Thursday, February 26, 2009

Regrow Teeth? reports:

WASHINGTON - Ever wonder why sharks get several rows of teeth and people only get one? Some geneticists did, and their discovery could spur work to help adults one day grow new teeth when their own wear out.

A single gene appears to be in charge, preventing additional tooth formation in species destined for a limited set. When the scientists bred mice that lacked that gene, the rodents developed extra teeth next to their first molars — backups like sharks and other non-mammals grow, University of Rochester scientists reported Thursday.

If wondering about shark teeth seems rather wonky, consider this: Tooth loss from gum disease is a major problem, here and abroad, and dentures or dental implants are far from perfect treatments. If scientists knew exactly what triggers a new tooth to grow in the first place, it's possible they could switch that early-in-life process on again during adulthood to regenerate teeth.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Quote for the Day

Writing well means never having to say, 'I guess you had to be there.'

- Jef Mallett

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy 200th Birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

Abraham Lincoln was born two hundred years ago today, on February 12, 1809.

Lincoln was elected the sixteenth president of the United States on November 6, 1860. His opponents in the race were Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat, John C. Breckinridge, a Southern Democrat, and John Bell, of the Constitutional Union Party. He won despite not even being on the ballot in nine southern states.

Abraham Lincoln is the only person whose rise to the presidency was met with violence and civil unrest. As it became clear that Abraham Lincoln would be elected president, several southern states announced their intention to leave the Union. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina declared its secession. By February 1, 1861, six other states had followed, proclaiming themselves a new nation: the Confederate States of America. Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president on March 4, 1861 (the date of the inauguration was not changed to January 20 until the time of Franklin Roosevelt when the twentieth amendment to the constitution was ratified on January 23, 1933.) In April 1861, after American troops were fired upon at Fort Sumter and force to surrender, President Lincoln called upon the governors of every state to send detachments to recapture the forts, protect the capital, and to “preserve the Union.” North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas then seceded, along with most of Virginia (a few counties refused to join the rest of the state in seceding and became the new state of West Virginia in 1863).

Abraham Lincoln’s time as President was consumed by defeating the secessionist Confederate States during the Civil War, the greatest crisis that the United States has ever faced. During the course of the war he introduced measures that resulted in the abolition of slavery. In 1863 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It freed the slaves in all the territories of the United States that were not, at that time, under Union control. It thus made the abolition of slavery in the rebellious states an official goal of the war. Lincoln then promoted the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery altogether. It was ratified shortly after his assassination in 1865.

Lincoln’s rhetoric both before and during the Civil War resulted in a shift in American values. Before him, most politicians had stressed the sanctity of the Constitution. Lincoln shifted the emphasis to the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of American political values: an emphasis on freedom and equality for all, in contrast to the Constitution’s tolerance of slavery. His position gained strength over time, because it highlighted the moral basis of the American conception of government in distinction to the legalisms of the Constitution. He argued in his Gettysburg address that the United States was born, not in 1789 when the Constitution was ratified, but rather in 1776 when the United States declared its independence.

Lincoln did more during his administration to centralize the American government than any president before him. In writings before his administration, it was common to hear the phrase, “The United States are...” After his administration, it has always been, “The United States is...” During the Civil War he proclaimed a blockade, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and he spent money without congressional authorization. He also imprisoned eighteen thousand suspected Confederate sympathizers without trial. Lincoln was vilified by his political opponents as a despot.

Prior to Lincoln’s presidency, the Thanksgiving holiday had been but a regional celebration in New England. In 1863 Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November to be a day of Thanksgiving and the holiday has been celebrated every year since then.

It was during Lincoln’s administration, in 1864, that the phrase “In God We Trust” first appeared on an American coin: specifically, the two cent piece. It appeared but intermittently on U.S. coins after that until 1938 when that the phrase became a legal requirement on all coins. “In God We Trust” first appeared on paper money in 1957.

Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was a well-known actor. He was also a spy for the Confederacy. He had originally intended to kidnap Lincoln and hold him in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. But when he heard President Lincoln promote voting rights for the freed slaves, Booth decided to assassinate him instead. Booth shot Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865 while Lincoln watched a production of the play, Our American Cousin. Lincoln was in a coma for nine hours after being shot and never regained consciousness. He died at 7:22 AM on April 15, 1865.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Questions about UNRWA

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Yaakov Kirschen, the cartoonist who does Dry Bones, an English language Israeli comic strip has a blog. He writes in his Dry Bones Blog:

U.S. Representative Steven R. Rothman of New Jersey has proposed Congressional legislation to "Ensure Terrorists are Not Employed by or Receive Benefits from UNRWA". The following paragraph is from the text of the proposed bill:

"UNRWA has employed staffers affiliated with terrorism, including Said Sayyam, the Hamas Minister of Interior and Civil Affairs, who was a teacher in UNRWA schools in Gaza from 1980 to 2003; Awad al-Qiq, the headmaster of an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip who also led Islamic Jihad's engineering unit that built bombs and Qassam rockets; Nahed Rashid Ahmed Atallah, a prior senior UNRWA employee from 1990 to 1993 who was responsible for the dissemination of assistance to refugees while he was also an operative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and Nidal Abd al-Fattah Abdallah Nazzal, a Hamas activist employed as an ambulance driver by UNRWA, who confessed in 2002 to transporting weapons and explosives to terrorists in an UNRWA ambulance;"

At the same time, by way of Jihad Watch, I found an interesting video about UNRWA's work among the Palestinians:

Wikipedia reports:

On January 7, 2009 reports issued by UNRWA officials accused the Israeli army of killing up to forty people on January 6, 2009, by shelling an UNWRA school in Jabalya, Gaza. This accusation caused harsh criticism of Israel from all over the world. However, it later came to light that the Israeli army did not attack the school, and that no one inside the school was killed. The UN retracted its accusation on February 2, 2009. Inaccurate, and arguably incendiary, claims of this nature have led to a distrust of UNRWA and their motives by the Israeli public.

Quote for the Day

The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

— Carl Sagan

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Smallest Exo-Planet So Far Discovered

Wired Magazine reports:
The smallest exoplanet ever seen is less than twice the size of Earth, and orbits a star similar to our sun 390 light years away. Astronomers recently spotted this world, the most Earth-like planet yet discovered, with the COROT satellite.

"For the first time, we have unambiguously detected a planet that is 'rocky' in the same sense as our own Earth,” said Malcolm Fridlund, ESA COROT project scientist.

For all its similarity to our own globe, though, it is still a far cry away from a habitable Earth-twin. For one thing, it is so hot — between 1,830 and 2,730 degrees Fahrenheit — that scientists think it might be covered in lava. It orbits extremely close to its sun and whips around the star once every 20 hours.

Nonetheless, the discovery takes us one step closer to finding another world that could host life. The newly found planet, dubbed COROT-Exo-7b, is distinct from most of the roughly 330 exoplanets so far discovered, which are by and large gas giants like Jupiter. This planet, however, is a terrestrial world like Earth, and seems to have a density similar to that of our own planet.