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September 9, 2004

MorphWorld: Frank Quattrone into Jerry Colonna


Who's Jerry Colonna (above and below), you ask?


He was a sidekick of Bob Hope, known for his walrus mustache and huge eyes.

Frank Quattrone (below),


the formerly prominent investment banker who went down hard yesterday (sentenced to 18 months in prison by "hanging judge" Richard Owen) after being convicted of obstruction of justice and witness tampering, has always reminded me of Colonna; when I saw Quattrone's face


all over this morning's papers once again, I figured I'd let you decide if there's a resemblance.

I mean, they're both Italian, for one thing....

September 9, 2004 at 09:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Liu Xiang, China's New Superstar, is "The Yellow Bullet"


The surprise winner of the 110-meter hurdles at the Athens Olympics is now an almost God-like figure in his native country.

With one world-record equalling, gold-medal winning performance, he has transformed perceptions of Asian athletes as congenitally unsuited for track and field, unable to run fast because of inherent physical limitations.

Even his fellow Chinese say he overcame "congenital limitations."

Jim Yardley wrote a most interesting article about this recent sea change in attitudes; it appeared in this morning's New York Times.

Here's the story.

Racial 'Handicaps' and a Great Sprint Forward

He is now nicknamed "the Yellow Bullet."

His gold medal is said to be "the heaviest," or most significant, of the 32 that China won in the Athens Olympics.

He carried the Chinese flag in the closing ceremonies and has returned home to riches and glory.

All of this adulation because Liu Xiang, a high hurdler, has proved what many Chinese have long felt was not possible: that yellow men can jump, and sprint, too.

"It is a kind of miracle," Mr. Liu, 21, exulted at a post-race news conference after tying the world record and winning gold in the 110-meter high hurdles.

"It is unbelievable - a Chinese, an Asian, has won this event."

He added: "It is a proud moment not only for China, but for Asia and all people who share the same yellow skin color."

In many countries, particularly the United States, this kind of racial stereotyping often touches a raw nerve in society.

But among Chinese, the proposition that genetic differences have made Asian athletes slower in sprinting than their American, African or European rivals is a widely accepted maxim, if an unproven one.

The Communist Party apparently thinks so, too.

At the midway point of the Athens Games, with China in a surprisingly tight competition with the United States for the lead in gold medals, the party's chief newspaper, People's Daily, cautioned that track and field events were about to begin.

While Chinese are ''suited'' to sports like Ping-Pong, badminton and gymnastics that require agility and technique, the newspaper noted, purely athletic events are different.

Chinese had ''congenital shortcomings" and "genetic differences" that created disadvantages against black and white athletes.

In an effort to give this halftime pep talk a positive spin, the commentary urged Chinese athletes to work harder.

"If Chinese people want to make their mark in the major Olympic competitions, they have to break through the fatalism that race determines everything," the newspaper advised.

Mr. Liu's victory has not fully erased this ingrained belief.

Chinese sports officials have explained his win, in part, by noting that hurdles also require technique, not just raw speed, an observation that invokes another, more positive, stereotype - that Chinese are disciplined and smart.

His coach has been credited with developing special training methods to overcome any racial deficiencies.

But by becoming the first Chinese man to win a sprinting event in modern Olympics history, Mr. Liu's victory has been particularly embraced by a younger generation of upwardly mobile, urban Chinese who themselves are eager to shatter stereotypes.

Handsome, with thick, styled hair, Mr. Liu is 6 feet 2.

His playful smile on the medal stand, with his tongue sticking out, offered a far different image from that of the reserved Chinese medalists of the past.

"Glory Belongs to the New Generation of the 1980's," proclaimed China Newsweek magazine, with a picture of a determined Mr. Liu striding over a hurdle.

Yao Ming, the Chinese basketball star, was one of the first athletes to touch this chord in the national psyche.

His stardom with the Houston Rockets has made him the most famous athlete in China.

He is popular not just because he is a good player, but because he is tall.

At 7 feet 5, he helped dispel the Western stereotype that all Chinese are short.

But if Mr. Yao was chosen to carry the Chinese flag at the opening ceremony, it was Mr. Liu who was selected to carry it at the closing.

He is already being deluged with endorsement and entertainment offers.

A record company reportedly offered him $600,000.

Like many Chinese, Feng Jue, 32, a marketing executive for the Chinese Web site, Tom.com, stayed up late to watch the live telecast of Mr. Liu's race.

She had not even heard of him until the day before the finals. But when he won, she was overjoyed.

She thought his victory represented a significant and positive change in Chinese society.

"The new generation, I think, is more civilized," she said of people in their 20's. "They think of themselves as human beings first, not the country and the party's interest."

The Communist Party has been quick to take advantage of the popularity of Mr. Liu and the other Olympic athletes.

This week, the country's gold medal winners have been on a tour of Hong Kong, a thinly disguised attempt by the government to generate good will before Hong Kong's critical coming elections.

Mr. Liu's victory has Chinese sports officials looking at other athletic events that might produce gold when Beijing plays host to the Summer Olympics in 2008.

Li Aidong, a researcher with the China Institute of Sports Science, said coaches believe Chinese athletes could be successful in long jumping, high jumping and speed walking.

They have already had some success in distance running, including a gold in the women's 10,000 meters this year.

There are no credible scientific studies to underpin the idea that Asians are physically inferior to other athletes in sprinting.

Nor are Chinese alone in succumbing to ingrained racial beliefs: the Olympics victory of the white American sprinter Jeremy Wariner in the 400-meter dash startled a fair number of people in the United States.

He was the first white winner of the event in 40 years.

But Ms. Li said she doubted China could compete in events like pure sprinting.

"Short distance races are physically intensive," Ms. Li said.

"They require a lot of physical abilities, like speed and sudden strength. Although we have no research data, it has been an open fact that Asians and Chinese are disadvantaged when compared to Europeans and Americans."

Mr. Liu had been very modest before the Olympics, hoping for a top six finish, perhaps a bit of bluffing from a man who finished second at the world championships.

He sounded very different by the time he spoke with reporters after his victory in Athens.

He said he was looking toward Beijing in 2008 and he predicted more ''miracles'" - not just from himself, but also from other Chinese track athletes.

"Please pay attention to Chinese track and field," he told a Chinese newspaper. "I think we Chinese can unleash a yellow tornado on the world."

September 9, 2004 at 06:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What tHe ßLeeP Dø w∑ (k)πow!?


New film opening Friday at Loew's Lincoln Square in New York City.

It's all about quantum physics, and "what happens when you combine cutting-edge scientists & mystics."

"Can science and religion really be on the same path? On the same planet? In the same movie?"

Watch the trailer here.

Just remember Richard Feynman's cautionary comment:


"Nobody really understands quantum physics."

September 9, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Genetically-Altered "Marathon Mice" Are Here


An article describing how they were created was published last month in the biology section of the online journal Public Library of Science (PLOS).

Never heard of it?

Take a moment and visit; it's real science, by real scientists, published absolutely free online.

You can download the original article(s) if you like and print them out, also totally free.

The website is what's put pressure on the NIH to make its funded research results available free online within six months of paper publication (that was announced just yesterday, by the way).

Back to the "Marathon Mice."

Ronald Evans and colleagues at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California have succeeded in genetically altering mice muscle cell receptors to produce more Type 1 (long-distance running) muscle, and subsequently observed these "marathon mice" to be able to run much longer and farther than their normal brethren.

They also noted the genetically-enhanced mice could eat a high-fat diet and gain only a third as much weight as the control mice fed the same diet.

The scientists noted that "activation of muscle PPAR-Delta [the receptor] essentially recapitulates the effects of exercise training, even in the absence of training itself."

Beijing 2008 will be full of humans who've undergone the same type of genetic engineering.

Here's a synopsis of the PLOS paper, written by a professional science writer for the general public.


Gene Targeting Turns Mice into Long-Distance Runners

Have you ever noticed that long-distance runners and sprinters seem specially engineered for their sports?

One's built for distance, the other speed.

The ability to generate quick bursts of power or sustain long periods of exertion depends primarily on your muscle fiber type ratio (muscle cells are called fibers), which depends on your genes.

To this extent, elite athletes are born, not made.

No matter how hard you train or how many performance-enhancing drugs you take, if you're not blessed with the muscle composition of a sprinter, you're not going to break the 100-meter world record in your lifetime. (In case you'd like to try, that's 9.78 seconds for a man and 10.49 seconds for a woman.)

Of course that doesn't prevent those at the highest levels from using the latest performance enhancer to get that extra 1% edge. But wait until trainers hear about the Marathon Mouse.

A new study by Ronald Evans and colleagues provides evidence that endurance and running performance can be dramatically enhanced through genetic manipulation.

Skeletal muscles come in two basic types: type I, or slow twitch, and type II, or fast twitch.

Slow-twitch fibers rely on oxidative (aerobic) metabolism and have abundant mitochondria that generate the stable, long-lasting supplies of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, needed for long distance. (For more on muscle fiber metabolism, see synopsis titled “A Skeletal Muscle Protein That Regulates Endurance”)

Fast-twitch fibers, which produce ATP through anaerobic glycolysis, generate rapid, powerful contractions but fatigue easily.

Top-flight sprinters have up to 80% type II fibers while long-distance runners have up to 90% type I fibers.

Coach potatoes have about the same percentage of both.

Endurance training can enhance the metabolic performance of muscle types, and now it appears that training can also induce conversion between fiber types.

Specific changes in gene expression trigger this oxidative fiber transformation, but the transcription factor responsible for engineering this shift was unknown.

Evans and colleagues suspected that a nuclear receptor called PPARδ - a major regulator of fat burning in fat tissue that is also prevalent in skeletal muscle - might be involved.

To investigate this possibility, the authors genetically engineered mice to express an activated form of the PPARδ protein in skeletal muscle.

Type I fibers normally express higher levels of PPARδ than type II fibers, and the transgenic mice showed much higher levels of the protein than their normal littermates.

The transgenic mice also had much redder muscles than the controls - type I fibers have high levels of myoglobin, the red-pigmented protein that facilitates the movement of oxygen within muscle - and elevated levels of proteins associated with mitochondrial biogenesis and operation.

A final line of evidence indicating a type I fiber switch was the elevated level of specialized type I contractile proteins and decreased level of specialized type II contractile proteins in the transgenic mice.

Interestingly, these same results were seen when naturally occurring (endogenous) PPARδ levels were stimulated in the normal mice (with an orally active compound).

This suggests that muscle fibers can be transformed into type I endurance fibers by simply activating the endogenous PPARδ pathway.

In a weight-conscious world, oxidative fibers are thought to offer resistance against obesity since obese individuals have fewer type I fibers than average-weight individuals.

Sure enough, transgenic mice fed a high-fat diet gained far less weight than normal mice fed the same diet, even in the absence of exercise.

The transgenic mice had much smaller fat cells, which the authors attribute to enhanced oxidative capacity of the muscle tissue, and improved glucose tolerance. (Obese individuals lose the ability to metabolize glucose, which puts them at risk for diabetes.)

But what about performance?

Remarkably, the marathon mice ran about an hour longer than controls, showing dramatic improvement in both running time and distance - increases of 67% and 92%, respectively.

Altogether, these results show that PPARδ drives the conversion of type I muscle fibers by activating pathways that enhance physical performance and protect against obesity.

The finding that endurance and running capacity can be genetically manipulated suggests that muscle tissue is far more adaptable than previously thought.

Maybe Olympians can be made after all - but don't give up on training just yet.


A full understanding of the molecular basis of muscle fiber determination, including the interactions between PPARδ and its regulatory components, awaits further study.

September 9, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack



At least, I think that's what it says. Or is that a "5"?


Am I the only person on the planet wondering why it is that those


random number/letter combinations, upper and lower case on a fuzzy, barely contrasting background,


sometimes undulating and twisting up and down above and below the line,


are necessary to make sure I'm human and not some kind of AI robot


reading the code before I can move on to the next page?


September 9, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Q. How can you tell if a lobster is relaxed?


A. Its eye stalks go limp.

It turns out that even lobsters respond to massage.

I learned many interesting things about our crustacean friends here.


For example, like people, lobsters are very sensitive to human presence.

Dr. Robert Steneck of the University of Maine has videotaped lobster behavior in many bays in Maine.

"It's amazing how much more you can learn when a lobster doesn't know it's being watched," he said.

More FunLobsterFacts are here.

Maine native Linda Greenlaw decided to chuck it all and return to her native state and become a lobsterman (lobsterwoman? lobsterperson?).

She wrote a highly acclaimed book called "The Lobster Chronicles" about what it was like.


There's an excerpt here.

Finally, Trevor Corson wrote a book called "The Secret Life of Lobsters."


So you see, we're not the only ones interested.

September 9, 2004 at 06:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Quiller Balalaika'


Every now and then, I long for something predictable and comforting in a bedtime reading book.

John Le Carré remains the cynosure of all authors in this respect, as far as I'm concerned.

Ted Allbeury and Adam Hall, author of the "Quiller" series of thrillers, stand foremost in the second rank.

So, I was pleased to find "Quiller Balalaika" available a few weeks back, and bought it and, predictably, enjoyed it.

After I finished it last night, I noticed there were two more short sections:

A Coda by Jean-Pierre Trevor, and an Afterword by Chaille Trevor.

What's this, I thought?

I'd been intending to google the author of the Quiller books, Adam Hall, which I knew was a synonym, to find out more about the man who wrote such singular novels, full of fury and drive and power and a unique, beyond-bold attitude on the part of Quiller.

I didn't even have to turn on the computer today to do the search, it turns out, because the Coda and Afterword were by Adam Hall's son and widow.

It turns out that Hall, whose real name was Elleston Trevor, was dying of cancer as he struggled to finish "Quiller Balalaika," the last of his more than 100 novels over a 50-year career, in 1995.

His son and then-wife wrote of his fierce devotion to finishing this last of his books even as he suffered so much pain he had to dictate the final chapter to his son, one painstaking word at a time.

To me, the profound thing is that if you didn't know the back story I've furnished above, you'd never know this book was created under any conditions other than the author's usual.

From the novel:

He is also brilliant, ruthless, and without mercy when the choice is to abandon a mission or the life of its shadow executive in the field, showing compassion only when the cost is nothing. He saved my life once, and that had been the price.

Got his back up, the executive from London turning down his toys, the Heckler and Koch and the SIG and the Smith & Wesson, but I always have trouble going through Clearance when I refuse to draw weapons. What people don't realize is that your hands are always available - you don't have to reach for them in a hurry, and they don't jam.

Head felt like a drum this morning, taut, vibrating, not terribly surprising I suppose. I hoped it would feel normal again soon: I had to be operational as soon as I could manage it, you get trapped on the street by bad luck and you're feeling like a zombie and it's finito, I don't need to tell you that.

At times you can come very close to despair, and that's the most dangerous thing of all, except panic. You can take your time over despair, but panic is quick acting, deadly. I've never given in to panic, but yes, I've come close to despair.

It was the first time I'd taken an uncalculated risk during a mission, and now I knew why the idea had always frightened me: with a calculated risk, when you know most of the data, most of the hazards and the chances of escape, you can keep a modicum of control over the operation. Without that, you're plunging into the labyrinth blind, and may God have mercy on you.

Mea culpa. But stay, be gentle with me, my good friend, grant me your charity, for madness of whatever kind can come upon any man at any time.

There have been times in my life, in my career - which is my life - when I've known that I've placed myself outside reality, committed myself to achieving the unachievable. It's very dangerous, but on these occasions there is no choice.

Although this doesn't apply only to training. It applies to whatever you want to do in life, whatever you've got to do. It's the ultimate key to success, and it's the only one, so when you've found it, don't lose it. We create our own reality. You've seen those bumper stickers in Moscow - Shit happens. And those people are dead right - that's what happens to them, because that's what they expect - they get what they're looking for, what they've created for themselves.

The final sentence of Chaille Trevor's Afterword:

"Jean-Pierre and I took Elleston's ashes to the top of Ziegler Mountain, which overlooks my mother's ranch in the White Mountains of Arizona. Elleston loved a view. Standing on boulders by an ancient twisted tree, one can see over miles of wilderness and hear only the wind. Jean-Pierre and I lifted our glasses of Fernet Branca, Quiller's favorite drink, toward the distance and toasted the flight of Elleston's spirit."

September 9, 2004 at 03:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Walking downhill is better for you than going uphill



Who woulda thunk it?

Next, they'll be telling us that information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light, and that things can be in two places at one time.

Wait a minute... quantum theory's been saying say for years now. But I digress.

Dr. H. Drexel, a cardiologist at the Academic Hospital in Feldkirch, Austria, presented the results of his latest study last week at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

His experiment tried to find out if there was a difference in the effects of the two main forms of muscle use - concentric and eccentric - on glucose tolerance.

In concentric exercise (uphill walking), muscle cells shorten to exert force on an object, as in lifting a weight.

In eccentric exercise (downhill walking), muscle cells lengthen as they resist a force - for example, opposing gravity by lowering a weight more slowly than it would fall.

Dr. Drexel found that downhill hiking improved glucose tolerance 25%, while uphill trekking resulted in a 9% improvement.

The possibility that eccentric (downhill) exercise may increase blood flow more than concentric (uphill) effort has been raised by other scientists, though Dr. Drexel declined to speculate on this.

September 9, 2004 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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