Video of the day

Several years ago after reading how extravagantly wasteful bottled water is, we invested in a few (Spongebob-themed) aluminum water bottles and hardly ever buy bottled water since (okay, we do forget to fill up Spongebob some of the time).  Even though it is presumably just as wasteful to drink a bottle of Diet Dr Pepper, which I do not infrequently– that just doesn’t seem quite as wrong.  Anyway, really nice short video from the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explaining the economics of bottled water.

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Good news for Democrats from old people?

As I and many others have written about, we’ve seen quite an emergence of a generation gap in the past few elections where older voters are quite Republican and younger voters are more Democratic.  As older voters are dramatically more likely than younger voters to turn out in non-presidential election years (this is always the case, partisanship and ideology aside) this potentially leads us to a cycle where Democrats dominate in presidential years and Republicans in the off-years.  To wit, Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012 sandwiching the huge Tea Party year (driven largely by huge relative turnout of old people) in 2010.   Thus, this more than anything suggests that Democrats really need to worry about 2014.  The Atlantic’s Molly Ball, though, takes a look at recent survey data which gives Democrats some reason for optimism:

As bad as things get for Republicans — with women, with minorities, with youths — there’s always been one group they can count on: the old. But now one Democratic pollster sees evidence that even seniors are starting to turn on the GOP.

Just 28 percent of voters 65 and older had a favorable view of the Republican Party in a national survey conducted last month by the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, versus 40 percent who had a positive view of the Democrats. That’s a reversal from a poll Greenberg conducted in early 2011, when 43 percent of seniors saw Republicans favorably and 37 percent saw Democrats that way.

“It is now strikingly clear that [seniors] have turned sharply against the GOP,” Erica Seifert, a senior associate at Greenberg’s firm, wrote on the company’s website this week. “We have seen other voters pull back from the GOP, but among no group has this shift been as sharp as it is among senior citizens.”

More seniors still said they plan to vote Republican than Democrat in 2014, 46 percent to 41 percent. But that 5-point margin is down from the 21-point margin seniors gave the GOP in 2010, according to exit polls. In 2012, voters 65 and over were Mitt Romney’s strongest age group, favoring the GOP nominee by 12 points. (Romney outpolled his two GOP nominee predecessors, John McCain and the 2004 campaign of George W. Bush, who both won seniors by 8 points.)

The shift is particularly significant, Seifert noted, because seniors are the most reliable voters in the electorate — and the most likely to turn out in the presidential off-year of 2014…

The economy is the biggest underlying factor in the shift, Seifert said. In November 2010, 49 percent of seniors said Republicans were the better party on the economy; just 34 percent said Democrats were. In the July 2013 poll, the parties were essentially tied on this metric, with 43 percent saying Democrats and 42 percent saying Republicans.

Seniors’ approval of the GOP-led House has dropped from 45 percent in early 2011 to 22 percent today. They have gone from identifying more as Republicans than Democrats by a 10-point margin to identifying more as Democrats than Republicans by a 6-point margin. Fifty-five percent say the GOP is too extreme, and 52 percent say it is “out of touch” and “dividing the country.” …

Seifert, however, believes Republicans’ advantage could erode if the party keeps up its emphasis on pure obstructionism in Washington. “We used to hear a sort of equal-opportunity anti-Washington, anti-partisan line from voters in our focus groups,” she said. “Increasingly, they’re shifting that blame to Republicans for just saying no and refusing to compromise.”

It’s a long time until November 2014, but this will definitely be a story to watch.  Democrats don’t need to completely erode the Republican advantage among seniors, but if they can make serious inroads, that will make a very real impact on at least the Senate (the House is so damn gerrymandered) and governors and state legislatures across the country.  If Seniors really are prone to blame Republicans for obstructionism this will work for Democrats because there’s zero evidence that Republicans will be moving away from pure obstructionism any time soon.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus gallery of National Geographic Traveler Photo contest:

Third Place Winner: Say Cheese. Cheetahs jumped on the vehicle of tourists in Masai Mara national park, Kenya.(© Yanai Bonneh/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

Cancer, autism, and tuberous sclerosis

So, I was naturally caught by the NYT headline yesterday about a connection between cancer and autism as I have a substantial interest in both subjects:

Researchers studying two seemingly unrelated conditions — autism and cancer — have unexpectedly converged on a surprising discovery. Some people with autism have mutated cancer or tumor genes that apparently caused their brain disorder.

Ten percent of children with mutations in a gene called PTEN, which causes cancers of the breast, colon, thyroid and other organs, have autism. So do about half of children with gene mutations that can lead to some kinds of brain and kidney cancer and large tumors in several organs, including the brain. That is many times the rate of autism in the general population.

“It’s eerie,” Evan Eichler, a professor of genome science at the University of Washington, said about the convergence.

Hmmm.  Interesting.  Even more interesting, to me, though was when I read on to learn more about the “Some people with autism have mutated cancer or tumor genes that apparently caused their brain disorder.”  Hey wait– one of those some people is my son, Alex:

At the same time, researchers found that another genetic disorder was even more likely to result in autism. That disorder, tuberous sclerosis, increases the risk for kidney cancer and a type of brain cancer; half of tuberous sclerosis patients had autism.

Although PTEN and tuberous sclerosis genes are not the same, they are part of the same network of genes that put a brake on cell growth. Disabling PTEN or one of the tuberous sclerosis genes releases that brake. One result can be cancer or tumors. Another can be abnormal wiring of nerve fibers in the brain and autism.

They buried that TSC bit behind “mutated cancer or tumor genes” before letting on.  Anyway, the story also continues on about a very promising and intriguing trial to improve autism symptoms and cognitive impairments in kids with TSC:

Dr. Mustafa Sahin of Boston Children’s Hospital decided to test whether drugs used to treat tumors caused by tuberous sclerosis gene mutations might also treat autism in people with the same mutated genes.

He started with mice, deleting tuberous sclerosis genes in their cerebellums. Nerve fibers in the animals’ brains grew wildly, andthe mice had unusual behaviors, reminiscent of autism. They had repetitive movements and groomed themselves constantly, so much that they sometimes rubbed their skin raw. And unlike normal mice, which prefer other mice to an inanimate object, these mice liked a plastic cup just as much.

But rapamycin, which targets the tuberous sclerosis gene and blocks a protein involved in cell division, changed the animals. They no longer compulsively groomed themselves, and they no longer liked the plastic cup as much as a live mouse. The animals did better on tests of learning and memory, and the growth of nerve fibers in their brains was controlled. Before treatment, for example, the mice had trouble learning that an underwater platform had been moved. Afterward, they learned its new location.

Now Dr. Sahin is giving a similar drug, everolimus, to autistic children with a tuberous sclerosis gene mutation, asking if it can improve their mental abilities. Richard is among the children. Each child takes the drug or a placebo for six weeks. The study is scheduled to be completed by December 2014.

I had, in fact, heard of this study.  And I suspect Alex would have actually been eligible.  I’m quite content to wait out the results, though.  What the article fails to mention is that not only does everolimus suppress tumors– it suppresses your immune system.  Something you don’t necessarily want to take a lot of chances with (though, if the choice is that or a cancerous tumor, that’s another story).  If I’m not mistaken, I believe it is not just the mice studies, but actually anecdotal cases of kids with TSC taking  everolimus and related tumor/immune suppressors for a particular form of non-cancerous, but serious, brain tumor and seeing behavioral changes in the kids.   Alex, (and most with TSC) actually also has a minor (it’s severity can vary) form of tumor on his face that can actually be treated with a compounded creme of this drug.  That may be in our future– it’s pretty subtle on Alex right now.  And I’m presuming that a topical application to your face has limited impact on your immune system.

Anyway, I think this may potentially be great for a very narrow sub-set of kids with autism, but I have my doubts about it’s wider applicability.  On the other hand, if cancer research can benefit those with TSC and TSC research can benefit those with cancer?  Hey– that’s pretty awesome.

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