Friday, December 21, 2007

Should We Be Investing in Gold

For the last 30 years or so, it’s a well-known fact that as the value of the US dollar decreases, the price of gold increases. In today’s post-US sub-prime mortgage economic climate, does it still make good fiscal sense to invest in gold?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

As the price of oil draws ever closer to the 100 US dollar-per-barrel mark, is our present (fiscal year 2007) global economy fast becoming into the economic climate that existed in 1980? Even though there are similarities like the Federal Reserve reigning in on credit and interest rates, the tumultuous political situations in the Middle East. The US$100 in 1980 is still higher in value after FTC algorithm-inflation-adjustments compared to US$100 circa-2007. Armed with this data, will the price of gold do a 1980 era repeat of reaching over the US$800 per-ounce price range?

With an aspect of Sharia Banking Laws fast becoming into vogue in Western financial sectors like the idea of financial institutions should only honor “concrete” or “tangible” forms of collateral, the lure of investing into precious metals –like gold- had recently become the hottest trend in high-yield investments. But the precious metals market is by no means strictly infallible and not immune from unlawful market manipulation. If anyone still remembers-or cares- about the “Hunt-silver debacle” will surely attest to this. At the beginning of the 1970’s the Hunt brothers – heir to the multi-billion dollar fortune of Texas oil/petroleum tycoon H.L. Hunt used their billions to purchase and hoard silver in an attempt to increase the price of silver to be comparable to that of gold. But near the end of March 1980, the Hunt brothers, along with a major Wall Street firm and U.S. securities and commodities markets came almost to the brink of financial disaster. Even though those were different times back then, if most of today’s current billionaires will do a “stunt” similar to what the Hunt brothers did -but to gold- the price of gold could reach US$10,000 per-ounce.

Our current allure of gold and its related retinue of precious metals, stemmed from the US sub-prime mortgage crisis that became news by the end of July 2007. During the succeeding months, the fallout of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis affected the global currency market – with their anchor – the US dollar weakened by inflation due to the Bush administrations current quagmire in Iraq. (At an average cost of US$1billion-per-week, it does seem like Uncle Sam is setting up a colony on a distant earth-like planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri). Bonds and conventional bank savings accounts quickly lost their appeal as inflation drained their purchasing power. So investors and their dogs everywhere quickly began to turn to the oldest stores of value they can find – gold and related precious metals.

The novice investor may ask: “Why invest in gold?” Well, since the time paper money gained widespread appeal. These “paper money” –by common sense- should be worth just about or lesser than the paper on which it is printed on, unless the paper money’s value is backed-up by “tangible” or “concrete” assets namely gold, silver or the other related precious metals. But it is mainly the “gold standard” i.e. a monetary standard under which the basic unit of currency is defined via a stated quantity of gold circulating freely into the international financial system, hence the term “bank notes”. The reason we expend an almost excessive amounts of our mining expertise in obtaining this rare but almost useless metal, which even in “gold rush” days involves the “processing” of a ton of ore just to get 17 grams of gold. At present, even “processing” a ton of ore just to get 3 grams of gold is considered very economically viable. And also, it is because gold is what makes our paper money able to buy things i.e. purchasing power. The other uses of gold is in the jewelry industry, dental “bridgework” and electroplating electrical / electronic components to make them corrosion resistant.

While platinum is far more useful than gold and the gyroscopes of modern bombsights are made from it. Unlike gold or silver, platinum doesn’t occur in its native state in nature i.e. free elemental form. Platinum, and its related metal siblings on the Periodic Table namely rhodium, iridium and palladium are usually refined via proprietary chemical process that is a highly guarded trade secret. Usually a batch of beige - colored mud (ore concentrate) is added with a “secret” chemical mixture to obtain the pure metallic platinum and its metal siblings.

A lesser known metal that is more useful expensive, and rarer than gold is gallium. The main user of gallium is the electronics industry where it is used in making semiconductors with high switching speeds and “solid state” night-vision goggles. Without gallium, the green-tinged Paris Hilton Sex Video would not have been possible. Yet gallium plays no part in backing the value of our paper currency.

So what does this all mean? Being closeted –but fiscally challenged – philanthropists that we are. We do believe in charity –only during those times that we are practically overflowing with money. We’ve read “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Ph.D.. And the part of that book that really speaks to us is about how charitable giving grew at a faster rate during the 1980’s, described as “the decade of greed” (after the movie “Wall Street”?). Statistics had shown that charitable giving during the 1980”s really grew at a faster rate than it had during the previous 25 years. A really “scary” proof to the saying that: “greed is good”. Because of this, its now in the best interest of major charitable organizations like Oxfam and the UN Food Programme for us to “become rich”. With skyrocketing grain / staple crop prices due to the hastily set-up biofuel industry, the United Nations Food Programme's food / grain purchasing power has been drastically reduced. So they need more money just to maintain their existing / basic programs.

Paramore: Getting to the Top the Old Fashion Way?

Ever since the “unforeseen” success of their headlining single “Misery Business” from their album “Riot!”. Is Paramore here to remind us the “good old days” of punk rock and getting famous the old fashion way?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since their MTV debut via the single “Misery Business” aired on our local MTV affiliate, I thought that our local MTV Asia affiliate had mistakenly aired a circa 1989 power pop / punk video of a talented young band. I thought good bands like Paramore only exists15 to 20 years ago. Maybe I’m listening to 24 bit 192 KHz sampled Punk Rock reissues for far too long. Now that almost all of the under 25 “punk rockers” already knew them (I just turned 11 and I only discovered Paramore back in August 2007), here’s a much needed refresher course for the uninitiated. Named after a friend of the band mother’s maiden name Paramore is a Pop Punk (Power Pop?) band which hails from Franklin, Tennessee. Also after finding out that Paramore means “secret lover”, the band chose it. The band’s vocalist and primary center of attention is Haley Williams. Their current line-up by this time of writing includes lead guitarist Josh Farro and his brother Zac Farro on drums and bassist Jeremy Davis. Since today’s MTV – based music is primarily a visual medium the other members of Paramore can only be appreciated by ear because of the band’s “hot” vocalist.

Paramore was already busy “paying their dues” in the touring circuit since 2005. By April 2005, the band already signed to a record label. Then Paramore released their debut “All We Know Is Falling” in July 24, 2005 reaching #30 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart. Later in that year, Paramore was featured on the Shira Girl Stage of the 2005 Warped Tour. In 2006, Paramore released an EP titled “The Summer Tick”. Their first night on the Main Stage was at their hometown show of Nashville. Paramore’s first US headlining tour began on August 2, 2006 to a sold-out audience with support from This Providence. With this under their belts, Paramore was voted “Best New Band” by the readers’ poll of “Kerrang!” magazine.

By the start of 2007, Paramore was named by NME (is this the same NME circa-1980?) as one of ten bands to watch out for in the magazine’s “New Noise 2007” feature (the band Girlschool used to be on that list back in 1980!). In addition to this accolade, the band played an acoustic set for the grand opening of a “Warped Tour” exhibit at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame that opened in January. The dress worn by Paramore’s vocalist Haley Williams for the “Emergency” music video was also put into the exhibit (Queer Eye alert!). And by the recording and release of “Riot!” around June 2007, Paramore already mastered the ropes of studio and live- gigs. By December 7, 2007 CNN ran a news feature about next years Grammy nominees lists Paramore as one of the Best New Artists.

To me, it seems like new bands that seek fame and recognition via the old fashion way i.e. “paying their dues” on the touring circuit and in the studio seems to scare the hell out of MTV’s current incarnation – or is this just endemic in MTV’s ASEAN franchise? Aspiring bands should be exposed to young and gifted talents like the band Paramore in order to end this endemic batch of major label crap (and surprisingly young “talent”) that only current “Media Pirates” seem to cherish because they can earn money from it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Psychotherapy: Humbug?

As depression becomes a public health issue, how can an increasingly skeptical public benefit from the fruits of modern psychotherapy?

By: Vanessa Uy

If one dares to point a finger on who destroyed the credibility of modern / contemporary psychotherapy, then the blame should be directed at the current American pop culture. Ever since the TV series “The Sopranos” gained it’s legions of fans, the folks who mistrust modern psychotherapy finally gained a platform in which their “statement” finally got the “sex appeal” it badly deserves. Or is it the “Soprano” – spoof movie “Analyze This” and the sequel “Analyze That” where the Italian-American community’s mistrust of “shrinks” finally got worldwide mass-media attention. And what about the famous actor Tom Cruise airing his views on the science of psychology as a whole during his appearance on the TV talk show “Oprah”. It seems like America has abandoned her faith on psychotherapy, but it isn’t always been this way.

Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s - friends of mine who are old enough to have experienced first hand the worldwide cultural phenomena called Guns N’ Roses - lived through a time where shrinks / counselors / psychotherapists were held in high regard by American pop culture and the American society. My older friends also remembered on how the practice of seeing shrinks / psychotherapists / psychoanalysts became fashionable back then even though those who visit one are not currently suffering any known mental illness. Back to Guns N' Roses circa 1989, the band’s mercurial frontman – W. Axl Rose – never forgot to mention during his press interviews about his personal opinion on the virtues of “shrinks” i.e. psychotherapists. Back then, it’s even fashionable to visit to shrinks and “chill out” with one even though it was (is) a somewhat expensive proposition at 75 to 100 US dollars- an- hour. At that time, Newsweek and Time even criticized the peoples growing over reliance on shrinks. There’s even a blurb about talking someone out of his or her diabetes (!). But during the same time (1989) in the Philippines, the existing sentiments on shrinks are pretty much like / mirroring the TV series “The Sopranos”. Back in 1989- era Philippines, only “crazy people” i.e. the mentally ill went to shrinks. Even though this is my view, I know of native New Yorkers of Filipino ancestry who say that Filipino’s distrust of shrinks / psychotherapists are born of “repressed Catholic anti-Semitism”. Is this because of what Sigmund Freud said that he is Jewish- by- race- and- not-by-religion as an expression of Jewish pride in defiance of Nazi-era Germany? By the way, the New Yorkers of Filipino descent who I am frequently in contact with via "WEB 2.0" are very critical of this "Makati-Corporate-World-Metro-Manila-Castelian-Catholic-Colonial-Chauvanism" that is "conveniently" overlooked (in the name of money) by the Tagalog Media / Cultural elite.

Today, the Filipino society – in general – don’t trust modern psychotherapy. The existing idea that only the mentally ill visit shrinks is still the norm. Ironically, the practice of astrology, fortune telling and other Gypsy / Roma / Romani style mysticism are used as substitute for legitimate psychoanalysis by the very rich and local celebrities i.e. the "Tagalog Cultural Elite". To me, that’s their loss.

Depression: An Overlooked Public Health Crisis?

From famed artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Edgar Allan Poe to a steadily rising part of the general public, should we adopt a pro-active rather than a reactive response in dealing with this mental health crisis?

By: Vanessa Uy

The inevitability for urgent concern might be a long time coming but a World Health Organization (WHO) study shows that mental health issues like depression is largely ignored by healthcare providers around the world. A WHO report aired in November 13, 2007 shows depression had already reached parity with other “preventable” public health concerns like coronary heart disease and even AIDS. The existing lack of urgency when it comes to dealing with mental health problems like depression is largely due to the pre-existing stigma attached to most mental health disorders in addition to general mistrust of the general public on the science of psychology.

Depression by itself is generally harmless, since most of us live in the Northern Hemisphere and when winter season comes the daylight hours gets shorter and shorter. This gives rise to a melancholic feeling commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The more serious form of depression that could lead to suicides are usually a product of manic – depressive disorder also known by its modern more politically correct name of bipolar disorder. Sufferers of bipolar disorder usually resort to suicide during the depressive part of their mental illness. While in their manic state, the sufferer could be manifesting his or her creative genius in various art forms like music, literature, and other creative outlets in ways far beyond the abilities of “normal” people.

With the aid of the latest existing mental health diagnostic tools like the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, referred to as the DSM-IV, had made analyzing mental illness across cultures much more easier and accurate. The latest WHO report also shows that mainland China probably has 100 million undiagnosed sufferers of depression that if left untreated could lead to suicide. Local studies have shown that rural parts of China has a much higher rates of suicide that urban areas due to increased isolation and hardship in day –to –day living.

Even though the basic facts in overcoming depression rest’s on the individual sufferer, to me, it still takes a skilled psychotherapist / counselor / social worker to bring back someone from the brink. Many of us –including me – had been taking for granted that every time we suffer from “the blues” we don’t wind up killing ourselves. As someone with above average creative skills, it always pays to keep close tabs with one’s selves. After all, you’ll know things are getting out of hand when you become your own worse enemy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Divorce Insurance: Equitability in Marriage?

In today’s post-modern society driven by capitalist consumerism, could a divorce insurance with really good provisos be the answer in keeping “modern love” equitable?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as a Red Letter Day in honor of St. Valentine back in year 496, anyone from bards to scientists and even lawyers had lend a hand in gaining insight on this thing we call love. Although gaining insight means different things to different people, in this day and age, gaining insight on love usually means making the damned thing equitable to the parties involved. Love used to be the business between two loving couples, but in our present age, greeting card companies and those “weird people” who claim to be close to God by virtue of celibacy all lay claim to be the sole authority on love and marriage. I think these two camps are what’s been making Valentine’s Day a very interesting holiday for over a millennia.

When capitalist consumerism declared that it knew the price of everything – including devotion and obligation – did it made equitable ground rules? Or are we now so cynical that nothing free has value anymore? How could Calvinism put a price on one’s own devotion and obligation? Only the Anglo-Saxon God knows and He’s not talking. To me, this makes it a situation where only lawyers have free reign on arbitrarily deciding what’s equitable or not. I just hope that more prenuptial agreements be offered in pro bono flavor.

To me, it’s just sad that the thing we call money – whose value is backed up by our increasing materialism - is also the very thing that could get us out of this specific dilemma. In this day and age, divorce insurance with proviso for legal separation and prenuptial agreements really has existing demand. Divorce insurance really has legitimacy because the element of gambling – the first essential factor in insurance – is not present. This is so because countless people get married on a regular basis with the knowledge that over half of it will end in divorce and currently divorce proceedings are always messy affairs by judicial standards. Then, only a couple of things are left to be studied to make divorce insurance an integral part of most insurance companies’ / providers’ retinue. Like the possibility in making accurate and scientific calculations of the extent of the hazard, so as to charge a fair premium. Remember, irreconcilable differences causes stress and stress leads to ill health mental or otherwise. The other is the cost of divorce insurance must be within the reach of a large number of people.

Forgive me for being too cynical – even by “Michael Moore Documentary” standards – but divorce insurance, in my opinion, could really revolutionize how our present generation look at and approach “Romantic Love”. Divorce insurance could end once and for all the blatantly ithyphallic way young couple decide to get married – by whim – with utter disregard to the hardships that they will certainly encounter in marriage. Just something to think about during Valentine’s Day.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Remembering Lucky Dube

A singer / performer with enough clout to temporarily stop on – going civil conflicts, the world and Reggae fans now mourn the passing of Lucky Dube.

By: Vanessa Uy

When the Reggae star Lucky Dube was shot in front of his children on October 18, 2007 after an attempted carjacking, the ongoing epidemic of violent crime in South Africa gained worldwide attention. This incident even casts doubts on South African government’s ability to keep peace and order on the coming 2010 World Cup. Despite meeting an untimely end, Lucky Dube lived a life that’s way more interesting than his death.

With a music career that spans 25 years, Lucky Dube has recorded 20 albums. He sang in Africaan, Zulu and English. Strangely though, he is more famous overseas than in his homeland of South Africa. During the 1980’s Apartheid-era South Africa, Lucky Dube used his music to inspire Black South Africans for a non- violent struggle against Apartheid rule.

Lucky Dube’s finest hour came during the 1990’s when his fame had earned him enough clout to temporarily suspend on-going battles in African conflict zones like Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In June 1999, Lucky Dube performed one of his famed 3-hour long shows in Monrovia, Liberia where the said show allowed a cessation of hostilities between the warring factions. The warring factions are willing to temporarily suspend their fighting just to attend a Lucky Dube concert. These fighters really are dedicated fans. Lucky Dube is also big in the US. He frequently played venues in Miami, Florida and in Atlanta, Georgia.

Despite being regarded as the current “gold standard” when it comes to Reggae music, and Lucky’s fans swear that he’s the spiritual heir of the Reggae legend Bob Marley. Lucky Dube’s allegiance to the Rastafarian faith was more academic than spiritual because in interviews he says he doesn’t use marijuana / cannabis. To the uninitiated, the spiritual side of the Rastafarian faith revolves around Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (the one deposed from power on September 12, 1974) and the Emperors lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba plus the “Lion of Judah” references.

Ever since releasing his debut album “Rastas Never Die”, Lucky Dube has indeed come a long way. When he played in the Live 8 Concert in Johannesburg, South Africa, Lucky Dube indeed took Reggae music back to Africa – the music’s spiritual homeland. I just hope that his latest album “Soul Taker” won’t be used by Lucky Dube’s fans as an epitaph of his music career but rather a celebration of his artistry and his quest for a better world. The official Lucky Dube Website is at .

Toilets for the Third World: Necessity or Extravagance?

The chronic lack of clean and safe drinking water coupled with the ever- growing spread of water – borne diseases. Will the ubiquitous “modern” toilet be the solution to the Third World nation’s water problems?

By: Vanessa Uy

When I heard about the Inaugural World Toilet Summit 2007 and Expo discuss their plans to alleviate the sanitation problems of 2.6 billion people who don’t have access to proper –i.e. hygienic – toilet facilities, I asked myself Why did the “affluent” West took so long in addressing this problem? Is it hard to figure out the link between keeping the communal groundwater safe by keeping the communal toilet hygienic by modern standards? Nonetheless I just hope that the summit achieve it’s “lofty goal” of providing toilets for the Third World “poor”.

One of the problems that needs to be tackled in the World Toilet Summit 2007 so that their goal would succeed is the design of a low-cost toilet design that uses less water than typical toilets used in the “Industrialized West”. A typical Western toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water to flush 250 grams of fecal matter safely. But this kind of toilet needs to be supported by an existing sewage system which most Third World countries don’t have or existing ones are in need of repair. A “modern” toilet that uses the fraction of the water for flushing than a typical “Western” toilet is in the pipeline. And with a cost of US$30 or less, this could well be the “appropriate technology” needed to meet the demands of Third World conditions.

In the past, the peasants of the Orient had used their rice paddies as the communal toilet. Even though this practice has the advantage of using human fecal matter as a source of free organic fertilizer, in densely populated communities the practice could easily initiate cholera epidemics or other water borne diseases. Composting type toilets had since been in current use in some parts of Vietnam and China, but it safely works only in sparsely populated communities.

In affluent societies, we frequently take the humble modern toilet for granted. Since it’s a necessity when it comes to a vital –albeit relatively disgusting – part of human metabolism, toilets are somewhat a taboo topic in the industrial world. The industrialized world’s Victorian-era perception of the ubiquitous toilet had made the affluent citizens of our planet had forgotten that the humble toilet could be a lifesaver in the Third World.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Diversity for the Holidays

With Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa falling just days apart, December is indeed the “Holiday Season”. But the question is how egalitarian are we making it these days?

By: Vanessa Uy

First of all, I think the entire “consumer world” owe those people who did their Christmas shopping early a debt of gratitude for inadvertently exposing the dangers of toys with high lead content. Now, kids around the world can look forward to a safer – albeit more expensive – alternatives.

As a Catholic - by geography and not by faith – I am quite fascinated on how “other cultures” celebrate their own Holidays that fall on the Festive month of December. Despite of the relentless thrust of “Commercialization” on seasonal holidays, it’s still nice to know that the majority of people I know didn’t become jaded through the years as they celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa. Some Jewish families that I know still invite me to their Chanukah festivities despite of my criticisms on Israel’s PM Ehud Olmert’s disastrous Summer 2006 incursion into Lebanon. But that’s a topic for another blog.

When it comes to finding a “Kultur Kampf” on how to celebrate December holidays, this can be found between the various Christian sects criticizing one another on how to “properly” celebrate Christmas. As I am a product of the Catholic School System even though I’m a practicing Zen Buddhist, it’s only sensible for me to view the various demarcations on how to properly celebrate Christmas from the Catholic Church’s point of view.

When it comes to the “proper” celebration of Christmas, the Catholic Church has for a very long time viewed the various “Scandinavian” influences on Christmas like the overly generous and jolly Scandinavian Saint and the “pagan” tree that symbolizes generosity with both disdain and suspicion. The “disdain and suspicion” part is the reflection of my older friends’ Catechism School lectures on Christmas commercialization during the time when Ronald Reagan ruled the free world by the way. And when the Industrial Age came with the resulting commodification of goods services, the “Saint” and the “Tree” became the Catholic Church’s benchmarks on the extent on how “commercialized” Christmas has become. Or is this the Church’s critique on the Anglo-Saxon Protestants failure to recognize between what is sacred and what is commodified when it comes to Christmas.

While the Catholic Church is busy criticizing the “commercialization” of Christmas, the Church say nothing about how some Fundamentalist Evangelicals harbor this concept of Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and tomorrow. Like these Fundamentalist Evangelicals don’t (won’t?) celebrate Christmas because they see Jesus Christ forever locked in that moment in time feeding the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and a few pieces of fish. This is merely my observation and not a criticism on how to spend ones holidays to reiterate the obvious.

To me, the key in finding – and experiencing – diversity this Holiday Season is by opening up to the wonder of it all. Not too many people enjoy playing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party on Christmas morning just to remove the “auditory aftertaste” of those “A Very Special Christmas Albums” that benefit the Special Olympics. And I paid full price for those CDs.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Of Hi – Fi and Humanitarian Relief

In the service of informing those who ask while risking in reiterating the obvious, the article contributors of this blogspot who are audiophiles DO help the unfortunate. Do our doubters care too?

By: May Anne Uy

As one of the contributors who’s been a hi – fi enthusiasts for more than ten years, I may currently own a stereo set-up that helped CARE and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) back in August of 1998. At that time, The Third Annual Summer Against Hunger was underway. The event’s underwriters were lead by The Cable Company ( The underwriters donated up to 10% of my stereo system’s price to CARE and IRC. Looks like my pride and joy donated 300 US dollars to CARE and IRC back in 1998.

Also, each of us has around 300 US dollars each currently invested in Muhammad Yunus inspired microfinance programs in our country. Like the Sustainable Microfinance Services for the Filipino Entrepreneurial Poor which has been of great help to the small farmers living in rural areas. And also a good reason for going out to the country for the program’s biannual “stockholders” meetings.

Speaking of Burma’s / Miyanmar’s military’s bloody crackdown on dissidents, the two Burmese families presently renting in our apartment had been granted “rent amnesty” for three months. This move –to me - is like hitting two birds with one stone. Because I can help these families alleviate their suffering while exerting moral pressure (a politically correct equivalent to sticking it) to the Burmese military junta by “harboring dissidents”.

Lastly, I purchased that John Lennon inspired Darfur Crisis Relief double CD album even though I liked only three of the artists featured on that CD. I hope Amnesty International will do something about this. By the time the crisis in Darfur ends, I’ll still be very hard – to – please musically that is. I’m just a sucker when it comes to good causes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why Al Gore and the IPCC Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize

Environmentalists winning the Nobel Peace Prize, have we reached the point of waging war over arable land and other resources?

By: Ringo Bones

Today, anti war protestors in America carry signs that read “No Blood For Oil”. In a few years time if we don’t do anything to protect our environment, those signs will read “No Blood For Safe Drinking Water” and believe me, that is NOT a “romantic” notion for the “warmongers” in Capitol Hill or the Pentagon. Will the elected GOP / Republican Party politicians authorize an invasion and occupation of Brazil in order to save the Amazon rain forest 10 years from now? I just hope that the worlds powers-that-be will heed the advice of the IPCC and Al Gore to do their part in limiting the impact of climate change.

Growing up in the 1980’s, there isn’t a day that goes by without hearing news coverage about the swiftly declining state of our environment. From major man-made disasters like the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker running aground, to the burning of the Amazon rain forest. I always wondered why the world’s governments have waited 20 or so years in tackling our planet’s various environmental problems.

Now in 2007(better late than never), Al Gore and Rajendra Pachauri with the 3,000 or so scientists from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC were awarded for this years Nobel Peace Prize. They were awarded for their “heroic” efforts in spreading awareness on the dangers of climate change, global warming and the sea level rise. Since the announcement, a number of “influential people” namely Captains-of-Industry and some politicians have doubts whether the Nobel Committee's decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC because these two don’t deserve the prize. Some of them said that Al Gore is nothing more than a slick showman while the IPCC –to them - deserve a prize for being a well run organization but not the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Well, that’s those “influential people’s” decisions. To me Al Gore and the IPCC truly deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Because what the two are essentially doing is laying out plans to limit the impact of climate change on the global economy. IPCC and AL Gore just laid out the groundwork on how future conflicts caused by climate change will be reduced in scale and / or will be even eliminated. Just as Muhammad Yunus deserved his own Nobel Peace Prize because he laid out the groundwork for tackling the root cause of extremism and militancy namely poverty and the lack of income generating opportunities.

I’m just glad that those “influential people” that criticized Al Gore and the IPCC for receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace were not around during my time in high school. Those people would had been over me when I nominated the Afghan Mujahedin as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 1987 for their valiant efforts of resisting Soviet occupation. I even convinced my teacher and a classroom full of people on my case. This was a class project that gained a life of it’s own after President Corazon Aquino became Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”. Mind you this was before I got hold of Osama bin Laden’s or General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s dossier, or knew which from which. Perfect tense doesn’t necessarily mean perfect sense when it comes to history.

The Dot Asia Domain Name: Kickstarting the Region’s Economy?

The age of Internet domain name real estate has finally arrived. Will you be the next I.T. billionaire?

By: Ringo Bones

There’s a new domain name in our “Internet Town”, its called dot Asia (.asia). One of the latest lines of domain names named after an actual geographic location. It looks like we used up all of those little Pacific Island nations as a source of domain names.

Interested customers to the auction have 6 months to register, so register as soon as humanly possible because these things go out fast. Registration for “dot asia” has opened on: Tuesday October 9, 2007. Protection wanted from cyber-squatters?

Back in August 9, 1995, nobody knew that the dot com boom that started then will eventually go bust five years later. Now, Internet entrepreneurs are more wary on the promise of easy money. Even experienced Internet domain name developers are forever mindful that their “South Sea” domains like Tuvalu’s dot tv and Tokelau’s dot tk might mimic the “South Sea Bubble Burst of 1720”.

To me, the IT / Internet / computer industry – after recovering from the dot com bust of 2000 - has done so much good to those fresh out of college looking for gainful employment, especially those living in the impoverished parts of the world. The industry could essentially fulfil the promise of the Clinton Global Initiative of keeping every batch of fresh graduates securely employed by creating new jobs – like domain name developers – every 5 to 8 years. If all goes well, this mission would be a piece of cake for the industry.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Desperate Housewives: Desperate for Ratings?

Who would have thought that feminism and post-modernist consumerism would result in a very, very ugly dialectic? Is Desperate Housewives “Girl Power” gone wrong?

By: Vanessa Uy

Hi, my name is Vanessa and I never watched a full episode of Desperate Housewives in my entire life, though I’ve watched enough World War II movies that made me extra sensitive to racial epithets. If I had to choose between watching a season of Desperate Housewives and an instructional video from Médecins Sans Frontièrs (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) on how to treat assault rifle trauma, I’d choose the later. Besides Teri Hatcher / Susan Meyer may have a low opinion on non-Hollywood doctors like MSF or Filipino medical personnel for that matter.

The “Desperate Housewives” row over Filipino doctors is about the September 30, 2007 episode of the show. In this particular show is a scene were Teri Hatcher’s character – Susan Meyer – was being confronted by a doctor with the information that she may be experiencing menopause. During the conversation, Susan Meyer (Teri Hatcher’s character) cut the doctor short and this is when she uttered the racial slur. This is the excerpt.

Dr. Mayfair: “I know for a lot of women, the word “menopause” has negative connotations. The heart aging, brittle bones, loss of sexual desire…”

Susan Meyer: “Before we go any further, can I check those diplomas? ‘cause I would like to make sure that they’re not from some “med school” in the Philippines.”

To me, this qualifies as an attack on us Filipinos. The writing staff of Desperate Housewives intentions might just be for the purpose of entertainment but we Filipinos, say that this is really underhanded. We have been offended – if not ridiculed by the said statements.

As "patriotic" Americans, I can assume that the writing staff of Desperate Housewives that their society doesn’t tolerate racial slurs -no matter how benign- and I experienced this first hand. Back in February 2001, while vacationing with my relatives in Wisconsin. I almost got into a fight with a group of African–Americans because I was telling a funny anecdote to my cousin – in a Bavarian dialect – in which a group of African–Americans misinterpreted as a racial slur directed at them. Plus I’m a pale skinned green- eyed redhead (Uzbek-German ancestry) didn’t help matters either. Fortunately, the group understood my pleas in explaining my esoteric language use and the tense situation was peacefully resolved. Understandable since obscure Bavarian dialects is not a major part of the American high school curricula.

Now, for the sake of justice, it’s my time to cast a critical eye on the TV series “Desperate Housewives”. I always view any-town-USA-gated-communities with disdain even if I’m presently residing in one. These “communities” represent the dark side of Capitalist Consumerism (or the "freedoms" of a post-modernist society). These are probably the kind of communities where the malfeasant personnel of the private security contractor “Blackwater” grew up. I think the writing staff of Desperate Housewives should undergo ethnic or cultural sensitivity training by sentencing them to do community service in San Francisco’s Castro Street district, or doing volunteer work in a Turkish-Armenian support group.

Blackwater Security Consulting: Malfeasance in Arms?

While Blackwater’s notorious September 16, 2007 incident is a day which will “Live in Infamy” for most of Iraq’s civilians, is this another case of “Ways v Means”?

By: Vanessa Uy

The first time I heard of Blackwater was back in April of 2007 when a former “Dogs Of War” neighbor of ours talks about back in the days when they “Liberated” Zimbabwe back in 1979, they weren’t behaving like Blackwater personnel. I think they’re telling the truth because they’re not afraid to post their own pictures on their MYSPACE account. Ah, to not live in fear, priceless.

Known for their close ties to the GOP, Blackwater Security Consulting was founded in 1997 by ex US Navy SEAL Billionaire Erik Prince and Al Clark. As Blackwater’s exploit’s got inadvertently scrutinized by the international media thus gaining their reputation as mercenaries. However under international law, American citizens working for Blackwater are not considered “mercenaries” when they are assisting the US military. While the Organization of the Islamic Conference recently classified Blackwater as a terrorist organization, due to it’s recent excessive use of force on innocent Iraqi civilians.

Blackwater is based in the US State of North Carolina where it operates a tactical training facility - which it claims to be the world’s largest. The company trains more than 40,000 people a year from all of the various military services and a host of other agencies.

Of the US State Department’s three major private security contractors, Blackwater is currently the largest. At least 90% of the company’s revenue comes from government contracts, two-thirds of which are “no-bid contracts”. Blackwater’s current president, Gary Jackson, is also a former US Navy SEAL.

Blackwater was one of the several private security firms employed following the US invasion of Afghanistan. Blackwater was also hired during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by the Department of Homeland Security to maintain order in New Orleans and to “apprehend looters”.

Incidents of misconduct and malfeasance of some Blackwater personnel happened way before the September 16, 2007 “shooting spree” incident. According to the US State Department, on December 24, 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee shot and killed a bodyguard who was protecting the Iraqi vice president. In the weeks after the September 16, 2007 incident, the legal status of Blackwater and other security firms in Iraq is a subject of contention.

I don’t know personally anyone of those currently employed by Blackwater who’s assigned in Iraq but could this be a case of a few bad apples ruining the whole bunch? I mean Blackwater –as a corporate entity – usually does whatever it can to maintain the professionalism of it’s personnel because I question the wisdom of running the company via some kind of Machiavellian machination. Or is their primary mission in Iraq is to rule by fear i.e. “To rule by fear is to rule completely”?

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Brookings Institution: The Real “Men in Black”?

Is the Brookings Institution – which is primarily an economic security study concern – responsible for the excruciatingly slow scientific progress of space exploration 50 years after Sputnik I?

By: Ringo Bones

In the 20th Century it took us only 44 -or so- years from the first airplane flight to an airplane flying faster than the speed of sound. Why can’t our existing space programs progress just as fast? Ever since that National Geographic documentary about space exploration in which a Brookings Institution report was published. This report advising NASA against reporting findings on the existence of extraterrestrial life to the general public, every coffee shop and internet café in the Far East are now a buzz about the Brookings Institution’s true purpose. But first, here’s a primer on that said institution.

The Brookings Institution is a non- profit public policy “think tank” based in Washington, DC. As the United States of America’s oldest “think tank”, Brookings is devoted (primarily?) to public service through research and education in the social sciences, particularly in economics, government and foreign policy. The Brookings Institution’s stated principal purpose is “to aid in the development of sound public policies and to promote public understanding of issues of national (i.e. the US of A ‘s) importance. Brookings was founded in 1916, when a group of “reformers” (or is that government officials of limited legislative powers dissatisfied with the incumbent administration) founded the Institute for Government Research (IGR), the first private organization in the US devoted to analyzing public policy issues at a national level. The Institutions founder, philanthropist Robert S. Brookings (1850-1952), originally financed the formation of three organizations: The Institute for Government Research, The Institute of Economics, and the Robert Brookings Graduate School. The three were merged into the Brookings Institution in 1927. The Brookings Institute is currently headed by Strobe Talbott a former Clinton administration appointee in the US State Department.

The “mystique” surrounding the Brookings Institution began in 1958 when the United States Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under the new Space Act to replace its 1915 predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA. Throughout the 1960’s, under US Government behest, NASA adopted a very unusual non-disclosure policy that prohibited their management from releasing information concerning the discovery of sentient extraterrestrial life capable of space travel. The policy was created and fashioned after the Brookings Institution report entitled “Peaceful Uses of Outer Space”. In that report, the Brookings Institution recommended prohibition of disclosure with a warning against the revelation of the existence of extraterrestrial life to the people of America and the world. Brookings Institution thinkers feared (vicariously?) social, economic, and religious upeaval could result. Many now believe that the Brookings Institution’s conclusions were based on the now famous events, which transpired in October 30, 1938, the public reaction to Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” and the local panic that ensued.

In the 21st Century, humanity’s level of sophistication has surely rose “a few notches” since that 1938 radio broadcast. To me, it’s quite “difficult to understand” how a futuristic agency tasked with the goal of space exploration -like NASA – can be handicapped by a fear, which originated before most of us were born. Are civilian astronauts / “space tourist” immune to the US Government’s “behest” to keep quiet about “ET”? Maybe this is why none of the billionaires are setting up their own space programs in frenzy.

Does extraterrestrial life exist, is the moon landing “staged’? To end the speculation, civilians should be allowed free access to space despite of the dangers and fiscal costs. Sometimes I wonder after all this time there is no photo of the Apollo 11 landing site taken by a space probe –preferably commissioned by a non- US Government entity (Will China or India suffice) - orbiting 100 kilometers above the moon.

In my opinion, it seems like the people in charge of the Brookings Institute were still living in an “Aristotelian Mindset” when they fashioned their “Peaceful Uses of Outer Space” report. It’s a pity that the great literary giants in Europe during the late 15th Century onwards didn’t write “science fiction” the way Gene Roddenberry makes conjectures about “alien civilizations”. I mean, if only William Shakespeare wrote a “story” about how to properly interact with the native peoples of the “New World”, the native people’s interaction with the European Colonizers would surely be more equitable.

In Brookings Institutions defense, they are seldom –if ever – taken seriously by the various US administrations that came and went since the end of World War II. Brookings even made it into then President Richard Nixon’s famous “enemies lists”. Brookings even warned the US Government back in 2000 that if the proper financial reforms aren’t done, a credit crunch – as what is currently happening –can occur.

Basing on the existing facts about the case, the Brookings Institution cannot be held wholly responsible for arresting the development of space travel because they merely work in an advisory capacity. Their “Space” policy may be found wanting but at least some of their ideas keep “minor wars” from getting out of hand while Wall Street goes about like its business as usual.

One very weird fact about the Brookings Institute that I’ve just learned recently is that they were never mentioned – in passing – on Chris Carter’s X-Files TV series. One of my Internet acquaintances tried to Google the two, but the search results points to the X-Files episode where FBI agents Mulder and Schully were assigned to investigate the allegedly supernatural incidents in a gated community called Arcadia.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Avril Lavigne: The Best Damn Thing Ever?

Did Avril Lavigne inadvertently create an “Edsel” when she set out to write the songs on her third album?

By: Vanessa Uy

The title of this blog would have been “Ten Questions About Avril Lavigne That the Press and Her Fans Were Afraid to Ask”. Those “ten questions” could still crop up as we go along, but first lets take an in-depth view of Avril Lavigne’s third album.

“The Best Damn Thing” (RCA88697 03174-2) is Avril Lavigne’s third and latest release. Also RCA records released her two previous albums – “Let Go” and “Under My Skin” – which I paid full price (I also own a number of rare 7” vinyl of Avril Lavigne’s singles). Luckily I acquired “Best Damn Thing” for free since I won the CD from a local FM radio contest.

Compared to her two previous albums, me – and anyone I knew whose musical tastes more or less mirrors my own – were disappointed by Avril Lavigne’s “Best Damn Thing”. Was it the headline single “Girlfriend”? The answer is a big juicy yes for the reasons not just from the song being overplayed by the local FM stations or the local mall’s P.A. system. To us – especially me – “Girlfriend” has the hallmarks of being a mere “product”, no more or less inspired than a half-decent NBA or NFL halftime show or Britney Spears showing her privates. After the second to third time I heard the song “Girlfriend”, I had a “Road to Damascus Epiphany” on the true meaning of the term bubblegum-pop. Despite the happy “disposition, the “apparently” catchy hooks and lively beats fails to save “Girlfriend” from having the holistic integrity of Avril Lavigne’s “sadder” songs.

All of this made me wonder if the artistic quality / merit of Avril Lavigne’s performance demos being sent to RCA back in 2001 or 2002 sounds like her “Best Damn Thing” album. The A & R executives (talent scouts) of RCA would seriously reconsider about signing Avril Lavigne up – to the point of not signing her up.

The saving grace of this album is the torch song (?) “Pieces of My Heart”. But still I wonder if this song’s beauty is the result of Avril Lavigne’s excellent songcraft or the song’s music video - which is in heavy MTV rotation this past few months since the American “Credit Crunch.”

The way I see it, Avril Lavigne – for reasons that still elude me – has sacrificed her artistic integrity in exchange for more money. I mean she’s quite busy since Memorial Day pandering to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant / Evangelical community of America by implying that she’s a viable, kid-safe replacement for Michael Jackson. The way she talks about “God” in her MTV interviews could “Anglo-Saxonify” Jesus Christ to the point of looking like Conan O’Brien.

I mean if Avril Lavigne was around during that crucial period in 1988–1989. Where the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which was headed by Tipper Gore - wife of Al “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore. Was then reaching out to the teens of America at that time to help them fulfil their core mission of making the REAGANISM of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority a way of life to a whole generation of American teenagers. To me back then, Avril Lavigne would have no choice other than to become a herald of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority’s “Imperial Ambitions” because her “musical” competitions in the pop charts circa 1989 are very weak, which primarily makes Avril very rich. The mediocrity of Milli Vanilli alone would make Avril Lavigne a wholesome, child friendly substitute to Axl Rose. Avril Lavigne would single handedly save PMRC -if only this hypothetical situation can be made real. Except that 99% of her fans don’t even know what PMRC is or if they even care about the time when the game show host Howie Mandel of “Deal or No Deal” was still in “St. Elsewhere”. This makes a good book / novel don’t you think?

But in Avril Lavigne’s defense, living in the “Stepford Wives-ville” that we call Anglo-Saxon America (Sen. John Edward’s “Other America”) had probably made her extremely unhappy. Empty materialism can be such a drag. The way I see it, Avril probably needs the millions of dollars in revenue that her “talent” provides, just to achieve the same levels of happiness experienced by pastoral folk like the Kalahari “Bushmen” of Sub-Saharan Africa. If Avril Lavigne does something similar to what The Beatles did with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi back in 1967 maybe by incorporating Sufi or Druse mysticism into her lifestyle. Will this do wonders to her “creative process” without sacrificing the millions of dollars that she earns? I think –at the present Bush / Neo Conservative administration - its way too risky to her preferred charity organization: War Child. Will Avril Lavigne’s artistic appeal be lost amidst the millions of dollars in royalties? Praise Goddess for my way overplayed Paramore “promotional” DVD.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Earth’s Ozone Layer: Safe at Last?

The Montreal Protocol might be working since scientists had observed a steady decline of ozone destroying chemicals in our atmosphere since the 1990’s, is this good news for the ozone layer?

By: Ringo Bones

Compared to the Kyoto Protocol’s mandate of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the harm that could be caused by climate change. The Montreal Protocol’s mandate (mission?) of eliminating existing chemicals then in use in the industry and in domestic situations that are harmful to the Earth’s ozone layer was perceived as an insurmountable task – by both critics and proponents alike- 20 years ago.

The Montreal Protocol, whose full official title is the Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer is a treaty that was established on September 16, 1987 at Montreal, Canada by a 25 nation body who first signed on. Presently, 168 nations are now parties to the accord. The Montreal Protocol’s mandate was to set limits on the production of ozone depleting chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, and related substances that release chlorine or bromine to the ozone layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. But first, a brief description on how the ozone layer of our planet works.

The Earth’s ozone layer –or the part that filters harmful UV rays out- is found in the upper part of the stratosphere at 40 to 50 kilometers up. The ozone found at ground level is a pollutant. Ozone is an allotrope of oxygen. Allotrope is an element in two or more different forms usually in the same phase like the element carbon that can both exist as coal, or a diamond depending on how it’s atoms are arranged. Unlike the ordinary atmospheric i.e. diatomic oxygen that we breathe whose molecular structure is composed of two oxygen atoms, while ozone has three. Even though both are composed of the same elemental oxygen, ozone can irritate –even damage- our lungs in long term exposure. While monatomic oxygen i.e. gaseous oxygen existing as single atoms plays a part in providing color in the aurora borealis and australis as it gets hit by charged particles from the sun. Every time an ozone molecule gets hit by an energetic ultraviolet radiation from the sun like UV-B (cancer causing), UV-C (chromosomal and immune system damage) and UV-A (tans the skin but still harmful in excess), it breaks apart into a diatomic oxygen molecule and a monatomic oxygen. Oddly enough, the same harmful UV rays allow the ripped oxygen molecules to recombine into ozone thus the cycle continues. This is how ozone absorbs UV radiation. While ozone destroying chemicals that reach the stratosphere also break ozone molecules apart, the bad part is the ozone molecule broken by this method didn’t perform it’s duty of absorbing UV rays. If enough ozone is broken apart chemically, levels of harmful UV rays reaching to the Earth’s surface could increase.

The biggest hurdle in the total manufacture and utilization ban of ozone destroying chemicals is that the “miracles” of contemporary society like refrigerants / keeping things cool and putting out “technical” fires will be seriously affected by the ban. The haloalkane / BCF fire suppressant halon had saved countless fighter pilots that served during the Vietnam War. An F-105 Thunderchief survived being hit by a Soviet made surface-to-air missile to return to her home air base thanks to the halon fire suppression system. Next to the modern ejection seat, halon is the modern jet pilot’s “other best friend.”

Under the Montreal Protocol, the ozone depleting potential or ODP, of any substance is measured with respect to an equal molecular mass of CFC-11, which is assigned a value of 1.0. Most other CFC’s have an ODP rating that ranges from 0.5 to about 1.3. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons, which are being used as transitional replacements until 2020 for CFC’s in refrigeration, have ODP’s that are generally less than 0.5. The problem with hydrochlorofluorocarbons or HCFC’s is that HCFC’s are a very efficient greenhouse gas because of its high specific heat rating. Thus it’s use could contribute to global warming while it’s molecular structure is still under investigation if it chemically breaks down fast enough before it reaches into the stratospheric regions to affect the ozone layer. Hydrofluorocarbons, which are also replacing CFC’s as refrigerants, have an ODP of zero. The molecular structure of HFC’s allows it to chemically break down before it drifts high into the ozone layer. The caveats of hydrofluorocarbons or HFC’s is that the refrigeration system that use HFC’s as a refrigerant are inefficient compared to ones that use CFC or HCFC i.e. it consumes more electricity. Also, ozone-depleting potentials are based on existing scientific knowledge and are to be reviewed and revised periodically. Thus the ODP rating of HFC's could change in the future.

An article published in the March 5, 2007 edition of Science Now about the findings that chlorine based ozone destroying agents are in decline. But the scientists conducting the study are still wary about the future recovery status of our ozone layer because bromine based ozone destroying agents can not yet be tracked with certainty as easily as chlorine based agents using current procedures. The good news is that the preliminary findings suggest that if current preventive measures on ozone depleting chemicals continue, there will be a marked improvement on the status of the Earth’s ozone layer 50 years from now. All of humanity now lives in hope.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lunachicks: The Epitome of Punk Rock Creativity?

During this age of “same-sounding-Billboard-chart-downloaded-to-iPod” phase of pop music, one wonders of the existence of an active government conspiracy 10 years ago – a la X-Files – bent on keeping the band Lunachicks in relative obscurity?

By: Vanessa Uy

The first time I listened to Lunachicks was during a point in my life that could be considered “musically” tumultuous. I was 8 at the time when I knew that achieving Joe Satriani like levels of guitar virtuosity is second nature to me. Avril Lavigne’s debut album was conquering the local airwaves unabated when I’m starting to wonder if my newly found virtuosity will only be in vogue in classical music circles (or 1980’s hair metal bands). My guitar skills will always be a legal way for me to achieve easy money by being a session musician, but it’s only fair to thank the band Lunachicks for keeping me sane during this past few years.

First formed way back in 1987 Lunachiks were said to be discovered by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth at their second gig. The two members of Sonic Youth thought that Lunachicks were a “noise band” – but in actuality- Lunachicks hadn’t learned how to play their instruments yet at the time. A few years later –in 1990 – Lunachicks released their debut album titled “Baby Sitters on Acid” on the record label Blast First. Baby Sitters on Acid “is” the only Lunachicks album that I haven’t heard or owned yet (CD or LP only offers please).

The principal members of Lunachicks are: Theo on lead vocals full name Theo Kogan, stands a full 6 feet and extensively works as a model in the NYC area. Gina (full name Gina Volpe) on guitars and vocals. Squid (Sydney Silver), on bass guitar and vocal duties. Becky Wreck a.k.a. Susan Rebecca Lloyd was their drummer during their first two albums. Chip, (Chip English) replaced Becky about the time when Lunachicks signed up with Go-Kart records – a legendary New York based independent music record label. Sindi, (Sindi Benezra Valsamis) served as the bands other guitarist from 1987 but she’s no longer with the band during the 1998 leg of their tour. Helen Destroy served as the band’s drummer from 2000 to 2001.

After achieving a substantial cult following and critical acclaim from their Baby Sitters on Acid album, Lunachicks released “Binge and Purge” on the Safe House record label in 1992. The album served as a creative template for the succeeding Lunachicks albums. With songs about female masturbation whose lyrical descriptions rival those of Jonathan Swift’s literary description of defecation on his book “Gulliver’s Travels.” As a Punk Rock band, Lunachicks’ uniqueness is the result of their unabashed use of “technical” guitar playing which is the preserve of 1980’s “hair metal” bands.

Lunachicks came into their own when they signed up with Go-Kart records. A friend of Greg Ross once told him to sign Lunachicks because they are NYC’s most popular “indie” band. Around 1995, Go-Kart was still a fledgling record label but as luck would have it Lunachicks signed up with Go-Kart. In May 1, 1995, Go-Kart released Lunachicks’ third full-length album – “Jerk of all Trades.” Because of their popularity, Lunachicks single-handedly became the label’s financial bread-and-butter. During the later half of 1995, Lunachicks toured with “alternative / indie” bands made famous by MTV circa 1995 like Offspring, Marilyn Manson, Luscious Jackson, Rancid, and Reverend Horton Heat.

In February 18,1997, Lunachicks released “Pretty Ugly” on Go-Kart. It’s rare for them to retain the same record label in releasing a new album, but they might have been satisfied on what Go-Kart records did to the band’s career. A quirk about this album is the title track –“Pretty Ugly” was released on a Go-Kart records compilation titled “GO-KART VS. THE CORPORATE GIANT”. Production value-wise, “Pretty Ugly” is somewhat too bass heavy a recording for a Punk Rock band. Either they are following a trend – Massive Attack, Portishead and Trent Reznor / Nine-Inch-Nails - at the time were releasing albums with ridiculous amounts of bass which were selling like hotcakes- or experimenting. Back then, a friend of mine damaged his US$1,500 Velodyne sub woofer during the song “What’s Left” when he played the song at unamplified-drum-kit-sound-pressure-levels. Mind you his audio rig easily passed muster playing other well-recorded drum kit recordings at their natural/unamplified sound pressure levels (105-110 dB SPL). Remember, at that level of loudness the stereo set up should make the recorded sound of the drum kit sound like a real drum kit the way God and Her infinite wisdom intended to sound in nature.

In 1998, Lunachicks released “Drop Dead Live” which to me is probably the best Live Rock Concert album of all time in sound quality terms. Rivaling that of Kiss’ “Alive” and Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan”. This is where –as a live band – Lunachicks’ performance rivals that of Iron Maiden circa 1984. This just proves that independent labels –like Go-Kart – good sound quality comes naturally.

In 1999 while still with Go-Kart records, Lunachicks released “Luxury Problem”. I think –as epitomes of the Punk Rock ideal – Lunachicks became somewhat “uncomfortable” with their popularity in the audiophile community chose to record their “Luxury Problem” album with heavy amounts of audio compression and “dry” i.e. no reverb. But the resulting sound quality made the recording sound as if Lunachicks are playing in the cramped confines of a typical Punk Rock venue in New York City like CBGB’s. Are they trying to mimic the godfathers of Punk – The Ramones – on this recording? The tattoo art world / culture references are still present though.

From 2001 onwards, the band’s tour itinerary has gone from few to nonexistent. The band’s members are busy with their “other jobs.” Gina is now the lead singer and guitarist of the band Bantam. Theo now play’s with Theo and the Skyscrapers. Theo also appeared in the movie Zoolander, you know, the tattooed woman in Hansel’s loft. Becky was the drummer for the Blair Bitch Project back in 2000. Helen Destroy plays drums in the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin (The Lesbian Led Zeppelin?). Squid is currently working as a tattoo artist. I wonder if Squid did Theo’s tattoos?

Despite of their album’s quirks sound quality wise, it’s really hard to pick a single favorite album from Lunachicks. It’s like picking a best Mark Levinson amplifier. To me, Lunachicks’ influence reached beyond the confines of Punk Rock. Theo grazed the cover of Tattoo Magazine’s international edition and probably influenced a generation of women on their taste in fashion. They made some “conventional guys” that I know into loyal fans even though these guys are Soldier of Fortune types who helped Zimbabwe to become independent back in 1980 even though the country has bee going to hell recently. Some used to roam downtown Grozny, Chechnya with Kalashnikovs back in 1992. They don’t care about the “Brickface and Stucco” connotations, to them it’s all about the music and one’s “preferences” is his or her own business not the Government or the Church or whatever.

The songs that stuck on me are “FDS” from Jerk, which sounds like a Broadway show tune Punk Metal hybrid. I also like “Bitterness Barbie” for reasons that might result in me writing a 250 page Doctoral Thesis about what is wrong with George W. Bush and his neo-conservatives. “Spoilt” for it’s critique on Capitol Hill / Wall Street Imperialism that required the sacrifice of working class American blood in running it. And who could forget “Fallopian Rhapsody”, the Roe v Wade question that nobody seems to care or the American women whose voices are silenced by the Moral Majority / Right Wing Christian extremists. Remember the January 16, 1997 Sandy Springs incident?

To me, Lunachicks deserve multi-platinum status. Their drummer Chip’s been playing like they already had one. When the Suicide Girls appeared in Jerry Bruckheimer’s CSI New York, I thought would an appearance by Lunachicks be not far behind? Or is that prospect as viable as a Henry Rollins – Black Flag reunion tour?

Lately, a new band called Paramore whose promotional DVD was given to me from a sympathethic friend who works our local Kuwait Fund facility. To me Paramore's artistry could well rival that of Lunachicks, but it's too soon to tell.

Monday, September 17, 2007

RNAi Therapy: Hope or Hype?

Touted as the latest cutting-edge therapy to turn the tide of battle against the AIDS pandemic, will RNA interference (RNAi) therapy succeed where protease inhibitor based drugs failed?

By: Ringo Bones

Growing up during the 1980’s, one can’t seem to ignore the doomsayer’s predictions on how humanity will be wiped out by the relentless spread of HIV infection or AIDS. Since at the time the existing therapeutic regimen are next to useless compared to the drugs set to replace them in the coming years. In the 1990’s came protease inhibitor based drugs that proved very promising – albeit very expensive – in saving the lives of AIDS sufferers in the early stages of the disease. Due to the high cost of the therapeutic regimen (Did it used to cost US$30,000 a year per patient?), only the extremely rich like NBA basketball star Magic Johnson can afford the expense. A decade or so later, the cost of the drugs came down dramatically that philanthropic institutions - like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - could provide the same therapy to parts of Africa seriously affected by AIDS at a cost of less than a dollar a day for every patient.

Though somewhat still awaiting field trials, RNA interference or RNAi therapy is the latest cutting edge therapy that has the necessary fighting chance to cure AIDS. RNAi therapy has the capability of switching off the pathogen that causes disease. If successful, RNAi therapy could not only cure AIDS but also hepatitis-C infections and further research could make RNAi therapy as a cure for cancer.

RNAi therapy was pioneered by an Australian biotech company called BENITEC. On July 2007, BENITEC was about to start dosing patients in the first human trials of their RNAi therapy, which attacks HIV infections on three separate fronts. Dr John Rossi from the Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope, California, outlined BENITEC’s RNA interference (RNAi) therapy – which he has collaborated on – and said that the first patient in the Phase I clinical trial will be dosed sometime by the end of July 2007.

Although the virus that causes HIV / AIDS can built up resistance to existing protease inhibitor based drugs alarmingly quickly, Dr John Rossi explained that attacking the virus on three separate fronts could enable the RNAi based drug to fend resistance for longer. It’s easy for the AIDS virus to mutate around one thing but much more difficult if there are three factors to contend with. Also, the mutated viruses that he has observed so far are much weaker that their previous “generation / parents” as observed by Dr Rossi. But later, the virus reverted back to its original sequence.

Dr Rossi explained that the RNAi based drug uses a lentivirus vector to deliver the genes that encode for the three different forms of RNA to battle the virus. RNAi in the form of short hairpin RNA (shRNA), that targets an exon in the transactivator or transcription (Tat) and Regulator of Virion (Rev) gene (ShI). A decoy for the HIV TAT – reactive element (TAR) and a ribozyme that targets the host cell CCR5 chemokine receptor (CCR5RZ).

The scientists at BENITEC are using two different techniques to introduce the DNA into the body. The first one is where they remove the patient’s own bone marrow progenitor cells, genetically modifying them using the virus and then reinfuse them into the patient during a bone marrow transplant. BENITEC claims that – if successful – the new treatment could allow patients’ bodies to produce HIV-resistant white blood cells indefinitely.

BENITEC and City of Hope are also using a similar approach, only with T cells instead of stem cells explained Rossi. He went on to explain that the anti-CCR5 ribozyme may prevent the virus from entering the cell but if it does get in and starts to produce RNA’s, the drug will capture that RNA and also move the Tat away from the virus.

Not only does the drug attempt to knock back virus levels, Rossi said it also aims to destroy the lymphoma that develops in many HIV-positive patients. The trial itself will be treating five patients in this subgroup, with the results expected within a year.

From what I learned so far from virus physiology, using the “reproductive” phase of the pathogenic virus to “kill” it or render the virus impotent is a good way to tackle fast mutating RNA based viruses like HIV / AIDS. But a part of me that’s been reading (and watching) far too many science fiction stories find this technology rife for abuse. Especially further on when the science behind RNA interference therapy can be made to make one’s own immune system attack ones own body or make each and every cell in one’s body into a bunch of malignant tumors. As with any scientific “tool”, it’s up to the global community to police its applications.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Domain Names: The Internet’s Real Estate Bonanza?

From the 1990’s “Dot Com” boom to the bubble bursting in 2000, are domain names the magic bullet that will restore investor confidence on the Web?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

Touted as the “Real Estate Market of the Future” in the middle of the 1990’s, domain names are now a billion-dollar industry, not only for the major search operators like Google and Yahoo but also to a new breed of Internet real estate developers. Domain names have since become the “bread and butter” of the on line marketing and on line advertising business. Having outgrown the “dot com” slump of 2000, domain name – the real estate of the web – have been delivering far greater returns compared to it’s real world counterpart as reported on For those of you who have the resources to invest in the domain name development business yet don’t know what it is, here’s a primer.

Domain name refers to the first part of a URL - (URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator – the unique address of any Web document that can be keyed in a typical browser’s OPEN or LOCATION / GO TO box to retrieve a document) – on to the first / where the domain and name of the host or SERVER computer are listed. This is usually arranged in reverse i.e. name first, then domain. The domain name gives you the information on who (the origin of) “published” the page i.e. made it public by putting that page on the Web.

In the 1990’s – when the Internet evolved from a mere “academic curiosity” to a telecommunications medium with a promising economic viability – the exclusive right to use Internet domain names became a highly contested issue. Enterprising individuals knew that there’s money to be made in these unique sequences of letters that are divided – by convention – into segments separated by periods that correspond to the numerical Internet Protocol Addresses that identify each of the millions of computers connected to the Internet. Because domain name labels enable packets of information to be sent to their specific destinations across the Internet, the commercial implications are not lost to the world’s various advertising agencies.

Domain name development profits does not only fill the coffers of unscrupulous entrepreneurs, but can also benefit an impoverished country because all countries are designated a top-level domain name on the Internet usually as a suffix to that country’s Internet Address. For example .be for Belgium, .hk for Hong Kong, .ph for the Philippines, .za for South Africa and so on. A number of these domain names have been featured on stamps. During the last few years of the 20th Century, a relatively poor Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu hit the jackpot when it received the .tv domain name, although initially Tuvalu’s citizens didn’t realize that they owned the most recognizable suffix of all, .tv.

Back in 1999, the .tv domain name gained “humanitarian / philanthropic” status when Jason Chapnik – a Canadian businessman- walked into a Tuvalu parliament meeting and pleaded his intentions to buy their domain name. After further negotiations, by the year 2000 Tuvalu decided to sign up with Chapnik to form a new company called Dot TV that’s currently based in Pasadena, California. Tuvalu owns 20% of Dot TV and received US$50 million from the lucrative deal which the country – via structured settlement – receives quarterly payments of US$1 million each over a period of 10 years. Tuvalu recently received a payment of US$18 million that instantly doubled the country’s GDP.

This sudden windfall of revenue allowed Tuvalu to achieve an economically independent status. Ever since gaining independence in 1978, Tuvalu could hardly afford the US$20,000 UN membership fee. It wasn’t until September 5, 2000 where Tuvalu could finally afford being UN’s 189th member nation. The domain name revenue enabled the various islands of Tuvalu the ability to upgrade their public infrastructure like roads, schools and water purification facilities. The upgrading of Tuvalu’s main airport to accommodate larger planes has allowed the country to export food for the first time in history.

Despite of the recently found wealth, the global community is now wondering whether Tuvalu can cope with the challenges of sea level rise due to global warming and the increased typhoons brought about by climate change with “dot com” funds alone. Is Tuvalu now in the front line for the global community’s battle against sea level rise?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Meteorite Strike Insurance: Absolute Necessity or Needless Luxury?

Will insurance companies provide a proviso on their personal risk insurance for a phenomenon that boarder on the “Act of God”?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

Throughout recorded history, only one person has been documented to having been hit by a meteorite from space. Fortunately, she survived. Because of this, opinions have always been divided in the insurance underwriters’ community whether the incident with Mrs. Hewlett Hodges should have been treated as a “freak occurrence.” She was extremely lucky though to have survived by being hit with a 10- pound fragment that pierced her roof and struck her left side. But first let us define which is which.

When the “rock” is still moving through the vacuum of space, it’s called a meteoroid. When the “rock” is glowing “pyrotechnically” as it enters the earth’s atmosphere, it’s called a meteor. When the said “rock” or “object” hits the earth surface, a house, or other unfortunate soul, it’s called a meteorite. These are the natural ones, while the increasingly commercial utilization of orbital space has created the problem of “space junk” that are the by - products of the launch of communication satellites which is also a possible source of meteorite strike hazard.

Concerns over the possibility of humans being injured or killed when hit by a meteorite strike usually becomes a topic of conversation during the annual meteor shower season that starts in August all through to mid –to- late November. These annual meteor showers occur in streams with established orbits. These meteor showers are named after the constellation from which they appear to radiate. Like the recent Perseid meteor shower that occurs in early August, which the one that occurred this year received heavy press coverage because of the ideal “viewing” conditions appear to radiate in the constellation Perseus. For those who missed it, don’t worry cause this coming late October the Orionid meteor shower will be radiating in the constellation of Orion. Though most of my buddies prefer the Leonid meteor shower because it’s occurrence from mid – to –late November in the constellation Leo are more likely to provide an ideal “viewing” conditions from our regular vantage point. Recent scientific studies have shown that that all recurrent meteor showers are mostly composed of debris left in the wake of comets, past or present.

Currently, Lloyds of London are the only known major insurance company that provides services on meteorite strike insurance policies. But the firm seriously advises anyone planning to purchase their meteorite strike “policies” to “think it over thoroughly” because these are somewhat expensive and meteorite strikes are statistically evaluated to a degree that their occurrence –in an average human lifetime- borders on the nonexistent. In the UK, meteor strikes (as written on their Webpage) are generally defined as an “Act of God.” According to the Website of Car Insurance in the UK ( which defines “Act of God”; as an event not caused directly by an individual that causes damage to your vehicle. An example (albeit an unlikely one) would be a meteorite strike. More often than not, “Acts of God” are uninsurable.

While the “budget” side of the insurance industry doesn’t do business when it comes to insuring our person and property against meteorite strike insurance. There is also the rigmarole that they also fail to classify meteorites that are made by man i.e. spent rocket parts and other by-products of space travel and commerce (communication satellite launches) from those that are natural i.e. left over material from the creation of our solar system. Most of these insurance companies just classify these occurrences / incidents under the “Act of God” clause.

For all intents and purposes, its in the insurance companies of the world’s best interest to provide an insurance proviso on meteorite strikes, especially objects that are a product of the commercial utilization of space like the regular launching of communication satellites used for cellular phone and Internet data traffic. The profits generated by this activity has the mathematical equitability to make the meteorite insurance proviso economically viable to the average prospective client.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hybrid Cars versus Electric Cars: Vying for Green Credentials?

The “Two Major Roads” that lead to a more environmentally friendly motoring are clamoring for our votes, which one will win and which one will you vote for?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

The two emerging technologies that serve to power a new generation of environmentally friendly cars – namely “hybrid power plant cars” and “pure electric powered cars” – are now clamoring to prospective customers who vote with their wallets and / or checkbooks. Marketing success hinges more on which of the two technologies –hybrid cars or pure electric cars - will be adopted by the major auto- makers. Irreproachable “green credentials” is now a major issue that determines which of the two will sell, and to a more or lesser extent; simplicity of operation and running costs. So here are the merits and faults that accompany the two different technologies.

Ever since the conspiracy theory surfaced to the mainstream media surrounding the “demise” i.e. product recall of GM’s EV1, interests on this sort of technology is in vogue again. The theory states that General Motors was under behest by the “1996 Republican Majority Congress” in collusion with “Big Oil Companies” to “kill” the EV1 because it’s “miraculous” performance could end America’s dependence on “Middle Eastern Petroleum.” Back in 1996, GM’s EV1 was the first pure electric car produced in commercial quantities by a major automobile company. It had pretty good credentials under its belt despite being powered by heavy and “inefficient” lead-acid batteries that could pose it’s own environmental problems. Fully charged, the EV1 has a range of 65 miles.

A lot has happened since then, today, a car that was referred to as the spiritual descendent of the EV1 is the TESLA Roadster. The TESLA Roadster is made by TESLA Motors a small automotive start-up company in San Francisco, California. One advantage that the TESLA Roadster has over GM’s EV1 is weight – or the lack of it. The TESLA Roadster is constructed out of carbon fiber that’s modeled after the Lotus Elise so it’s five times lighter than ordinary steel cars and also five times stronger due to the carbon fiber construction. The TESLA Roadsters claim to fame is it’s advanced lithium ion / lithium polymer battery that’s not only several times lighter than the one’s used in the EV1, it is also more efficient allowing the TESLA Roadster to have a 250 mile range on a single charge. Because of the carbon fiber construction and lithium batteries, the TESLA Roadsters high power –to – weight ratio allows it to accelerate like a high- end conventional internal-combustion-engine-powered-gasoline-fueled racecar.

In the other camp, hybrid cars i.e. cars whose both powered by a fossil-fueled internal combustion engine and storage batteries that drive the electric motors, are now on an uphill battle to gain “green” credentials. The environmental merit of hybrid cars is that the internal combustion engine can be made smaller than that of “conventional” cars because it’s primarily used to recharge the batteries, thus generating lower emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Hybrid cars also have better “mileage” than “conventional” cars because only in demanding situations i.e. going uphill and/or when quick accelerations are required that the two power plants is used in conjunction with each other. The most famous and highly advertised make/model of a hybrid car is the Toyota PRIUS.

While hybrid cars are praised because theoretically they could never ran out of “juice” while on the road due to the current ubiquity of gas / petrol stations over electrical charging stations. Pure electric cars – especially ones using the latest generation of lithium ion batteries – have better performance due to their high power –to – weight ratio compared to current hybrid cars. Also -if major auto makers will start mass producing them again- pure electric cars have the advantage over hybrids in terms of environmental friendliness because it’s much easier and cheaper to place air pollution mitigating devices at the power plant as opposed to every tailpipe of every car that’s running. Borrowing from the “transistor- principle” that a system with fewer moving parts is less prone to breakdown. Pure electric cars has this advantage because it uses only simple electric motors as a primary “engine” as opposed to the hybrid car that still has a conventional internal combustion engine with an inherently inefficient –in energy terms- clutch and gear drive systems. Also pure electric cars can easily tap electricity that’s produced from sustainable and / or non-carbon dioxide generating power plants like wind farms, solar photovoltaic power plants, fuel cell based power plants, etc. Also in the not-so-distant future, carbon offsetting might be legislated to include the transportation sector. Your carbon dioxide generating hybrid car could be singled out by the taxman in the coming years. Also, hybrid cars have “dubious” resale value as reported by Jeremy Clarkson in the 2003 – 2004 season of “Top Gear” an automotive TV show reviewing budget and high-end cars. On one episode, he advises against buying a hybrid car and to choose instead on a conventional car with a better mileage because this fuel- efficient conventional car is not likely to end up lying idly on some junkyard compared to the “hybrid” competition.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Medical Marijuana: Beyond Reproach?

Is it because of the relentless highly politicized “unscientific” vilification by the Moral Majority on the true nature of cannabis sativa i.e. marijuana during the Reagan Administration that allowed the “drug” to gain it’s unjustly earned “mystique”?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

In July 2007, the British medical journal Lancet published the result of a study that cannabis / pot users are 40% more likely to develop psychological illness like schizophrenia. Even if those conducting this recent study could refine their methods to a level of absolute certainty that’s beyond reproach, the results / data are likely to fall on deaf ears (or blind eyes) because marijuana has gained somewhat of a saint-like status that can be traced back to 1980’s America.

There are an increasing number of people –like us – who compares marijuana to a criminal who got acquitted from a prima facie case due to shoddy police work. Or maybe these are just people who grew up during the 1980’s being endlessly bombarded on the then politically-motivated-scientific-findings on the “brain-damaging” effects of delta-9 tetra hydro cannabinol, the main psychoactive component of marijuana. Back then, a book titled “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer – which was secretly published in 1985 to the underground “Hemp” community is the only politically unbiased - albeit pro hemp - source of information on how marijuana affects a relatively large community. This book also serves as a manifesto that indicted the US Government’s hypocritical stance on marijuana use. During the Reagan Administration, there was an established government conspiracy to suppress findings on how hemp could be used as a viable source of BIOMASS to end America’s dependence on Middle Eastern petroleum. This came to pass despite of a well-known historical knowledge that Betsy Ross made the first US Flag “Old Glory” from hemp fiber. In 1942, the United States Department of Agriculture -with behest from the US Government – produced a 30 minute film titled “Hemp for Victory.” The film promotes the positive aspects of the Hemp Plant from the government’s own mouth.

The legislation that brought about the legalization of marijuana use – albeit for medical purpose – was due to scientific findings on it’s therapeutic effects on glaucoma. Facing relentless public pressure due to suppression of scientific results extolling the positive aspects of marijuana plus the relatively “liberal” political climate of the Clinton Administration, the US Government finally started legal proceedings allowing for the legalization of marijuana for medical use despite the protests of the “conservative” States. Though it’s been legal for a long time in “liberal” territories like the Netherlands, marijuana use – especially in the “coffee shops” of Amsterdam – are viewed as nothing more than recreational drug use by the cynical policymakers around the world. As recently as the 21st of August 2007, when a woman in Germany suffering from multiple sclerosis was prescribed with medical marijuana for pain relief after “conventional” pain medications failed to work caused an- uproar in the “conservative” community.

From the Alternative Medicine standpoint, marijuana –like the “perennially experimental” bee venom therapy for multiple sclerosis – still warrants more definitive research. This is so because the medical community could very much benefit on finding out which chemical components of cannabis sativa i.e. marijuana has genuine medicinal / therapeutic properties that can be separated from those components responsible only for psychoactive and / or narcotic effects.

To the rest of the world (except maybe the Netherlands of course), the legitimacy of medical marijuana will be found wanting due to lack of research and due to the political baggage that the plant endured under “REAGANISM.” While a large majority see “Medical Marijuana” as something really beyond reproach like Al Gore supporters conveniently overlooking Tipper Gore’s circa 1989 PMRC in the name of “Political Correctness.” Maybe Abraham Lincoln said it best: “Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason, in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and to make a crime of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.” Except that Lincoln’s GOP is a whole different animal compared to the 21st Century “incarnation.”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Innovations in Pharmacology: An Arrested Development?

With the recent controversies surrounding the side - effects of BEXTRA and VIOXX, does this mean that recent advances in pharmacology had reached a dead end?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

The supposedly side – effect free and more effective substitutes for aspirin – BEXTRA and VIOXX- are fast becoming a non-starter for the multi-million dollar pharmaceutical industry. By now, almost all of us are wondering if the “miracles of modern science” has recently abandoned the field of pharmacology. Is this problem truly insurmountable as implied by the latest buzz - words in pharmaceutical / pharmacological publications? Let’s cite some examples.

Before the advent of antibiotics like penicillin, the only cure available for venereal diseases are arsenical compounds (developed during the 19th Century) so toxic that the cure was more likely to kill you than cure you. Now -the problem created by the misuse of our tried-and-true arsenal of antibiotics - are the drug-resistant pathogens engendered by the improper use and administration of antibiotics. That’s why back in the 1990’s arsenicals were re-introduced as a venereal disease cure against multi drug resistant syphilis.

Back in the 1950’s, thalidomide was developed as a much safer substitute for barbiturate-based sleeping pills. It was reported back then that one woman attempted to commit suicide by taking thalidomide based pills and failed to take her own life. Then the teratogenic effects of thalidomide surfaced after the drug was already widely marketed in Europe.

Probably developed during the height of the Cold War i.e. mid to late 1950’s – pyridostigmine bromide – was developed as a substitute for atropine sulfate to counteract the effects of cholinesterase inhibitor based weaponry i.e. nerve gas / nerve agents. Atropine sulfate was known to interfere with the infantry’s physical exertion i.e. dodging bullets upon intramuscular injection. Pyridostigmine bromide was designed to avoid this “inconvenience.” But back in April 1995, pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia, while examining the nature of “Gulf War Syndrome” discovered that pyridostigmine bromide while effective at protecting soldiers against nerve agents by binding to – and shielding – the enzyme that nerve gas attacks. But it also grabs onto enzymes that help break down toxic chemicals thus the probable agent responsible for causing “Gulf War Syndrome.” This is quite the opposite of what atropine sulfate does – by increasing the body’s metabolism so that the nerve agents are flushed out of the body before it can do serious damage.

While a number of pharmaceutical companies choose to wait for unfortunate side – effects to occur before pulling their product off the market. Some – like the ASTRA ZENECA company, choose to voluntarily withdraw their product before a large number of unfortunate side – effects or fatalities could occur. ASTRA ZENECA developed the anticoagulant XIMELAGATRAN - whose trade name is EXTANTA an FDA approved oral anticoagulant - as a less toxic replacement for warfarin. XIMELAGATRAN was the first member of direct thrombin inhibitors that can be taken orally. For the benefit of those who do not know what is warfarin, it is the main ingredient in rat poison. Warfarin kills rats by making them bleed to death due to its anti coagulant effects. Also, warfarin makes a good rat poison / rodenticide because in case of accidental poisoning to humans, Vitamin K tablets can be used as a very effective antidote. In 2006, ASTRA ZENECA – the manufacturer of XIMELAGATRAN – announced that it would not attempt to market XIMELAGATRAN after reports of hepatoxicity (liver damage) during trials,and to discontinue it’s distribution in countries where the drug had been approved.

While in the last week of July 2007, the type-2 diabetes maintenance drug AVANDIA – a ROSIGLITAZONE and METFORMINE combination in one convenient pill - has been under scrutiny because recent studies of 7,500 patients have shown that 1 in 50 developed a heart attack. While some, developed fluid retention problems. One-fourth of their test subjects is aged below 50. This report has caused the stock value of GlaxoSmithKlein – AVANDIA’s manufacturer – to fall. Due to lack of a suitable replacement, and since AVANDIA had become ubiquitous with type-2 diabetes sufferers around the world. Majority of the world’s pharmaceutical regulatory bodies has just advised General Practitioners to closely monitor their patients who are presently taking AVANDIA.

This bothersome phenomena where innovations can no longer improve a trusty –but – rusty “workhorse” has finally invaded the world of pharmacology. This “phenomena” had plagued the hi-fi / audio industry for the past 20 –or so – years. It has the effect of rendering the decade –or more- advances in digital recording unable to “out – beauty” the good ol’ analogue sound recording i.e. 30 in/sec magnetic tape recording.

Will the tropanol derivative atropine – despite its negative physiological effects – be the “better” choice in protecting the fighting men and women the world over against cholinesterase inhibitor based weaponry well into the 22nd Century for the reason that replacements are proven to do more harm than good? And what about aspirin, are we just fortunate that it was discovered and marketed well before draconian laws to govern the pharmaceutical industry were legislated and enforced? From a pharmacological standpoint, it seems that chemical – based pharmaceuticals are inherently toxic to the human physiology. This is why the major pharmaceutical companies the world over are investing millions in their Research and Development department to develop drugs / agents that work using the principles of the science of genetic engineering like BENITEC’s RNA interference therapy. Presently, it seems the careful management of therapeutic regimens is the only viable option. In retrospect, the progress of the science of pharmacology has always been dependent – or hindered depending your point of view – to the current “politics” that engendered the legislation of draconian laws that regulate the pharmaceutical industry.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Does Anyone Need Climate Change Insurance?

Should we all go out and purchase “Climate Change Insurance” –like Life and Car Insurance- to protect our beachfront properties of the inevitable if-and-when?

By: Vanessa Uy

Like the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency back in 1970, there -as of yet- no existing legal precedents that allow –let alone to regulate- the sale of “Climate Change Insurance” policies to the average homeowner. Or maybe a homeowners insurance policy with a proviso for climate change / global warming caused damage "payout." These are quite as rare as "hen's teeth" but in Germany, the insurance community is abuzz with activity from Munich Re paying storm damage claims. I mean average because how many of us could afford the insurance premiums of Lloyd’s of London style insurance companies that provides coverage to risk whose mathematical evaluation borders on the non-existent? Also, the existing conservative political climate in the United States could easily allow existing insurance companies to classify the negative effects resulting from climate change –like sea level rise and increased frequency of hurricanes- as “Acts of God” which almost all existing insurance companies around the world won’t settle. And finally, is it wise to use the funds generated from “Carbon Offsetting” that’s already slated to bankroll sustainable / green development programs in “poor” countries be used as funds i.e. as an ethical form of "hedge funds" to settle the damages resulting from Climate Change?

Ever since “modern” insurance companies were established, they declared that the first essential factor in insurance is that the element of gambling must not be present. Since then, insurance companies had been eliminating the “element of gambling” by making it possible –through mathematics- to make accurate and scientific calculations of the extent of the hazard, so as to charge a fair premium. This is why it is important to study all the available scientific data to properly gauge the extent of Climate Change –now and in the future. The study can also be used to gauge if the risk must be important enough to warrant insurance. To make such a venture economically viable, the insurance company must have a large number of risks –spread out geographically- so that it will not have a concentration of risks in one area. And finally, the cost of the insurance –i.e. premiums- must be within the reach of a large number of people.

A couple of leading authorities –namely Michael Schlesinger and Natalia Andronova- professors of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that low cost climate-change insurance could help ensure a better future. By implementing a “Carbon Tax” of five US cents per gallon of gasoline and gradually increasing the tax over the next 30 years is the optimal solution, the researchers report. “You can think of the tax as a low- cost insurance policy that protects against climate change,” said Michael Schlesinger. The policy premiums –according to Professor Schlesinger- could be used to develop alternative energy technologies. Doing a little now to mitigate long-term climate change would cost much less than doing nothing and making adjustments in the future.

Because mitigation would impose immediate costs, with any long –term benefit unknown, some scientists and policy-makers have argued that nothing should be done until the “uncertainty surrounding the climate issue” is substantially reduced. But Professor Schlesinger says:” By then, however, it may be too late to and we will have foreclosed certain options. Rather, the uncertainty is the very reason we should implement a climate policy in the near term.”

Professor Michael Schlesinger’s idea of a taxation-bankrolled Climate Change insurance is somewhat similar to a State Insurance where state funds –i.e. tax revenues- are organized for the insurance of the compensation risk. To me, this is more or less similar to Social Security insurance. Like state funds, a government controlled Climate Change insurance has the advantages of costing much less than that of private organizations because no commissions are paid to brokers or agents and the work is handled by state employees. Also, some state funds may not emphasize the prevention of losses. Finally, if the premiums collected are insufficient to pay losses, the state may have to make up the difference if permitted by law.

Despite of all the rigmarole and red tape surrounding the establishment of a Climate Change insurance, the lack of legal precedents is the greatest obstacle for providing a system to mitigate the damages that might be incurred by the effects of Climate Change / Global Warming / sea-level rise. And by increasing the tax on gasoline incrementally over the years for the next 30 years could cause an- uproar to all of the petrochemical companies around the world. But –to me at least- a binding legislation of a Climate Change insurance based on the established principles of the modern insurance company / industry is probably the best solution where conservationist and the corporate / industrial world can reach a common ground.