Saturday, April 06, 2002

Going nuclear about stem cells

I've long had a pet theory about that particularly pernicious breed of intellectual midgets I call "antinukers". These people are reflexively against anything nuclear in all of its manifestations, particularly nuclear power. Reason need not apply.

Alright, everybody's entitled to an opinion, and my perceptions about risk may be different from yours. But what's mysterious here is that antinukers are so heavily concentrated on the left wing rather than being more evenly distributed politically. So fear obviously isn't the issue, if the rest of the spectrum loves their children too. How to account for the skew?

I contend that it is a product of the Cold War. You see, nuclear power can leverage facilities needed to produce bombs, whether it's for refining the fuel or handling the waste. So when nuclear power is plentiful, it lowers the social costs of maintaining a nuclear arsenal. Then attacking nuclear power becomes a backhanded way of attacking nuclear weapons, to weaken the defenses of the US indirectly. And the left's sympathies for the Soviets cannot be denied.

Now we have another strange situation involving stem cells. Under the right circumstances, stem cells are capable of developing into any sort of cell in the body*. This offers potential for incredible medical breakthroughs.

So where to get them? Well, everyone has stem cells all the time, so people can donate to themselves. But there's another source - embryos.

Michael Fumento notes some curious behavior by Nature magazine that would tend to favor embryonic stem cell research over nonembryonic alternatives. I think he might be on to something.

You can't have embryonic stem cells without killing embryos. This is creepy at best - you don't have to be an Epsilon-Minus anti-abortion zealot to dislike this (has anybody read "Brave New World"?).

But to the radicals who insist that abortion "rights" are more than just the fruit of a legally indefensible antidemocratic Supreme Court decision, embryonic stem cell research offers a potential payoff that goes far beyond mere human welfare to provides an upside to abortion - women having abortions suddenly become like organ donors. (I can be a donor like that too - I'd like to donate Bill Clinton.)

Is that fair? Hmm. Arguably the motivation must be something other than the advancement of medicine. It turns out that in some cases non-embryonic stem cells offer better results (same link as above). So the pro embryonic stem cell crowd is actually working against medical advancement by politicking against potentially viable alternatives.

But surely no one would politicize something like health care, would they? Ha! Follow the link, repeated here. Then read "The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS" to see what happens when someone offers non-politically correct answers to health questions. Also, I haven't read it myself, but I've heard interesting things about "PC, MD" by Sally Satel.

The estimable Dr. Charles Murtaugh has some objections to the Michael Fumento link I have provided twice above. He also links to this.

Kindly note that the point of this post is to discuss the politicization of science and technology, not the science itself. I won't challenge Dr. Murtaugh on the science, but I am not as sanguine as he in assessing Nature's timing in publication. Could he be in denial?.

CLARIFICATION: It appears that not all stem cells have equal potential. Embryonic stem (ES) cells are less developed and thus can develop into all cell types (the buzzword is "totipotent"). However, being less developed, more can go wrong, and in fact they have been associated with cancer. Non-embryonic stem cells (NES) appear to have developed farther to the point where they have narrower possibilities, but then the problems that can occur in earlier stages of their development do not apply as they do to ES cells.

Pass the oysters

Duty calls. In my capacity as Minister of Nukularity I am called upon to foil a plot in which hundreds of Finnish women refuse to give birth for four years.

I'm proud to stand up for nuclear power, but I'm not the man I used to be - the last couple of women might be disappointed. Well, I suppose I could pace myself and stay there two nights.

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Sweet home Alabama

I've been knighted. Sort of. I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy!

Northern Alabama has some of everything. The Paint Rock Valley is, uh, extremely traditional. Just a few miles west is Huntsville and the Redstone Arsenal. A lot of great music was recorded in Muscle Shoals. And if you like hunting, fishing and caving you'll stay busy.

Best of all, there's a big honkin' three unit nuclear power plant at Browns Ferry.

Let's screw a billionaire!

All you Bill Gates bashers, listen up. Yeah, Microsoft products have their problems, but admit it - you're just jealous.

OK, I can handle that. I'd just like to channel some of it to other possibly more worthy recipients. My nominees are Steve Case and Larry Ellison.

Steve Case is the Great Satan behind AOL. The saddest insult in modern times was when he acquired proud CompuServe, then decided to market it as a cheaper AOL.

Case is the moral father of the popup ad. AOL was sending that crap back when it ran at 2400bps, which cost me some enamel off my teeth before I ditched it. I realize that otherwise free sites are supported by ads, but AOL wasn't free.

Case blanketed the earth with AOL CDs, then failed to provide the capacity to support the resulting users. To this day every AOL user I know suffers chronically poor dialup service.

Case bought Netscape, and then Microsoft suddenly started having more legal problems. Whether Microsoft fought dirty or not, Netscape was a management debacle - they earn a place in the Hall of Fame alongside WordPerfect, MicroPro (WordStar), Ashton-Tate (dBASE), Borland (Turbo Pascal et al), and Digital Research (CP/M). Maybe if they had done their innovating with code instead of legal theories, Microsoft wouldn't be taking over the browser market. "Poorly debugged set of device drivers" indeed.

It's my understanding that AOL still prevents users from accessing their mail without using AOL's proprietary software. Steve, I realize your users are among the dumbest on the Web, but you don't have to keep them barefoot and pregnant like this.

Then there's Larry Ellison of Oracle. A book about him asks the essential question, what's the difference between God and Larry Ellison? The answer is that God doesn't think he's Larry Ellison.

I use Oracle almost daily, as a programmer. To a certain extent it's only as good as its hardware and administrator. But there are still plenty of problems left, including that antiquated kludge known as SQL*Plus.

Ellison's goons have been major influences in the Justice Department's ongoing harassment of Microsoft for the crime of failing to donate enough money to politicians. Dumpster diving? No problem.

But what earns Ellison a place in Hell just under Satan's tail is his offer to provide a system to give us all national ID cards. Stuff it, Larry.

Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems might not be a billionaire (I don't know), but he deserves honorable mention for his role in trying to compete with Microsoft in the courtroom instead of the marketplace.

Any more nominees?

Dim all the lights...

Let me tell you about this really hot woman...

It was a sultry July day around suppertime, in a trailer in the sun with an underpowered air conditioner. I turn to the kitchen and there she is, glowing as she cooks spaghetti and complains about the lousy airconditioner and high electric bills...

Cut! What's wrong with this picture? You might cite innumerable things, like the absence of a young and perky Kathleen Turner. But to a disgustingly practical, erotically disabled engineer like me, what is she doing cooking spaghetti at a peak time of day in a hellhole that's impossible to keep habitably cool anyway, then fussing about power bills to boot? I don't think it occurred to her that the last thing she needed in that cheap rented trailer with the undersized AC was more heat and humidity, but she didn't even put the lid on the pot.

Worse yet, this was about the time of day that people were coming home, loading the AC, turning on the tube, washing their hands, turning on washers and dryers - the result is that consumption hits a peak around 6 PM as shown on this (which I understand is updated multiple times a day).

Utilities have to design their generation and distribution systems to handle the peak demands they are reasonably likely to experience, with a margin on top of that to accomodate supply interruptions or demand disturbances. The power must come either from their own generators or whatever they can buy from interconnected suppliers, and at peak times the prices can get extremely high. Those of you who don't like transmission lines or power plants, note - the power you use at these times is your implied consent to build more of each.

We consumers can help by reducing power consumption at the peaks. Can't the dishwasher wait? Can you cook that outside? Can you eat later? Do you need all those lights?

Cutting off the peaks of demand is good, and it's also good to fill in the troughs - this way you'll get more energy out of the existing plants and thus put off the day when more will be constructed. So go ahead and run your washer and dryer - at 2 AM.

Stick around here at NWA for more electrifying insights. You might even get to read about thermodynamics, the recent 23rd anniversary of Three Mile Island, the upcoming 16th anniversary of Chernobyl, radwaste, solar photovoltaics, fuel cells, alternative energy, and all sorts of stuff guaranteed to shiver your timbers. Watch out Instapundit!

Meanwhile I'll work on those opening scenes. I could use a hand - I wonder what Newt Gingrich is doing nowadays?

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

When you thought it couldn't get any worse...

I thought my lack of gaydar was bad - now this. Link spotted on Bushtit.

Some years back a transsexual named Tula Cossey posed fully nude in Playboy, and might even have had a role in a Bond flick.

I'll take the sex I was born with, thank you. I can work around the shortcomings.

Alright, my permalinks work now

I finally decided to take a serious look at the template and discovered I didn't have the <a name="<$BlogItemNumber$>"> tags at the top of my template after the <$BlogDateHeader$> section. Without that label and a properly constructed URL in the template, your link will strand you at the top of the page instead of at the top of the item you want to permalink. I don't know if I managed to kill it or if it simply wasn't ever in my template, but it works now, doggone it.

Monday, April 01, 2002

Fun with prairie dogs

This was posted on 3/29, so I suppose it's on the level. It's a way to get rid of prairie dogs if you liked "Caddyshack". (It may also work on much lower life forms, like al-Qaeda creeps in caves).

I'm sure the PETAphiles are scandalized. They'd probably like this better. It sounds like fun.

Explosive rhetoric

Remember the early 90's, when Japanese management was all the rage? I remember at the time telling someone "Watch Japanese fall as economy performs like this bad haiku".

I was right of course. But while they were still cocky a Japanese politician named Shintaro Ishihara (recently elected mayor of Tokyo) said Americans were lazy and stupid.

That was a little much for the hard hats I worked with. Almost immediately, all the gangboxes had signs showing crossed American flags and saying "We may be lazy and stupid. But we build a damned good bomb."

Women in the workplace - then and now

That calculator ad (see below) reminds me of the changes in the workplace over my working life.

My first professional job was as an engineer at a nuclear power plant under construction. It definitely was a man's environment - there were some women, but there weren't many outside the office buildings. About every gangbox had its centerfolds, and although the women weren't abused, most of them hadn't worked in similar environments before. Some men resented them because often they lacked the strength needed to do their work, or otherwise expected special treatment until payday. But the ones who did the job like one of the guys were accepted.

With men in the majority, the women got plenty of attention. Some of the women really liked it - one in particular had an interesting habit. At lunchtime she'd take her bra off, put on a tight T shirt, turn on the high beams, then sashay down a breezeway where she knew there's always be a bunch of hard hats eating lunch.

But political correctness started creeping in. The centerfolds came down, more women were hired, and more accomodations were made for their lesser strength and differing expectations. Next thing you know there's a hair trigger for sexual harassment, and a buddy of mine who called strippers "Ma'am" wound up losing his job over he said-she said allegations.

Were the changes improvements? In some ways. But if women truly were a man's equal for these tasks as was claimed, then why were changes necessary?

Trust me...

Yes, I know what day it is. I almost decided not to post anything thinking nobody's gonna believe it anyway. Then again, I could make very controversial claims with plausible deniability. But I wouldn't do that...

One memorable April Fool's Day my college's newspaper reran a picture from earlier in the year. It showed the head of the campus police force after he had participated in some sort of cream pie throwing contest. But the second time they changed the caption, claiming that he had been caught in a sperm bank explosion, and quoted him as saying "Quick, get an Alpha Gam and help me clean up!"

What do you expect from a tech school that had 8 guys for every female and produced engineers like Jeff Foxworthy?

Notice I said "females" above. Our coeds were maligned, and allegedly the football field had Astroturf to keep the cheerleaders from grazing. But we did have a few babes, including a Cindy Crawford lookalike named Brenda (pant pant), and I think Playboy has recruited a few for their "Girls of..." shoots.

These were serious women. They had better things to worry about than my favorite advertisement - a Playboy gatefold clad only in sheer fabric and a strategically placed picture of a Hewlett-Packard calculator which brightened the wall of the Engineer's Bookstore. Ah, those were the days.

Sunday, March 31, 2002

Liver cancer - resources?

Suddenly I find that one coworker and the spouse of another have liver cancer. I don't know much more than that - I'm just looking to find out more about it. Any recommendations?

Practical regulation

Scott Ganz gives comfort to the undeserving when he gives "regulation" the credit for any number of social goods. He's on the right track, but there's something missing.

For starters, what does he mean by "regulation"? The term can be used over an immense range, so much so that justification of it must be qualified. That is the fundamental disagreement I have with Scott's post - if "regulation" itself is good, it partially disarms critics of particular implementations. Likewise if it is bad, then it is that much harder to implement when it might become necessary. So everyone must insist that it remain a neutral term that is insufficient without qualification.

Scott's usage appeared to be in the broadest possible sense. OK. But in the broadest possible sense, the only regulation we have is ethics. For practical regulation, we have to deal with particulars.

Also, I would have emphasized that any system of regulation depends on compliance. In all but the narrowest situations, there simply aren't enough inspectors to go around, and if there were, it would be intolerable (picture everyone getting their income tax returns audited every year). That's why oppressive govts must fall - ultimately they can't carry their own weight.

So how do you ensure compliance? For one, make sure that the regulations themselves are just, and aren't corrupted by such notions as redistribution or an anti-corporate mentality. Strive to make them as light and unobtrusive as possible consistent with their mission. Be willing to revise them in the light of experience regardless of what lobbyists say. Avoid govt involvement for anything other than enforcement. And enforce regulations promptly and evenhandedly without turning everything into a media circus or inviting partisan objections.

But most important of all, emphasize and honor ethics. This is the only regulatory mechanism which can prevent problems, whether caused by the regulated or the regulators. If you simply won't knowingly harm or cheat your customers, constituents or other citizens, that will take care of most problems, and will do so more effectly and cheaply than any other means.

So the real root problem here is about ethics. How do we promote ethics?

We had a big opportunity about 4 years ago...

Snide aside

You have a regulator on your natural gas line, which lacks intelligence yet performs far better than many govt regulatory bodies. You are invited to draw conclusions about the relative intelligence of the gas line regulators and government organizations.