Sunday, April 30, 2006

Need A New Bladder? They Can Grow It For You

In a sci fi kind of future, which is looking less and less like fiction, and more and more like inevitability, we'll be able to recognize what's going on around us by recalling our favorite TV shows of the last half century. If we remember our Star Trek (any version), we will not be taken aback by asking our wall for dinner, or beaming from place to place, or growing a ready to transplant organ to be used in case of emergency. Yeah, but that's the future, right? Well, the future is now, at least where the bladder is concerned. Via The Speculist, I found an article in The Hindu that blew me away, about engineering human organs in the laboratory. I'm not going to go into the science of it all, but it's seriously cool. If you're interested, follow the link.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Wrinkles Are More Than Skin Deep put out a news report on Thursday that suggests that the scientific community is making progress in the quest to make us all live longer. More importantly, the research is working on making us live younger, not just extending lives, but extending the period of our lives that is free of the wrinkles and grey hair, heart disease and other things we associate with getting older.

A new study shows that cells from people over the age of 80 tend to have specific problems with the nucleus that young children's cells do not. The elderly nucleus loses its pert, rounded shape and becomes warped and wrinkled.

So apparently, as we get wrinkles so do our cells, accumulating damage, and causing them to function improperly. A specific protein appears to be at fault.

The team suggests that healthy cells always make a trace amount of an aberrant form of lamin A protein, but that young cells can sense and eliminate it. Elderly cells, it seems, cannot.

Critically, blocking production of this deviant protein corrected all the problems with the nucleus. "You can take these old cells and make them young again," Misteli says.

This suggests that drugs that do the same thing might slow or stay some symptoms of ageing.

Now, I'm actually looking forward to the day when I'm freed from this body and its limitations. I know where I'm going and will be glad to get there, when the time comes. However, as long as I'm here, as long as God sees a purpose for me being on this Earth, I wouldn't mind being as healthy, vibrant, and wrinkle-free as possible. I'm not sure I'm all that fond of the idea of taking drugs to stave off the signs of aging, but I do think the research into why we age is valuable, and hopefully more naturopathic options for treatment would become available.

Hat tip: KurzweilAI

Friday, April 28, 2006

More On Economics And The Price Of Gas

Economist Arnold Kling has thoughts on the basic economic soundness of Congress responding to a restricted supply of gasoline by giving people a rebate that enables them to do what?--Buy More Gasoline!! What a great idea. Next time the country's running low on tomatoes, maybe Congress can print coupons so there's a national tomato-buying frenzy. Kling offers a mini Economics 101. He discusses whom he believes the 18.4 cent per gallon temporary tax cut would actually end up benefiting. (Hint: Iran could afford to enrich more of that Uranium that isn't for nuking Isreal.) He goes on from there to talk about what artificially deflating the price of gas will do to American decision-making.

Suppose that you do not believe my analysis, and you think that a cut in the gasoline tax actually would be passed through to consumers. In that case, would it be a good thing? Do we want to send consumers a message that gasoline prices really are not that high? Do we want them to make their automobile purchases and driving decisions based on the assumption that Congress can and will always find a way to hold down the price of gas? Or do we want consumers to understand that there is a chance that gas prices will stay where they are and rise further in the future?

Congress wants to treat American consumers like children, who should not have to deal with reality when it comes to the supply and demand for gasoline. It might be better to treat consumers as adults, and let us make grown-up decisions. These grown-up decisions probably will serve the country's interest more than the infantile energy policies now under consideration.

Kling calls his TCS Daily article "Energy Policy for Idiots", but you don't have to be an idiot to read it.

Update: Nick Schulz has a few things to say about why, with the price of gas rising, people are planning on using more of it this summer, rather than less.

Update II: Pete Geddes has this to add:

Democrats favor higher gasoline taxes and higher gasoline prices -- except when gasoline prices are high. While claiming concern about rising levels of CO2, they demand gasoline price caps to "protect consumers." Don't they understand that high gas prices provide the best incentive to transition to more environmentally friendly fuels? Democrats who object to higher gas prices simply aren't serious about dealing with climate change.

Republicans favor letting oil markets "work" -- except when gasoline prices are high. Don't they understand the cure for higher prices is -- higher prices?

There's more if you're interested.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Totten's Eye View Of Israel

Michael Totten's been back from the Middle East for a little while, and is writing about his wanderings. Yesterday's installment began a recap of his trip to Israel. As usual, his discoveries are surprising, and I highly recommend him as a travel guide. Let me add, however, that this is not a "things you've got to see while you're in the country" kind of travel journal. It's more about the tone of the country, and what it's like after years of armed conflict. He's insightful and observant. His site is a must-read from my perspective. If you head over to his site, stick around awhile. He's got fascinating tales of his time in Lebanon, and Northern Iraq, and Turkey. (Someday my husband and I are going to Istanbul, and it's going to be because of Michael Totten.) Enjoy.

Evil, Thy Name Is Profit

Posturing and misinformation are perennial maneuvers in the political game, and among the primary tools politicians use to divert the public's attention from what the White House, Senate, Congress, Mayor, Dog Catcher, etc. has done, or failed to do to fulfill the desires that all of them purport to share-- namely the security, prosperity, and freedom from rabid dogs of their country, state, county, city, or whatever little kingdom they rule. The goal of most of this posturing is to assure us, their constituents, that no matter what has been done in the past, THEY REALLY CARE about our problems, so we should keep sending them back to their respective positions of power. We expect this of our political leaders. It's part of the theatre of it all, and we enjoy the mild entertainment value as they jump through various hoops trying to convince us that they are "in touch" and ready to feel our pain.

A recent spasm of pain sharing that has been spewing from Washington lately is their heartfelt consternation that the evil oil companies are actually making money, showing a profit, and (shockingly) seeing a return on their investment. Democrats and Republicans alike are rushing to assure us that they know how hard it is to pay the bill at Chevron, and they're ready to jump into action, although it's the Senate Republicans who are offering us their "Gas Price Relief and Rebate Act of 2006." It's a proposal of dubious merit, and extremely limited economic sense, that seems to want to punish oil companies for making money, while at the same time expecting them to produce more oil, (as long as they don't make too much money at it.) Such notions generally come from the liberal end of the political spectrum, but this time the Republicans are needing the political boost. No matter how little their proposed actions make sense economically, or whether their actions will have any positive effect at all, they're up for reelection soon, and this is an opportunity to show they care more about the little guy than the rich. The rich in this case being the people who provide the gas we use to go to work, drive to the beach, take our kids to soccer and generally function in the modern world. They are the evil people who risk their capital to find, extract, process and deliver a product we all choose to buy. (And yes, we do choose it. Most of us have alternatives. They may be uncomfortable and time consuming, but if we really don't want to buy gas, we can invest our time on the bus, rather than our money in the gas tank.)

Let's set aside for a later discussion the fact that it takes people with money, and the willingness to invest it, to employ most of us little guys. Let's stick to the basic realities of economics. In a free market society, if it becomes a sign of evilness to make a profit when market conditions are right for it, and the government decides to put a stop to such outlandish behavior, where is the incentive to invest? If we want companies to find more oil, build more refineries, and develop alternative sources of power, we need to stop acting like they're the bad guys, and allow them the luxury of some incentive to produce these things.

I don't intend to spout like this often. I'd generally rather just pass on things from other people that I find worthwhile, but I find this whole topic rather frustrating. It shouldn't be in bad taste to make a profit in a capitalist society, unless we're doing it illegally. John Hinderaker at Powerline feels my pain. He's written a point by point response to the "Gas Price Relief and Rebate Act of 2006." Read the whole thing, especially the remarks by Representative Mike Conaway about how much profit the oil companies actually are making right now, and how it compares to other US industries. I found it soothing to read some economic common sense. May it be the same balm to you.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Prove Your Worth By Doing Something Worthy"

The title to this post is a quote from James Pinkerton's interesting look at the British monarchy and the two royal sons who are currently serving in the British military. He speculates that it is their willingness to serve their country in times of war that has helped the British royal family "survive in spite of all its problems." Leadership and self-sacrifice are certainly valuable in a monarch, even one without much actual power, and military service is a good way to develop those qualities. Pinkerton may be on to something.

The End Of The Cartoon Wars

Duncan Currie, writing at The Weekly Standard, takes stock of the outcome of The Cartoon Wars. This war, for those of you who have been living on Mars, with no access to Earth-based media, began with the publication of some cartoons that Muslims found offensive, sparking riots throughout the Middle East. Currie's summary of the conflict--we lost. He recaps the battle as it played out at Comedy Central, specifically on the animated TV series South Park. I have never watched the show, so everything I know about it is second-hand, but from what I've read and heard, it's an extremely irreverant show that pokes fun at anything. Comedy Central apparently has had no problem with that standard, until Muhammad came into the picture, or, er, didn't come into the picture, actually. Comedy Central wouldn't allow South Park to depict him for fear of the consequences.

South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker prepared a response for Comedy Central. According to Currie,

Stone and Parker did not take Comedy Central's censorship lightly. They made the two "Cartoon Wars" episodes an acerbic rebuke to the network. At the moment Muhammad is poised to appear, the screen goes black, and a brief message announces that Comedy Central "has refused to broadcast" the prophet's image.
In one of these episodes, there is content very offensive to Christians, offensively offensive even. Some Christians were very vocal in their anger at South Park's treatment of Jesus. Currie points out, however, that Stone and Parker are clearly making their case that Comedy Central (like much of the rest of the media) is betraying its double-standard where Islam is concerned.

The Catholic League's William Donohue, a perennial South Park scourge, blasted Stone and Parker as "little whores" for the Jesus gag. "They'll sit there and they'll whine and they'll take their shot at Jesus," he told the AP. Donohue missed the point entirely: It wasn't Jesus being mocked; it was Comedy Central. By highlighting the network's double standard--okay to offend Christians, not okay to offend Muslims--South Park, which has averaged nearly 3.5 million viewers per episode this season, affirmed that free expression may at times lead to hurt feelings. But that's no reason to capitulate, especially not when political correctness becomes physical intimidation.
I understand the network's reluctance to offend Muslims. I don't want to offend anyone; but there's the difference. I don't want to offend anyone. Comedy Central apparently just doesn't want to offend people who might start a riot.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Growing Problem

I linked yesterday to a TCS Daily article by Dr. Henry I. Miller calling for a Manhattan Project for the bird flu, saying that government regulation and lack of financial profitability are hindering scientific progress that could help stop an Avian flu pandemic. There is another piece today at TCS that looks at a similar quelling effect on advances in biotechnology, caused by disregard and disrespect for intellectual property rights. Miles D. White writes that there are "a dizzying array of advances made possible by biotech investment." It's possible to increase the nutritional value of crops, enable plants to grow on land previously unsuitable for farming, grow crops with a higher resistance to drought and cold, and help plants resist pests without the use of pesticide. All of this, of course, would help feed the 800 million or so people that Mr. White says are chronically undernourished in the world.

With so much potential in biotech it's no wonder that White is frustrated by the growing trend to violate intellectual property rights. His complaint is similar to Dr. Miller's; when financial incentive is stripped from an enterprise, investment lags, and progress is slowed. Regardless of one's opinion of genetically engineered foods, it's worth considering the consequences of any violation of intellectual property, and the long-term damage it may do in order to garner some short-term gains.

Preparing For The Worst With Iran

Derek Chollet at DemocracyArsenal thinks we had better prepare for the worst regarding a nuclear Iran. As he sees it, even if the US and Europe handle everything perfectly from here, we're basically running out of time, and need to start planning for a Middle East Cold War. He's not saying it's inevitable, but the chances of political and economic sanctions stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions are remote, especially given the unlikeliness of Russia and China going along with any sanctions tough enough to carry some weight with the mullahs and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chollet offers some diplomatic solutions, but stresses, "It’s not just prevention we have to worry about; it’s containment and deterrence." I wonder if containment and deterrence are possible with a regime that still believes in the Muslim version of Manifest Destiny. Time will tell.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fueling Up

Futurismic is keeping me interested today. Here's a short but sweet article on some new technology out of Oregon State University that converts vegetable oil directly into biodiesel, bypassing many of the previously required steps, such as lengthy chemical reactions. This could allow farmers to grow their own fuel. Think how much fuel could be saved if it didn't take fuel to transport more fuel!!

Chinese Spacewalk

Futurismic led me to a bit of off-planet information. Looks like the Chinese are heading back to space. After hosting the Olympics in 2008, the Chinese hope to celebrate their first spacewalk, with the aim of eventually building their very own space station. Lofty goals for an up and coming Superpower. And here we are limping along with a couple of ancient shuttles. We'd better get to building that Space Elevator if we want to keep ahead of the Joneses, or in this case the Lees. (The space elevator link requires registration, but it's free.)

Bombing The Bird Flu?

Dr. Henry I. Miller, writing at TCS Daily, proposes A Bird Flu Manhattan Project. For those of you not up on the latest looming medical calamities, the scientific community is more than a little concerned about the potential of a flu virus that has been killing birds in China for a decade, and is rapidly spreading around the globe via bird migration, to trigger a human influenza pandemic. The H5N1 virus is currently contagious from birds to humans, and the fear is that the virus will mutate into something easily transmitted from human to human. The virus has proven quite deadly to people, so a mutation of that kind would certainly warrant great concern.

I've been watching the development of this story for a while now, and have seen both alarmist viewpoints and cautions against panic. The most reasonable discussions tend to come to the conclusion that whether or not this particular virus turns into a major threat to humans, at some point we are going to face a pandemic of some sort, if history is any indication, especially given the way the globe has shrunk with the ever-increasing ease of transportation. Our potential to create enough vaccine to face any pandemic, by all accounts, is woefully inadequate. Currently, new scientific approaches are hindered by FDA regulation and the lack of financial profitability, and there are nowhere near enough facilities available for the mass production of an effective vaccine, once one is developed. Dr. Miller believes we need to address the problems created by government regulation and financial disincentive that have made vaccine development of all kinds a shrinking field, and prepare for possible pandemic now, while there's still time to develop effective countermeasures.

The Manhattan Project approach seems to be a wise suggestion; let the government spearhead medical advances previously hindered by its own bureaucracy. Dr. Miller's article isn't all negative. Quite the contrary. There is some encouraging progress on the scientific front. Those advances will affect our ability to immunize the world's populations against disease of all sorts, not just the bird flu. That is worth some investment. What the doctor is suggesting is that the government start acting like a conduit for advancement, rather than a bureaucratic roadblock. The whole notion is a little counter-intuitive, and might take a bit of getting used to, but wouldn't that be an adjustment we'd all be happy to make?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Skilled Labor and Immigration Don't Mix

Here's a look at the hotly debated issue of immigration reform from the perspective of an immigrant--a legal immigrant. Ilya Shapiro is a lawyer in Washington DC who, along with other highly skilled professionals like him, apparently has no prospects of US citizenship, or even a green card, despite legal entry and gainful employment. It looks like his only hope for permanent residency is to marry an American. Volunteers?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Be Ye Perfect, Or Forever Zip It

Since I'm starting this blog to share my opinions (and other people's opinions, discoveries, humor, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera) with a public that will, no doubt, be completely unaware of my existence, I figured I might as well start off commenting on something and someone controversial. At this point, the only people I'm in danger of offending are my husband and my 81 year-old mother, who may or may not have a working laptop at the moment. Therefore, I feel safe starting my ramblings by jumping into a much debated topic as addressed by a lightning-rod kind of author.

I read an article today by Ann Coulter, one of the conservative world's more colorful pundits. I don't always appreciate the acerbic nature of her commentary, although I frequently appreciate her humor, respect her opinion, and often agree with her general take on things. Today what I read was Ms. Coulter's reaction to the Duke Lacrosse team rape scandal. Many people object to Coulter's rather blunt style and caustic wit. However, her main points on the current situation at Duke are well worth reading. They include a tutorial on some simple things not to do if you would like to avoid being accused of rape, being raped, and setting yourself on fire. Her suggestions are quite practical, although some might find them offensively simplistic. However, since some people will object to cheese if it's not presented to them properly, I'm not going to worry about the easily offended. Her main point is one with which I agree heartily. The

"...charge of "hypocrisy" has so permeated the public consciousness that no one is willing to condemn any behavior anymore, no matter how seedy. The unstated rule is: If you've done it, you can't ever criticize it -- a standard that would seem to repudiate the good works of the Rev. Franklin Graham, Malcolm X, Whittaker Chambers and St. Paul, among others."

Learning by experience that something is a mistake, and sharing that information with others in order to help them avoid similar mistakes is not hypocrisy. As a society, we have come to the point where we think that any one who's ever done drugs has lost the moral authority to say that people shouldn't do drugs, or that someone who slept around before they got married has no real ground to encourage abstinence in others. This is absolutely a ridiculous conclusion, as someone who has made bad choices and lived with the consequences is frequently extremely qualified to draw conclusions about where any number of mistakes can lead. Experience is still a good teacher, if we're willing to listen to those educated in its classrooms.

Read the article for yourself to get Coulter's whole acerbic point of view.