Saturday, March 31, 2012

China coup rumors may be wild, but tension is real,0,6191555.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fnews%2Fnationworld%2Fworld+%28L.A.+Times+-+World+News%29

from the article:

The fates of prominent Communist Party officials Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang point up the clash between economic reformers and Maoist traditionalists.

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

The aftershocksfrom the sacking last week of a powerful Communist Party secretary are still rattling China, injecting an element of turmoil into a transition the government had hoped would showcase the stability of its political system.

State media reported this week that 3,300 party cadres from the security apparatus would be sent to Beijing for ideological retraining. The order was unusual enough, but even more so was the fact that the report omitted mention of internal security czar Zhou Yongkang, who heads the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee that is recalling the cadres.

Zhou, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and until now one of the most powerful men in China, had been the committee's strongest backer of Bo Xilai, the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing who was removed from his post last week. Some overseas Chinese-language Internet sites carried wild (and unsubstantiated) rumors that Zhou and Bo, a popular figure among Maoist traditionalists, had tried to stage a coup.

A level of edginess was apparent this week in the unusually large security presence in central Beijing, complete with armed SWAT teams in some subway stations.

Jin Zhong, a veteran political analyst based in Hong Kong, dismissed the more fantastic rumors, while acknowledging the underlying tension between economic reformers and Maoist traditionalists.

"It hasn't reached the point where you are going to hear gunshots. It is not like when China arrested the Gang of Four in 1976, but there is a very strong conflict going on," Jin said.

Zhou had been a strong supporter of Bo's law-and-order campaigns in Chongqing, where thousands were swept up in a gang-busting dragnet and retirees had been gathering in a public park for now-banned patriotic singing and dancing. According to Jin, Zhou made several visits to the Chongqing delegation at the recently concluded National People's Congress, fighting for Bo's political future until the very end.

Like most of China's senior leaders, the 70-year-old Zhou is due to retire at the 18th party congress in October. Until recently, Bo was thought to be a likely replacement. Jin said he doubted that Zhou would be removed from the Standing Committee because he is already set to leave.

"They won't touch anybody on the Standing Committee before the congress. It is too risky. They've put in a big effort trying to present a picture of stability," Jin said.

Given the opaque nature of the Chinese Communist Party, only whispers and hints of turmoil are being reported in the Chinese press. But the topic is feeding a furious rumor mill on blogs. Numerous reports have appeared in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as on Chinese-language news sites run out of the United States.

The Mingjing News, a U.S.-based news portal, reported that Bo had been scheming with Zhou to prevent vice president and heir apparent Xi Jinping from being confirmed as President Hu Jintao's successor. It also reported that Bo purchased 5,000 rifles and 50,000 rounds of ammunition through the Chongqing Public Security Bureau, causing nervousness in Beijing.

Bo, 62, a charismatic populist, was fired as party secretary for Chongqing on Friday while he was in Beijing attending the National People's Congress, the annual legislative session.

"They wanted to do it when he was in Beijing to avoid trouble. Historically, this is the way they'd handle warlords who'd gotten their own militias," said Zhang Ming, a political scientist at People's University in the capital.

Chinese censors have been hurriedly trying to remove political gossip from the Internet, leading people to come up with creative nicknames for their leaders. Zhou has been nicknamed for a popular brand of instant noodles, giving rise to numerous reports that "the noodles have been taken off the shelf."

"We are in a black box. Everything is happening behind the curtain, so people come up with their own stories," Zhang said.

 Chinese Internet Companies Punished for Spreading Rumors 

see also a blog by the same author:


Friday, March 30, 2012

Freedom of Speech Under Fire

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the point of view of an editorial writer or cartoonist, speaker or activist, freedom of speech is a cornerstone of American values and journalism.

We continue to see instances of free speech receiving violent reactions and public condemnation in other parts of the world - including the Danish cartoonist who has survived assassination attempts, and the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat who suffered a beating and broken hands for his political cartoons. But what about reactions within the United States towards people like Florida preacher Terry Jones, and now University of Texas cartoonist Stephanie Eisner?

Stephanie Eisner was fired by her newspaper, The Daily Texan for creating what is now being decried as a racist cartoon. The paper had posted a disclaimer that the viewpoint of the cartoon was that of the artist, and they explicitly stated that they disagreed with her. No balls, no responsibility, or just an inexperienced and poorly led student editorial board.

Her cartoon:

Stephanie Eisner has been accused of being insensitive to the family of Trayvon Martin through the publication of her cartoon, but what about those who have quickly assessed her as a racist and attached her photograph to her cartoon to publish online, knowing that there is a climate of violence in circulation, thanks to the New Black Panther Party, and to Spike Lee and Rosanne Barr for their tweets.

The new breed of 'liberal' seems to have changed tactics from former generations of would-be peaceloving hippies. Many have embraced an aggressive attitude towards those who hold opposing views - quick to label and quick to attack - the very behaviors that they would seem to oppose, and certainly not in alignment with the peaceful teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr.. Yet the rabid so-called left hates the so-called religious right (and vice-versa) and while they would damn Tipper Gore for wanting to censor artistic expression, they will treat a cartoonist with the same vigilante justice they oppose.

This generation is itching for license to have a revolution like what took place in the late 60s, but it feels a lot more like blood lust and ego, and it's starting to read as the right to pitch a tantrum. This is what's ruining our public schools - the fear of liability and erosion of parameters, the masses chummed by the climate of reality shows, apocalyptic visions, zombies and porn, all driven by the angle of ensuring that our consumer market be enslaved by an addiction-level guaranty that the bottom line be upheld. Afterall, Atkins says 'Endulge!' Isn't that how we got fat in the first place? This is our culture, post-bubble burst economy, recycled content and no creative innovation or sincere expression, just target-marketing that snags us by the jugular.

Moreover, certainly sensationalism is the greatest objective of media because it drives ratings and viewership. Thank you very much, Stephanie Eisner, for pointing to the huge problem of yellow journalism. One might get so caught up in the battle between our polarized interests that we miss the big picture entirely and more importantly, that the bottom line is driving our desperate media and newspapers to aggressively push sensational stories, regardless of the angle. Remember the headline from CNN's coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting - 'Blood Bath'. Again, zombies, porn, explosions, apocalypse. - that's what sells, so pour some blood in the water to ensure a consumer frenzy.

One her cartoons, Stephanie's 'Sexy Susan B. Anthony' seems to suggest a strong feminist point of view, incongruent with what one might expect from a one-dimensional racist, as she has been characterized for making the controversial Trayvon cartoon.

One might argue that feminism has been splintered into two camps - those who view the sexualization of women as a threat to women and those who demand that women have the right to express their sexuality publicly without fear, as promoted by The Slut Walk, one of the many populist protest movements that have come into vogue by the would-be revolutionaries.

Does Stephanie's point of view on feminism not hold up to the Slut Walk crowd? I don't know whether she is commenting on an actual costume or whether this was her original idea / satire - an actual costume would be hilarious, so I'm not sure if I appreciate her point of view or not - regardless, I appreciate the sentiment and her right to express it - (and the newspaper's responsibility for editing and taking ownership).
Here is a series of Stephanie Eisner's cartoons from the Daily Texan:

Petition Posted to Resinstate Stephanie Eisner to the Daily Texan:

From the Petition:

We, the concerned citizens of the University of Texas at Austin community and elsewhere, were stunned by the decision of the editorial board of The Daily Texan to fire cartoonist Stephanie Eisner on March 28, 2012.

Ms. Eisner drew a cartoon related to the Travyon Martin shooting incident in Florida, and this cartoon was published in The Daily Texan on March 27. Her cartoon lamented the national media framing the narrative of the shooting in simplistic and racialist terms.
Unfortunately, a minority within the campus community perceived racism within the cartoon itself and in the resultant controversy pressured the editorial staff to fire Eisner. Disappointingly, the editorial board complied to this vitriolic and narrow-minded minority and it removed Ms. Eisner from its staff.
The decision is an insult to journalistic independence, our national values of free speech and a free press, and the right to dissent from popular or prevailing viewpoints. Regardless of one's views of the cartoon itself, we find it alarming that Ms. Eisner would be shunned and silenced for expressing her views.

These values are not compatible with the liberal democratic values of our society. Ms. Eisner should be applauded for her courage and integrity, and we call upon the editorial board to reinstate her to her position as cartoonist.
We do not discount the stresses and tribulations that journalists face in defending their viewpoints to hostile readership.

Kurt Westergaard, the Danish author of the controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoons, has faced repeated attempts on his life for cartoons far more incendiary and offensive than anything Ms. Eisner has ever drawn. Yet his newspaper responded by republishing his cartoons --- an act of defiance that spoke volumes of a free society that did not hesitate to defend its values in the face of opprobrium or even violence.
We call on The Daily Texan to affirm its commitment to liberal democratic values and recognition of journalistic courage. We call on The Daily Texan to reinstate Ms. Eisner.

Post By Michael Murphy, head editorial cartoonist for The Daily Texan:

MISSING: The Daily Texan's Backbone
LAST SCENE: March 27, 2012

If you have any information on the whereabouts of the missing Backbone please notify authorities right away. It was last seen on Tuesday morning shortly after the publication of Stephanie Eisner's cartoon portraying the media as bias in their reporting on the Trayvon Martin murder.
Immediately after the publication of this cartoon the Daily Texan backbone disappeared. There are rumors that it is living in a sewage drain near the University of Texas campus; others claim to have seen it catching a flight to Canada.

Without its backbone the Daily Texan has made the choice to fire Stephanie Eisner for her flashpoint cartoon in spite of the fact that the cartoon was vetted by at least 6 senior Daily Texan Editors.
Is the media bias in their reporting on Trayvon Martin? Yes. If you simply listened to most mainstream coverage one might conclude that an All-American kid was hunted down and murdered by a vigilante neighborhood watchman.

The truth is that the investigation is very much still open. George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. That much we all know.

The media enjoys simplification of the truth. Rather than a possible self defense killing, most media outlets have embraced the idea of a hate crime killing. Their initial portrayal of Trayvon as a perfect kid slowly eroded as soon as news of his expulsion from school and use of marijuana became public.
This news wouldn’t have been incendiary had mainstream media not built Trayvon up to be so angelic in the first place. Being expelled and using marijuana don’t make Trayvon a bad person and they certainly don’t justify his murder.

They simply stand as gray areas of his life that the media couldn’t understand. That’s why they ignored them and most coverage continues to ignore the fact that this case is actually much more complex than initially thought.

When confronted with the media’s oversimplification of this OPEN case, The Daily Texan newspapers chose to return to the happy simple world of mainstream media rather than venturing out into the gray, complex, messy world of reality.
If you stumble upon the backbone of the Daily Texan don’t bother returning it. They clearly have no use for it.

SUMMARY: Spineless Editors = Brainless Media
Cartoon & Article by Michael Murphy (Daily Texan Cartoonist 2007-2010)

Post By Jim Romensko

Stephanie Eisner, who drew the Daily Texan’s controversial Trayvon Martin cartoon, was fired on Wednesday night after the University of Texas paper’s five-member board met and crafted an apology.

What does she have to say about the board’s action?

“She sent us an email explaining how she felt, and we’re just seeing that now,” Daily Texan associate editor Matt Daley told me at about 2:45 p.m. ET. (Editor-in-chief Viviana Aldous was unavailable to comment; she’s left town and won’t be back until Monday, says adviser Doug Warren.) Daley said he hadn’t finished reading the email — “it’s a little long” — and suggested I contact Eisner if I wanted to know what she said. (I have sent her an email.)

I asked Daley how Eisner’s cartoon was handled. “We reviewed it the way we normally review cartoons,” with the five editorial board looking it over. Did anyone question the Martin cartoon? Daley declined to say. || Meanwhile, there’s a petition effort to get Eisner reinstated.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brazil to rally BRICS against rich countries

By Brian Winter

NEW DELHI | Wed Mar 28, 2012 6:15pm EDT
(Reuters) - Brazil will push for its large emerging-market peers including China to denounce what it sees as unfair monetary policies by Europe and the United States, raising the stakes in a global confrontation over economic imbalances.

Brazilian Trade and Industry Minister Fernando Pimentel told Reuters on Wednesday his country would seek such language in a communique at this week's BRICS summit, which brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Pimentel said that China had previously been cautious about supporting language on global monetary imbalances "because they thought we could be indirectly referring to them."
Many analysts believe that Beijing artificially manipulates its currency but Pimentel said the biggest policy problems now are in the rich world.

"Today's (problem) doesn't have to do with China," he said in a 30-minute interview on the eve of the summit in New Delhi. "It has to do with the dollar and the euro."

Pimentel also gave details of a new initiative to reduce business costs for Brazilian exporters and importers, and explained how his country will seek to address alleged global economic imbalances before the World Trade Organization.

Brazil accuses rich countries of causing a "monetary tsunami" by engaging in expansionist policies such as low interest rates and bond-buying programs.

The policies are designed to stimulate the troubled U.S. and European economies, but have also unleashed a wave of global liquidity that has poured into emerging markets like Brazil, driving up their currencies and making their economies less competitive abroad.
Pimentel said that the five emerging markets that make up the BRICS, a disparate group that often struggles to find common ground on a wide array of issues, "have more or less the same vision on this matter."

"I think there's going to be a mention of this (in the communique), for sure," Pimentel said.
A united front among the BRICS is unlikely to persuade rich nations to change their monetary policies. But it could give Brazil and other countries critical political cover to seek palliative action by raising their tariffs or pursuing change at global bodies like the WTO. Brazil is spearheading a discussion on currencies this week at the Geneva-based body.

Brazil, whose economy has slowed sharply over the past year, has become one of the leading activist voices on what it sees as unfair global trade imbalances. Its words and actions, amplified by its status as Latin America's largest country and the world's No. 6 economy overall, have raised fears of growing protectionism among emerging markets.

Brazil has blamed the global liquidity glut for making its currency one of the world's most overvalued. As local industries struggle, its economy grew only 2.7 percent in 2011, below its BRICS peers and down from a blistering 7.5 percent in 2010.

Critics say that Brazil, and its left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff, are using rich countries as a scapegoat for their own inefficient industries and other problems at home. High taxes, labor costs and poor infrastructure have contributed to making Brazil one of the world's most expensive and difficult places to do business.


Pimentel, who is one of Rousseff's most trusted aides, denied that Brazil is leading an "outbreak of protectionism" and insisted that all its actions to date have been within the parameters of the WTO.
He described Brazil's decision in February to renegotiate a tariff-free auto trade deal with Mexico as unique, and said there were no similar actions planned going forward.

Instead, Pimentel said Brazil is seeking changes at the WTO that would allow for countries to protect themselves against others that keep their currencies artificially weak, giving them an unfair advantage in trade.

He said that the 35 percent maximum tariff allowed by the WTO is based on an outdated framework for the global economy, back when many currencies had fixed value, and that it no longer allows for sufficient protection.

"Currencies have an effect on foreign trade," Pimentel said. "When the (35 percent tariff) was thought up in the 1950s, it was an absurd (high) number. Today, it's nothing. Today, a poorly balanced exchange rate easily sterilizes that 35 percent."

While he said that Brazil will not seek an increase in the maximum allowed tariff, other "mechanisms" are possible. One solution, he said, would be to allow countries to apply a "surcharge" or penalty to imports from countries that are found to be keeping their currencies artificially weak, or whose currencies depreciate a certain percentage over time.

"That's purely an example," he said. "There are other possibilities."
In the meantime, Pimentel said Brazil will explore ways to reduce costs for beleaguered local industries.

He revealed that Rousseff is exploring the creation of a so-called "single-window" system that would reduce red tape for exporters and importers.
Companies currently have to seek approval from as many as 17 different government bodies to get approval to send goods out of Brazil, or bring them in, Pimentel said. The initiative seeks to establish a single body that would oversee such transactions.
Pimentel said it could go into effect as early as the second half of 2012 and that much of the transformation could be accomplished via presidential decree, while some changes would have to through Congress.

If it goes through, the measure would mark one of the most significant efforts by Rousseff's government to reduce business costs since it took office in January 2011.
"It'll make everything faster," Pimentel said. "We're going to put everything in one place."
"So you see," he continued, "we're not creating barriers. We're not with this spirit of trying to make things more difficult. But, within the rules of the WTO, we're going to do everything we can to defend our market."

(Editing by Todd Benson and Kieran Murray)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

One Drug to Shrink All Cancer Tumors

A single drug can shrink or cure human breast, ovary, colon, bladder, brain, liver, and prostate tumors that have been transplanted into mice, researchers have found. The treatment, an antibody that blocks a "do not eat" signal normally displayed on tumor cells, coaxes the immune system to destroy the cancer cells.

A decade ago, biologist Irving Weissman of the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, discovered that leukemia cells produce higher levels of a protein called CD47 than do healthy cells. CD47, he and other scientists found, is also displayed on healthy blood cells; it's a marker that blocks the immune system from destroying them as they circulate. Cancers take advantage of this flag to trick the immune system into ignoring them. In the past few years, Weissman's lab showed that blocking CD47 with an antibody cured some cases of lymphomas and leukemias in mice by stimulating the immune system to recognize the cancer cells as invaders. Now, he and colleagues have shown that the CD47-blocking antibody may have a far wider impact than just blood cancers.

"What we've shown is that CD47 isn't just important on leukemias and lymphomas," says Weissman. "It's on every single human primary tumor that we tested." Moreover, Weissman's lab found that cancer cells always had higher levels of CD47 than did healthy cells. How much CD47 a tumor made could predict the survival odds of a patient.

To determine whether blocking CD47 was beneficial, the scientists exposed tumor cells to macrophages, a type of immune cell, and anti-CD47 molecules in petri dishes. Without the drug, the macrophages ignored the cancerous cells. But when the CD47 was present, the macrophages engulfed and destroyed cancer cells from all tumor types.

Next, the team transplanted human tumors into the feet of mice, where tumors can be easily monitored. When they treated the rodents with anti-CD47, the tumors shrank and did not spread to the rest of the body. In mice given human bladder cancer tumors, for example, 10 of 10 untreated mice had cancer that spread to their lymph nodes. Only one of 10 mice treated with anti-CD47 had a lymph node with signs of cancer. Moreover, the implanted tumor often got smaller after treatment -- colon cancers transplanted into the mice shrank to less than one-third of their original size, on average. And in five mice with breast cancer tumors, anti-CD47 eliminated all signs of the cancer cells, and the animals remained cancer-free 4 months after the treatment stopped.

"We showed that even after the tumor has taken hold, the antibody can either cure the tumor or slow its growth and prevent metastasis," says Weissman.

Although macrophages also attacked blood cells expressing CD47 when mice were given the antibody, the researchers found that the decrease in blood cells was short-lived; the animals turned up production of new blood cells to replace those they lost from the treatment, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cancer researcher Tyler Jacks of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge says that although the new study is promising, more research is needed to see whether the results hold true in humans. "The microenvironment of a real tumor is quite a bit more complicated than the microenvironment of a transplanted tumor," he notes, "and it's possible that a real tumor has additional immune suppressing effects."

Another important question, Jacks says, is how CD47 antibodies would complement existing treatments. "In what ways might they work together and in what ways might they be antagonistic?" Using anti-CD47 in addition to chemotherapy, for example, could be counterproductive if the stress from chemotherapy causes normal cells to produce more CD47 than usual.

Weissman's team has received a $20 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to move the findings from mouse studies to human safety tests. "We have enough data already," says Weissman, "that I can say I'm confident that this will move to phase I human trials."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Innovation Is About Arguing, Not Brainstorming. Here’s How To Argue Productively

At Continuum, innovation’s secret sauce is deliberative discourse. Here’s how you do it.
Turns out that brainstorming--that go-to approach to generating new ideas since the 1940s--isn’t the golden ticket to innovation after all. Both Jonah Lehrer, in a recent article in The New Yorker, and Susan Cain, in her new book Quiet, have asserted as much. Science shows that brainstorms can activate a neurological fear of rejection and that groups are not necessarily more creative than individuals. Brainstorming can actually be detrimental to good ideas.
But the idea behind brainstorming is right. To innovate, we need environments that support imaginative thinking, where we can go through many crazy, tangential, and even bad ideas to come up with good ones. We need to work both collaboratively and individually. We also need a healthy amount of heated discussion, even arguing. We need places where someone can throw out a thought, have it critiqued, and not feel so judged that they become defensive and shut down. Yet this creative process is not necessarily supported by the traditional tenets of brainstorming: group collaboration, all ideas held equal, nothing judged.
So if not from brainstorming, where do good ideas come from?
At Continuum, we use deliberative discourse--or what we fondly call “Argue. Discuss. Argue. Discuss.” Deliberative discourse was originally articulated in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. It refers to participative and collaborative (but not critique-free) communication. Multiple positions and views are expressed with a shared understanding that everyone is focused on a common goal. There is no hierarchy. It’s not debate because there are no opposing sides trying to “win.” Rather, it’s about working together to solve a problem and create new ideas.
So we argue. And discuss. And argue. A lot. But our process is far from freeform yelling. Here are five key rules of engagement that we’ve found to yield fruitful sessions and ultimately lead to meaningful ideas.


Breaking down hierarchy is critical for deliberative discourse. It’s essential to creating a space where everyone can truly contribute. My first week at Continuum, I joined a three-person team with one senior and one principal strategist. A recent graduate, I was one of the youngest members of the company. During our first session, the principal looked me in the eye and said, “You should know that you’re not doing your job if you don’t disagree with me at least once a day.” He gave me permission to voice my opinion openly, regardless of my seniority. This breakdown of hierarchy creates a space where ideas can be invented-- and challenged--without fear.


It’s widely evangelized that successful brainstorms rely on acceptance of all ideas and judgment of none. Many refer to the cardinal rule of improv saying “Yes, AND”--for building on others’ ideas. As a former actor, I’m a major proponent of “Yes AND.”
But I’m also a fan of “no, BECAUSE.” No is a critical part of our process, but if you’re going to say no, you better be able to say why. Backing up an argument is integral in any deliberative discourse. And that “because” should be grounded in real people other than ourselves.
We conduct ethnographic research to inform our intuition, so we can understand people’s needs, problems, and values. We go out dancing with a group of women in a small Chinese village; we work in a fry shack in the deep South; we sit in living rooms and listen to caregivers discuss looking after a parent with Alzheimer’s. This research informs our intuitive “guts”--giving us both inspiration for ideas and rationale to defend or critique them.
During ideation, we constantly refer back to people, asking one another if our ideas are solving a real need that people expressed or that we witnessed. This keeps us accountable to something other than our own opinions, and it means we can push back on colleagues’ ideas without getting personal.


We’ve all heard of T-shaped people and of multidisciplinary teams. This model works for us because deliberative discourse requires a multiplicity of perspectives to shape ideas. We curate teams to create diversity: Walk into a project room and you may find an artist-turned-strategist, a biologist-turned-product designer, and an English professor-turned-innovation guru hashing it out together. True to form, my background is in theater and anthropology.
On a recent project, I realized the best way to tackle a particular problem was to apply a text analysis tool that actors use with new scripts. I taught this framework to the team, and we used it to generate ideas. Another time, a team member with a background in Wall Street banking wrote an equation on the whiteboard. It was exactly the framework we needed to jumpstart our next session.
When we enter deliberative discourse, arguing and discussing and arguing and discussing, we each bring different ways of looking at the world and solving problems to the table.


Deliberative discourse is not just arguing for argument’s sake. Argument is productive for us because everyone knows that we’re working toward a shared goal. We develop a statement of purpose at the outset of each project and post it on the door of our project room. Every day when we walk into the room, we’re entering into a liminal play space--call it a playing field. The statement of purpose establishes the rules: It reminds us that we are working together to move the ball down the field. As much as we may argue and disagree, anything that happens in the room counts toward our shared goal. This enables us to argue and discuss without hurting one another.


We work on projects ranging from global banking for the poor to the future of pizza and life-saving medical devices. Our work requires intensity, thoughtfulness, and rigor. But no matter the nature of the project, we keep it fun. It’s rare for an hour to pass without laughter erupting from a project room. Deliberative discourse is a form of play, and for play to yield great ideas, we have to take it seriously.
But we don’t brainstorm. We deliberate.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Disappointed in Today's Monsters

Snow White and the Huntsman monster. The design is almost as worn out as George Clooney.
Snow White and the Huntsman. Why does every movie monster looks like this?
A featureless head with teeth and lots of other pointy stuff.
It's as though the designers are so overconfident in the importance of the hulking silhouette that they forgot to fill in the interesting details that make a monster scary and fun to look at - the face.
Or is it just easier to model / animate a simpler form?
Or is it just trendy? It's like every monster is spawn of the Dungeons & Dragons 'bulette'.

Here we have a rendition of the Dungeons & Dragons 'bulette'.
Kind of an interesting diversion when I was a kid, but one of this kind of shape is enough.
This design idea was from probably the early 80s.

Yet another head-eyes-mouth copout design. I'd rather look at Harryhausen's ass than at this thing.
Clash of the Titans 2010 - Harpy design. Head with eyes and teeth. Harpies are supposed to be part woman, for cryin' out loud! Another missed opportunity.
Textures could only polish this turd of a model so much.
Wrath of the Titans.
Wrath of the Titans.
Looks like a crude clay model at a distance, partly due to the lighting and partly due to the modeling and dynamics.
The cyclops is one of my favorite monsters - what a missed opportunity to do something cool. It might as well have been designed for a video game, it's features are so lacking. Probably modeled after one of the guys in the studio or maybe after a wargame character, but not much going on in the monster department.  I know, I know, they wanted it to be a giant person with one eye. Yes, but it acts like a monster, right? We should love how it looks, regardless. Even ugly should be creative and fun. Look at 

I think maybe it's a generation gap issue. I was born in '71, so I like monsters that were not concerned with CG limitations. Today's designers were probably playing Doom as kids. They were cool coming from one shop, but enough is enough. These monsters are as depraved as our culture as a whole - afraid to take creative risks and marketing-driven, so we churn out the same crap again and again, chasing our tail. Well, chase your tail and all you see is your *, and that's what we have going on here.

Researchers show that memories reside in specific brain cells

Simply activating a tiny number of neurons can conjure an entire memory.
Cathryn Delude, Picower Institute for Learning and Memory

Our fond or fearful memories — that first kiss or a bump in the night — leave memory traces that we may conjure up in the remembrance of things past, complete with time, place and all the sensations of the experience. Neuroscientists call these traces memory engrams.

But are engrams conceptual, or are they a physical network of neurons in the brain? In a new MIT study, researchers used optogenetics to show that memories really do reside in very specific brain cells, and that simply activating a tiny fraction of brain cells can recall an entire memory — explaining, for example, how Marcel Proust could recapitulate his childhood from the aroma of a once-beloved madeleine cookie.

“We demonstrate that behavior based on high-level cognition, such as the expression of a specific memory, can be generated in a mammal by highly specific physical activation of a specific small subpopulation of brain cells, in this case by light,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at MIT and lead author of the study reported online today in the journal Nature. “This is the rigorously designed 21st-century test of Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield’s early-1900s accidental observation suggesting that mind is based on matter.”

In that famous surgery, Penfield treated epilepsy patients by scooping out parts of the brain where seizures originated. To ensure that he destroyed only the problematic neurons, Penfield stimulated the brain with tiny jolts of electricity while patients, who were under local anesthesia, reported what they were experiencing. Remarkably, some vividly recalled entire complex events when Penfield stimulated just a few neurons in the hippocampus, a region now considered essential to the formation and recall of episodic memories.

Scientists have continued to explore that phenomenon but, until now, it has never been proven that the direct reactivation of the hippocampus was sufficient to cause memory recall.

Shedding light on the matter

Fast forward to the introduction, seven years ago, of optogenetics, which can stimulate neurons that are genetically modified to express light-activated proteins. “We thought we could use this new technology to directly test the hypothesis about memory encoding and storage in a mimicry experiment,” says co-author Xu Liu, a postdoc in Tonegawa’s lab.

“We wanted to artificially activate a memory without the usual required sensory experience, which provides experimental evidence that even ephemeral phenomena, such as personal memories, reside in the physical machinery of the brain,” adds co-author Steve Ramirez, a graduate student in Tonegawa’s lab.

The researchers first identified a specific set of brain cells in the hippocampus that were active only when a mouse was learning about a new environment. They determined which genes were activated in those cells, and coupled them with the gene for channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), a light-activated protein used in optogenetics.

Next, they studied mice with this genetic couplet in the cells of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, using tiny optical fibers to deliver pulses of light to the neurons. The light-activated protein would only be expressed in the neurons involved in experiential learning — an ingenious way to allow for labeling of the physical network of neurons associated with a specific memory engram for a specific experience.

Finally, the mice entered an environment and, after a few minutes of exploration, received a mild foot shock, learning to fear the particular environment in which the shock occurred. The brain cells activated during this fear conditioning became tagged with ChR2. Later, when exposed to triggering pulses of light in a completely different environment, the neurons involved in the fear memory switched on — and the mice quickly entered a defensive, immobile crouch.

False memory

This light-induced freezing suggested that the animals were actually recalling the memory of being shocked. The mice apparently perceived this replay of a fearful memory — but the memory was artificially reactivated. “Our results show that memories really do reside in very specific brain cells,” Liu says, “and simply by reactivating these cells by physical means, such as light, an entire memory can be recalled.”

Referring to the 17th-century French philosopher who wrote, “I think, therefore I am,” Tonegawa says, “RenĂ© Descartes didn’t believe the mind can be studied as a natural science. He was wrong. This experimental method is the ultimate way of demonstrating that mind, like memory recall, is based on changes in matter.”

“This remarkable work exhibits the power of combining the latest technologies to attack one of neurobiology’s central problems,” says Charles Stevens, a professor in the 
Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute who was not involved in this research. “Showing that the reactivation of those nerve cells that were active during learning can reproduce the learned behavior is surely a milestone.”

The method may also have applications in the study of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders. “The more we know about the moving pieces that make up our brains,” Ramirez says, “the better equipped we are to figure out what happens when brain pieces break down.”

Other contributors to this study were Karl Deisseroth of Stanford University, whose lab developed optogenetics, and Petti T. Pang, Corey B. Puryear and Arvind Govindarajan of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute.

Sketch comedy seeds of the 70s

Kentucky Fried Movie,_Abrahams_and_Zucker
David Zucker directed Scary Movie 3 and 4. (which I've wondered about seeing, not knowing he was involved)

The Groove Tube

Man Gets Ticket For Yelling At Cat

CHASKA, Minn. (WCCO) – A man who was heard yelling obscenities at his cat was cited by police in Chaska, Minn.

According to the city’s police department, neighbors called in, complaining of the noise.
The man, who was not identified, admitted to authorities that he had been swearing loudly at the cat.
His defense to officers was that he is “human.”

Police said this is not the first time the man had been warned or cited for disorderly conduct.
He was issued a new citation for disorderly conduct for the recent incident.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Researchers may have discovered how memories are encoded in the brain


While it’s generally accepted that memories are stored somewhere, somehow in our brains, the exact process has never been entirely understood. Strengthened synaptic connections between neurons definitely have something to do with it, although the synaptic membranes involved are constantly degrading and being replaced – this seems to be somewhat at odds with the fact that some memories can last for a person’s lifetime. Now, a team of scientists believe that they may have figured out what’s going on. Their findings could have huge implications for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Leading the study is Prof. Jack Tuszynski, a physicist from the University of Alberta. Also taking part are his graduate student Travis Craddock, and the University of Arizona’s Prof. Stuart Hameroff.

The project was inspired by an outside research paper, that described experiments in which memories were successfully erased from animals’ brains. That study concluded that a specific protein (calcium-calmodulin dependent kinase complex II, or CaMKII) played a large role in the encoding and erasing of memories, by strengthening or eliminating neural connections.

Tuszynski and his colleagues noted that the geometry of the CaMKII molecule was very similar to that of tubulin protein compounds. These tubulins are contained within microtubule protein structures, which in turn occupy the interiors of the brain’s neurons. They are particularly concentrated in the neurons’ axons and dendrites, which are active in the memory process.

The scientists wanted to understand the interaction between CaMKII, tubulin and microtubules, so based on 3D atomic-resolution structural data for all three protein molecules, they developed highly-accurate computer models. What they discovered was that the spatial dimensions and geometry of the CaMKII and microtubule molecules allow them to fit together. Furthermore, according to the models, the microtubules and CaMKII molecules are capable of electrostatically attracting one another, so that a binding process can occur between them.

This process takes place within the neurons, after they have been synaptically connected, to (in some cases) permanently store memories.

“This could open up amazing new possibilities of dealing with memory loss problems, interfacing our brains with hybrid devices to augment and 'refresh' our memories,” said Tuszynski. “More importantly, it could lead to new therapeutic and preventive ways of dealing with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia, whose incidence is growing very rapidly these days.”

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.
Source: University of Alberta

How Aspirin May Help Prevent Certain Kinds of Cancer

by David Hill

From the article:

For years, research has shown that aspirin is beneficial in preventing heart attacks. Now new studies support its ability to prevent cancer as well. Considering that cardiovascular disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in the US, aspirin is the cheapest preventative medicine around…well, besides water.

The three UK studies were recently reported in The Lancet and The Lancet Oncology (the articles are unfortunately behind paywalls, but you can read the abstracts herehere and here). The studies, involving tens of thousands of participants, show reductions of cancer incidence (both short- and long-term) and mortality rate as well as a decrease in metastatic cancer. It still is not known exactly how aspirin and cancer are connected, although aspirin’s mechanism of action suggests that cancer is a kind of inflammation in the body. Because of the highly vascular nature of tumors and the bleeding that can occur, cancer increases blood clots, so aspirin’s added ability as an anti-platelet agent may also be behind the incidence reduction.
The health benefits of aspirin for prevention of cancer, and cardiovascular disease for that matter, are nothing new.

First commercially produced by Bayer in 1899, aspirin was dubbed the “wonder drug” for all of its perceived health benefits, including pain relief. In 1974, researchers from Cardiff University were among the first to investigate the spectrum of its beneficial effects and declare it as an essential component to preserve health, on level with diet and exercise. The advantages of aspirin continued to be researched as did the media reports whenever a new study supported its wonder drug moniker. In fact, it was only 4 months ago that a study out of Oxford University, again published in The Lancet (abstract only here), showed that aspirin reduced the risk of colorectal cancer.

But aspirin is not without its problems. It can be hard on the stomach lining as it is chemically an acid. But aspirin has also been implicated in upper gastrointestinal bleeding in a wide range of studies. However, the consensus on all the research seems to be the preventative benefits to health outweigh the bleeding risks, so the advice to people between the ages of 45-50 is that they should consider taking low-dose aspirin and do so for 25 years or so. It’s hard to argue with this either. Aspirin is incredibly inexpensive and supported by volumes of scientific research, unlike supplements or alternative medicines which can be costly and have marginal scientific basis.

Studies on aspirin will continue and likely show more benefit, grabbing everyone’s attention every 3-4 months. but for good reason. Americans currently consume 10,000 tons of aspirin each year, but that number was 16,000 tons in 1995, likely due to the competition from alternative pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Clearly, as the costs of healthcare continue to climb and the population ages, preventative medicine is the future and in the best interest of everyone. Being reminded every few months that as people grow older, a very simple solution is probably already sitting in their medicine cabinet will never get overplayed. Perhaps greater demand will spur more research into ways to minimize aspirin’s negative effects, such as acid blockers that can reduce the risk of GI bleeding.

For all the money spent on studies of aspirin, perhaps all the evidence anyone needs of its health benefits is the life of Walter Breuning, who lived to be 114 years old and aspirin was the only medication he ever took.

Engineered Viruses Could Kill Cancer
Analysis by Jesse Emspak

From the article:

The last thing you need is a dangerous viral infection -- unless you have cancer.
Cancer cells divide like mad, crowding out their neighbors and causing tumors, the complications from which eventually kill. But the vigor has a price: cancer cells aren't as good at fighting off viral infections, and theoretically a virus could kill cancer cells without harming the patient.

NEWS: Window Installed Into Live Brain
A great article in The New York Times by Rachel Nuwer describes medical efforts to commandeer viruses in the fight against cancer.

Those efforts date to 1951 when a 4-year-old child with leukemia caught chicken pox. The cancer went into remission. Unfortunately the moment the chicken pox went away, the leukemia came back and the child died.

There were some attempts to use this phenomenon to benefit patients. Those early efforts ended in failure and by the 1960s the research focus shifted to other treatments.

But a lot has happened since then. Medical science has made strides in understanding the genetics and mechanisms of viruses and cancer both, and it may be that soon, tailored viruses could cure some cancers.

Dr. Robert Martuza, chief neurosurgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, started looking at herpes simplex virus, or HSV-1, as a cancer fighting tool back in 1991. Dr. Martuza took out a few genes from the virus and injected it into mice with brain cancer. Although the cancer went into remission most of the mice died of encephalitis.

Meanwhile, in 1990, Bernard Roizman, a virologist at the University of Chicago, found a gene in the herpes virus that when removed, makes it unable to get past the defenses of healthy cells -- but not cancer. That slowed the growth of cancer cells, though it didn't kill them.

NEWS: Cancer Found in 2,000-Year-Old Mummy
Six years later, Dr. Ian Mohr, a virologist at New York University, found a way of altering the virus that Roizman engineered. The virus evades the immune system and is better at killing cancer cells.
Herpes isn't the only virus being recruited for anti-cancer duty. Vaccinia was the virus used to protect against smallpox and it's now being tested against liver cancer. Thus far the results are promising, extending survival times in one group of patients. Others are bring used against melanoma, bladder cancer and head and neck cancers.

That doesn't mean it's time to break out the champagne. As the liver cancer trial shows, improving survival isn't the same as a cure, and every cancer is different. A magic bullet that works on every type is unlikely. Gary Hayward, a virologist at the Johns Hopkins Herpesvirus Research Program, told the New York Times that progress is likely to be incremental -- much as it has been for decades.
At the same time, another tool against cancer is always welcome, and it's another step in making cancer a survivable disease.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Sweet William

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Newly discovered Van Gogh paintings confirmed

This photo provided by the Kroeller Mueller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 20, 2012, shows a painting entitled "Still life with meadow flowers and roses" by Vincent van Gogh. The Kroeller Mueller Museum says new X-ray research has finally put beyond doubt that "Still life with meadow flowers and roses" really is by Van Gogh. It has also uncovered in greater detail an art school study by Van Gogh of two wrestlers concealed on the same canvas and invisible to the naked eye.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Personalized immune system mouse for studying diseases

“Personalized Immune” Mouse Offers New Tool for Studying Autoimmune Diseases

Published: March 14, 2012

Model may allow development of individualized immunotherapies against cancer and infection
New York, NY (March 14, 2012) — Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) scientists have developed a way to recreate an individual’s immune system in a mouse. The “personalized immune mouse” offers researchers an unprecedented tool for individualized analysis of abnormalities that contribute to type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases, starting at the onset of disease. The findings were published today in the online edition of Science Translational Medicine.
The mouse model could also have clinical applications, such as predicting how a particular patient might respond to existing drugs or immunotherapies, reports senior author Megan Sykes, Michael J. Friedlander Professor of Medicine and Professor of Microbiology & Immunology and Surgical Sciences (in Surgery) at CUMC.  Dr. Sykes is also Director for the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology.

In addition, the model might prove useful for developing individualized immunotherapies for fighting infection or cancer or for lessening a patient’s rejection of transplanted tissue.
Researchers have been searching for new ways to tease apart the various factors that contribute to autoimmune disease. “While large-scale studies of human populations have provided important clues to the genetic basis of immune diseases, they have offered little information about the specific role the genes play,” says Dr. Sykes. “It’s difficult to isolate these mechanisms when looking at groups of patients who have had disease for different lengths of time or have been receiving different treatments. And the fact that they already have the disease makes it difficult to distinguish what underlies and propagates the autoimmune process.”
Several research groups have attempted to create a personalized immune mouse. However, each model has had significant limitations, such as an inability to generate the full complement of immune cells and incompatibilities between tissues used to recreate the human immune system, leading to graft-versus-host disease.
Dr. Sykes’ model, in contrast, is able to recreate a robust and diverse human immune system, including T cells, B cells, and myeloid cells (which generate a variety of immune cells), free of immune incompatibilities.
The model is made by transplanting human bone marrow stem cells (also known as CD34+ cells), along with a small amount (approximately 1 cubic mm) of HLA-matched immature thymus tissue, into an immunodeficient mouse. (The HLA, or human leukocyte antigen, system mediates interactions among various immune cells.) The thymus tissue is implanted into the mouse’s kidney capsule, a thin membrane that envelops the kidney and serves as an incubator. Within six to eight weeks, the transplanted thymus tissue is seeded by circulating human CD34+ cells (which are infused into the mouse’s bloodstream), and begins generating human immune cells from the CD34+ cells.
A key to the model’s success was the team’s discovery that freezing and thawing the transplanted thymus tissue, as well as administering antibodies against CD2 (a glycoprotein that mediates T cell development and activation), depletes mature T cells from the tissue graft. This prevents rejection of the human CD34+ cells and graft-versus-host disease, while preserving function of the thymus tissue.
Dr. Sykes intends to use the personalized immune mouse to study type 1 diabetes. “We hope to find out what is fundamentally different about patients’ immune systems, compared with those of healthy individuals, before any disease develops,” she says.
The studies should also reveal more about the genetics of type 1 diabetes. “A number of HLA-associated genes have been linked to type 1 diabetes,” she explains. “About a third of the population has one of more of these genes. But a much smaller percentage of the population actually develops the disease. What this means is, the HLA genes are necessary, but not sufficient, to cause type 1 diabetes. Using the personalized immune mouse, we expect to learn more about the role that non-HLA genes play in the disease.”

Dr. Sykes’ paper is entitled, “A model for personalized in vivo analysis of human immune responsiveness.”  Her coauthors are Hannes Kalscheuer (Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, and CUMC), Nichole Danzl (CUMC), Takashi Onoe (Harvard and CUMC), Ted Faust (Harvard and CUMC), Robert Winchester (CUMC), Robin Goland (CUMC), Ellen Greenberg (CUMC), Thomas R Spitzer (Harvard), David G. Savage (CUMC), Hiroyuki Tahara (CUMC), Goda Choi (CUMC), and Yong-Guang Yang (Harvard and CUMC).
The researchers declare no financial or other conflict of interest.
This research was supported by JDRF Autoimmunity Center at Harvard University and by NIH grant #RO1 AI084903.
Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree and is among the most selective medical schools in the country. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest in the United States.
Media Contact: Karin Eskenazi, 212-342-0508,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Imagine you’re a high school biology teacher searching for the most vivid way to explain electrical activity in the brain. How about inserting metal wires into a cockroach’s severed leg and making that leg dance to music?
Starting Monday, that eye-popping lesson, performed in a six-minute video by neuroscientist and engineer Greg Gage, is available free online.
TED, a nonprofit organization that produces a popular annual conference on ideas, is launching TED-Ed, an online collection of lessons it hopes will bring the best educators to any classroom with an Internet connection.
“Right now there’s a teacher somewhere out there delivering a mind-altering lesson and the frustrating thing is, it only reaches the students in that class,” said TED-Ed project director Logan Smal­ley. “We’re trying to figure out how to capture that lesson and pair it with professional animators to make that lesson more vivid and put it in a place where teachers all over the world can share it.”
TED-Ed is the latest wave in a growing trend of free online education. With offerings from the Khan Academy, founded in 2004 when Salman Khan began posting math tutorials on YouTube, and undergraduate courses from prestigious universities such as Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, free classes and lectures are proliferating on the Web.
But much of that content consists of sequential lectures delivered by an instructor behind a podium or, in the case of Khan, a disembodied voice narrating math equations on an electronic blackboard.
TED-Ed, by contrast, is using sophisticated animation, professional editing and high-quality production values to produce online lessons that are hard to forget. And the lessons don’t meander — each is no longer than 10 minutes.
The project does not provide a sequential curriculum but rather aims to provoke students and their teachers toward further exploration, the creators said. “We want to show that learning can be thrilling,” said TED curator Chris Anderson.
TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, already maintains a vast library of free video talks from its annual conference aimed at adults, and it knows the magnifying effect of the Internet video. The site maintains about 1,100 videos at, which have been viewed more than 700 million times since the site was launched in 2006. The roster of hundreds of speakers includes many well-known figures such as Bill Clinton and the late Steve Jobs. But most were toiling in obscurity before TED put them in the spotlight.
Smalley points to the example of Hans Rosling, a Swedish expert in global health. Rosling estimates that in 40 years of lecturing and writing, his work reached about a million people. But Rosling has given eight TED talks over the past four years, which have been viewed about 6 million times, Smalley said.
“I’m really excited about this project because TED is such a good platform,” said Gage, the neuroscientist, who is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. He and a colleague, Tim Marzullo, perform neuroscience experiments in classrooms around Michigan and sell basic equipment through a Web site,
Gage said he wants the TED-Ed video to show teachers that they can conduct similar neuroscience experiments in their classrooms. “We hope people see this and realize that it’s really easy to do,” he said. “And that it’ll be a launching point for other experiments about the brain.”
Advertising is barred from the videos, and teachers appearing in them are not permitted to use them for commercial purposes. YouTube, which will host the videos, does carry some advertising. But if the video is shown via YouTube for Schools, a special network setting that restricts access to include only educational videos, no advertising will appear, according to Annie Baxter, a spokeswoman for YouTube.

Initially, TED-Ed lessons will be geared toward high school and college students and “life learners,” Smalley said.
The first batch of about a dozen videos are available Monday and will grow to about 300 within a year, Smalley said. TED-Ed is inviting educators and animators to submit ideas for lessons and will select and produce them, he said. The public can also nominate talented educators, Smalley said.
Teachers will not be paid for their ideas or for recording lessons for the videos.
Subjects are likely to include standard high school subjects such as math, science, social studies and English, but TED-Ed is open to unusual topics as well, Smalley said. “We’ll make sure it’s an even offering across traditional subjects, but we also want to offer things that aren’t taught in school but potentially should be,” he said.
Next month, TED-Ed will roll out a new Web site that will offer materials to teachers that are related to the videos, such as lesson plans and assignments. Teachers will be able to insert questions for their students into the videos and send their students links to annotated videos, a spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman declined to discuss the budget for TED-Ed, except to say that the venture was a multimillion-dollar project.
Nearly 100 percent of U.S. public schools have access to the Internet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That compares with just 35 percent in 1994.