Laron Syndrome Villagers Free of Cancer and Diabetes, Suggesting Longevity Breakthrough

LoranSyndromeCancerDiabetesGraphic2011-06-05.jpg

Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) People living in remote villages in Ecuador have a mutation that some biologists say may throw light on human longevity and ways to increase it.

The villagers are very small, generally less than three and a half feet tall, and have a rare condition known as Laron syndrome or Laron-type dwarfism. They are probably the descendants of conversos, Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert to Christianity in the 1490s but were nonetheless persecuted in the Inquisition. They are also almost completely free of two age-related diseases, cancer and diabetes.
A group of 99 villagers with Laron syndrome has been studied for 24 years by Dr. Jaime Guevara-Aguirre, an Ecuadorean physician and diabetes specialist.
. . .
IGF-1 is part of an ancient signaling pathway that exists in the laboratory roundworm as well as in people. The gene that makes the receptor for IGF-1 in the roundworm is called DAF-2. And worms in which this gene is knocked out live twice as long as normal.
The Laron patients have the equivalent defect — their cells make very little IGF-1, so very little IGF-1 signaling takes place, just as in the DAF-2-ablated worms. So the Laron patients might be expected to live much longer.
Because of their striking freedom from cancer and diabetes, they probably could live much longer if they did not have a much higher than usual death rate from causes unrelated to age, like alcoholism and accidents.
. . .
A strain of mice bred by John Kopchick of Ohio University has a defect in the growth hormone receptor gene, just as do the Laron patients, and lives 40 percent longer than usual.
. . .
The longest-lived mouse on record is one studied by Dr. Bartke. It had a defect in its growth hormone receptor gene, just as do the Laron patients. “It missed its fifth birthday by a week,” he said. The mouse lived twice as long as usual and won Dr. Bartke a prize presented by the Methuselah Foundation (which rewards developments in life-extension therapies) in 2003.

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS WADE. “Ecuadorean Villagers May Hold Secret to Longevity.” The New York Times (Thurs., February 17, 2011): A6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 16, 2011 and has the title “Ecuadorean Villagers May Hold Secret to Longevity.”)

LoranSyndromeManAndChildren2011-06-05.jpg

“A 67-year-old man who has Laron-type dwarfism with his daughter, 5, and sons, 7 and 10.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

“There Is More Uncertainty, and Everybody Is Afraid”

Robert Shiller is often a shrewd diagnostician, but less often a wise therapist. For instance he is right in thinking that uncertainty is part of our problem, but wrong in his usual view that more government spending is the solution.
A better way to reduce uncertainty is for the government to act more predictably, following some reasonable rules. I heard such a view articulately defended in a lunch speech at the American Economic Association meetings in January by Stanford economist John Taylor. His speech has been polished and published in National Affairs (see citation way below).
Here are some interesting observations by Shiller (via Bewley):

(p, 7) Factors of production like wheat or trucks or pumps don’t have morale issues. Human beings do.

How these issues affect the labor market is a major focus of the research of Professor Bewley, who is a colleague of mine at Yale. He has developed an idiosyncratic approach, interviewing hundreds of corporate managers at length about the driving forces for their actions. The managers consistently told him that they are concerned about the emotional state of their core employees. They said that their companies’ continued success depends on the positive feelings and loyalty of these workers — and lamented the hard choices that would need to be made in a severe downturn.
. . .
Lower-level managers won’t ask for scarce resources . . . , because those items look like luxuries to fellow employees, who worry that there won’t be enough in the company budget for them to keep their jobs.
One top manager told Professor Bewley that he had to compensate for the reticence of lower-level managers, who won’t ask for anything. “I tell them to put in a few dreams for equipment they would like, because if they don’t try, they’ll never get what they want,” this manager said.
Of course, while that reticence may preserve jobs in one’s own company, it works against job growth elsewhere. A result is a loss of vigor in the aggregate economy, and the sapping of the very kind of creativity that might spur a recovery.
Professor Bewley shared with me a passage from an interview in July with a manager of a large manufacturing company. “There is more uncertainty, and everybody is afraid,” this manager told him. “Do your job. Keep employed. Don’t come up with a new idea.” In his own company, the manager said, “Everybody is doing the same thing.”

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT J. SHILLER. “ECONOMIC VIEW; The Survival of the Safest.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 3, 2010): 7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 2, 2010.)

Here is the Taylor reference:
Taylor, John B. “The Cycle of Rules and Discretion in Economic Policy.” National Affairs, no. 7 (Spring 2011): 55-65.

At NeXT Steve Jobs Learned to Delegate, Retain Talent, and Attend to the Price

JobsSteve2011-06-05.jpg

“Steve Jobs, after returning to Apple in 1999. Would Apple be what it is today had he never left?” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 5) Suppose Mr. Jobs had not left in 1985. Suppose he had convinced the Apple board to oust his nemesis, John Sculley, then chief executive and president. Under Mr. Jobs’s uninterrupted direction, would Apple have arrived at the pinnacle it has reached today, but 12 years earlier?

It’s hard to see how anything like that would have transpired. The Steve Jobs who returned to Apple was a much more capable leader — precisely because he had been badly banged up. He had spent 12 tumultuous, painful years failing to find a way to make the new company profitable.
“I am convinced that he would not have been as successful after his return at Apple if he hadn’t gone through his wilderness experience at Next,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology consulting company.
. . .
Mr. Jobs’s lieutenants tried to warn him away from certain disaster, but he was not receptive. In 1992-93, seven of nine Next vice presidents were shown the door or left on their own.
In this period, Mr. Jobs did not do much delegating. Almost every aspect of the machine — including the finish on interior screws — was his domain. The interior furnishings of Next’s offices, a stunning design showplace, were Mr. Jobs’s concern, too. While the company’s strategy begged to be re-examined, Mr. Jobs attended to other matters. I spoke with many current and former Next employees for my 1993 book, “Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing.” According to one of them, while a delegation of visiting Businessland executives waited on the sidewalk, Mr. Jobs spent 20 minutes directing the landscaping crew on the exact placement of the sprinkler heads.
Next’s computer hardware and software were filled with innovations that drew a small, but devoted, following. Mr. Jobs had created the first easy-to-use Unix machine, but the mainstream marketplace shrugged. He had already helped bring to market an easy-to-use machine, the Mac, so the Next couldn’t differentiate itself enough — and certainly not at the price the company charged.
. . .
And he had always been able to attract great talent. What he hadn’t learned before returning to Apple, however, was the necessity of retaining it. He has now done so. One of the unremarked aspects of Apple’s recent story is the stability of the executive team — no curb filled with dumped managers.
Kevin Compton, who was a senior executive at Businessland during the Next years, described Mr. Jobs after returning to Apple: “He’s the same Steve in his passion for excellence, but a new Steve in his understanding of how to empower a large company to realize his vision.” Mr. Jobs had learned from Next not to try to do everything himself, Mr. Compton said.

For the full commentary, see:
RANDALL STROSS. “DIGITAL DOMAIN; What Steve Jobs Learned in the Wilderness.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 3, 2010): 5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 2, 2010.)

“A Tax on Air and Light”

(p. 11) Paxton was very lucky in his timing, for just at the moment of the Great Exhibition glass suddenly became available in a way it never had before. Glass had always been a tricky material. It was not particularly easy to make, and really hard to make well, which is why for so much of its history it was a luxury Item. Happily, two recent technological breakthroughs had changed that. First, the French invented plate glass–so called because the molten glass was spread across tables known as plates. This allowed for the first time the creation of really large panes of glass, which made shop windows possible. Plate glass, however, had to be cooled for ten days after being rolled out, which meant that each table was unproductively occupied most of the time, and then each sheet required a lot of grinding and polishing. This naturally made it expensive. In 1838, a cheaper refinement was developed–sheet glass. This had most of the virtues of plate glass, but ¡t cooled faster and needed less polishing, and so could be made much more cheaply. Suddenly glass of a good size could be produced economically In limitless volumes.

Allied with this was the timely abolition of two long-standing taxes: the window tax and glass tax (which, strictly speaking, was an excise duty). The window tax dated from 1696 and was sufficiently punishing that (p. 12) people really did avoid putting windows in buildings where they could. The bricked-up window openings that are such a feature of man period
buildings in Britain today were once usually painted to look like windows. (It Is sometimes rather a shame that they aren’t still.) The tax, sorely resented as “a tax on air and light,” meant that many servants and others of constrained means were condemned to live In airless rooms.

Source:
Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

Chinese College Graduates Are Underemployed “Ant Tribe” in Big Cities

(p. A1) BEIJING — Liu Yang, a coal miner’s daughter, arrived in the capital this past summer with a freshly printed diploma from Datong University, $140 in her wallet and an air of invincibility.

Her first taste of reality came later the same day, as she lugged her bags through a ramshackle neighborhood, not far from the Olympic Village, where tens of thousands of other young strivers cram four to a room.
Unable to find a bed and unimpressed by the rabbit warren of slapdash buildings, Ms. Liu scowled as the smell of trash wafted up around her. “Beijing isn’t like this in the movies,” she said.
Often the first from their families to finish even high school, ambitious graduates like Ms. Liu are part of an unprecedented wave of young people all around China who were supposed to move the country’s labor-dependent economy toward a white-collar future. In 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then the president, announced plans to bolster higher education, Chinese universities and colleges produced (p. A12) 830,000 graduates a year. Last May, that number was more than six million and rising.
It is a remarkable achievement, yet for a government fixated on stability such figures are also a cause for concern. The economy, despite its robust growth, does not generate enough good professional jobs to absorb the influx of highly educated young adults. And many of them bear the inflated expectations of their parents, who emptied their bank accounts to buy them the good life that a higher education is presumed to guarantee.
“College essentially provided them with nothing,” said Zhang Ming, a political scientist and vocal critic of China’s education system. “For many young graduates, it’s all about survival. If there was ever an economic crisis, they could be a source of instability.”
. . .
Chinese sociologists have come up with a new term for educated young people who move in search of work like Ms. Liu: the ant tribe. It is a reference to their immense numbers — at least 100,000 in Beijing alone — and to the fact that they often settle into crowded neighborhoods, toiling for wages that would give even low-paid factory workers pause.
“Like ants, they gather in colonies, sometimes underground in basements, and work long and hard,” said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.
. . .
A fellow Datong University graduate, Yuan Lei, threw the first wet blanket over the exuberance of Ms. Liu, Mr. Li and three friends not long after their July arrival in Beijing. Mr. Yuan had arrived several months earlier for an internship but was still jobless.
“If you’re not the son of an official or you don’t come from money, life is going to be bitter,” he told them over bowls of 90-cent noodles, their first meal in the capital.
. . .
In the end, Mr. Li and his friends settled for sales jobs with an instant noodle company. The starting salary, a low $180 a month, turned out to be partly contingent on meeting ambitious sales figures. Wearing purple golf shirts with the words “Lao Yun Pickled Vegetable Beef Noodles,” they worked 12-hour days, returning home after dark to a meal of instant noodles.
. . .
Mr. Li worried aloud whether he would be able to marry his high school sweetheart, who had accompanied him here, if he could not earn enough money to buy a home. Such concerns are rampant among young Chinese men, who have been squeezed by skyrocketing real estate prices and a culture that demands that a groom provide an apartment for his bride. “I’m giving myself two years,” he said, his voice trailing off.
By November, the pressure had taken its toll on two of the others, including the irrepressible Liu Yang. After quitting the noodle company and finding no other job, she gave up and returned home.

For the full story, see:
ANDREW JACOBS. “China’s Army of Graduates Is Struggling.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 12, 2010): A1 & A12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 11, 2010 and has the title “China’s Army of Graduates Struggles for Jobs.”)