Martin C. Winer

This is what happens when Martin gets tired of sending mass emails.

Browsing Posts published by mcwiner

Laugh

Now my all time favourite impression has to be Kevin Pollack doing Christopher Walken:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcKQGiih8_A

But a close second has to this fellow’s impression of Tom Cruise from the film “Superheros”. The gesticulations and mannerism are dead on:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzIM5Ya0yYM

Quote

“Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity.”   – Marshall McLuhan

(From  “Take Today: The Executive as Dropout (1972)”, page 92.)

Herbal Medicine

Canadian Bill C51 purportedly proposes sweeping changes to the herbal supplement and naturopathic/homeopathic remedies market.  The following excerpted from an anti Bill C51 website, although not independently confirmed, suggests that the bill would (amongst other things):

1) Fasttrack pharmaceutical drug approval and
2) Make over 70% percent of current herbal drugs illegal.

Now, this was taken from an opposing website so all claims must then be taken with a grain of all natural sea salt.  The Government claims that your access to Vitamin C and Echinacea is safe. 

“Under Bill C-51, Canadians will continue to have access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality. The Bill will not limit access to natural health products nor does it call for a change in their regulatory status (from over-the-counter to prescription)” says Health Canada spokesperson Paul Duchesne.

Source :: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20080509/C51_protests_080509/20080510?hub=TopStories

From that simple quote we are forced to ask the question, who and how will products be determined to be ‘safe, effective and of high quality’?  The contention seems to be over semantics and the definition of exactly which products will and will not be regulated.  Putting semantic issues aside, it looks as though the combatants are missing the more global issue and that is in addressing the manner in which the allopathic (mainstream) and alternative medicine operate.  The issue is probably more complex than first fathomed.  Both paradigms operate under different modi operandorum. 

Big pharma operates under the model of providing drugs and therapies with validated claims.  The drug’s claims and safety are established by clinical drug trials.  The benefits here should be obvious but the weaknesses of this system may not be.  The first failure of the big pharma model is that drug trials can be flawed either intentionally or just by simple lack of scope or experimental design.  Take for example the drug VIOXX which did pass clinical trials and FDA approval which was later associated with heart disease and voluntarily withdrawn by its manufacturer Merck. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rofecoxib#Withdrawal  The second failing of the big pharma model is even more subtle in that  only patentable therapies need apply.  Take for example the research Dr. Evangelos Michelak out of the university of Alberta who has come up with a cancer treatment using the chemical DCA. http://www.depmed.ualberta.ca/dca/  This treatment has been conclusively shown to remove or eradicate all manner of cancers in test animals.  It is a hugely promising therapy with suprisingly few side effects.  One would expect this drug to be in human trial by now.  However, since DCA is not patentable, (almost as common as table salt) the drug companies have no interest.  DCA will go to human trial nonetheless, but only after Dr. Evangelos Michelak is able to scrape together enough money from other philanthropic investors.

Now let’s examine the world of home or natural remedies.  You can pick up a bottle of an herbal remedy which can make all manner of claims.  These claims need not be validated and, indeed, the only validation you’ll receive is either from the smiling face of the salesperson at your natural foods store or the recommendation of a friend or naturopatic practitioner.  However, you probably won’t be able to rely on any study and you’ll have to adopt a ‘take it and try it’ approach.  The failings of this system are two fold.  First, hearkening back to the days of the snake oil salesmen, there is the potential for you to waste your time and money on ineffective remedies.  Second, in wasting your time on these remedies, you may delay seeking appropriate medical treatment for a potentially serious condition.  The first failure – the lack of study based findings — is compelling.  The natural health product industry needs to provide better support for their claims and adhere to some standard as for quality of composition. The second failure is not as compelling as people typically resort to natural health products only after the failure or reticence of allopathic medicine.

Looking at both paradigms, there is a measure which could marry their strengths and divorce ourselves of their weaknesses.  The summary of bill C51 reads as follows:

This enactment amends the Food and Drugs Act to modernize the regulatory system for foods and therapeutic products, to strengthen the oversight of the benefits and risks of therapeutic products throughout their life cycle, to support effective compliance and enforcement actions and to enable a greater transparency and openness of the regulatory system.

Source :: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=3398126&File=19

If this is indeed the goal of the Federal Government, then wouldn’t their time and efforts be better spent in implementing a system of subsidized and facilitated human trials?  A subsidized and facilitated human trials system would raise the bar for natural health food products to better support their claims.  Since the studies would be subsidized and facilitated we wouldn’t deny ourselves access to any reasonable therapy but as consumers, claims of product effectiveness and quality of composition could be properly backed by more than a friendly smile.  All therapies, herbal and pharmaceutical would be subject to the same level of testing.  This testing would be reasonably affordable for any given company.  This would satisfy the allopathic community’s demands for rigorous proof and testing while at the same time allow the allopathic community to consider previously unprofitable yet promising treatments such as DCA.

There is a petition circulating to stop bill C51.  http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/StopC51  I would be willing to sign it if it could be proved it would make 70% of current natural health care products illegal.  Would I sign a petition to have the Federal Government fund and facilitate human trials of all health care products?  In a heartbeat.

Nanotechnology

There has been a spate of activity in the nanotech realm lately. Over the past few months I’ve tracked several new developments. Here they are in no particular order: spine, ram, solar cell, ca

Solar Film

1) Solar Power: The problem with solar technology is the high cost of the solar cells. The current level of technology in solar is in silicon wafer solar cells. They have low relative effeciency and a high relative cost. This makes them unfeasible as a replacement. Many companies, amont them Nanosolar of California, have developed a technology using nanoparticles which can absorb light more efficiently, but more importantly, more economically. Nanosolar is targetting a rate of $1/watt which would make solar power a viable alternative over nuclear or fossil fuels.

More amazing is the fact that the solar films can be mass produced and printed on to any building or surface. More details can be found here: http://www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10989479
http://www.nanosolar.com/

John Kanzius

2) Cancer Treatments:This story warms my heart on so many levels. John Kanzius was himself diagnosed with Leukemia. He underwent several bouts of painful chemotherapy. Not a physician but instead a retired radio and television engineer, he had a brainwave one night while sleeping. He came up with the idea of using radio waves to selectively target cancer cells while leaving the remaining healthy cells unscathed. Chemotherapy is based on the differential survivability of cancerous cells versus healthy cells. That is to say the chemicals used are toxic to both healthy and cancer cells, and the hope is that the cancer cells die out faster than the healthy ones: not a promising prospect.

Kanzius’ idea is remarkably different. He plans to send nanoparticles of gold into the tumor. He plans to use a targeting molecule attached to the gold nanoparticle to saturate the tumor with particles. Then he directs a highly concentrated radio beam towards the tumor. The gold heats up under influence of this beam and essentially the tumor is cooked.

Racetrack Memory

3) RAM-Memory: Hard discs have had a good run. They’ve given us a terabyte of storage at nominal cost and with reasonable access time. The technology of the future however will but much smaller, with no operating parts to wear out. The technology is called ‘Racetrack’ and is being developed in the Almaden Research Center in San Jose California. At the heart of the technology electron spin is used to code information. This information races along a nanowire at blazing speeds with very low power consumption. Future incarnations of this technology promise replace hard discs an allow for near instantaneous start up and uncompromising reliability.

Nano Fibres

4) Spinal Repair: We all recall fondly the heroic efforts of Christopher Reeve to bring about an awareness of spinal injury and the tragic effects it can have on the sufferers and their families. The problem with spinal injury, indeed most nerve injury, is that the injured site (referred to as a transection) forms a scar at either end of the cut bundle. Nerves do have the ability to regrow however, they lack the ability to bridge this scar. John Kessler, M.D., Davee Professor of Stem Cell Biology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has come up with a gel of self assembling nanostructures which is injected at the injury site. Once inside, they go to work assembling a scaffolding which allows neural stem cells to bridge the gap. Mice with spinal injuries were injected with the compound and showed significant improvement including the ability to walk again.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

With the recent passing of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn I was reminded of a lecture by psychology professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto.  This lecture expounded the virtue of taking personal responsibility in dealing with our fears.  Peterson used a children’s book “There No Such Things As A Dragon” and the moral lessons therein to reveal how we all can be crippled by a metaphoric fear dragons and released only by facing them.

Peterson first deals with the common fears we all deal with such as fear of dying and losing those we love.  Then Peterson comes to dealing with fears and adversity imposed upon us by social forces such as tyranny and bureaucracy.  This is where he begins to discuss Solzhenitsyn. 

Solzhenitsyn is a survivor of the former Soviet Gulag where according to Solzhenitsyn’s account, approximately 60 million people died between the years of 1919 and 1959.  Solzhenitsyn started out life on the Russian front.  He was captured by the Germans where he was thrown in a special POW camp because Stalin in his neuroticism refused to sign the Geneva convention.  Conditions were so bad in these camps that other POW’s — who were not much better off themselves – threw packages of food over the fences in pity of the Soviet inmates.

With the end of the war, Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia expecting a hero’s welcome.  Much to his surprise, he and his comrades were thrown into the Gulag out of fears that they may have been contaminated by their exposure to Western culture.  Conditions in the gulag were intolerable.  Many of Solzhenitsyn’s fellow inmates ate a type of clay just to have their stomachs feel fuller.  Solzhenitsyn then asked a remarkable question under the circumstances:

“What did I do to get here?”  This is a remarkeable question because many of us would immediately look to the external conditions that brought about Solzhenitsyn’s plight.  There was the war, the Soviet Empire and any other host of external conditions that could be used to explain his current situation.  Solzhenitsyn instead chose to revisit, over the following 10 years, all the things he had done wrong in his life.  In Peterson’s words “he revisited anything that gave his conscience a pang”.

Out of this introspection, he wrote the Gulag Archipelago – a 3 volume 1900 page book – which he committed to memory as there was no pen and paper available to him in the gulag.  This work circulated for years in the underground before it was eventually published in 1975.  The Gulag Archipelago went on to be the greatest literary attack on the Soviet Empire.  Solzhenitsyn, under completely unreasonable circumstances, chooses to take personal responsibility for his plight.  As a result of this soul searching, he wrote a literary attack which in many real ways bested the former Soviet Empire.  Some may immediately be tempted to say: “well the world doesn’t work like that!”  Peterson retorts: “Do we really know the world works?”  Peterson equates injustice large and small to dragons that we must all face on a personal and societal level. 

In a related work, Peterson quotes Solzhenitsyn saying: “one man who stopped lying could bring down a tyranny”.  Peterson further commented: ”I don’t think he meant that as a metaphor–or hyperbole.”

Peterson’s lecture can be found at:
http://www.tvo.org/podcasts/bi/audio/BIJordanPeterson031806.mp3
(The section about Solzhenitsyn begins at time index 44:00)

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