Month: June 2007

Tamil doctors let their 15 year old perform a C Section

Where my home state of Tamil Nadu gets into the news for this bizarre story of parental pride gone too far.

Two Indian doctors investigated over claims they let son aged 15 deliver a baby by caesarean | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

Two Indian doctors are facing an investigation into claims they let their 15-year-old son perform a caesarean section to get into the Guinness Book of Records.

The government of Tamil Nadu state in southern India today said it was launching an inquiry, according to Indian newspaper reports.

It is alleged the doctors screened a video of their son performing the caesarean at a meeting of the regional branch of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) last month in the hope their son, Dhileepan Raj, would get into the record book as the world’s youngest surgeon.

I feel like laughing at the parents, but the patient and her fetus were put at grave risk, what idiots!

Every self important blog needs its own domain. I got quite a while back. But I am finally setting up this blog to redirect to the eponymous url. The blog is still hosted on wordpress’ servers and nothing should change as far as the links, the rss, etc. Everything should forward seamlessly without delay to the new url. But, if there are issues with the rss feeds, the suggested fix is to re-subscribe using the new url.

Now, to cure those summer blahs!

Republicans Block Renewable Energy Legislation

3 people stand between the US and a sensible energy policy, the radical notion that subsidies should support up and coming, good for the environment renewable energy instead of the oil industry.

Wired News – AP News

But Republicans complained that it was too harsh on the oil industry and could lead to oil companies reducing investments in new oil refineries and production. They also said that it could lead to higher prices for consumers.

“When you put a tax on a business it gets passed on to consumers,” argued Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz. “Instead of reducing gasoline prices, this bill is going to add to the cost of gasoline.”

Kyl had earlier sought to sidetrack the tax measure, but that effort failed.

The bill’s supporters dismissed suggestions that the new taxes on an industry that has had record profits in recent years would cause either less oil production or lead to higher prices at the pump.

Oil companies earned $111 billion in profits last year and at that rate stand to earn $1 trillion over the 10 years covered by the tax package, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., rejecting suggestions that “this is an undue burden” on oil companies.

Kyl claims that the point of energy legislation is to reduce the cost of gasoline to consumers. Really? I thought the point was to come up with a coherent policy that maximizes the efficiency of energy use and minimizes its impacts.

Turning CO2 into plastic?

Interesting stuff…

Sifting the Garbage for a Green Polymer – New York Times

It was here that Dr. Coates discovered the catalyst needed to turn CO2 into a polymer.

With Scott Allen, a former graduate student, Dr. Coates has started a company called Novomer, which has partnered with several companies, including Kodak, on joint projects. Novomer has received money from the Department of Energy, New York State and the National Science Foundation. Dr. Coates imagines CO2 being diverted from factory emissions into an adjacent facility and turned into plastic.

Anthropogenic CO2 emissions = 7 Giga ton per year. So it will take a lot of plastics to take care of that. The promise of biopolymers is that they reduce the need for fossil fuels, and are biodegradable.

Seems to be another case where some funding and regulatory nudging away from the petroleum plastics would really help.

John Kerry and the Environment

The fight in the Senate | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist

Kerry, everyone’s favorite democrat summarizes the non-coal/auto democrat’s energy/environmental policy plans int he US senate.


  1. Increase Fuel Economy standards
  2. Increase contribution of renewable sources
  3. No drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
  4. No liquid coal

This is all very sensible. He does not mention biofuels/corn ethanol, which I guess is because he’s from Mass, not exactly corn central.

He’s a good man, this John Kerry.

Hitler's fuel to get giant subsidy. What about solar?

Apparently, my political prognostication skills are good. Coal state shills senators want to give coal to liquid fuel a $10 billion dollar subsidy loan.

Democrats Propose Loan Plan for Coal Plants – New York Times

As the Senate began debate today on a sprawling bill to reduce oil consumption, top Democrats were circulating a proposal to provide $10 billion in loans for plants that make diesel fuel from coal.

The proposal highlights the horse-trading involving powerful industry groups as Democratic leaders push for legislation that would require higher mileage in cars and a huge increase in the production of renewable fuels made from plants like switchgrass.

Yes, one of the lesser known provisions of these bills would expand renewable energy subsidies to coal.

As mentioned before, U.S lawmakers are losing their collective mind in exchange for lots of money. This is corruption too, you know, at a level that is unfathomable to your average two-bit third world dictator!

Meanwhile, how much money is spent on solar related research? You know, that big ball of wholesome renewable energy. This post on the reality based community blog explains why silicon production for photovoltaic cells is stuck.

The problem for the PV customers for silicon is that they are a fast grower sandwiched between two mature sectors growing roughly in line with the economy. Bulk silicon is used in old-economy alloys and sealants; and while demand for semiconductors grows rapidly in value, their extra capability is crammed onto roughly the same physical volume of raw material. Unfortunately there is no appropriate process for making PV-grade feedstock. Metallurgical-grade silicon, smelted by simple Victorian technology, largely in China, is cheap but too impure to work in solar cells. So you have to use semiconductor grade, which is absurdly over-specified for the purpose and priced to match.

For a long time the PV companies could go to refiners’ back doors like hobos and buy at a discount the seconds, the ingots rated substandard for the real semiconductor customers, but now the demand has shot up so PV has to pay full whack. This is by far the biggest constraint on the future of PV. Making the panels is straightforward : the industry cry – just Google it – is “silicon feedstock”.

People are of course working on finding a specific route to medium-grade silicon at $20 or so a kilo. Whoever gets there first will make a fortune and save the planet like Superman, so it’s an attractive opportunity. The problem was entirely predictable given the relative growth rates. So why didn’t it attract much effort until recently?

I think there has been an institutional market failure. The challenge is out of the technological reach of the bulk silicon people; and the semiconductor refiners have I think been fixated on keeping Intel and company happy, customers who must be insensitive to price and fanatically demanding on quality. A $100 processor might be built on a gram or less of silicon wafer, or 5 cents’ worth – hardly worth worrying about compared to cutting rejection rates for the circuits.

You would think that this geopolitically strategic problem would attract oodles of public research – a money cake like Alice’s with EAT ME “beautifully marked in currants”. Not so.

The EU put €42m into PV research in the €17.5 bn 6th Framework Programme (2002-2006), with one €2.6m programme on silicon feedstock (search for FOXY): the 7th Framework programme hasn’t been approved quite yet, but funding for renewable energy will go up.

The USA, heart of the world semiconductor industry, spends even less. The current DoE programme for PV technology offers $12.5 million over 2-3 years . Searching the DoE site with the keywords “silicon feedstock”, I found precisely one grant awarded – for a princely $99,928.

This is the order of money the US government hands out as charity to cranks. The Pentagon used to support serious gravitational physics with the blue-sky hope of finding antigravity, and apparently funded some antigravity devices – well into the crackpot zone. NASA spent $1.6M between 1996 and 2002 on a similarly starry-eyed “Breakthrough Propulsion Physics” programme, in hopes of a real warp drive. (more)

It’s market failure, and government policy’s job to predict and correct market failures by judicious injections of money and regulation. A fraction of this Hitler subsidy focused towards reducing the cost of high grade silicon production would, as the author of the above post put it, “save the world like Superman”

Meanwhile, Barack (no longer senator of coal) Obama no longer supports Coal-to-Liquid technology. That removes the one black mark (can I say that?) against his advocacy positions. Here’s hoping it is a real back tracking, and not just a reaction to pressure that will be reversed once eyes are turned.

Responsible Death Rites

Can cremation be used as an offset under the Kyoto Protocol? Read on..

Seed: New Green Pyre Promoted in India

UN figures show close to 10 million people die a year in India, where 85 percent of the billion-plus population are Hindus who practice cremation. That leads to the felling of an estimated 50 million trees, leaves behind half a million tonnes of ash and produces eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, according to research by Agarwals Mokshda environmental group.

The solution is to design a much more efficient wood burning stove hence satisfying religious sentiments (have to use wood to burn your body) and save lots of wood.

Agarwal built his first pyre, a raised human-sized brazier under a roof with slats that could be lowered to maintain heat. The elevation allowed air to circulate and feed the fire.

It gets even better…

Mokshda hopes its projects will eventually be registered under the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism, which encourages green projects in developing countries.

It allows industrialised countries that have committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to count reductions achieved through investments in projects in developing countries towards their undertakings.

Really, we can get carbon credits by improving cremation practices?? That’s creative! Going all electric on the crematorium would obviously be the best thing, but Hindu religious sentiment being what it is, this is an improvement.

If you want environmentally friendly, this has nothing on the Parsis (or Zoroastrians):

The interior of the Tower of Silence is built in three concentric circles, one each for men, women, and children. The corpses are exposed there naked. The vultures do not take long—an hour or two at the most—to strip the flesh off the bones, and these, dried by the sun, are later swept into the central well

Yes, that’s right, the vultures! Now, that’s energy efficient! Unfortunately, due the use of diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory in livestock, vulture populations in India have declined to the point that this ancient ritual is now in serious jeopardy.

Weight Loss drug linked to suicide and anxiety? Worldwide

Sanofi-Aventis SA’s weight-loss pill may raise the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts, U.S. regulators said in documents that may help an expert panel decide whether the three-time delayed drug should be approved.

The FDA noted two suicides in clinical trials of volunteers testing the drug. The panel will be asked to discuss whether it can establish a causal link between the medicine and suicidal thoughts or actions.

Some patients who took part in clinical trials of Acomplia suffered from mood swings, anxiety and depression. Trial volunteers given the highest dose lost an average 5.3 kilograms (11.7 pounds) over a one-year period compared with a weight loss of 1.4 kilograms (3.1 pounds) among patients given a control pill. Acomplia significantly lowered the level of HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar, to within a safe range.

So, here’s the classic case for the FDA, as discussed earlier today! Accomplia is a drug designed for weight loss, what I would call a “life management” drug. In clinical trials, which are strictly controlled, and where patients/volunteers are selected and carefully monitored, it seems to increase the incidence of suicidal thoughts, increase anxiety, mood swings and depression. The drug acts by blocking certain receptors in the brain, which should hint at other unforseen effects on the brain. The FDA has been more cautious on this drug than the European regulators, who have approved this drug.

What would I do if I were the FDA? I would wait 2-3 years for post approval studies in Europe to catch any mental health effects. After all, out in the real world, people take drugs imperfectly. The ones who should not qualify take it any way, doctors over-prescribe to patients who would hardly need the drug, things just don’t work as well. So, the best thing for the FDA to do is, nothing! In fact, the FDA is expected to punt the decision to 2010, good job!

Let’s put the benefits of this drug in perspective, all it did was make people lose 10 pounds more than placebo over the course of a year. This is the functional equivalent of eating 100 calories less per day for the period. Is that worth taking a pill everyday to keep that weight off and risking depression, anxiety and suicide?