but the implication is there. My understanding is that the heat from cell phones is a byproduct of the electrical processes that take place in the phone. It’s the same thing with the CPU in your computer. The radiowaves being emitted by phones are not like the waves emitted by your microwave, so your brain is not being cooked. Think about it – the phone itself gets hot. If radiation were heating your ear, the phone would stay cool and your ear would warm up.

The CTIA (wireless company association) sent a great statement saying that this issue needs to be guided by science:

This is an issue that should be guided by science. The overwhelming majority of studies that have been published in scientific journals around the world show that wireless phones do not pose a health risk. Furthermore, this is the public position of leading health organizations, such as the United States Food and Drug Administration, the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization. Public statements and declarations not guided by published scientific research can have the effect of misinforming the general public. As technology continues to evolve, the industry supports continued research. But we want to stress the fact that this a consensus among leading health organizations concerning published scientific research, and they show no reason for concern.

Sanjay Gupta (CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent) and Otis Brawley (Chief Medical Officer of ACS) inject a rational discussion of the issue.

Later that night (July 29th), I watched the Colbert Report where author Eric Roston talked about the role of science and technology in our society. One statement really stood out to me:

Science is the foundation of our technology, technology is the foundation of our economy, and if we don’t follow the carbon and we are serious about our future we should go back and look at the fundamental architect, builder and building block of civilization.

His new book is about carbon, but I thought the sentiment also applied to this cell phone debate and the role of science in our society. Just replace the word carbon with science in the quote above.

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