Another Tiananmen Anniversary (June 4, 2013)

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Once again, it’s June 4th and another anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989.

Hard to believe 24 years have passed since hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed protesters were shot in the square and with those years, so much change.

Anyone who visits China today will see cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou that are more modern than most American cities where sophisticated residents dress in the most fashionable styles, drive brand new cars and carry the most up-to-date electronic devices.

More than 300 million Chinese have risen to the middle class and there are allegedly 83 billionaires in the Chinese parliament.

While the economy has embraced quasi-capitalism with a vengeance, the politics of one party rule has remained. Twenty-four years after a brief promise of democratic reform, the leaders’ aim to squelch any mass political protest is unwavering. Even though some of the new leaders installed in November had, as young men, expressed  sympathy with the short-lived student democracy movement of 1989, no one really expects any  announcement of regret about the massacre or  overruling  of the official verdict that the protests were a counterrevolutionary rebellion that had to be crushed.

To learn more about the events of June 4, 1989, read the award winning international thriller, Rabbit in the Moon by Deborah and Joel Shlian.

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Forbes reviews “Lessons Learned: Stories from Women in Medical Management”

In 2012, Ann Marie Slaughter’s  piece in The Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”  instantly went viral with over 2 million online readers and got everybody talking. Last month was Women’s History Month celebrating the 50 year anniversary of Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” and the rolling out of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book urging women to “lean in”, along with the controversy over Marissa Mayer’s, CEO of Yahoo, memo about not allowing anymore telecommuting at her company.

All this has brought renewed attention to the issue of women as leaders- not only from mainstream media- but also on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

In Deborah Shlian’s new book “Lessons Learned: Stories from Women in Medical Management” 24 exceptional women physicians who are leaders in healthcare share their personal stories including the obstacles they have faced in their career journeys including the challenge of balancing their work and personal lives.

Forbes has not only given the book a great review, but George Anders, the reviewer posted this on Facebook:

 “Here’s a book pairing that intrigues me. For a sense of what women can achieve at the very highest levels of business, and how to get there, there’s nothing likeSheryl Sandberg’s acclaimed new book, “Lean In.” For a grass-roots perspective of all the opportunities and juggling involved with those first few steps up the management ladder, try this intriguing new book about female doctors, edited by Deborah Shlian. I just finished it and give it a thumbs-up on Forbes.com .”
So here’s hoping you will take the reviewer’s suggestion and read both books!  Here’s a link to Amazon. “Lessons Learned” is available in print and as an eBook.

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Chinese New Year 2013

Year of the Snake

Year of the Snake

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!

Today (Sunday, February 10, 2013) is the first day of this important annual celebration marking the start of the new year according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar. The holiday is also known as the Spring Festival because in pre-modern times it was the seasonal sign that farmers in China had to start sowing their fields.

The date usually falls in the months of January or February and each new year is represented by one of the twelve creatures of the Chinese Zodiac. 2013 is the year of the Snake, also called the Junior Dragon. According to ancient Chinese wisdom, a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that the family will not starve.

People born under the sign of the snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013) share certain personality characteristics. They are said to be cunning, thoughtful and wise. They are also great mediators and good at doing business.

The characteristics of the Snake are tempered by one of the 5 Chinese elements of Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth overlaying a 5-year cycle of characteristics on the original 12-year cycle.

In 2013, that element is water. Water Snakes are influential and insightful. They are good at managing others, are motivated, intellectual, determined and resolute about being successful at whatever they do. Although they are affectionate with family and friends, they tend to hide this side of their personality from colleagues or business partners.

More than a billion people around the world will be ushering in the Year of the Snake with festivities that last for a few weeks after new year’s day.

Not only is holiday celebrated in China, but also in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, including Taiwan, Macau, Mauritius, Philippines,Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, as well as in Chinatowns  everywhere from Canada to the US to Africa to Australia.

Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese new year vary widely. People will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration, material, food, and clothing. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red color paper cutouts and Chinese poetry about good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity.

Typically on New Year’s eve, Chinese families gather for the annual reunion dinner which is a big feast. Dishes include pork, duck, chicken, sweet delicacies as well as fish. The tradition is that the fish is not finished during the meal, so that it can be stored overnight – a belief that the years will be blessed and profitable. Families end the night with firecrackers. Early the next morning, children greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and receive money in red paper envelopes. The Chinese New Year tradition is to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone.

Celebrations traditionally run from Chinese New Year’s Day itself to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese calendar.

We wish a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful year to all!

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New Discovery by Longevity Researchers in Mice

Reverse aging in mice

Reverse aging in mice

Since one of the themes in our international mystery thriller Rabbit in the Moon is finding the secret of longevity, we’re always on the lookout for what’s new in longevity research.  

 In a study published online Jan. 31 in the journal Cell Reports,biologists reported a discovery about the aging process in mice might one day help efforts to develop treatments for age-related diseases in humans. The authors say they were able to turn back the “molecular clock” in old mice by placing a “longevity” gene called SIRT3 into their blood stem cells.

This gene  belongs to a class of proteins called sirtuins, which are known to regulate aging.

 When the gene was inserted into the blood stem cells of old mice, the formation of new blood cells was increased. 

 Principal investigator Danica Chen, an assistant professor of nutritional science and toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley says that this  is evidence of a reversal in the age-related decline in the old stem cells’ function.

 The finding “opens the door to potential treatments for age-related degenerative diseases,” Chen said.

 When we wrote our novel we were aware that researchers have been searching for the secret of longevity for decades. Although our story supposes that someone in China in 1989 had found the key to doubling man’s lifespan, as far as we know that was pure fiction.

 One of the obstacles for any scientist to succeed in this quest has been the understanding of the aging process.   Once assumed to be a purely random and uncontrolled process, it is now believed to be highly regulated and possibly even open to manipulation.

 “Studies have already shown that even a single gene mutation can lead to lifespan extension,” Chen said. “The question is whether we can understand the process well enough so that we can actually develop a molecular fountain of youth. Can we actually reverse aging? This is something we’re hoping to understand and accomplish.”

 So stay tuned. Scientists may find the secret yet!

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“Body doubles” doing criminals’ time in China?

Apparently in China you can hire someone to serve your prison time for you.

According to Quora contributor Ti Zhao who was born and partially raised there, this is known as ding zui (translation:“substitute criminal”).

The practice is actually  illegal and not very common, says Ti Zhao.

However, Jeffrey Sant in a Slate article claims that wealthy people buying their way out of trouble, while a much poorer “body double” sacrifices his or her freedom for cash is not at all uncommon and has been documented in the Chinese media.

In August, during the sensational trial of Gu Kailai, the recently convicted murderer and wife of ousted Communist Party official Bo Xilai, a number of Chinese citizens began speculating online that the woman in court was actually a 替身 – tisthen (translation: “body replacement”).  As a result, Chinese blocked the term.

So if you want to learn more about this practice, you’ll probably have to find your sources outside of China.

 

 

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New Year’s message censored – how will the new Chinese government respond?

Joel and I spoke at two local book clubs the other day – happily people are still reading “Rabbit in the Moon” and seem anxious to engage in discussions about China – not only about the events we wrote about in our novel (i.e. the short-lived student democracy movement that was brutally squelched at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989), but also the changes in the country since then. They were especially interested in understanding how the new leader Xi Jinping, who has expressed a commitment to more openness, is dealing with dissent.

Like Joel and me, they’d read the New York Times report about how Chinese reporters and editors working for the reform-minded Southern Weekly newspaper complained after the propaganda chief altered a front page New Year’s message. And unlike 1989 when there was no Internet to help spread news of dissent, today more and more dissenters in China are testing the limits of government censorship by going online.

Last week, because the journalists felt the intrusion of the propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen, went above and beyond even current censorhip practices (Internet censors are constantly checking for key words like “Tiananmen” or “Charter ’08″, the online proclamation that China should embrace democracy which sent Liu Xiabo, winner of the 2110 Nobel Peace Prize to jail for 11 years), they published their  complaints on Twitter-like microblogs called weibo.

The original New Year’s message titled “China’s dream, the dream of constitutionalism” reflected the journalists’  hope that China would become a country ruled by law and the constitution. Here’s what they had written: “Only if constitutionalism is realized, and power effectively checked, can citizens voice their criticisms of power loudly and confidently.” The version altered by the propaganda chief that ultimately appeared in the paper, was titled “We are now closer to our dream than ever,” and praised the work of the ruling Communist Party, leaving out any of the original references to constitutionalism, democracy and equality.

According the the New York Times article, within 24 hours of reading the weibo posts,  the Central Propaganda Department in Beijing deleted them, shut down the Southern Weekly journalists’ accounts and warned all Chinese newspaper editors and reporters not to discuss the New Year’s greeting on any public platforms.

Like 1989, this push-back from the government, only created more controversy. On January 4th, a group of prominent former Southern Weekly journalists including the director of the China Media Project based at the University of Hong Kong  issued a strongly worded open letter criticizing minister Tuo Zhen’s actions, describing them as “dictatorial”,  “ignorant and excessive”. The letter, which demanded that the central government fire Tuo, not punish the Southern Weekly journalists, and allow the paper’s editorial committee to resume normal operations, was later endorsed by more than 50 former journalists in a separate online letter. Chinese citizen supporters carrying posters calling for freedom of the press protested in front of the newspaper’s office complex. Celebrities in China protested via their microblogging accounts.

Now it will be interesting to see how the government reacts. The New York Times quoted Zhang Lifan, a political commentator’s weibo from Friday January 4th: “The incident will testify to the direction of political reform.”

Not surprising, word is that the new government is not happy. Despite Xi Jinping’s promise of more openness, there has been a recent stepped up policy of suppressing any public criticism of the Communist Party, particularly via social media on the Internet.  The central government does not want to be told what to do by a local newspaper, but they also don’t want the situation to become another Tiananmen.

A real life drama. We’ll all be watching.

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January 12, 2013 · 2:23 pm

Do you want to live forever?

One of the primary themes in our novel, “Rabbit in the Moon” is finding the secret of longevity. We started with the premise: what if someone in 1989 had succeeded in extending man’s lifespan well beyond that normal limits? Then we asked: who would want such a discovery and what might they do to get their hands on it? 

At the time we wrote the book, we assumed most people would want to live to be at least 150 – as long as could live a quality life. But interestingly, as we’ve gone around the country speaking to book clubs and library groups, not everyone agrees. Many of the reasons they give us are those that make our fictional character Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng ultimately decide not to give mankind his secret.

In this essay by David Ewing Duncan a contributor to Science Times, Duncan says that he has polled audiences as we have and come up with many of the same responses. Read it here and let us know your thoughts: 

How Long Do You Want to Live?

By DAVID EWING DUNCAN

SINCE 1900, the life expectancy of Americans has jumped to just shy of 80 from 47 years. This surge comes mostly from improved hygiene and nutrition, but also from new discoveries and interventions: everything from antibiotics and heart bypass surgery to cancer drugs that target and neutralize the impact of specific genetic mutations.

Now scientists studying the intricacies of DNA and other molecular bio-dynamics may be poised to offer even more dramatic boosts to longevity. This comes not from setting out explicitly to conquer aging, which remains controversial in mainstream science, but from researchers developing new drugs and therapies for such maladies of growing old as heart disease and diabetes.

“Aging is the major risk factor for most diseases,” says Felipe Sierra, director of the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging. “The National Institutes of Health fund research into understanding the diseases of aging, not life extension, though this could be a side effect.”

How many years might be added to a life? A few longevity enthusiasts suggest a possible increase of decades. Most others believe in more modest gains. And when will they come? Are we a decade away? Twenty years? Fifty years?

Even without a new high-tech “fix” for aging, the United Nations estimates that life expectancy over the next century will approach 100 years for women in the developed world and over 90 years for women in the developing world. (Men lag behind by three or four years.)

Whatever actually happens, this seems like a good time to ask a very basic question: How long do you want to live?

Over the past three years I have posed this query to nearly 30,000 people at the start of talks and lectures on future trends in bioscience, taking an informal poll as a show of hands. To make it easier to tabulate responses I provided four possible answers: 80 years, currently the average life span in the West; 120 years, close to the maximum anyone has lived; 150 years, which would require a biotech breakthrough; and forever, which rejects the idea that life span has to have any limit at all.

I made it clear that participants should not assume that science will come up with dramatic new anti-aging technologies, though people were free to imagine that breakthroughs might occur — or not.

The results: some 60 percent opted for a life span of 80 years. Another 30 percent chose 120 years, and almost 10 percent chose 150 years. Less than 1 percent embraced the idea that people might avoid death altogether.

These percentages have held up as I’ve spoken to people from many walks of life in libraries and bookstores; teenagers in high schools; physicians in medical centers; and investors and entrepreneurs at business conferences. I’ve popped the question at meetings of futurists and techno-optimists and gotten perhaps a doubling of people who want to live to 150 — less than I would have thought for these groups.

Rarely, however, does anyone want to live forever, although abolishing disease and death from biological causes is a fervent hope for a small scattering of would-be immortals.

In my talks, I go on to describe some highlights of cutting-edge biomedical research that might influence human life span.

For instance, right now drug companies are running clinical trials on new compounds that may have the “side effect” of extending life span. These include a drug at Sirtris, part of GlaxoSmithKline, that is being developed to treat inflammation and other diseases of aging. Called SRT-2104, this compound works on an enzyme called SIRT1 that, when activated, seems to slow aging in mice and other animals. It may do the same thing in humans, though this remains to be proven.

“Many serious attempts are being made to come up with a pill for aging,” said Dr. Sierra, though he suspects that there will not be a single anti-aging pill, if these compounds end up working at all. “It will be a combination of things.”

For over a decade, scientists also have experimented with using stem cells — master cells that can grow into different specialized cells — to replace and repair tissue in the heart, liver and other organs in animals. Some researchers have succeeded in also using them in people. The researchers include the urologist Anthony Atala of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, who has grown human bladders and urethras from stem cells that have been successfully transplanted into patients.

But another stem cell pioneer, James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, believes that stem cell solutions will be a long time coming for more complex organs. “We’re a long way from transplanting cells into a human brain or nervous system,” he said.

ANOTHER intervention that might thwart the impact of aging is bionics: the augmentation or replacement of biological functions with machines. For years cardiac pacemakers have saved and extended the lives of millions of people. More recent devices and machine-tooled solutions have restored hearing to thousands who are deaf and replaced damaged knees and hips. Physicians use brain implants to help control tremors brought on by Parkinson’s disease. Researchers also are working on a wide range of other machine fixes, from exoskeletons that protect joints to experimental devices that tap into the brain activity of paralyzed patients, allowing them to operate computers using thought.

Curiously, after learning about these possibilities, few people wanted to change their votes. Even if I asked them to imagine that a pill had been invented to slow aging down by one-half, allowing a person who is, say, 60 years old to have the body of a 30-year-old, only about 10 percent of audiences switched to favoring a life span of 150 years.

Overwhelmingly the reason given was that people didn’t want to be old and infirm any longer than they had to be, even if a pill allowed them to delay this inevitability.

Others were concerned about a range of issues both personal and societal that might result from extending the life spans of millions of people in a short time. These included everything from boredom and the cost of paying for a longer life to the impact of so many extra people on planetary resources and on the environment. Some worried that millions of healthy centenarians still working and calling the shots in society would leave our grandchildren and great-grandchildren without the jobs and opportunities that have traditionally come about with the passing of generations.

Long-lifers countered that extending healthy lives would delay suffering, possibly for a very long time. This would allow people to accomplish more in life and to try new things. It would also mean that geniuses like Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein might still be alive. Einstein, were he alive today, would be 133 years old.

That’s assuming that he would want to live that long. As he lay dying of an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 1955, he refused surgery, saying: “It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”

David Ewing Duncan is a contributor to Science Times. This essay is adapted from his most recent e-book, “When I’m 164: The New Science of Radical Life Extension and What Happens If It Succeeds.”

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