Saturday, December 07, 2002

The latest health threat

So you're afraid of anthrax and smallpox. But don't forget about that ancient Hawaiian disease called "lakanuki". It is spread by lack of sexual contact.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but somebody seems to be worried about it. A while back we had a surgeon general advocating teaching masturbation in schools, and here I thought you had to teach the little varmints to stop. A few years ago we had a Miss America who was pushing condom distribution in schools and that was OK, but now we have one who pushes abstinence and officials told her not to talk about it. And now there's this:this:
Women suffering sexual problems ranging from a general lack of desire to severe genital deformity are being prescribed vibrators on the National Health Service to help them rediscover their sex drive....'Almost half of all women suffer from a sexual dysfunction, and sex shops and their accoutrements could be a vital part of their therapy,' said Dr David Goldmeier, consultant and lead clinician in sexual function at London's St Mary's Hospital.
I'm tempted to ask if this allocation of medical resources is the reason why we don't have cures for cancer yet, but I suspect the relevant personnel are not all-stars. Whatever the "necessity", to my knowledge vibrators have never required a prescription.
Although one in three women now owns a vibrator - according to recent research by Ann Summers sex shop - the instrument's use in medical circles remains controversial.

'Vibrators are completely a new concept for almost all of the doctors and nurses I come across,' said Sh! manager Angel Zatorski...
No way am I buying that one. I was a small town boy and I learned about these things in my early teens at the latest.

Story time: Once a bunch of us frustrated freshman engineers made a trip to a pr0n emporium. There was a glass case full of all sorts of strange looking devices. Form follows function, you know. It didn't take too much imagination to figure out what they were for or how they were used in most cases, although some seemed geometrically improbable.

Then the guy behind the counter caught me rubbernecking with that same dumb look that caused an experienced stripper to burst out laughing onstage a few years later. He asked if I was interested in anything, and I mumbled something about just looking at the 'hardware'. Just my luck - the clerk noted that they had a product by that name designed to cause erections if 'rubbed in briskly'. Of course about anything short of battery acid would also work in that application, and I was 18 at the time - if the neck of the tube had been bigger....

But really, aside from some moments like in the movie "40 Days and 40 nights", the frustration didn't kill me. I had some pretty clueless ideas about how horny women were, but I'm having a hard time believing it was any worse for them than it was for me.
Although vibrators started life as a medical tool back in 1883, Zatorski says that the majority of medical experts she has spoken to had never seen a vibrator before she arrived at their offices with her 'party bag'.
Interesting. I had read elsewhere that Victorian doctors occasionally diagnosed a condition they called 'hysteria' which required vigorous application of some ointment to the vulva, so this isn't exactly new stuff.

Then again, maybe it's a local problem. There is a movie called 'No Sex Please, We're British', and we've recently had a heavily-linked article by an American woman suggesting that Brits are lousy lovers. Or perhaps Andrew Ian Dodge has gotten to the bottom of it.

Link stolen from Alex Whitlock via American Kaiser. Yes, this post has been lying around for a while.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Thought pollution

If we could burn ignorance and mendacity we'd have a limitless supply of energy. The San Jose Mercury News already warms the hearts of lefties, with their crack reporting and this asinine distortion about changes in EPA regulations. Of course part of the left's legend about George W. Bush's administration is that it is in hock to energy companies, so any administrative decision that doesn't go against such companies is automatically suspect.

Congress has been abdicating responsibility in many ways for a long time. One of the most egregious ways is in giving bureaucrats too much leeway in writing regulations. In the case at hand there is confusion about what constitutes a "new source" of pollution wrt the Clean Air Act.

Alright, what would a "new source" of pollution be? One might well expect a reasonable person to say a "new source" would be a new generating facility, chemical plant or other regulated entity. No, in fact this can be applied to existing facilities under certain conditions, as described here.
The Bush Administration will soon introduce much-needed reforms of the New Source Review (NSR) program. NSR, adopted in 1977 in an amendment to the Clean Air Act (CAA), was intended to regulate air pollution from new "sources" by requiring newly constructed facilities and old facilities undergoing "major modifications" to go through extensive permitting requirements and to install top-technological pollution control equipment. 1 But since 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has applied a new and extreme interpretation of the law, subjecting old and existing plants to the stringent NSR rules in cases where the modifications were not significant and where they had actually improved the safety of operations, increased energy efficiency, or reduced the emissions of the regulated air pollutants.

Congress intended the New Source Review program to target plants that were built after 1977; it exempted older ones, unless companies made extensive physical modifications to them. Congress recognized when it enacted the program that to require existing plants to be retrofitted with the most up-to-date technological emissions controls would be an extreme, prohibitively costly, and unnecessary burden on industry. 2 Congress also recognized that it is "cheaper to install control technologies" at the time a plant is being constructed or extensively modified than "to retrofit old units." 3 It therefore intended that existing plants would be subjected to NSR at the time they underwent "major modifications," defined under NSR as "any physical change or change in the method of operation of a major stationary source that would result in a significant net emissions increase of any pollutant subject to regulation under CAA." 4 Activities of old plants that were not "major modifications," such as "routine maintenance, repair, and replacement," did not fall under the modification rule and therefore did not trigger NSR. 5

Despite Congress's intent, the Clinton Administration expanded the NSR program by making it applicable to existing facilities that make efficiency or operational improvements, even if the changes are routine and regardless of whether or not those activities actually increase emissions. Under the EPA's reinterpretation of the law, existing facilities that improve their capacity, efficiency, or even the safety of their operations would now fall under NSR's costly and exhaustive modification requirements. The direct result has been to discourage energy-efficient modification and the safety of plant operations.
Much more is available on the Heritage link above.

In essence, Clinton's regulators abused their discretion. Some plants had been grandfathered, and regulators were attempting to force those out of business the minute they needed maintenance. Bush's administration is simply attempting to return to past practice, and this will not result in increases in pollution.

It's fashionable to question the motives of "polluters", and of course there is a concern that old plants would be kept limping along forever under their grandfather arrangement. That's unlikely - eventually something becomes too expensive to fix and the plant is shut down.

And if we can extend the useful lives of existing facilities, that's a good thing. There has been so much regulatory turmoil involving refineries and power plants that we aren't building enough of them. Building a new facility isn't exactly pollution-free - we shouldn't do that any more often than necessary.

Mercifully we have a President who understands these industries and their vital importance to the economy. The flak he's catching should be recognized as just more partisan yapping.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Genetics question

Picture this - a geneticist is on a show like Letterman with a studio audience.

Unknown to the geneticist, several volunteers give a DNA sample and fill out a questionnaire about personal characteristics (IQ, height, weight, age, how long did their parents live, sex, ethnic/race mix, education....).

Then the geneticist is given one of the DNA samples and a blank questionnaire and given 10 minutes for analysis of the sample. After this, the geneticist is to fill out the questionnaire with the answers that follow from the DNA sample, and then is to select that person from the crowd.

Could anyone do this consistently? How closely would the geneticist's answers match those of the subject? If this is somehow unfair, how is that?

Monday, December 02, 2002

Into the Bookstore

A few years ago I lost a car in a flash flood. Remember that rainy Sunday night game a few years back between the Chiefs and the Seahawks? That was the night.

I swore that the next vehicle would sit higher, and I wound up with an SUV. It's also handy for all the moving I do, and it can pull a decent sized loaded trailer up a decent hill at 70+ MPH.

But then, shouldn't I have the lifestyle to go with it? No, not as a suburban mom. I'm talking something straight out of the Jeep or pickup commercials. Yeah, I'll be like the guy who cuts a hole in the ice and dives for fish.

Yeah, that's me all right - Robinson Crusoe, meet Walter Mitty. The closest I came to being an outdoorsman was hitting a !@#$! deer once in a while. But I did buy some books...

Two of them were by Jon Krakauer. Into Thin Air was about the author's own ill-fated excursion up Mt. Everest. If you liked that one, you might also like "The Climb", "Touching the Void", or "The Perfect Storm".

The other Krakauer book was "Into the Wild". Primarily it was about Chris McCandless.

Mr. McCandless was from a well-off family and was well educated, but he decided to go wander around the US and live off the land. He made it his business to know what was safe to eat and what wasn't. After doing this for a while, he got it in his head to spend a summer in Alaska.

He brought a few essential supplies, including a journal, and by this time he was an experienced outdoorsman. He planned it well, and hitchhiked north just as the weather was getting tolerable. He had studied the local ecosystem in advance so he'd be able to live off the land. And he wound up making an original contribution to our knowledge of poisonous plants.

So he hitchhiked north, walked deep into central Alaska and...well, why don't you take a look at the book?

Dead diet doyens

I'm a pathological pack rat. Mere pack rats just keep worthless stuff - I pick up others' worthless stuff. So that's how I came upon a hardcover edition of Euell Gibbons' "Stalking the Wild Asparagus".

You don't remember Euell Gibbons? Here's a taste: "Without going more than a half mile from the house, I saw, identified and recorded more than sixty species of plants good for human food and several of these had more than one edible part".

He's dead.

Alright, I'm insensitive, and in fact he was 64 or so when he died. But he's not the only one whose credibility would have been enhanced by greater longevity.

Then there's the late Nathan Pritikin:
In 1957, when he was 40, Pritikin was diagnosed as having heart disease. Faced with a lifetime on drugs and ever-increasing restrictions on his movements, he exhausted the scientific literature and formulated a diet and exercise program to treat his disease. After nine years of trial and error he had cured himself.

Long before most doctors and scientists were willing to acknowledge that something as simple as diet might be causing serious illnesses, Pritikin had, on his own, created a scientifically sound program to treat them, using food and exercise as medicine. It was a revolutionary departure from current medical thinking.
The final proof that his program works was his own autopsy which showed his arteries were akin to those of a young man and totally clear of any signs of heart disease.
Wouldn't everyone like to leave such a healthy corpse? He was 68.

Remember Herman Tarnower? His thing was the Scarsdale Diet. We don't know how long Mr. Tarnower might have lived, because he was murdered at 69 years of age by a jealous woman.

Meanwhile Dr. Robert Atkins is still kicking in his seventies. I understand he has had some health problems lately, but he's at least up there closer to his life expectancy.

Yes, this has been a strange post. Isn't free association wonderful?

Sunday, December 01, 2002


Historically geometry has been the chosen vehicle for teaching sound logical reasoning. You could start with a few undefined entities and postulates and derive a very useful system of theorems, which in turn could be used as shorthand to develop other theorems, and so on. The results aren't merely useful, but can be very intellectually satisfying.

Sometimes they're too satisfying. There was no obvious endpoint to what could be known by using logic to extend existing knowledge. And if there was no such limit, logic tells us that eventually, with enough work, we could know as much as there was to be known about geometry. Maybe it's no coincidence that the culture that gave us so much of our geometry, the Greeks, also gave us the concept of hubris.

Geometry was born as a means of solving practical problems. It was found that rules derived logically from geometry also could be used to solve practical problems. This invited the conclusion that the real world behaved by logical rules. That in turn implies that if we work long enough, we'll find them.

There are problems with those idea though. It so happens that we can construct consistent logical systems in many ways. So even if we assume that the universe behaves by logical rules, we still don't know what set of rules to use. For an example, consider non-Euclidean geometry.

When Euclid constructed his geometry, he sought to do so with a minimum number of undefined entities (points, lines, planes...) and postulates. Then he got to what is called the parallel postulate.

In essence, Euclid's parallel postulate says that given a line and a point not on the line, exactly one line exists which contains the point and is parallel to the given line. This seems intuitively logical and appears "right" in plane geometry.

Euclid didn't like it though. He thought he ought to be able to derive it from other postulates and theorems. He never succeeded in doing so, and thus concluded that because it appeared to be true, he had to include it as a postulate if he wanted to use it.

Pragmatically this was a sound decision, but was it sound logically? Yes and no. Yes, because it leads to useful results. No, because it is entirely possible to construct a consistent, useful geometry without doing so. The resulting geometries are called non-Euclidean geometries.

One non-Euclidean geometry replaces the parallel postulate with one that says there are many parallels. Another says there are none. Both "work", and have practical applications.

OK, which one is "right"? Wrong question. You use the right one for the job. For most of us that's almost always Euclid's geometry.

What's important here is to realize that abstract logical systems like geometry are one thing, and real life is another. Science is about bridging the two - building logical systems that behave like real life.

But we can't ever know what is "right", only what is "better".