Monday, May 18, 2009

Rise of the soda jerks

The case against sin taxes for soft drinks

"And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the Pepsi drinker!" There has to be a statement about soft drinks tucked somewhere in Leviticus. I have assurances, after all, that such beverages are wicked.

Sin taxes normally are levied on so-called vices, such as drinking, smoking, and gambling. Now Congress is "studying" a proposal to legislate morality by taxing sugary beverages—which is to say, it is "studying" whether such a tax would be politically feasible.

According to the executive director of the Center for "Science" in the Public Interest —a group that has been pushing this tax, along with a glut of other tragic nonsense —"Soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply, and it's something government should discourage the consumption of."

There is nothing "clear" about it. Soda can be harmful; it can be harmless; and it is always tasty with a cheese-infused burrito, which we should affix with a massive "discouragement" tax if we're going to be consistent about our gut-busting peccadilloes.

The selective tax also would pursue energy and fruit drinks but not politically correct high-everything beverages, such as Frappuccinos. No one wants a violent insurrection in the malls and trendy urban cores of America.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest also wants government to "pressure" food companies to produce healthier fare (because, god knows, there are barely any wholesome options available for the masses), dramatically raise taxes on alcohol (what fresh hell is this?) and dictate the level of sodium allowable in packaged and restaurant food.

The CSPI is the group that once laughably claimed that 150,000 people perish yearly from salt intake (the "Forgotten Killer") despite lack of any evidence and the ongoing debate regarding the real effects of sodium.

Beyond the health issues, you may want to ask yourself whether it's appropriate for government to use taxes as a tool for strategic social engineering. Isn't it counterproductive to pass one-size-fits-all punitive taxes that target the recreational ginger ale drinker, along with the depraved Coca-Cola abuser? Or is it government's job to provide transparency, allowing consumers to make smart decisions—or not—about what they ingest?

We already have set a precedent with cigarettes. And the argument most often employed by sin tax proponents revolves around economic externalities—or the idea that everyone shouldn't have to pay for the destructive habits of the few. (Though there is evidence that the societal cost of the obese is largely inflated, as it were.) I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. So perhaps all citizens can begin taking fiscal and moral responsibility for their own behavior....

...I'm just kidding. That's crazy talk.

But once we start rationing health care, externalities will only become more of an issue. If we collectively pay for health insurance, then what is to stop the majority of us from dictating to the minority what it can eat or drink? What would stop Republicans—after they roar back to power in 2048—from levying sin taxes on promiscuous behavior? After all, promiscuity burdens all taxpayers through sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and Lindsay Lohan. If government continues to manage social behavior through taxation, why not give it a shot? It's the moral thing to do.


Memories stolen by Alzheimer's may be retrievable

Researchers have pinpointed a gene said to be responsible for a 2007 breakthrough in which mice with an Alzheimer's diseaselike condition regained lost memories and learning abilities. In the new research, reported in the May 7 issue of the scientific journal Nature, Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist LiHuei Tsai and colleagues found that drugs that work on the gene HDAC2 reverse the effects of Alzheimer's and boost cognitive function in mice.

Researchers said the findings serve as evidence that memories lost to Alzheimer's and related conditions may not be gone for good. Rather, they could have gotten stuck deep in the brain waiting for the proper medicines to help dislodge them.

The HDAC2 gene, and a molecule it produces, "are promising targets for treating memory impairment," Tsai said. The gene controls the activity of many other genes "implicated in plasticity the brain's ability to change in response to experience and memory formation."

The gene causes lasting changes in how other genes behave, which is probably necessary to increase numbers of connections between brain cells, she added. The researchers treated mice with Alzheimer'slike symptoms using socalled histone deacetylase, or HDAC, inhibitors, a family of 11 enzymes that seem to act as master regulators of gene activity. The drugs are in experimental stages and are not available for patient use. "Harnessing the therapeutic potential of HDAC inhibitors requires knowledge of the specific HDAC family member or members linked to cognitive enhancement," Tsai said. "We have now identified HDAC2 as the most likely target of the HDAC inhibitors" that facilitate plasticity and memory formation.

A person's DNA is packaged as part of a material called chromatin, and certain genes control arrays of other genes simply by restructuring the chromatin. The new research helps clarify how this process works in regulating memory, Tsai said.

Several HDAC inhibitors are currently in clinical trials as anticancer agents. Researchers have also reported promising results with HDAC inhibitors in mouse versions of Huntington's disease.

In the chromatin, molecules called histones act as spools around which DNA winds. Histones are modified in various ways, including through a process called acetylation, which in turn modifies chromatin shape and structure. HDAC inhibitors promote this process. Certain HDAC inhibitors open up chromatin. This allows genes to become active which had been too tightly packaged to go into operation.

The researchers conducted learning and memory tasks using genetically engineered mice that were induced to lose many brain cells. Following Alzheimer'slike brain shrinkage, the mice acted as though they had forgotten tasks they had previously learned. But after taking HDAC inhibitors, the mice regained their longterm memories and ability to learn new tasks, according to Tsai. In addition, mice genetically engineered to produce no HDAC2 at all exhibited enhanced memory formation.

The fact that longterm memories can be recovered by elevated histone acetylation supports the idea that apparent memory "loss" is really a reflection of inaccessible memories, Tsai said. "These findings are in line with a phenomenon known as `fluctuating memories,' in which demented patients experience temporary periods of apparent clarity," she added.


1 comment:

John A said...

"... the mice acted as though they had forgotten tasks they had previously learned. But after taking HDAC inhibitors, the mice regained their longterm memories and ability to learn new tasks, according to Tsai."

I hope this pans out, looks promising from this account.