30 June, 2005

Diagnosis: It's bad.

Worthwhile guest editorial on Juan Cole's bleg. Check out THIS load of cynicism:
It seems to me that even "pessimists" are actually "optimists": they assume that there exists in Iraq and the Gulf some "solution", some course of action which can actually lead to an outcome other than widespread, prolonged violence, with devastating economic, political, and social consequences.

I regret to say that I think this is wrong. There is no "solution" to this mess; it is sometimes not possible to "fix" things which have been broken.
And here you thought I was a cynic. Ha! It is to laugh!

ADDENDUM: Another great quote. Read this thing, I tell ya:
After all, no one, from either party, in the political arena is saying anything even remotely commensurate with the threat which most scientists see to the future of the planet. No one with any power is talking sensibly about energy use, global poverty, and their interrelationships. No one at all.

Running out

Some interesting happenings in the Oil department, further indicating that "peak oil" has come in out of the cold.

First, there's a book out by Matthew Simmons, the head of an old and respected oil investment company, called "Twilight in the Desert". Therein Simmons lays out the case that Saudi Arabia is, contrary to conventional wisdom, reaching the end of its tether, and its main supergiant fields will soon pass their peak of production. Though Saudi officials have vehemently denied the claims made, Simmons responds simply and powerfully: prove it. Provide some convincing documentary evidence for your reserve numbers; otherwise no one has any reason to believe you.

Second, a study was just performed by the National Commission on Energy Policy. They projected results from removing just 3.5 Mbd of production out of 83 Mbd global production. Some of their fearsome news:
  • Gasoline prices of $5.74 per gallon
  • Global oil price of $161 per barrel
  • Heating oil prices of $5.14 per gallon
  • Fall of gross domestic product for two consecutive quarters
  • Drop in consumer confidence by 30 percent
  • Spike in the consumer price index to 12.6 percent
  • Ballooning of the current accounts deficit to $1.087 trillion
  • Decline of 28 percent in the S&P 500
  • Aggressive pressure on the U.S. from China to end arm sales to Taiwan
  • Demands from Saudi Arabia for changes to U.S. policy regarding the Mid-East peace process
Fortunately, both of these were recently featured on On Point. You can take a brief half hour out of your life and edify yourself greatly. Despite On Point's tag-line of "worst-case scenario", Jason Grumet, the NCEP director, is careful to point out that their scenario is not a "Robert Ludlum" worst-case, but an eminently reasonable one drawn from the legitimate and rather unsurprising concerns of experts in the field - a bit of minor, low-tech terrorism here, some civil unrest there. As I say, 3.5 Mbd is not a huge production drop.

Also pay attention to Matthew Simmons' final comments: "The most important provision in the energy bill is the most contentious provision, and that's at the very least doing a scientific survey of our outer continental shelf to see what energy we might have. If the Senators are so haughty about that that they say 'We won't do that,' then we should start today dismantling the U.S. economy." I.e., when push comes to shove, the environment may have to take a back seat to vital energy considerations. (Meanwhile, Grumet says that before we do anything so rash as offshore drilling and exploration, we should be revising CAFE standards.)

Simmons also has some interesting things to say about what the decline side of an oil production curve looks like (and the influence of technological advance on it), and the real need to have a better understanding of it in this era of depletion.

Oh, man, please don't call it that

Not content with making a building that looks like the headquarters for Team Depeche Mode, the planners behind the new World Trade Center-replacement continue to insist on calling the building the "Freedom Tower".

Now, one must give them credit: they had the good sense to trash their previous design, which might have given unsuspecting tourists the mistaken impression that the city had suffered an abortive attack by some sort of giant robot, one of whose limbs (complete with trapezoidal metallic faux-biceps and pulverizing laser-cannon attachment) had been severed and left behind.

However, the new design really isn't THAT much better, and it still features the pulverizing laser-cannon attachment, along with pulverizing laser. I was a fan of the short-lived ghostly light sculpture ("Tribute in Light") put up a few years back to mark Ground Zero. This laser-cannon attachment, though, doesn't pull it off nearly as well and just ends up looking hokey.

Hokey is, I have to conclude, what they're going for; why else would they have dubbed it the "Freedom Tower"? My god, can you imagine the embarassment of its inhabitants describing their place of employment?

ROGER: I work in the Freedom Tower.

BELINDA: I'm sorry, where?

ROGER: The Freedom Tower.

[BELINDA laughs explosively, sending a piece of pimento flying from her mouth onto ROGER's tie.]

BELINDA: Oh, I'm sorry... hmmm... Freedom Tower! (Giggles.)

And moreover I fear the word "Freedom" is starting to suffer from that phenomenon of overuse, where you repeat a word so many times that it begins to feel rubbery and unfamiliar, as if part of your brain has become fatigued and refuses to acknowledge its meaning anymore. And the men who are fond of overapplying it so clearly misapprehend that meaning that I'm starting to despise the word itself. Its constant application is meant to reassure us of some great Value, no doubt, but as the word erodes I'm finding that the Value itself is becoming increasingly slippery, until, perhaps, I will cynically doubt whether it exists at all, whether it was ever anything other than the blubbery syllable floating off the lips of disgusting demagogues.

29 June, 2005

Presidential address wrap-up

First, check out the NY Times editorial penned by John Kerry (or, ghost-written for him, anyway), from yesterday morning, about what Bush should have said.* It's full of stuff that even I can recognize as bad advice, e.g., "Iraq, of course, badly needs a unified national army, but until it has one - something that our generals now say could take two more years - it should make use of its tribal, religious and ethnic militias like the Kurdish pesh merga and the Shi'ite Badr Brigade to provide protection and help with reconstruction." No. No. That's hardly going to encourage any promotion of unity, allowing sectarian groups to accumulate power. Also, Kerry still seems to be running on that technocratic "We can win if we do things right" path. E.g. his needlessly phallic statement, "We're doing our part: our huge military presence stands between the Iraqi people and chaos, and our special forces protect Iraqi leaders," belies the fact that most of the chaos is a result of the American occupation (and, err, we don't appear to be doing a good job of protecting Iraqi leaders).

For some light entertainment, read the angry screeds written in response to Kerry's editorial. This one seems to have been written by a monkey with a typewriter.

Finish off with Juan Cole's, err, fisking of Bush's speech.

Don't bother with the speech itself. He doesn't say anything you haven't heard before.

* I apologize. The tense I want to use here doesn't seem to exist in English.

28 June, 2005

What is 'Funny'?

It is alleged that this Jonah Goldberg column is hi-larious. However, I find it only to be hi-lariously badly written. Aside from the clumsy style and the parade of mixed metaphors (which, honestly, I probably can't complain about without removing the soot from my own face), and the fact that he delivers the punchline at the very outset of his column, there's simple incompetence. For example:
“It was nothing more than a kind gesture,” she explained with false modesty, “but at that moment Mr. Gore's act represented all that I yearned for — acceptance and acknowledgment.”
False modesty on someone else's behalf? Egad! One might even say that was... misplaced modesty.* And this! THIS is a sentence only Thomas Friedman could love:
The cart’s one wobbly wheel — going chapocketa, chapocketa, chapocketa — was onomatopoetically tapping out a small drumbeat for the forced march to oblivion of all we hold dear.
The real shame is, he's working with comic gold, here, a story about a tall wooden boy that actually moves and attempts to vocalize.

This, on the other hand, is actually funny.

* [Rimshot.]

Presidential Address rehearsal

MR. McCLELLAN: So the President looks forward to speaking to the American people tomorrow night. You will hear from him in much greater detail, but I wanted to give you a little bit of a preview to begin with. And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.

Q Scott, are there new details in the strategy for success? Is there a new direction, or is the President basically summing up what he has said before?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, this is a new speech. And the President will be talking in a very specific way about the strategy for succeeding in Iraq. [record skips] ... the President will be talking in a very specific way about the strategy for succeeding in Iraq.

Q Well, I guess what I'm asking is, are people going to hear things they haven't heard the President say before? Are there new details?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think many Americans have not heard much of what the President has to say tomorrow night... The American people want to see our troops return home, but I think they understand the importance of succeeding in Iraq.... succeeding in Iraq... *whzzt* succeeding in Iraq. And the President will talk about that in his remarks. I think we all want to see the troops come home sooner than later, and the way to get our troops home is to complete the mission... complete the mission... complete the mission... compl--

[Needle scratches. Sound of record being changed.]

Q The question is, is there a new direction, though, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: [Cabana muzak plays]

Q Isn't the message really more patience? Isn't that really what the President is going to be requesting, something he's --

[Record is stopped. Old tape begins to play.]

MR. McCLELLAN: (crackling noises) Well, I think if you go back to September 11th -- remember, on September 11th the threats of the 21st century were brought to our shores. We saw in a very clear way the threats that we face on that day.

And the President said shortly after the attacks of September 11th that this is a long struggle that we're going to be in, that this is a different kind of war, one which we have never seen before. And we do face a determined and ruthless enemy, an enemy that has no regard for innocent human life. That's the nature of the enemy that we're up against. That's the nature of the enemy that the President will be talking about in his remarks tomorrow night.

And the President made it clear after September 11th that some will want us to grow complacent and forget about, or put the attacks off as a distant memory. But it does require patience and resolve to see this struggle through to the end. We have no option but to defeat the terrorists, and the terrorists will be defeated.

[REPORTER gets up and leaves, disgusted. In her place is a cardboard facsimile with an iPod taped to its chest.]

iPOD: Why do you build me up, Buttercup baby, just to let me down? You spin me around and then worst of all... worst of all.. you never call baby when you say you will...

[McCLELLAN's record is changed again.]

MR. McCLELLAN: In the Navy! Come on and protect your motherland, in the Navy! Come on and join your fellow man, in the Navy! Come on, people, make a stand! In the Navy! In the Navy! THEY WANT YOU! THEY WANT YOU! THEY WANT YOU AS A NEW RECRUIT!

Hulk Hogan's arm is bigger than my leg

I was reading The Poorman instead of working, and I happened to see an ad for some VH1 reality TV show featuring Hulk Hogan*. In this ad, it appears that Mr. Hogan's arms are roughly the size of two hammerhead sharks. At first I thought that they actually WERE hammerhead sharks, which had somehow gobbled up his regular, normal-sized arms as a result of some zany bid to get high ratings. Through careful inspection, however, I was able to determine that Mr. Hogan is simply a disgusting freak of some sort.

I'd like to point out that the aforementioned leg (i.e., mine) is not strictly speaking within one standard deviation of normal. It is what is best described, technically, as a "chicken-leg". Still, I hadn't to date encountered any individuals whose arms are actually bigger than my legs. I find this rather intimidating. Fortunately, Mr. Hogan also has that ridiculous handle-bar mustache, which I think makes us even.

* Note: this marks the official death of reality television. It's over, people. You can come out of your bunkers.

27 June, 2005

24 June, 2005

It's hard work avoiding answering questions

June 15:
Q Scott, more official British documents are seeming to indicate that the Bush administration was trying to justify an invasion of Iraq as early as March, 2002. And tomorrow, Representative John Conyers, as you know, is holding some Democratic hearings to get testimony about this. Is the President concerned that as more documents come out seeming to indicate a decision very early on to invade Iraq and possible manipulating --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you've asked these questions, the President has been asked these questions, and I think it's been addressed.
June 16:
Q Scott, on another topic, has the President or anyone else from the administration responded to the letter sent last month by Congressman John Conyers and signed by dozens of members of the House of Representatives, regarding the Downing Street memo? Has the President or anyone else responded?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.

Q Why not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Why not? Because I think that this is an individual who voted against the war in the first place and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed. And our focus is not on the past. It's on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq.

These matters have been addressed, Elaine. I think you know that very well. The press --

Q Scott, 88 members of Congress signed that letter.

MR. McCLELLAN: The press -- the press have covered it, as well.

Q What do you say about them?

Q But, Scott, don't they deserve the courtesy of a response back?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this has been addressed. Go ahead.


Q Scott, on John Conyers, John Conyers is walking here with that letter again, as you have acknowledged from Elaine's comment. But 88 leaders on Capitol Hill signed that letter. Now, I understand what you're saying about him, but what about the other 88 who signed this letter, wanting information, answers to these five questions?

MR. McCLELLAN: How did they vote on the war -- the decision to go to war in Iraq?

Q Well, you have two -- well, if that's the case, you have two Republicans who are looking for a timetable. How do you justify that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I already talked about that.

Q I understand, but let's talk about this.

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said --

Q Well, just because -- I understand -- but wait a minute, that's not -- if leaders from Congress -- if you're talking about unifying and asking for everyone to come together, why not answer, whether they wanted the war or not, answer a letter where John Conyers wrote to the President and then 88 congressional leaders signed? Why not answer that?

MR. McCLELLAN: For the reasons I stated earlier. This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed.
June 20:
Q All right, Scott. At their joint news conference, both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair denied the major assumptions out of the so-called Downing Street memo. We've had other revelations, I guess, since then. But is the President wondering how the intelligence operatives and diplomatic operatives of the key ally in this mission came to these assumptions, came to these conclusions? Isn't he wondering how this happened?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Prime Minister Blair addressed this very issue. They were memos relating to the United Kingdom and he addressed the issue in a news conference.

Go ahead, Ken.
Get that man a glass of water!

23 June, 2005

A walking pine-cone

The distinction between the mundane and the utterly fantastic is often rather slippery. What we come to accept as the domain of the possible is not a sphere with a well-defined radius; on the contrary, it's an agglomeration populated by hundreds of discordant species and held together by the best glue of them all: confabulation and rationalization.

As an illustrative example, consider the triumvirate that rules the menagerie of Chinese monsters: the dragon, the phoenix and the tiger. The modern student considers the first pair of these not to be actual creatures but the creation of art and fable; flights of fancy, as it were. On the other hand, the tiger is something one can directly ascertain with the eyes (for the moment). The phoenix and dragon, being residents of the realm of the fanciful, take on an aspect of improbability, a magical quality that the unfortunate tiger is not accorded. But really, the tiger isn't any less fantastic or worthy of disbelief - it's an original monster, fanged, muscled and clawed, painted in vibrant colors. We simply won't allow it to live in the same space as the phoenix and the dragon, since we must carefully maintain that tenuous boundary between fantasy and reality.

However, I detest that boundary, and I would very much like to take a bit of a sledge-hammer to it. So I give you the pangolin, a resident of the African continent, sometimes also called the scaly anteater. (Although, in truth, anteaters are Xenartha, along with armadillos, while the pangolin is one of the Laurasiatheria, and closely related to the dog and the cat.) The pangolin is a creature we would easily place in the domain of fantasy if we did not know otherwise. But I think that, even knowing that it is real, if you look at it the right way it forms a rather nice bridge between the two.

21 June, 2005


It's midsummer tonight, which I think should be celebrated with some sort of Bacchan orgiastic rite. But rites of any sort, let alone orgiastic ones, are not quite a la mode, so I suspect instead I'll have to imagine one in my head. It will go something like this:
There will be no talking and no singing. Only throngs of silent people and the voices of drums. The only manner of speech permitted is motion - the frenetic motion of limbs, stamping of feet, sway of hips and shoulders. Everyone is naked and anonymous, smeared in clay from head to toe, hair matted, eyes wild.

There are no lights. Only the light of the full moon and fires. All manner of fires - torches, bonfires, gourds filled with flaming oil. Some are carried, whirled in dances, burning fiery trails onto retinas. Some are left behind, thrust into the ground to mark the path.

There is an air of violence, an energy so imminent that the crowd salivates; but none of it is threatening, because everyone feels it. It is the common cord tying everyone together, into one mass.

In the center of that mass is the focus of that violent attention: a statue made of wood and reeds. It is Crapulence, bloated and lazy, odious, worthy of disgust. It is being dragged by chains along the ground, scraping and hissing in protest.

The procession moves through the streets, gaining mass, losing mass, now catching its breath and now flying forward undefatigably. It reaches the river, the edge of the water. The statue is surrounded on all sides, a dark mass ringed by flickering flames. The flames dance towards it, as if sucked in by an indrawn breath; then away. Then with a sudden rush they converge, and the statue goes ablaze.

It slides forward into the water. Now the torches are extinguished; now the only light is the burning mass, crackling, popping, throwing great showers of sparks up into the sky as it collapses in on itself. It sinks under the surface with a final, protesting hiss, leaving a crowd of naked human beings, breathing hard from exertion, the mud running off their bodies in sweaty trails, turning aside and at last seeing each other in the moonlight.

The sprint

I've reached a critical point in my graduate career - I'm simultaneously at the nadir and the apex, and now I look forward to an exhilirating descent coupled with a grueling climb. An unfortunate property of such extremities is that one would rather linger there than move on; it's hard to find any joy in actual motion, physically slogging through the jungle, cutting your way through thorns and wading through mud. And somehow, the fact that completion is in sight is nearly tantalizing enough that it feels like actual satisfaction.

On top of this is the fact that I've historically avoided hard work. I've been extraordinarily fortunate in that I'm blessed with a combination of talent, parents who whipped my ass into gear, and a manic energy that imbues me with near-miraculous focus when the time comes for it. If not for this, I would undoubtedly be making my way as a shiftless layabout of some variety - stoner, philosopher, resident of my parents' basement.

Anyway... deep breath. Here I go.

17 June, 2005

first known successful fragging

NY Army Reserve Guard kills 2 superiors. Turning point in the War on Vietnam, turning point in the War on Iraq. It's not huge until it's a consistent pattern, but there's nothing like being killed by your underlings to make officers want to get the fuck out.

15 June, 2005

Mary Ann is definitely hotter

My roomie pointed me to a post by Sean Carroll on the recent incident involving Kos and a certain TBS web-ad for the show "The Real Gilligan's Island", featuring Mary Ann and Ginger in a pie fight.

I'll get the obvious stuff out of the way: Kos is a moron. His response was ridiculous, regardless of your opinion of the ad. It showed a complete lack of respect for his comrades and their concerns. He deserves to have his face buried in shit for a while. Fortunately the fallout hasn't been all bad: check out the resulting Women Kossacks bleg (warning: it's still horribly ugly in appearance).
As to the ad itself: I'll admit, I find it titillating. I clicked on it. I'm not particularly embarassed about that fact. But note this aside by Sean Carroll:
One indication of the fact that the world has not achieved perfect gender equity is the paucity of ads featuring oil-wrestling matches between hunky men in Speedos. Not, I expect, that such imagery would be very attractive to many people of either sex.
So, why is it sexist to watch two statuesque women smearing pie over each other? Obviously there's a certain amount of objectification inherent in making something arousing. But I don't think anyone in particular would complain, if it weren't that men didn't resolutely refuse to be made into sexual objects.

I shan't minimize the role of gender disparity in perpetuating this situation. For many (if not most) men, interactions with women continue to be defined by sexuality, and women are made to assume the role of sex object whether they want to or not. The same is decidedly not true of men; women are not given much freedom to express any notion of a male sexual aesthetic or to shamelessly objectify men (whether they want to or not). As many important people have said, and with more erudition and footnotes than I can manage.

But I don't think this is all. Not long in the past, there definitely was a notion of male physical beauty, one appreciated and even held forward by men. If we dip back into ancient Greece, male sexuality was prized even above that of women. E.g. Plato's Symposium, where this brief excerpt is just one of many lines celebrating the homosexual relationship above the heterosexual:
And am I not right in asserting that there are two goddesses? The elder one, having no mother, who is called the heavenly Aphrodite-she is the daughter of Uranus; the younger, who is the daughter of Zeus and Dione-her we call common... The Love who is the offspring of the common Aphrodite is essentially common, and has no discrimination, being such as the meaner sort of men feel, and is apt to be of women as well as of youths, and is of the body rather than of the soul-the most foolish beings are the objects of this love which desires only to gain an end, but never thinks of accomplishing the end nobly, and therefore does good and evil quite indiscriminately. The goddess who is his mother is far younger than the other, and she was born of the union of the male and female, and partakes of both.

But the offspring of the heavenly Aphrodite is derived from a mother in whose birth the female has no part - she is from the male only; this is that love which is of youths, and the goddess being older, there is nothing of wantonness in her. Those who are inspired by this love turn to the male, and delight in him who is the more valiant and intelligent nature...
This was unquestionably not a society with gender equity, but the sexuality of men was certainly celebrated.

So I think there's as much or more a component of homophobia inherent in the dearth of male sexual objectification. Men might be willing to accept such a position (or rather, to impose it on each other), except for their galloping fear of being perceived as bent. Of TV in Ancient Greece, women might have complained that it was sexist to show the Skipper and Gilligan mud-wrestling and completely elide the unworthy females (and what about Mrs. Howell?). In other words, there's nothing inherently sexist about two women having a half-naked pie fight. It's the underlying implication: who gets to decide what's sexy and what's not.

Argh. (More DSM nonsense)

FAIR has an incredibly infuriating article on the Downing Street Memo and the flippant refusal of the corporate media to give this "paranoid theory" any coverage.

Impeach Bush - for real?

The Wisconsin State Democratic Party passed a resolution at its convention calling for the impeachment of the President.
WHEREAS, the Downing Street Memo shows that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld began planning and executing the war on Iraq before seeking Congressional and UN approval;

WHEREAS, UN weapons inspectors showed prior to the invasion that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; and

WHEREAS, there is further mounting evidence that the Administration lied or misled about "mushroom clouds," "connections to 9/11," and "war as a last resort" as they sought UN, Congressional, and public approvals;

THEREFORE, RESOLVED, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin asks Congress to immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
Note that this resolution was passed by the, ahem, sovereign body of the people (the rank-and-file party membership), and not the politicians who represent them, so it doesn't actually mean anything.

13 June, 2005

The "DSM"

I forget if I mentioned it here, but if you haven't already done so, sign John Conyers' petition regarding the Downing Street Memo right away. Takes only a second. He's going to deliver it Thursday.

Standing in the way of progress

A concrete example of the detrimental effect of being caught in the coils of Christian fundamentalism:

A team of Korean* scientists under the leadership of Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk recently announced that they had successfully created 11 lines of stem cells from separate patients. The same team in 2003 announced that they had successfully cloned a human embryo by replacing an egg cell nucleus with a normal nucleus (which is necessary to prevent the recipient's immune system from rejecting the derived stem cell line).

This contentious announcement was immediately greeted by a flurry of disapproval, including by our own President, who said that he would veto any legislation devoted to expanding research into embryonic stem cells, and windy moralists harrumphing about the possibility of reproductive cloning.

It's unclear to me why reproductive cloning is being thrust into the therapeutic debate - we regularly develop technologies that simultaneously allow for great ill and great good (though I also fail to see why reproductive cloning is so horribly evil, as opposed to just terribly bizarre). We simply elect to avoid doing evil. We make such decisions every day; one doesn't demand that we stop the manufacture of scalpels simply because they can be used to slice open jugular veins.

And it's no more clear to me why religious people cling to the particular viewpoint that the zygote is a human being. This is certainly not a position with much Biblical justification, since not too long in the past (ca. 1700) the whole concept of fertilization was unknown, and we imagined that sperm were homunculi, "little men", that grew into a fetus when nurtured by the mother's womb.

The idea that the zygote contains a soul is similarly bizarre. Whence, then, the souls of monozygotic twins? Are there two souls inherent before the zygote splits? Or does a second arrive when the cells are cleaved apart? Does the soul, also, undergo a mitotic division in tandem with the zygote? And what of frozen embryos? Are their souls held in limbo? Isn't it a great crime to be imprisoning human souls indefinitely that way?

These sorts of thorny issues don't seem to confound any fundamentalist, however, and there remains a dogged insistence that we respect the sanctity of the human embryo. Thus, it is impossible in the U.S. to obtain federal funds to do the sort of research that Dr. Hwang is performing. One CAN obtain embryos and do research on them within the U.S. (and escape prosecution for murder) - but you have to get your embryos overseas and your research must be privately funded.

Juxtaposed against this is the use of adult stem cell lines, which many pro-lifers feel is a better ethical alternative. I had a near brush with this a few years back, when I came up as a match for a leukimia patient. Marrow donation is probably one of the most common and direct potential applications for stem cell research. It's a simple procedure: they draw serum from the donor, spin out their marrow stem cells (which periodically migrate into the blood and can be encouraged to do so via drugs), and inject them into the recipient's blood stream, where they will hopefully resettle into the marrow and begin producing blood cells.

This is one of the few instances where stem cells can be easily isolated, but it's also a clear instance where adult stem cell research won't suffice - there's no stem cell line to isolate and cultivate in the recipient at all because it's been killed by chemotherapy, which is why donation is required. Meanwhile the patient must languish for months in a sickly state, waiting, often in vain, for a suitable match to appear.

The sort of expertise that would allow us to convert embryonic stem cells into a viable marrow stem cell line is years away. It's absurd, however, that we preclude the very real and very exciting possibility of completely obsolescing marrow donor databases, simply because of an idiosyncratic and wholly unjustified belief about the nature and timing of the soul.

* South Koreans - North Koreans are caught in the grip of such dire poverty that it is impossible to imagine them accomplishing such feats. A recent survey of North Korean refugees found that the average height for teenagers was under five feet; the North Korean army had such difficulty recruiting soldiers that they had to revoke their minimum height requirement. The products of severe malnutrition and famine; food shortage remains a problem.

Self/non-self recognition remains one of the most awesome things the body does. At the centers of your lymphatic system are B-cells, which are trained to recognize only foreign proteins through via a simple culling mechanism. Every B-cell creates a unique receptor molecule through (essentially) a random process. When created, the cell has no idea what (if anything) this receptor will recognize. But it can test it against the range of proteins produced by the body (since, after all, every B-cell is equipped with a complete map of everything the body is capable of manufacturing). If its receptor is built to recognize an endogenous protein, the B-cell terminates itself. Thus, the library of surviving B-cells will be equipped to detect only foreign proteins - including transplanted tissue. Therefore, it's necessary that the derived stem cell line be genetically identical to the recipient. This is done by cultivating the cloned egg until it's reached the blastocyst stage (~1000 cells) and harvesting embryonic stem cells from it.

Dr. Hwang immediately shot back, "With all the great scientists and the great potential of the United States ... if because of some policy hurdle, the researchers cannot realize their dreams, I believe, as a fellow scientist this would be very regrettable."

This wanker award thing is a bad idea

I mean, we're going to have to give it to Cheney every fucking day, practically:
Cheney said "The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people."
<stupid>Is he talking about the inmates or the guards?</stupid>

10 June, 2005

Friday orgasm blogging

For all the ways science is misused and abused -- something we document way too often around here -- it is still sometimes used for good, rather than evil. To wit: in the last 10 days, 3 new patents were granted with the word "orgasm" in the text. My personal favorite was the "Intravaginal stimulation apparatus," which is apparently a way for one to manipulate a vibrator with one's ankles rather than having to get tendonitis from pushing and pulling something at such odd angles.

There was also the use of (5R)-(methylamino)-5,6-dihydro-4H-imidazo[4,5,1-ij]quinolin-2(1H)-one, (5R)-(methylamino)-5,6-dihydro-4H-imidazo[4,5,1-ij]quinoline-2(1H)-thione and pharmaceutically acceptable salts thereof to "induce mating" (yikes!) and to treat "hypoactive sexual desire disorder, female sexual arousal disorder, male erectile disorder, female orgasmic disorder and male orgasmic disorder."

09 June, 2005


Please already have noted that I changed the layout again. Change is good, I think, and this change is good in particular. Also, I am getting sick of warding off destruction with this one hand - the other one is cramped and I think my shoulder has become dislocated. Any ideas for a new subtitle?

If only we had a "wanker of the day" award

Marshall Grossman.
The turf battles over Malibu's oceanfront ... what is public and what is private ... property owners bringing in heavy equipment to scoop up tons of public beach and pile it onto their property ... skip loaders have erected a massive ridge of sand between the ocean and the community ... the arrival of earthmoving machinery has raised a new array of issues ... Marshall Grossman, a Broad Beach homeowner and lawyer, said the intent was not to block public access, but simply to restore the sandy dunes in front of the homes that eroded during last winter's storms.

"When that happens, homeowners bring their own sand back to the dunes or bring in replacement sand from the outside in order to restore the dune areas," Grossman said. "It doesn't interfere with public access at all because the dunes are simply restored to what they were."

Set phasers to "blow up the IED"

What the hell is a directed energy discharge? Google turns up 8 hits, of which 6 are about Star Trek, one is a quote from the X Files, and one refers to a conspiracy theory about the Shroud of Turin. If you have any idea what this tool is, please respond in comments.

All your "based on" are belong to them

A couple days ago, reporters questioned U.S. presidential spokesman Scott McClellan about a report from the Government Accountability Project that claimed the White House had a former oil lobbyist edit its science documents about climate change -- giving him a chance to wordsmith the prose after scientists had already gone through it for accuracy. Mr. McClellan did not deny that the editing took place. Instead he said,
These reports should always be based on our scientific knowledge and what is the best available science. And that's what we expect. And that's what those reports are based on.
I don't know about you, but when I hear "based on," the only thing that comes to my mind is made-for-TV movies: based on a true story.

By the way, it's worth clicking to that press conference to see something amazing and strange -- reporters really grilling the guy. They stuck to this one and wouldn't let him weasel. Of course, the resulting story was pretty wimpy. (I had typed "stories were" but then found nothing in the LA Times, nothing in the Washington Post, nothing on NPR, and who would even ask about TV news?)

UPDATE (33 minutes later) The dude behind me at this Internet cafe was talking loud on his mobile phone so I overheard him tell someone that "Chris Mooney had already posted the climate story on our blog" so I googled that name and found this interesting story. Apparently this is not the first time the NY Times has busted Bush screwing science. Thank the tech-god for loud phones and quiet cafes.

UPDATE 2 (77 minutes later) The LA Times does mention the story today, here. You've got to appreciate the note that the new EPA chief is "the first scientist to head" the agency.

08 June, 2005

Food for thought

Check out Jean Friedsky's story at the NarcoSphere on the differences between the street battles in Bolivia which forced another president to resign and what she remembers from American protests:

Here, "the revolution" is anything but a party. Dancing hippies, drum circles and four-story high puppets are notably absent from the recent mass mobilizations that have rocked Bolivia for the past two weeks. There are no breaks for concerts, no hemp clothing for sale.

When I think about disciplined forces in American politics, it is often the negative impression of "party discipline" in the RCP or other marxist parties. But here Jean (and in the comments section, Al) offer another model of discipline: the discipline of the Zapatistas and the Aymara, who are fighting to "WIN", as Al puts it. Are drum circles holding us back? Is puppet theater just a fun distraction? Does the Aymara model translate to American politics?

"Safe" in the nation's capital

I made it to Washington, D.C., accompanied by fighter jets and an overheated Amtrak train. I drove 3,741 miles to get here and got to know exactly zero people well enough to get a phone number or e-mail address. I rode Amtrak for the last leg, between NYC and here, and made a couple new friends and got to know a semi-famous performer. But in the big interior, while not talking to anyone but the occasional gas station attendant, I had a lot of chance to listen to my WalMart (first thing I ever bought there) portable radio (the car radio was stolen before the trip). Here is what I learned.

  • Replace your car tires.
  • Risk-free moneymaking offer.
  • Jesus loves me.
  • Got smote someone or another with the help of the Maccabees.
  • The Spurs made it to the playoffs.
  • Liberals are in charge of the military, which is why "we" aren't yet "giving the Islamofascists all we've got."
  • Liberals are the only ones who care about the Geneva Conventions.
  • Those who follow the lord are likely to be persecuted
  • The U.S. is the underdog now
  • Architects from the AIA can help students perform
  • Generic drugs are tested by the FDA

Grassroots theocracy

A small brick roadside Protestant church along state highway 60 near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia is decorated with new, crisp, red-white-and-blue ribbons. Out front stands a big white signboard, the kind that often blocks the sidewalk at a used car dealership on a suburban strip but fitting in surprisingly well on the carefully mowed church lawn by the paved parking lot in a lush river valley in the most culturally Confederate of the historic Union. Red lettering on the sign proclaims, "One Nation Under God." Though blue-staters like myself might read the line as jingoistic repetition of a nationalistic slogan, the sentiment contains a vigorous sense of rebellion.

An anti-authoritarian sensibility pervades American life. It's one of the most exciting and refreshing aspects of living in this country, one of the reasons I've spent my adult life struggling to find health insurance here rather than retreating to the comfort and generosity of my other home and native land. The same rebellious spirit exists on the freeway, where everyone drives 8 or more mph over the speed "limit," in our lungs, where 80 percent of US residents say they have at least tried smoking pot, and in the workplace.

The growing theocratic sentiment in the United States arises from a sense -- misguided, perhaps, but genuine -- that liberals have taken over the country and are enforcing secularism in violation of American history.

What's amusing about this is that liberals who support separating church and state also feel like underdog rebels. They pay attention to the unreligious deism of the Founding Fathers, rather than the intensely conservative Christianity that led to the invention of "freedom of religion." They see a creeping theocracy in laws controlling gay marriage and reproduction, rather than the decline of right-wing religious values with the advent of gay rights and widespread acceptance of abortion.

I have no idea if there's really a trend in either direction, or if the coasts are really diverging from the interior, or the cities from the country, or what. All I know is the sense stays strong of grievance and victimization and righteous rebellion. And that's a sign of hope.

(Now if some of these "victimized" Christians could learn the other side of history...)

07 June, 2005


On Saturday night I happened to run into a local anarchist-type while I was at a party*. I didn't know him very well, but he somehow recognized me, and although he was typically taciturn he did confirm my suspicions: absolutely nothing is happening in the left-activist scene.

This is good, because it means I haven't been missing anything. But, obviously bad because I haven't had anything to miss. What the heck? This should be an ideal time to organize, for reasons I don't think I have to enumerate. The list of grievances is long, discontent is high. People should be running around on the street with veins in their teeth, gunning down corrupt politicians and breaking open corporate coffers. Spontaneously. Instead, they're just... what?

Last time I went on this rant, I concluded we were taking a contemplative time-out. But it seems even the non-contemplative activists, the from-the-gut whose-streets-our-streets types, are thrown. I have to revise my hypothesis to: shell-shock.

There's two responses when you're encircled and the enemy is closing in with blades drawn: get your back up and fight hard, or fall down and wail and tear your hair in despair.

* Conveniently situated at my neighbors' place, in the same house as me - even I am not lazy enough to pass that up.

06 June, 2005

Panic attack

Earlier this morning I went out to have lunch in the bright, bright sun. While I was toasting my skin and scarfing down my Cajun-style burrito, I had an existential crisis on behalf of the entire universe.

"Jesus fuck!" I suddenly thought. "This whole system is cooked up out of nowhere! Like, the strong nuclear force? Why is that around?" Except it was more sudden than that, more epiphanic and less valley-girl.

Fortunately, in the very next instant I thought, "Whew! Surely there must be some Almighty force, an undifferentiated Purpose, underwriting this all." This allowed me to continue eating my burrito without becoming completely unhinged.

03 June, 2005

I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for those darn kids

My fellow Wikipedian urges me to come clean and admit my conversion. It's true. I now subscribe to the "Intelligent Design" theory.

What convinced me, you say? It was this stellar piece of work, here: "Five Questions Evolutionists Would Rather Dodge", by Dr. William Dembski. He's right! I would have rather dodged - but he nailed me good. I was skewered! Curse this metal body, I wasn't fast enough!

I mean, come on - the absence of transitional fossils? HOLY SHIT! I never heard that one before. Dr. Dembski is right-on. I've been living a lie.

And what about his airtight argument based on the Jodie Foster/Carl Sagan movie Contact? I loved that movie! How could I insult it by not falling prey to his argument? Check it out!
Recall the movie Contact, based on a novel by Carl Sagan. In that movie, SETI astronomers discovered a radio signal consisting of a long sequence of prime numbers (these are numbers divisible only by themselves and one). Because the sequence was long, it was complex and thus hard to reproduce by chance. Also, the prime numbers are mathematically significant and thus represent an objective, independently given pattern, or what is called a specification.
Hold your skepticism. I know what you're going to say; you're going to go on about earlier false-alarms like pulsars and what-not. But Dr. Dembski has the power of MATH, man! It's an objective, independently given pattern!

Elsewhere, Dr. Dembski elucidates what he means by this: if we were to come across the text DQXTGZGAGDD, we might think it was randomly generated. But if we saw the text CALLMEISHMAEL, we'd say, "Woah! That conforms to an objective, independently given pattern! It's the first three words from Moby Dick! We would never have expected to see those appear completely by random chance!", and we'd have to conclude an intelligence created it. Similarly, when we see a G-coupled receptor protein, we ALSO say, "Woah!", because that also conforms to an objective, independently given pattern. I can't tell you what that pattern is, right now, but I promise I'll tell you, later! *wink*

I've wasted enough time trying to detect patterns of selection in non-coding sequences. Fuck that shit! Now I'm going to waste spend my time detecting which nucleotides show influence of design! With any luck, I should be able to specifically pinpoint at what time the Almighty decided to create flagellar proteins. Nature publication, here I come! (Or maybe Creation Research Science Quarterly)

Anyway, I'm going to go hang out on the street wearing a sandwich board, now (fringe benefits!), so don't wait up for me. I won't be hanging around my usual, Satanic evolutionist haunts* anymore, so don't look for me there. I have much to make up for.

* Viz., the living room sofa.

02 June, 2005

Holy bituminous tar-sands, Batman!

The hippo drops this bomb. ExxonMobil seems to have come on board with the crazy pulling-out-their-own-hair Cassandra-complex peak oil types; they now project oil production peaking in 2010.

I was hoping a stock-market crash would result from this news, but apparently not. No one seems to have heard. Anyway: YOU have now heard. Start building your oil-crisis bomb shelter now! Whoever has the most cans and cigarettes by 2010 wins!

Also, some of you better start looking into those thirty pigs you're going to owe me.

Haha! But, seriously, folks. Can we start taking this stuff seriously now that it's been legitimized by a giant evil fucking oil company? Like, how about that rail infrastructure? And when are they going to realize that driving cars in the city just doesn't work?

Bridge over the River Charles

This morning it was fucking perfect. Cloudless, sun so bright it makes everything look gilded and beautiful. Just the right blend of heat and humidity. The back of your neck gets hot, but right at the point where it might become too hot, a nice breeze tickles you there and sets it all to right.

So I stopped on the bridge between Cambridge and Boston as I was biking across, naturally. I saw two things that interested me.

One was a pair of ducks: mallard chasing a prospective mate. I've never seen a female duck that doesn't play hard-to-get. Also, ducks have this incredibly odd habit of sticking their butts up in the air and shaking their tail-feathers dry. EARTH TO DUCKS: YOU ARE IN THE WATER. YOU'RE JUST GOING TO GET WET AGAIN.

Two was some sidewalk art. See, a few years ago, some anonymous vandals whom I definitely don't know tagged that bridge with anti-war graffiti. The following day the frat boys who possessively maintain the sanctity of the bridge painted over it with flat white house-paint. Crumb! But, add a little time and everything turns out good: it seems that house-paint+spray-paint has a slightly lower rate of erosion than just house-paint. So, this morning, I can once more read "War is terrorism" on the sidewalk. Ghost of graffiti past.

That is all.

01 June, 2005

Babelfish for politicians

You know, there's a lucrative sideline available here to us reality-based folks as translators. Observe this quote (talking about violence around the referendum in Egypt):
White House press secretary Scott McClellan denounced the beating of protesters during the vote.

"We're very aware of the reports," McClellan said. "There is no excuse for attacks on peaceful demonstrators."

Asked specifically about women being beaten, McClellan said: "Anyone who attacks peaceful demonstrators should be arrested and tried. That's our view."
Asked specifically about women being beaten, McClellan said: "I think we've made it pretty clear how to respond to this sort of situation: punish a few hired goons, toadies, or flunkies and keep pointing towards how you've, ah, 'dealt with the problem,' so to speak, until the press gets bored and moves on."

Giant monster all-out attack!

So, Cheney came crawling out from under his rock the other day to defend Guantanamo. Bush today did the same.
Referring to the report, Bush said, "It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on . . . allegations by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to . . . not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report."
I think I went over this already. But the absurdity of the reasoning here doesn't seem to faze these people.

What I want to know is, how do reporters take it? The daily humiliation of being fed horseshit and being forced to swallow? Tomorrow I'd like to read:
Roger Tortwist of the Parsipanny Bee was ejected from the White House today after he created a disturbance during the morning press briefing. Following a statement by Press Secretary Scott McClellan, Mr. Tortwist stood up and shouted, "Come on! Do I really look that stupid? Do you think anyone in this room believes the shit you're shoveling, McClellan? Look at my face! Is this the face of an idiot? Huh? Huh?"

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