Proposed 20 Years Ago, Heart Polypill Is Safe, Effective, and Easier to Take, but Is Not Allowed by FDA

(p. A7) Heart disease kills more people than any other condition, but despite advances in treatment and prevention, patients often do not stick to their medication regimens. Now researchers may have found a solution: a so-called polypill that combines three drugs needed to prevent cardiovascular trouble.

In what is apparently the largest and longest randomized controlled trial of this approach, patients who were prescribed a polypill within six months of a heart attack were more likely to keep taking their drugs and had significantly fewer cardiovascular events, compared with those receiving the usual assortment of pills.

The participants also experienced one-third fewer cardiovascular deaths, although their overall risk of death from all causes was not significantly changed.

The study of more than two thousand heart patients, who were followed for three years, was published Friday morning in The New England Journal of Medicine, as the findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona.

. . .

The polypill combines a blood-pressure medication, a cholesterol-lowering drug and aspirin, which helps prevent blood clots. The idea was first floated two decades ago in a more radical form: Advocates proposed giving a daily polypill to everyone once they turned 55, saying it would slash cardiovascular events globally by 80 percent.

. . .

The polypill used in the study has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is not available to patients in the United States right now. Dr. Fuster said the results of the new trial would be submitted to the agency shortly in an effort to obtain approval.

He called the results of the new study “striking,” and said the benefit of the polypill for prevention rivaled that of low-dose aspirin, which is now routinely prescribed to people who have already had a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

And since participants became even more likely to keep taking the polypill over time, he said, “The potential results could be even better with more follow-up.” Several studies have shown that only about half of patients, or even less, take all their medications as instructed.

The new study, a randomized controlled clinical trial, enrolled just under 2,500 patients at 113 sites in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

. . .

Over three years, 12.7 percent of the patients taking an assortment of pills experienced another heart attack or stroke, or died of a cardiac event or needed urgent treatment to open a blocked artery, compared with 9.5 percent of patients taking a polypill, for a relative reduction in risk of 24 percent.

There was no difference between the two groups in overall mortality, however, as the reduction in cardiovascular deaths in the polypill group was offset by deaths from other causes.

For the full story, see:

Roni Caryn Rabin. “Heart Disease Patients Are More Likely to Stick to a One-Pill Daily Regimen, Researchers Say.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 27, 2022): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2022, and has the title “How to Get Heart Patients to Take Their Pills? Give Them Just One”)

NU President Carter May Earn $1.5 Million Per Year by 2023

(p. B1) LINCOLN — The University of Nebraska Board of Regents extended President Ted Carter’s contract by three years on Thursday, potentially keeping the university’s top leader in Nebraska through 2027.

Carter’s new contract, approved unanimously, also raises his base salary by 3% this year and adds a second deferred compensation package to incentivize the president to stay at NU.

In all, Carter’s total compensation could top $1.5 million beginning in 2023.

. . .

Regents also awarded Carter, a former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, a $105,000 performance bonus for the (p. B1) 2021-22 academic year.

That amount is less than the $140,000 he was eligible to receive; Carter hit 89% of the benchmarks set for him by the board last year after first- to second-year retention numbers fell at several NU campuses.

For the full story, see:

CHRIS DUNKER, Lincoln Journal Star. “NU President Given Raise, Extension.” The Omaha World-Herald (Friday, August 12, 2022): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 18, 2022, and has the title “Regents approve contract extension, pay raise for NU president.”)

Minorities, Disabled, Less-Educated, and Felons Are First Laid Off in a Recession

(p. A1) Black Americans have been hired much more rapidly in the wake of the pandemic shutdowns than after previous recessions. But as the Federal Reserve tries to soften the labor market in a bid to tame inflation, economists worry that Black workers will bear the brunt of a slowdown — and that without federal aid to cushion the blow, the impact could be severe.

Some 3.5 million Black workers lost or left their jobs in March and April 2020. In weeks, the unemployment rate for Black workers soared to 16.8 percent, the same as the peak after the 2008 financial crisis, while the rate for white workers topped out at 14.1 percent.

Since then, the U.S. economy has experienced one of its fastest rebounds ever, one that has extended to workers of all races. The Black unemployment rate was 6 percent last month, just above the record low of late 2019. And in government data collected since the 1990s, wages for Black workers are rising at their fastest pace ever.

Now policymakers at the Fed and in the White House face the challenge of fighting inflation without inducing a recession that would erode or reverse those workplace gains.

Decades of research has found that workers from racial and ethnic minorities — along with those with other barriers to employment, such as disabilities, criminal records or low levels of education — are among the first laid off during a downturn and the last hired during a recovery.

For the full story, see:

Talmon Joseph Smith and Ben Casselman. “Job Gains for Black Workers Could Reverse in a Downturn.” The New York Times (Wednesday, August 24, 2022): A1 & A14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version and has the title “What Will Happen to Black Workers’ Gains if There’s a Recession?”)

Claremont Censors Professor for Quoting Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

The courageous and decent hero of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is the black slave Jim. To censor this work because of its vocabulary, spectacularly misses Mark Twain’s point. How many of those who censor Huckleberry Finn have actually read Huckleberry Finn?

(p. A15) Claremont, Calif.

I teach at Claremont McKenna College, the No. 1-ranked liberal-arts college for free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. FIRE may need to consider its ratings.

On Oct. 4, 2021, my class discussed Plato’s “Republic” and his views about censorship. A student objected that Plato was mistaken about its necessity. Here in the U.S., she said, there is none. Someone brought up “Huckleberry Finn.” She replied, correctly, that removing a book from curriculums doesn’t constitute censorship. I pointed out that the case was more complicated. The book had also been removed from libraries and published in expurgated editions.

An international student asked me why. I told her, quoting Mark Twain’s precise language, which meant speaking the N-word.

. . .

. . ., the dean enlisted the help of both the department chairman and a co-director of the college’s Open Academy program—a resource center that describes its purpose as “to counter the forces that are pulling us apart with educational strategies that bring us together”—to ban me from teaching any required courses in the future, seemingly into perpetuity.

. . .

The administration’s behavior toward me and two similar cases in the literature department seem to show that CMC sets the bounds of faculty speech arbitrarily. This spring, a literature adjunct read aloud and asked students to discuss a passage from “The Color Purple” that contained the N-word. They complained. Ms. Antecol summoned the adjunct, who apologized and agreed to undergo recommended counseling. The professor submitted to re-education and training in critical race theory. Despite all this—and a glowing recommendation by the faculty member who observed her course—the class the adjunct was set to teach at CMC in the fall was abruptly canceled.

When a tenured literature professor, who is also well-connected to the board of trustees and the media, committed a similar offense, he received no penalty. Last fall the professor assigned Robert Lowell’s poem “For the Union Dead,” which contains the N-word. When he played in class a recording of Lowell reading the poem, a student exploded, excoriating both author and teacher as old white men. The associate vice president for diversity and inclusion informed the professor by telephone, not in writing, that he was in the clear because he hadn’t himself read the forbidden word aloud in class.

The effects of the administration’s actions are disastrous and lasting. Students, already fearful to speak their minds, become even more so when they see that certain peers can veto the content of courses and conduct of teachers arbitrarily.

. . .

My job as a teacher is to oppose ignorance wherever it manifests itself. If a dean promotes the work of Daniele da Volterra, Pope Paul IV’s painter of fig leaves, I have no choice but to stand for the original of Michelangelo. And so must I stand for the original works of Mark Twain and Frederick Douglass, exactly as written by their authors. They deserve that, as do my students.

For the full commentary see:

Christopher Nadon. “Censorship at a Top College for Free Speech.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 22, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

A thrifty edition of Mark Twain’s humane masterpiece is:

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994 [1885].

Europe Subsidizes Burning Old Trees That Release More Carbon Dioxide Than Released by Burning Coal

(p. A24) Across Central Europe, companies are clear-cutting forests and at times grinding up centuries-old trees in the name of renewable energy. All of this is legal.
In fact, it is encouraged by government subsidies meant to help the European Union reach its renewable energy goals.

In reality, though, burning wood can be even dirtier than burning coal.

New York Times journalists followed six truckloads to the factory on a recent day and watched as logs from one of the continent’s most important conservation areas were churned into sawdust.

Wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste (p. A10) into green power.

Those subsidies gave rise to a booming market, to the point that wood is now Europe’s largest renewable energy source, far ahead of wind and solar.

But today, as demand surges amid a Russian energy crunch, whole trees are being harvested for power. And evidence is mounting that Europe’s bet on wood to address climate change has not paid off.

. . .

And while European nations can count wood power toward their clean-energy targets, the E.U. scientific research agency said last year that burning wood released more carbon dioxide than would have been emitted had that energy come from fossil fuels.

“People buy wood pellets thinking they’re the sustainable choice, but in reality, they’re driving the destruction of Europe’s last wild forests,” said David Gehl of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington-based advocacy group that has studied wood use in Central Europe.

. . .

Scientists have calculated that, per unit of energy, burning wood actually releases more greenhouse gas emissions than burning gas, oil, or even coal.

. . .

(p. A11) The association opposes cutting subsidies or changing the way clean energy is defined. If the European Union no longer considers energy from burnt wood to be carbon-neutral, it would immediately throw many countries off track to hit renewable-energy targets.

That would have major consequences for countries like Italy, the continent’s largest consumer of wood pellets. More than a third of its renewable energy comes from burning plant material. For years, the Italian government has offered tax deductions to encourage buying pellet stoves.

For the full story see:

Sarah Hurtes and Weiyi Cai. “Sacrificing Centuries-Old Trees In Name of Renewable Energy.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 10, 2022): A1 & A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 7, 2022, and has the title “Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy.” Where the wording and content of the versions differs, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

Deep-Sea Nodules Are a New Source of Scarce Metals

(p. B11) Companies could start mining the ocean floor for metals used to make electric-vehicle batteries within the next year, a development that could occur despite broad concerns about the environmental impact of deep-sea mining.

The International Seabed Authority, a United Nations observer organization that regulates deep-sea mining in international waters, is drawing up a final regulatory framework for deep-sea mining that all 168 members would need to agree to within the next 12 months. The U.S. isn’t a member of the ISA. With or without the finalized rules, the ISA will permit seabed mining by July 2023, according to people familiar with the matter.

The intent of deep-sea mining is to scrape the ocean floor for polymetallic nodules—tennis-ball-size pieces of rock that contain iron and manganese oxide layers. A seabed in the Pacific Ocean called the Clarion Clipperton Zone, which cover 1.7 million square miles between Mexico and Hawaii, contains a high volume of nodules made of battery metals, such as cobalt, manganese and lithium. The International Seabed Authority in 2010 estimated the zone had roughly 30 billion metric tons of nodules. Cobalt and other metals used in making rechargeable batteries that power products from phones to electric vehicles are in high demand, setting off a race to find and procure them. Prices of these metals are soaring as mining for them comes under scrutiny, curtailing supply.

For the full story see:

Yusuf Khan. “Deep-Sea Mining Nears Reality.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022): B11.

(Note: as of Sept. 9, 2022, the article was not available online.)

Musk Says World Needs More Oil, Gas, and Nuclear Power

(p. A8) Tesla Inc. TSLA 3.60%▲ boss Elon Musk told European energy leaders that the world needs more oil and natural gas and should continue operating nuclear power plants while investing heavily in renewable energy sources.

“I think we actually need more oil and gas, not less, but simultaneously moving as fast as we can to a sustainable energy economy,” Mr. Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and largest shareholder, told a conference in Stavanger, Norway.

Mr. Musk said work on developing battery-storage technology is key to making the most of investments in wind, solar and geothermal energy. “I’m also pronuclear,” Mr. Musk said.

“We should really keep going with the nuclear plants. I know this may be an unpopular view in some quarters. But I think if you have a well-designed nuclear power plant, you should not shut it down, especially right now,” he said.

For the full story see:

Jenny Strasburg. “Musk Says the World Needs More Oil, Gas.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022): A8.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 29, 2022, and has the title “Elon Musk Says World Needs More Oil and Gas.”)

Current Labor Market Seems Robustly Redundant

In Openness to Creative Destruction, I argue for the possibility and desirability of a “robustly redundant labor market” in which workers can usually quickly find an equally good or better job when they lose their current job.

(p. A6) . . . one characteristic of today’s economy is that job cuts at small startups and large companies have yet to dent the overall labor market. Labor demand is still historically strong, offering only faint signs of cooling. There are nearly two job openings for every unemployed person seeking work. That means many workers who are losing their jobs are quickly landing jobs. Some are even weighing multiple offers and accepting positions that pay more and better align with their skills.

. . .

Employers had 10.7 million unfilled jobs in June [2022], down from a record of 11.9 million in March, but still well above the 7 million job openings in February 2020 ahead of the pandemic, when the labor market was also booming.

Job-openings rates across industries are much higher than before the pandemic hit, suggesting companies still need workers even in sectors where company layoffs have been pronounced, such as technology, real estate, finance and insurance.

Longer periods of unemployment can allow job seekers more time to search for roles that match their skill sets, some economists say. But with job opportunities so abundant, many unemployed workers are finding jobs that suit them within a matter of weeks or even days.

For the full story see:

Sarah Chaney Cambon. “Laid-Off Employees Quickly Find New Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 24, 2022, and has the title “The Surprise in a Faltering Economy: Laid-Off Workers Are Quickly Finding Jobs.”)

My book mentioned above is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Kamoya Saw What Others Missed, Not by Magic, but by “An Invaluable Accumulation of Skill and Knowledge”

(p. A24) Kamoya Kimeu, the son of a goat herder whose preternatural gift for spotting and identifying petrified tibias, skull fragments and other ancient human remains among the arid, rocky badlands of East Africa won him acclaim as the world’s greatest fossil hunter, died on July 20 [2022] in Nairobi, Kenya.

. . .

“Digging human bones was associated with witchcraft,” he told The Christian Science Monitor in 2009. “It was a taboo in African custom. But I was just a young adventurous man, eager to travel and discover things.”

The Leakeys, and especially Mary Leakey, Louis’s wife, soon recognized Mr. Kamoya’s aptitude, not just at finding fossils but identifying them; they began to offer him lessons in paleontology, evolutionary theory and excavating techniques.

“At the end of each day looking for fossil bones, I sat down with Louis Leakey, and he taught me to tell which bones belonged to which animal and how to tell if they were hominid, and people that led to us,” Mr. Kamoya told New African Magazine in 2000. “I asked: ‘How do you find them?’ He said, ‘It’s just luck. We can find them.’ Then I tried very hard. I was very keen. Then I started to find them.”

. . .

Mr. Kamoya’s most significant find came in 1984, on an expedition around Kenya’s Lake Turkana with Richard Leakey and Alan Walker, an anthropologist from Penn State.

One day Mr. Kamoya went out for a walk along the waterless Nariokotome River. Among the small stones and clumps of dirt he spotted what looked like a matchbook-size skull fragment — Homo erectus, he surmised, an extinct hominid species.

He radioed Mr. Leakey, who came to look. Soon the whole team was involved in a monthslong excavation that ultimately revealed a near-complete skeleton of a juvenile Homo erectus.

. . .

“To some of our visitors who are inexperienced in fossil-hunting, there is something almost magical in the way Kamoya or one of his team can walk up a slope that is apparently littered with nothing more than pebbles and pick up a small fragment of black, fossilized bone, announcing that it is, say, part of the upper forelimb of an antelope,” Richard Leakey told an interviewer with his family’s foundation in 2019. “It is not magic, but an invaluable accumulation of skill and knowledge.”

. . .

“Many people do not like this work because it is hard to understand,” he told The New York Times in 1995. “It is very hard work. It is very hot, walking and sitting with animals like mosquitoes, snakes, lions. I like looking.”

For the full obituary see:

Clay Risen. “Kamoya Kimeu Dies; Uncovered Treasures That Framed Evolution.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, Aug. 24, 2022): A24.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Sept. 1, 2022, and has the title “Kamoya Kimeu, Fossil-Hunting ‘Legend’ in East Africa, Is Dead.”)

Trang Almost Did Not Perform Simple Experiment Because “People Would Have Known This Already”

(p. D3) A team of scientists has found a cheap, effective way to destroy so-called forever chemicals, a group of compounds that pose a global threat to human health.

The chemicals — known as PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are found in a spectrum of products and contaminate water and soil around the world. Left on their own, they are remarkably durable, remaining dangerous for generations.

Scientists have been searching for ways to destroy them for years. In a study, published Thursday [Aug. 18, 2022] in the journal Science, a team of researchers rendered PFAS molecules harmless by mixing them with two inexpensive compounds at a low boil. In a matter of hours, the PFAS molecules fell apart.

. . .

At the end of a PFAS molecule’s carbon-fluorine chain, it is capped by a cluster of other atoms. Many types of PFAS molecules have heads made of a carbon atom connected to a pair of oxygen atoms, for example.

Dr. Dichtel came across a study in which chemists at the University of Alberta found an easy way to pry carbon-oxygen heads off other chains. He suggested to his graduate student, Brittany Trang, that she give it a try on PFAS molecules.

Dr. Trang was skeptical. She had tried to pry off carbon-oxygen heads from PFAS molecules for months without any luck. According to the Alberta recipe, all she’d need to do was mix PFAS with a common solvent called dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, and bring it to a boil.

“I didn’t want to try it initially because I thought it was too simple,” Dr. Trang said. “If this happens, people would have known this already.”

An older grad student advised her to give it a shot. To her surprise, the carbon-oxygen head fell off.

It appears that DMSO makes the head fragile by altering the electric field around the PFAS molecule, and without the head, the bonds between the carbon atoms and the fluorine atoms become weak as well. “This oddly simple method worked,” said Dr. Trang, who finished her Ph.D. last month and is now a journalist.

For the full commentary see:

Carl Zimmer. “MATTER; Fighting Forever Chemicals With Chemicals.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022): D3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 18, 2022, and has the title “MATTER; Forever Chemicals No More? PFAS Are Destroyed With New Technique.”)

The research summarized in the passages quoted above was published in:

Trang, Brittany, Yuli Li, Xiao-Song Xue, Mohamed Ateia, K. N. Houk, and William R. Dichtel. “Low-Temperature Mineralization of Perfluorocarboxylic Acids.” Science 377, no. 6608 (Aug. 18, 2022): 839-45.

Frank Capra Earned His Wings

When I was a college or graduate student, I once attended a conservative conference where one of the professors strongly criticized the film director Frank Capra for being too left-wing. I have always felt guilty that I did not have the courage to speak up in defense of my favorite director. Capra’s political views were not what mattered most about him. With good humor grace, and resilience, Capra saw the best within us.

(p. A19) Virginia Patton Moss, the last surviving adult member of the cast of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” who, three years after that film was released, left Hollywood to find her own wonderful life raising a family in Ann Arbor, Mich., died on Aug. 18 [2022] in Albany, Ga. She was 97.

. . .

When reminiscing about “It’s a Wonderful Life,” she spoke extensively about Mr. Capra and his message, delivered through the life of George Bailey, about the impact a single person’s life can have on his community.

“Capra knew we were coming out of a war, we were in terrible shape and there needed to be some type of stimulus,” she told the St. Nicholas Institute. She then rang a bell, which, in the film, signified that an angel had gotten its wings.

She added, “Go get ’em, Capra.”

For the full obituary see:

Richard Sandomir. “Virginia Patton Moss, 97, the Last Surviving Adult Cast Member of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.” The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022): A19.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Sept. 1, 2022, and has the title “Virginia Patton Moss, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Actress, Dies at 97.”)