08:15 – Beginning 1 January, the Catholic church loses its tax exemption in Italy. It’s about time for something similar to happen here in the US, not just to the Catholic church, but to all churches and non-profits. There’s no good reason why churches and non-profits shouldn’t be paying property taxes and other taxes just like the rest of us. The problem, of course, is our First Amendment. Here’s the relevant portion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
That’s all it says. The first clause refers to “established” (official, state-supported) religions. The Founders meant that Congress could not force states to give up their state-supported religions, if they had one, nor could Congress establish a state-supported religion at the federal level. The second clause meant that Congress must allow people to worship (or not worship) as they chose. That’s it.
Now, strict separationists might argue that the power to tax is the power to destroy, and they have a point. But the reality is that making churches subject to the same property and other taxes that we all pay, at the same levels that we all pay, in no way violates the Constitution. I could even argue that the tax-exempt status of churches forces me to subsidize them through my property taxes, which is a clear violation of the Constitution. Why should I have to pay higher property taxes to provide them with government services that they should be paying for themselves? Why should churches get a free ride?
09:57 – Interesting article on CNN: Are we throwing away ‘expired’ medications too soon?
The short answer is yes. Much too soon. Pharma companies would argue that they have no way of controlling storage conditions and that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Of course, what they’re really doing is covering their collective asses. The reality is that most drugs stored at room temperature out of direct sunlight are probably still perfectly good after at least five to ten times the shelf life on the label. Storing them in the refrigerator or freezer increases the shelf life of most drugs dramatically.
The rule of thumb in chemistry is that a 10C change in temperature doubles or halves the reaction rate. In comparison to typical room temperature of 20C, most home freezers operate at about -30C. Call it five doublings, or a factor of 32. So, a bottle of, say, amoxicillin tablets that has a one-year expiration date should in fact be good for at least 32 years if stored in the freezer. When you consider that that amoxicillin stored at room temperature would probably maintain the vast majority of its potency for more like five to ten years, that means storing it in the freezer extends its shelf life to something on the order of 150 to 300 years.
In the interests of avoiding the monetary and other costs of discarding perfectly good drugs, it seems reasonable to me that manufacturers should extend their published shelf-lives to something more reasonable. Obviously, there’s an issue here: the only certain way to determine actual shelf lives is to wait and see. You can do accelerated aging tests at elevated temperatures, but those are not perfect substitutes for waiting one year per year at normal storage temperatures. You can also do tightly-controlled drug assays at reduced temperatures. For example, store numerous very accurately-weighed specimens at -30C and then assay a statistically-significant sample of those specimens every six months for five years. That should give a reasonably reliable trend line, although again it’s not a perfect substitute for wait-and-see.
But one way or another, we should do something about this problem. Many drugs are in short supply, some of them critically so. It’s sickening to think of how much of many of those drugs has been discarded due simply to an arbitrary use-by date on the labels. Nor am I happy about the amount of antibiotics that end up in our waste water and environment. If you want bacteria to develop resistance to an antibiotic, there’s no better way than to have that antibiotic present pervasively at low levels in the environment.
Now, obviously, there are exceptions. Some drugs can’t be frozen at all, and the slopes of the reaction rate line will differ from drug to drug. But for the vast majority of drugs, refrigerating or freezing them in storage is a good solution. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to use amoxicillin that had been frozen for 20 years or more. In fact, I’ve done it. I have a bunch of it as well as other antibiotics in the downstairs freezer. The expiration dates on most of them are in 2013, which means they’ll really expire in about 2113. But pharmacies don’t have to go to that extreme. They should install freezers for drug storage. The drug companies can continue to label their drugs with one-year expiration dates, but the regulations that govern pharmacies should explicitly permit them to store drugs frozen for at least five to ten times the nominal expiration data, unless the drug manufacturer explicitly lists a particular drug as not being suitable for freezing to extend its shelf life. And the drugs companies should have to show credible evidence that this is the case.
16:54 – Among other things, I’m making up a lot of stains for the biology kits. My vote for the stainiest of these is crystal violet. The kits include Hucker’s Crystal Violet, which is essentially a 1% (0.01) aqueous solution of crystal violet with 0.8% m/v of ammonium oxalate. That solution is nearly opaque in a one-liter soda bottle. I’d guess that it would impart a noticeable violet cast to water at a concentration of 0.0000001 or less. Fortunately, the stuff really is water soluble, and it pretty much washes off my skin with just soap and water. It’d probably even wash out of clothing.
19:14 – I was just walking Colin when I saw/heard something I don’t see/hear every day. A full-blown race car driving down our street. At first, I thought it was the replica I mentioned here. But it wasn’t. That one was bright yellow and mostly enclosed. The one I saw tonight was a much more open frame vehicle. I don’t pay much attention to car racing but it reminded me of an Indy car.
It certainly wasn’t the car I saw parked on our street a year or so ago. That one was a replica Can-Am car with a 2-liter 4-cylinder Honda engine. The one tonight had a serious engine. I heard it coming a block away, even though it was cruising very slowly. The headlights were bright, so I couldn’t see the car itself until it came flush with me. I thought it was a Corvette until it passed me slowly. The frame was pretty open, although there were headlights and taillights mounted. I couldn’t see if there was a license plate or not, but from the lights I assume it was street legal. The exhaust tone, even at near-idle was very deep and loud, and it wasn’t because the guy had a bad muffler.
Granted, we’re in the middle of NASCAR/Winston Cup territory, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a NASCAR racecar on a flatbed in the neighborhood. But I can’t figure out why I keep seeing different types of race cars on our street. I’m expecting to see a Stanley Steamer any day now. It did, after all, hold the speed record for steamers until a couple years ago.