Entries in Popular Culture (52)

One possible explanation for bizarre celebrity behavior

Botox May Move From Face to Brain, Study in Rats Says (Update1)

By Elizabeth Lopatto

April 1 (Bloomberg) -- Botulinum neurotoxin type A, sold as Allergan Inc.'s Botox remedy for wrinkles, can move from its injection site to the brain, a study shows.

Scientists injected rats' whisker muscles with botulism toxin. Tests of the rodents' brain tissue found that botulism had been transported to the brain stems, the researchers said in the Journal of Neuroscience published April 2.

Botox is Allergan's biggest product, with $1.21 billion in sales last year. The drug, approved in 1989, became fashionable among aging celebrities seeking to smooth facial wrinkles and is used to treat some neurological disorders. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether patients contracted botulism, a muscle-weakening illness, from Botox and Myobloc, a product from Solstice Neurosciences Inc.

``The idea that there could be some transmission of this to the central nervous system needs to be followed up,'' said Mathew Avram, the director of Massachusetts General Hospital's Dermatology, Laser and Cosmetic Center, in Boston, in a telephone interview today. ``But this treatment has been used on millions of people for years, and we're not seeing major central nervous system uses with it.''

Botulism neurotoxin can disrupt nerve cells' ability to communicate and may change spinal cord circuitry, the authors wrote in the study.

Rodents, Not Humans

Mouse and rat physiology is different from that of humans, so the results may not predict what happens in people, Avram said. He wasn't involved in the study.

The study isn't conclusive, and because it contradicts previous findings, more work is necessary, according to an Allergan spokeswoman. The company is based in Irvine, California.

``The authors used a laboratory preparation of botulinum toxin and did not use Botox, and data suggest that different preparations of botulinum toxin react differently in both the laboratory and in clinical practice,'' said the spokeswoman, Caroline Van Hove, in an e-mailed statement.

Myobloc is botulinum neurotoxin type B, a different type of botulinum than studied, said Edgar Salazar-Grueso, chief medical officer of Solstice Neurosciences, in a telephone interview today.

``We are aware from monkey studies already published that toxin A migrates more than B,'' Salazar said. ``Monkeys are more like humans than rodents, so these findings we're observing are consistent.''

FDA Evaluation

Scientists injected botulism toxin into one side of the hippocampus in each rodent brain, and into their superior colliculus, a visual center. From one side of the hippocampus, the toxin migrated to the opposite. From the visual center, the drug went to the animals' eyes.

The effects of the injection into the hippocampus were still present six months later, the scientists wrote.

The FDA is evaluating reports of breathing difficulties and death after use of Botox and Myobloc, according to a posting in February on the agency's Web site. Many of the most serious cases involved children who received the injections to treat arm and leg spasms associated with cerebral palsy, a use not approved by the FDA.

Prescribing literature for Botox and Myobloc now carries warnings about the risk of breathing and swallowing difficulties in patients with neuromuscular disorders. The FDA said the new data suggest that life-threatening side effects may occur in patients with other conditions, including children with cerebral palsy.

Large Doses

Higher doses of Botox are injected to treat limb spasms in children with cerebral palsy in about 60 countries. Some U.S. doctors use it for this purpose, though Allergan doesn't market it in the U.S. for the unapproved use. A typical cosmetic dose is about 10 times less than a dose for cerebral palsy, Avram said.

``The FDA was investigating Botox in situations where large amounts were used,'' Avram said. ``Those tend to be very young children with massive doses. I don't know that this study relates to that.''

Botulism, which can also be spread through contaminated food or wounds, is caused by a bacterium called clostridium botulinum, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. About 110 cases are reported in the U.S. each year.

I just had to post this.  Story speaks for itself.

Zombies on the march

Script details start to leak for World War Z film

Trust me, this post is of interest to influenza and disease fans.

world-war-z-cover.jpgNo doubt about it, I am a sucker for zombie flicks.  Even mention a new zombie movie, and I will probably check it out.  To me, nothing says "apocalypse" like the vision of hordes of the undead, feasting on human flesh.  And, up until recently, no one did a zombie story for film better than George A. Romero. 

I had the great opportunity to meet George Romero in 1978 (or was it 1979?), right after his classic Dawn of the Dead was released. He was lecturing at Florida Atlantic University and I was still living in South Florida, so I made the drive to Boca Raton and sat through his extremely entertaining lecture.  I was very familiar with his films Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies, as well as Dawn, and I asked him how he came to make all his male protagonists black.  He shrugged and said he wasn't quite sure, but I thought it confirmed Romero's keen eye for social comment.

But I digress.  Hollywood finally "found" Romero, and as his budgets grew, his edge wore down a bit, just like when your favorite starving artist/musician finds commercial success.  Sure, the albums sound fine, but the edge is gone.  Now I have not seen Diary of the Dead, but Romero's previous two zombie flicks were a bit stale.  And zombiedom in general was in dire need of reinvention and waited for that catalyst.

Lo and behold, that catalyst took form and substance, courtesy of Max Brooks.  The son of Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft, Max burst upon the zombie scene with his Zombie Survival Guide, the definitive way to stay alive when the unburied dead start to rise again.  An unqualified runaway success, the Guide is in its umpteenth printing and is readily available at local bookstores.

But Max was not content to just write one novel.   He followed up that success with a book that is one of the most entertaining and horrifying books I have ever read, World War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War.  Set ten years after the official conclusion of the war, Max is the writer commissioned by the UN to get the real story on the war, the initial outbreak of the virus in rural China, the official government denials, and how the zombie plague spread to the whole world.

The result of that report should be of great interest to readers of this Blog, as well as followers of diseases, pandemics and geopolitics.  I geniunely do not want to spoil the experience for you, so let me just say that the origins of the plague and the methods used to spread it will ring familiar to most.  Brooks still manages to come up with a few things we have never thought of yet!  Also familiar to flubies will be the government foot-dragging, denials and underestimation of the nature and impact of the plague.

Brooks%20interviews%20Romero%20Comic-Con%202007.jpgWorld War Z is a gripping read, with equal parts Tom Clancy and George A. Romero (Max makes no bones about his affinity for Romero, and he dedicates the book, in part, to him. The photo at left is of Brooks interviewing Romero at Comic-Con 2007).  The book, while epic in scope, moves swiftly and in a very readable, very satisfying way.  Brooks' character moves from nation to nation, across the entire planet, interviewing survivors and documenting horrifying story after horrifying story.  Each story is entirely plausible, if you buy the initial premise that the dead are rising and dining on the living.

World War Z was being optioned even before the hardcover went on sale, which was not surprising considering the subject matter, the best-selling success of Guide and the name Brooks.  Father Mel had even taken to the talk show circuit and airwaves to promote Guide, which makes one long to hear those interviews!  "Oy, those zombies hocken me ha'chinik!"

Suddenly and quite happily for the Brooks family, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt started bidding against each other for the film rights to World War Z.   DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions (partnered with Warner Brothers) fought Pitt's Plan B company (aligned with Paramount).  Brad Pitt decided that a major, big-budget zombie flick would make lotsa moola and coughed up the funds to buy the film rights.  Warners, meanwhile, redeployed its zombie strategery and sewed up "300" and "Dawn of the Dead" remaker Zack Snyder for a film called Army of the Dead.  So both studios get high-profile zombie flicks for their future 2009-2010 release schedules.

Now back to Z.  The first thing Plan B did was to hire veteran scriptwriter, Marvel Comics writer and Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski to fashion a screenplay.  Straczynski had just adapted the book The Changeling for Clint Eastwood (!) and was available to write Z.  The script itself was completed before the Writers Strike and was delivered to Plan B at year's end.  That script has now somehow been leaked to a couple of movie fan Websites, and by all accounts it is quite impressive.  Fans of Joe (as I hear he likes to be called) Straczynski should not expect anything less than greatness.  It is being compared to such excellent cinema as Children of Men and Zodiac, and is leaving those who have read the script longing for directors such as David Fincher, Alphonso Cuaron or even Peter Jackson or Spielberg!  After max%20brooks.jpgyou have read World War Z, you will understand why:  It is an epic work, spanning continents and leaving one with disturbing images that will stay with you for many weeks afterward.

Some are speculating that the script is of sufficient magnitude, depth and quality that Pitt himself might be cast in the title role.  No doubt that Max Brooks, a handsome lad himself (photo at left), would be satisfied.

Have you noticed the sheer number of big-budget plague-related films in the past few years?  Started by the British classic 28 Days Later, and now including Invasion (a viral, updated remake of Body Snatchers), I Am Legend, the flu pandemic reference in Children of Men, the British virus movie Doomsday, and the soon-to-be-released M. Night Shyamalan happening%20poster.jpgthriller The Happening, it could be debated that Hollywood may actually be doing a better job of mentally preparing people for an eventual pandemic than the government.  Consider the pandemic-related bonus supplements on the I Am Legend and The Invasion DVDs (Invasion's features none other than Mike Davis, author of The Monster at Our Door).

And then wait in breathless anticipation.  Because we ain't seen nothin' yet. 

Fat lady sings as Jericho bows for good

Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 03:43PM by Registered CommenterScott McPherson in | Comments1 Comment

jericho%20finale.jpgA sad day indeed.  Jericho, the groundbreaking CBS serial drama whose cancellation last May inspired the largest outpouring of fan outrage in television history, has gotten cancelled yet again.  This time, I fear, the cancellation will stick.  The reason:  Just not enough Nielsen viewers to justify the resumption of the series.

The producers of Jericho, at the urging of CBS, filmed two endings:  One in case the show was picked up again, and one in case the show was again cancelled.  It is easy to figure out which version will air tonight.

While there is rumored to be some wiggle room in the finale for a segue to a cable network, the show's high production values and accompanying high per-episode costs are probably too high for anyone but HBO or Showtime.  Come to think of it, Showtime, with its CBS link, would be a nice place for Jericho to land.  So would USA.  So would the Sci-Fi Channel.  I would settle for Lifetime if it picked up the show and ran with it!

While we hate to see the program end, I do want to acknowledge CBS's commitment to bring the show back and bring the series to a conclusion without leaving viewers in the lurch.  Closure is rare in television.  The best closure example anyone will ever think of was the last Newhart episode.  So off we go tonight at 10PM EDT to see which version of America wins the post-terrorist-nuke civil war/revolution.

Jericho%20DVD.jpgSome Jericho trivia:  At the beginning of each episode, you hear Morse code.  Only practitioners of this almost-lost art recognized that the code changed with each episode.  And the messages were designed to help the viewer figure out a puzzle regarding the main story line.  That is the attention to detail, and the respect for the fans, that Jericho's producers gave us.   All in all, quite a gift and quite a ride.

My last wish is that the Jericho Season Two DVD boxed set is reworked with deleted scenes and maybe some lost footage sufficient to create a backstory, in order to stretch the running time and, therefore, the satisfying viewing experience that was Jericho. 


Will online views increase Jericho's chances of renewal?

2008%20jericho%20cast.jpgSomeone at CBS gets it when it comes to the New Media.  And that may well save my current favorite show from cancellation again.

As you know, the groundbreaking series Jericho was raised from the dead by an Internet campaign that culminated in the president of CBS Entertainment being buried alive under some 40,000 pounds of nuts.  She dug herself out and renewed the series for a seven-episode run that has been airing since February.  But she warned the loyal viewers of the show:  Bring me more viewers or else the show gets it again.

Well, the ratings have been good, but not what they were when the show got bounced last May.  The fault for that entirely rests with CBS, which engaged in the same insane scheduling that has hurt other shows such as Lost and Heroes.  The idea of ordering a limited run of episodes, then deciding whether or not to finish a season, is what seriously wounded Jericho.  When you break fan continuity on a show with as many subplots as Jericho had, you run a terrible risk.

Jericho also had the problem of running against the Fox Network's lead-out bookend of American Idol, and that did not help the show in its final weeks last season -- even though it routinely beat that Fox show!

But I digress.  The vice-president of CBS Interactive, Patrick Keane, has stumbled onto something exciting.  Keane and CBS just announced that when you add online viewings of Jericho episodes to the Nielsen totals, the ratings for Jericho improve by almost a full point.  That would, if my memory serves me correctly, have the show winning its time slot almost every week since the show reappeared seven weeks ago.  Here's the story, from  www.mediabuyerplanner.com:

Jericho Gains a Point When Online Views Added

A veep at CBS Interactive wants big video content producers to come up with combined ratings that include both online and offline viewings.  Patrick Keane, vice president and chief marketing officer for CBS Interactive, said the aggregate ratings would provide media buyers with a simple and detailed cross-platform look at the numbers.

Keane cited the fan-resuscitated show Jericho, which he said increased by nearly a full ratings point when online video is figured in. Jericho is an especially appropriate example because the extra ratings point could keep it from getting cancelled once again. Keane also pointed out that the Grammys, a show with a ratings dip 15 percent this year, would also benefit by having the number of video streams figured in.

Keane said CBS Interactive closely tracks the correlation between when shows air and subsequent online behavior spikes. He produced a chart, according to MediaPost, that showed how predictably online usage increases after certain kinds of programming airs. Keane also pointed out that online activity doesn’t cannibalize the broadcast audience, indicating that advertisers need not pull from one category to add to the other.


jericho250.jpgJericho has dealt with a terrorist attack on 23 American cities, and we now know the attacks were pinned on North Korea and Iran, two nations that in Jericho's universe now glow in the dark in retaliation.  Only these nations were not the cause; they were victims, as were the hapless residents of those 23 cities.  The nuclear acts were domestic in origin and aimed at toppling a government that one instigator thought to be too corrupt to continue. 

The producers and writers of Jericho were given a very difficult task:  Wrap up a story arc in seven episodes that easily could have taken another seven to complete.  As a result, the episodes have moved forward at breakneck speed, leaving viewers barely enough time to catch a breath.  Amazingly, story continuity has not been lost, even with the need for speed. 

2008%20jericho%20beck%20skeet.jpgFor example, the Hudson River Virus -- a story subplot that was originally conceived for multiple episodes -- had to be resolved in one episode.  That virus jumped the "Blue Line" at the Mississippi River and headed due west, killing hundreds in a Missouri town until the Army relented and sent vaccine there. In the meantime, Jericho was denied vaccine, and had to buy an entire vaccine shipment on the black market and then steal it back from a contractor to the new government in Cheyenne who seized it from the town.  The entire town of roughly 2,300 was vaccinated in a midnight operation that lasted one night.  The contractor, a mysterious, shadowy NGO called Jennings and Rall, with obvious winks at real-life giants Haliburton and Bechtel, plays the role of villain throughout the entire second season.  

The season finale (that is how CBS is referring to it, not the Series Finale) takes place this Tuesday at 10PM Eastern time.  My advice is to get online and watch as many episodes of Jericho as it takes to get all caught up.  Then tune in next Tuesday and let's see if we can save a show a second time.  There's one loose nuke left, and we have to see if Texas sides with the Allied States of America, or the old republic east of the Mississippi. 

The ampersand that ate San Francisco; or, Why telecommuting will probably fail during a pandemic, Vol. 3

2008%20it%20came%20from%20beneath%20sea.jpgAs veteran readers of this Blogsite know by now, I am decidedly pessimistic about the ability of the Internet to stay viable during a severe influenza pandemic.  Not that I think the Internet will collapse, never to get off the canvas again.  Far from it: Recall that it was the US military that built the ARPANET, as it was called back then, designed to withstand several simultaneous nuclear explosions via its "node" concept. ARPANET became the Internet (sorry, Al), and it still retains its ability to be resilient. 

However, ARPANET did not have petabytes of pedophile photos, Internet porn, eBay auctions, pirate downloads of I Am Legend, illegal gambling, and YouTube videos to contend with like today's Internet does.  So I think the Internet will be resilient, just slow as molasses and not dependable enough to base an economy around without making some pretty serious first-amendment content filtering decisions during a pandemic.  If you search this Blogsite for "telecommuting," you will find my two previous entries on the topic. 

I wanted to offer a history lesson to show how a simple mistake can bring down an entire region's telecommunications grid and impact hundreds of millions in commerce and threaten public safety. Then I will talk about a marvelous article the Dean of Flublogia, Crawford Kilian, found yesterday.

It was June 18, 1996.  A network engineer with Netcom, a San Jose, California-based Internet Service Provider (ISP), was diligently working on configuring a Cisco router.  Cisco is the company whose routers and switches and wireless access points basically run the Internet.  In the course of configuring the aforementioned router, the engineer accidentally hit the ampersand (&) key on his computer -- and all Hell broke loose.  You see, Back in the Day, that little ampersand was to Cisco routers what the end of the tape meant to Mr. Phelps.  The command went downstream, as routers are designed to refresh commands down the line, and soon, the entire Netcom subscriber base of some 400,000 customers -- the entire San Francisco Bay area, basically -- was down for thirteen hours, all because the software that ran the routers became corrupted and incomprehensible.

That was twelve years ago, and many would argue there are multiple safeguards in place to prevent this from happening again.  I would agree that much has been done to block such mistakes in the future, but also look at the adoption of the Web since 1996.  If a similar mistake happened today, it would impact not just 400,000 people getting their email -- it would probably cost hundreds of millions -- if not billions -- of dollars in lost revenue, disrupted commerce, cancelled flights, and other problems.  An old archive of this history lesson can be found at: http://www.merit.edu/mail.archives/nanog/1996-07/msg00074.html.  The piece is written by none other than Bob Metcalfe himself.  Remember Bob whenever you go to your keyboard and assess the Internet; for Bob invented the Ethernet protocol that allows your PC to actually communicate with the rest of the world.

Human error is not confined to telecommunications.  As I mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago, here in sunny Florida, a fire at a Miami substation of Florida Power and Light wound up, via a major lapse in operator judgment, to bring down the Florida Grid for some 4 million customers.  A well-placed government source recently told me the problem was exacerbated when a veteran technician overruled a well-worn protocol and decided not to reroute power in a proven way.  The resulting cascading loss of power stranded hundreds in elevators and threatened public safety and transportation across most of Florida from Orlando south, on both coasts.  FPL does not like errors in judgment, because the Japanese might come along and take back the Deming that FPL won a couple of decades ago. 

2008%20Host%20monster%202.pngSo the Ampersand That Ate San Francisco can pop up at any time, anywhere, in varying disguises, because we humans are prone to making mistakes.

Complicating things is this new malady, called Internet Addiction.  Why this is a new malady is beyond me, for I have suffered from it for over fifteen years. As I promised a few paragraphs ago, Crawford Kilian, the Dean of Flublogia, has posted this article:  Add Internet addiction to psychiatric disorders, says doctor.  An excerpt:

Dr Jerald Block, the author of the editorial, points to both China and South Korea as nations that are more cognizant of the problem than the US. South Korea has seen a number of deaths at Internet cafes, and both China and South Korea consider internet addiction one of their more pressing public health concerns; an odd stance considering the much more palpable threats from emerging diseases such as avian flu and SARS. Nevertheless, there are recorded cases of people ignoring basic needs such as sleep or food in favor of lengthy sessions online, sometimes with fatal consequences.

I am aware of a few Asians who have died from lack of sleep/food/bathroom training when attempting some Internet gaming marathon, and that phenomenon is not limited to the Web, but covers all computer/console gaming in general.  Since so many people do their gaming online, however, it merits serious consideration.  My own stepson is constantly online, playing XBox Live with people from God knows where until the wee hours of the morning.  At age 22, he is the perfect example of someone who would spend much of his time online during a pandemic.  He already spends too much of his time online now!

Here's how it will work:  During a pandemic, stuff will break.  Stuff breaks now all the time, because all computer equipment is essentially mechanical in nature.  Bearings in cooling fans in computers, servers and routers seize and the equipment overheats and fails.  hard drives still fail.  So does memory.  During a pandemic, staff will be in short supply and stuff won't get fixed in the time frames that everyone enjoys today.  Service Level Agreements, or SLAs as we call them in the biz, will be thrown out the window. 

2008%20monster%20Host%20Korea.jpgNext, the technician who comes to fix the stuff may or may not be a subject matter expert on the failed equipment.  Two days before, that person might be the office receptionist, given coveralls and pressed into service if, for no other reason, to satisfy that four-hour response time promised on the damned SLA.  That person may or may not be qualified to do what happens next:  The initiation of a diagnostic routine to determine what broke and why.  And The Ampersand lurks in the shadows like the monster in The Host, waiting for its next meal.

Now the final piece of the puzzle:  The Just-In-Time Supply Chain.  Computer and network equipment ain't made in Yonkers, folks.  Almost every single piece comes from Asia.  In a pandemic, Asia will be a little preoccupied, and despite the best intentions of the ChiComms and others to keep the containers sailing to America full of marketable goods, the pipeline will be squeezed to a trickle for weeks at a time.  That translates into a longer time frame to fix stuff, because it will take longer to get replacement stuff in.

I have had a personal conversation with none other than Michael Dell on this topic.  Dell's experience with SARS fuels its pandemic plans.  Michael Dell knows that a pandemic is the mortal enemy of his company, and his people are investing a lot of capital -- intellectual and otherwise -- on this topic.  Dell's entire corporate empire was built upon the rock of that JIT supply chain.  Only now, the rock is moving and the temblor is a potential pandemic.  I won't reveal Dell's plans other than to say he has one and he is banking a lot on it being successful.

So now you are home, trying to connect with the corporate mainframe while Junior is online, killing his buddies virtually.  Your connection is slow anyway, because everyone else in the neighborhood is trying to do the same thing.  Oh, I am sorry.  You thought that cable connection was a Home Run (as we call it) right back to Al Gore's Man Room?  Nope.  Think party line and you get the concept that a big pipe gets cut up into little pieces and the more people on The Pipe, the slower the speed.  And come to think of it, The Pipe may be a good metaphor for Internet addiction.

Suddenly, fifty miles away, The Ampersand lunges out and eats a technician's work.  Your connection goes dead and Junior says, "Hey, what's that out the window?"

You respond under your breath, "That's daylight, you dingbat." 

Speaking of The Host:  If you watch the film, look carefully for the bird flu diagram which is prominently displayed during one sequence.  You'll get a kick out of how they use it!