Suicide warnings issued for 2 anti-smoking drugs

Federal drug regulators have warned that patients taking two popular drugs to stop smoking should be watched closely for signs of serious mental illness, as reports mount of suicides among the drugs’ users.

But officials emphasized that fear should not stop patients from taking the smoking-cessation medicines, Chantix, made by Pfizer, and Zyban, made by GlaxoSmithKline, which also sells it under the brand name Wellbutrin, for depression.

“Stopping smoking is a goal we should all be working towards,” said Dr. Curtis J. Rosebraugh, director of a drug evaluation office at the Food and Drug Administration. “We don’t want to scare people off from trying a medication that could help them achieve this goal. You should just be careful.”

Pfizer will add a so-called black box warning — the F.D.A.’s most serious caution — to the packaging information for Chantix…

Glaxo will expand its existing black box warning on Wellbutrin, citing suicidal thoughts by patients who use it for depression, to include Zyban, which has had only modest sales in the smoking cessation market.

Both companies will also be required to conduct clinical trials to assess the mental health risks associated with the drugs’ uses. Pfizer is already enrolling schizophrenia patients in a trial.

Because smokers and people trying to quit are statistically more likely to be depressed and suicidal, officials for both companies said it was difficult to identify the specific impact of the drugs on those risks. “Nicotine withdrawal itself can be very difficult for people to endure,” Dr. Steve Romano, a Pfizer vice president, said Wednesday.

I quit smoking when I was 22. After 10 years.

Two-and-a-half packs a day at the time. I was too demented to be suicidal while I was going through withdrawal. Had to keep a bag of pretzels in the car to munch on – to be able to drive.

So, I guess I understand. But, as an addiction, after six weeks – the only problem is with your brain. The physical dependency is over.

An evening with Mister iPhone

By any measure, he is among the most important figures in technology of the last decade, a major influence on the way we use and interact with computers and mobile phones, a British designer who ranks with the Conrans and the Dysons. But have you ever heard Jonathan Ive, the Apple designer behind the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone, talk about his work?

I hadn’t – so when a friend invited me to hear him speak at the Royal College of Art’s Innovation Night I leaped at the chance.

Now one of the reasons you don’t hear much from the Apple designer is that he is, by his own admission, a hesitant and unpolished speaker. He told the audience at the Royal College that he’s learned that preparing presentations takes him away from perfecting a product, so he’d rather let others do the talking.

But the format last night was a fireside chat between Ive and the Rector of the Royal College Sir Christopher Frayling in front of an audience of students and what seemed like the whole of the London design community…

And what emerged were some fascinating insights into the culture of Apple and the craft of industrial design.

RTFA. Industrial designers are a breed unto themselves.

The few I’ve known and spent comfortable time with – were capable of disagreeing with each other at least as much as any other artist. Though, I’ll admit they argued about functional reality without getting instantly personal.

Serial killer was on FBI payroll as a snitch

Serving time for lesser crimes, Scott Kimball is leading investigators to bodies.

Partly mummified bones thought to be those of his uncle, Terry Kimball, were discovered Monday in a remote Rocky Mountain pass near Vail, Colorado. DNA tests are pending to confirm the victim’s identity, and the cause of death is pending a forensic examination.

Terry Kimball is one of several suspected homicide victims associated with Scott Kimball since his jailing in 2008. He is serving a 48-year sentence in state prison in Fairplay, Colorado, on theft and habitual criminal convictions.

Kimball will also serve a 70-month federal sentence on firearms charges after the state sentence. The firearms charges led to Kimball’s 18th conviction.

Sources with knowledge of the cases said Kimball’s December 2008 plea to theft and habitual criminal charges, and the 48-year sentence, was part of a deal that included revealing the locations of the bodies. Authorities wanted to give victims’ families resolution. Without his cooperation, authorities doubt they have enough evidence to convict him…

Kimball drew the FBI’s attention in 2002 while jailed for writing bad checks. Kimball offered authorities information about his cellmate, Steven Ennis, who was suspected in a drug ring, according to the 2007 affidavit. The FBI arranged Kimball’s release and began paying him as an informant.

Kimball was supposed to report back to the FBI on Jennifer Marcum, Ennis’ former girlfriend, when she disappeared.

The FBI would not reveal how long or how much Kimball was paid. He was arrested again in March 2006 near Palm Springs, California, after a police chase and standoff.

Just the kind of creep you want to feed you information about his peers. You know, the ones who aren’t killing their friends, relatives and neighbors.

Where’s Mandy Patinkin when you need him?

Gold heist at Canadian mint suspected – if they only knew when?

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been asked to look into how $19 million of gold bullion came to be unaccounted for at the national mint.

It was discovered last October that 17,500 troy ounces of gold appeared to be missing at the mint in Ottawa. At that time, the Royal Canadian Mint arranged for an independent review by the accounting firmDeloitte & Touche.

The mint issued a statement Monday saying the discrepancy “does not appear to relate to an accounting error in the reconciliation process, an accounting error in the physical stock count schedules or an accounting error in the record keeping of transactions during the year”…

In a joint statement Monday night, Transport Minister John Baird and Minister of State for Transport Rob Merrifield were scornful.

The mint’s still unexplained loss of precious metals is inexcusable,” the statement said. “The mint will be held accountable.”

The government said the mint will be required to report on inventory of all precious metals on a quarterly basis. Additionally, all bonuses payable to executives are being withheld until the investigation is completed.

How the frack do you not manage to notice that $19 million in gold has gone missing? This comic opera routine has been going on long enough for Sarah Palin to give birth one more time.

Does anyone check who’s walking out the door with what?

India court decriminalizes gay sex – in Delhi

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

An Indian court today decriminalised homosexuality – but only in the country’s capital, Delhi.

The Delhi high court ruled that treating consensual gay sex as a crime was a violation of fundamental rights protected by India’s constitution.

The ruling is the first of its kind in the deeply conservative country.

We’ve finally entered the 21st century,” said Anjali Gopalan, the executive director of the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a sexual health organisation that filed a petition calling for decriminalisation eight years ago…

Sex between people of the same gender has been illegal in India since a British colonial era law classified it as “against the order of nature”.

Cripes! Between Stone Age religion and leftovers from British imperialism it’s amazing that Indian society has achieved the growth and modernity that it has.

You can’t shed this sort of dross quickly enough. The political whine about people needing to get used to change has to be updated. Those individuals and classes discriminated against have been told to accept injustice for hundreds of years. It’s time for the backwards to get used to change. All that results is a healthier, better-educated society.

Are American nuns about to get screwed by the Vatican?

Sister Sandra M. Schneiders – refusenik

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.

Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining — to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.

While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.

In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.

Some sisters surmise that the Vatican and even some American bishops are trying to shift them back into living in convents, wearing habits or at least identifiable religious garb, ordering their schedules around daily prayers and working primarily in Roman Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals.

They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force,” said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California. “Whereas we are religious, we’re living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet.”

RTFA. You’ll delight in the tasks of an Apostolic Visitation. Then there’s the bureaucratic inquisition on tap for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It seems they’re failing to promote the church’s teaching on male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church as the sole means to salvation.


Desert Rhubarb – A self-irrigating plant

Researchers…have managed to make out the “self-irrigating” mechanism of the desert rhubarb, which enables it to harvest 16 times the amount of water than otherwise expected for a plant in this region based on the quantities of rain in the desert. This is the first example of a self-irrigating plant worldwide.

The desert rhubarb grows in the mountains of Israel’s Negev desert, where average precipitation is particularly low. Unlike most of the other desert plant species, which have small leaves so as to minimize moisture loss, this plant is unique in that its leaves are particularly large; each plant’s rosette of one to four leaves reaches a total diameter of up to one meter. Prof. Simcha Lev-Yadun, Prof. Gidi Ne’eman and Prof. Gadi Katzir came across this unique plant growing in the desert while studying the field area with students…and noticed that its leaves are unusually large and covered with a waxy cuticle. They observed an exceptionally ridged structure on each leaf, forming a leaf structure that resembles the habitat’s mountainous topography.

The scientists explained that these deep and wide depressions in the leaves create a “channeling” mountain-like system by which the rain water is channeled toward the ground surrounding the plant’s deep root. Other desert plants simply suffice with the rain water that penetrates the ground in its immediate surroundings.

The findings have shown that the natural selection process has resulted in the evolution of this plant’s extremely large leaves, which improved its ability to survive in the arid climate of the desert. The results of experiments and analysis of the plant’s growth – in an area with an average annual rainfall of 75 mm – showed that the desert rhubarb is able to harvest quantities of water that are closer to that of Mediterranean plants, reaching up to 426 mm per year. This is 16 times the amount of water harvested by the small-leafed plants of the Negev desert region. When the research team watered the plant artificially, they observed how the water flows along the course of the leave’s depressed veins to the ground surrounding the plant’s single root and then penetrates the ground to a depth of 10 cm or more. Under the experimental conditions, water penetrated the ground only as deep as 1 cm.

“We know of no other plant in the deserts of the world that functions in this manner,” the researchers concluded.

Our high desert is nothing like this dry. Probably only comparable conditions down in the Sonoran realm. Still, I think I’ll look around for anything like this.