Saturday, February 28, 2004

Science fights back: Citizens for Science vs. the Discovery Institute

NYT: Montana Creationism Bid Evolves Into Unusual Fight

[Update May 2004]:

The June 2004 issue of Wired has an essay by Bruce Sterling on the societal disease of Lysenkoism. I'll try to remember to link to it when it's available online. Lysenkoism is what happens when political pseudoscience, as in evangelical biology, wins. Lysenkoism played an important role in the collapse of the old Soviet Empire. Same topic as this one. [EndUpdate]
In early December, a local Baptist minister, Curtis Brickley, put up handbills inviting residents of this town, population 754, to a meeting in the junior high school gym. The topic was the teaching of evolution in the Darby schools.

Two hundred people from Darby and surrounding Ravalli County, which nurtures a deep vein of conservative religious sentiment, filed into the gym on Dec. 10. There, the well-spoken minister delivered an elaborate PowerPoint presentation challenging Charles Darwin's theories.

There was nothing particularly unusual about Mr. Brickley's message. For years, opponents of evolutionary theory have been pressing their case, with similar arguments, in statehouses and school systems around the country. What was unusual was the response.

Within days, a group of parents, business people, teachers, students and other residents mobilized to defend Darwin against Mr. Brickley's challenge. The group, Ravalli County Citizens for Science, phoned a biotechnology firm in nearby Hamilton asking for help and was connected with Dr. Jay Evans, a research immunologist. He began looking into Mr. Brickley's claims, which were drawn in part from materials from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization affiliated with many conservative causes.

This is not a particularly well written article, but it appears the Citizens for Science movement started with the Kansas Chapter. Citizens for Science is state based, but the National Center for Science Education is, well, national.

Minnesota is following the path of Montana. Evangelical Republicans are moving on many fronts here to attack the models of natural selection and the theories of biological evolution. They are winning, but it is good to learn that a counter-attack is stirring. Of course if these Evangelicals really do manage to destroy science education, they'll also end up destroying the public school system as secular scholars move en masse to private schools.

Natural selection is one of the most powerful theories in the past two hundred years. It has been applied to a variety of systems, including political systems, economics, corporate behavior, and a very wide range of biological systems from the molecular level to the species level. It's even been applied to cosmology and the evolution of black holes.

Ironically, and this is the point that often gets missed, natural selction and Darwin's work are not inconsistent with "intelligent design". Indeed, were the universe designed, it's likely that the designer also experienced the effects of natural selection in action ...

The Russian nuclear fuel trade

Uranium Traveled to Iran Via Russia, Inspectors Find
In a report on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that its inspections had found that centrifuge equipment made indigenously in Iran — but not imported gear — showed many traces of the concentrated fuel, leading experts to doubt the Iranian explanation and suggest that Iran had enriched the uranium itself. Its purity was 36 percent U-235 — short of the 90 percent needed for most nuclear bomb designs but greater than that needed for most nuclear reactors.

On Friday, however, European diplomats said the agency's laboratory at Seibersdorf, Austria, had discovered a likely match between the atomic signatures of Russian uranium and samples agency inspectors had gathered from Iranian centrifuges.

In its sleuthing, the lab studies such things as a sample's isotopes — atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons. A distinctive mix of such isotopes can amount to a fingerprint that experts check against atomic databanks.

One day Malaysia, the next Russia. I emphasized the word most above. What enrichment level is needed for the Pakistan/North Korea design? Does anyone think this trade can be contained -- or just slowed?

Putin must worry about a Chechen bomb.

Friday, February 27, 2004

How GWB boosts manufacturing and overall employment -- the ketchup maneuver

Molly Ivins, Star Telegram | 02/26/2004 | No bad idea left behind

Reagan famously reduced the federal cost of school lunches by defining ketchup as a vegetable. GWB extends the master's legacy:
My personal favorite among Bush's recent moves is the proposal in his economic report to Congress to reclassify fast-food restaurants, moving them from the service sector to 'manufacturing.' This is a concept. In case you're puzzled over why your burger-flippers should now be classified with autoworkers, it's so when the administration has to report the statistics on how many manufacturing jobs we've lost, they won't look so bad.

This administration is very clever about redefining its problems. For example, when the figures indicated that the Bushies had lopsidedly benefited huge corporations as compared to small business, they just changed the definition of 'small business' to include some of the biggest corporations in the country.

The Lion King: Being a safe and relatively benevolent carnivore

Whence the Beef? - The gruesome trip from pasture to platter (and how to ensure that it's not so bad). By Laurie Snyder

It's not that easy to be a Lion King -- ironically it's easiest for beef. Just as with any consumer good, brands matter. It's the reputation of the brand that validates the labels, not any regulatory agency. The early 21st century is an age where identity and reputation are fundamental, just as in the early 19th century, in part due to a libertarian current in our cultural evolution. For meat as with email ....
[beef]... To be certified "organic," cattle must be raised without hormones or antibiotics of any kind and must eat only pesticide-free vegetarian feed. Beef labeled "grass-fed" is the favorite of many animal rights activists. ... keep an eye out for labels that read "never confined to a feedlot." .... Two for grass-fed beef are and

[pork] ... As with organic beef, organic pork is vegetarian, and antibiotic- and hormone-free, but may have spent months in cramped CAFOs. Some producers also sell what they call free-range or meadow-raised pork, meaning pigs that are pastured for much of the year... But there are no restrictions on the use of these terms, so be sure to ask for the details.

[turkey - the author didn't have any alternative to suggest! Sounds like wild turkeys can't be effectively harvested. Too fast!]

[eggs - she only mentions McDonald's?] Fast-food giant McDonald's announced in 2000 that all producers who supply its eggs must give hens 72 square inches each (more than three times what they typically get), cannot use forced-molting, and should stop de-beaking chicks.

[poultry] ....According to activists, turkeys and chickens labeled "free range" didn't necessarily enjoy much more mobility than their CAFO-raised peers. In the United States, poultry can be labeled free-range as long as there's some access to the outdoors, for some of the birds in a flock. Free-range chicks are still often de-beaked, and free-range egg-laying hens still spend their days in battery cages—they just have a bit more room to move about. One term to keep an eye out for is "cage free"—fowl raised in open spaces are likely a bit better off.

Krugman on free trade

Op-Ed Columnist: The Trade Tightrope
The point is that free trade is politically viable only if it's backed by effective job creation measures and a strong domestic social safety net.

Economists argue about a lot of things, but the benefits of trade are to economics as natural selection is to biology. Krugman defends free trade as he must and should.

Economists do fight about how best to help the "losers" free trade produces. Conservatives favor tax cuts, liberals favor training and unemployment insurance. That's a legitimate fight. I favor 529 plans to cover living costs when unemployed and retraining with mandatory contributions when employed. That's a policy many Republicans would accept.

Where Republicans are vulnerable is health care and benefits. These need to be removed from employment. Krugman is starting to talk about this. It's a winner for Kerry.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Great NYT Review on Autism

Lifting the Veils of Autism, One by One by One
Very interesting. The NYT has had very good autism coverage.

Dietary supplements stop dementia in beagles? AAAS proceedings

In beagles, at least, there's evidence that diet can impact brain health ... | Dogs and medicine - Anti-oxidant anti-dementia therapy (for Beagles): Vitamin C, Vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-l-carnitine.
... Carl Cotman and his colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, have been using beagles to investigate the effects of diet on the decline of brain function that accompanies ageing. Dogs are a useful stand-in for people in such experiments because the way memory declines in the two species seems comparable. Memory loss in dogs is accompanied by the formation of so-called amyloid plaques in the brain. Rodents, the usual stand-in mammals used in medical research, do not tend to accumulate such plaques as they age. In people, amyloid plaques are one of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

... Dr Cotman wanted to know whether a diet rich in antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, could relieve the symptoms of an ageing brain. Oxidative stress within the brain, which causes the production of molecules known as free radicals, increases with age. Free radicals can damage—and eventually kill—brain cells.

The results astonished the researchers. Not only did the antioxidant-rich diet halt age-related decline, it actually reversed it. While beagles on a normal diet continued to lose their cognitive abilities as they got older, those on the experimental diet showed improvements in learning and memory. These dogs could do much more complicated tasks, and made fewer mistakes. They could also re-learn tasks that they could do when they were younger, but had forgotten. And the diet (which, besides the vitamins, contained two food supplements called alpha-lipoic acid and acetyl-l-carnitine, that help to stop free radicals forming in the first place) also reduced the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the beagles' brains...
Ok. Why wasn't this a headliner in all the science summaries I review? There are so many implications of this research.

First, what's with dogs? I love dogs as much as the next geek, but they are starting to seem a bit odd. How much do they have in common with humans, anyway? In a previous posting I joked about dogs being a synthetic species designed to civilize pre-agricultural humanity...

Lunatic speculation aside, there are other implications here. Such as ...
  1. Would I add this to my elderly dog's dinner?
  2. Would I recommend it to everyone over 80 with memory problems?
  3. Will I (44yo) start taking it myself?
But first, the caveats (lots of them):
  1. Results like this are often misinterpreted or reversed on appeal. On the other hand, this isn't the first result of this sort, only the most dramatic.
  2. When a "natural" "supplement" alters physiology, it's a drug. These substances are being administered in doses much higher than in a human or canine diet. They're acting like medications, "natural" or not, they're drugs. Most drugs have side-effects and drug interactions, good sides and bad sides. These will be no exception.
    We don't really know what role antioxidants play in disease. In 1996 the CARET study found an increased rate of lung cancer among clinical trial smokers taking antioxidants. Since then researchers have wondered if antioxidants are a key part of the tumor surveillance system. So one big caveat is the relationship between Alzheimer's dementia and brain tumors. What if suppressing oxidative stress reduced the risk of plaque-associated dementia, but increased the risk of brain tumors? That would not be a great trade-off.
And now, the opinions:
  1. If my dog Molly, aged 14, didn't have a terminal disease, I'd add it to her diet. This is about as good evidence as we'll get for dogs.
  2. It's very tempting to consider for elderly people experiencing early Alzheimer's disease. A few tabs of ibuprofen, some antioxidants … . Dementia is a devastating disease, and many people would assume many risks to avert it. But see the caveats above. What if the therapy increased the risk of strokes, or lung cancer? What about interactions with other medications? Does one need all the supplements, or just some of them? How critical is the balance? Could an unbalanced regimen worsen the underlying process? How does this really work, anyway? Above all, how similar are beagles to people? We may not know the answer to these questions for decades.
  3. It's a huge leap from dogs to middle-aged humans. See all of the above. True, my memory isn't what I'd like -- but I'm probably at average risk for age 70-80 dementia, which implies significant impairment starting in about 10 years. Again, what if this antioxidant therapy knocked out a major component of the body's tumor suppression mechanism? OTOH, if I were at high risk for impairment within a 10 year time frame, I'd be phoning my neurologist now. Just to get them thinking.
Bottom line, very interesting. Alzheimer's is one of the major causes of dementia. Preventing Alzheimer's would, all by itself, resolve our social security and medicare crises. It would mean more people could be economically productive longer.

India and outsourcing: Friedman 1, Kristof 0

NYT Friedman: Meet the Zippies
With 54 percent of India under the age of 25 — that's 555 million people — six out of 10 Indian households have at least one zippie, Outlook says. And a growing slice of them (most Indians are still poor village-dwellers) will be able to do your white-collar job as well as you for a fraction of the pay. Indian zippies are one reason outsourcing is becoming the hot issue in this year's U.S. presidential campaign.
About two weeks ago Kristof, one of my favorite columnists, wrote a very atypically dumb column on this topic. Kristof said then that America needs to invest in more college education to meet the new age. Duh.

Friedman wins this match. Great column. Reich's recommendations are mine as well, except I think wage insurance won't fly. I do think that the 401K and its equivalents need to become life-event rather than age driven, and all benefits need to be unrelated to employment. Employment should be wages, nothing else.

Friedman/Reich point out that outsourcing is a tax deductible business expense. The tax code should NOT be facilitating outsourcing. It shouldn't obstruct it, but neither should it encourage it. That can be changed.

The world needs China and India to be wealthy. These are two sources of extraordinary power and vigor, and the US is acting as a short-circuit between them. If we capture a fraction of that current we can share in the wealth, but we can't do it with our current social support network. We need another solution.

BTW, Robert Cringely is another writer who's got it.

Good for Friedman. Even if he is a Bush apologist.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

On the brilliance of dogs | Dog behaviour
... Dr Hare's hypothesis is that dogs are superbly sensitive to social cues from people. That enables them to fit in with human society. On one level, this might sound common sense. But humans are such sociable animals that they frequently fail to realise just how unusual are their own skills at communicating. Dr Hare therefore decided to test his idea by comparing the abilities of dogs with those of chimpanzees, which are often regarded as second only to people in their level of innate intelligence.

His experiment was simple. He presented his animal subjects with two inverted cups. Then he hid the cups behind a screen, put a small piece of food under one of them, and took the screen away. The animal had to choose which cup to look under. If the experimenter gave no cue, both species got it right 50% of the time, as would be expected. However, if he signalled in some way which was the right cup, by pointing at it, tapping it, or even just gazing at it, a dog would choose correctly every time, while a chimpanzee would still do only slightly better than chance. Chimps simply did not get the idea of social signals of this sort, however many times the experiment was repeated.

For years dogs were the neglected research subject. Domesticated, they were not nearly as romantic a subject as wolves, eagles, whales, etc.

That's changed. Dogs are a peculiar animal. They demonstrate astonishing plasticity in morphology and, now, in cognition. They are a single species with a 300% range in aging velocity. In a fairly brief period of time, only about 15,000 years, they adapted with astonishing speed to a new ecological niche -- the human host. They wormed their way into our society, becoming the second most prolific large mammal in the history of the planet. I suspect they also changed humanity, and the balance of power within early human social networks.

Hmm. Makes one think of a great idea for a science fiction short story. A hopelessly psychotic species is civilized by introducing an adaptive parasite that alters human evolution ...

One also wonders what would become of dogs if humans were to disappear? They might continue to prove themselves quite adaptable.

Ralph Nader -- funding by Rove?

BBC NEWS | Americas | Nader announces presidential bid
Our correspondent says with so much antagonism, even among his own former supporters, Ralph Nader's first problem will be getting enough signatures even to get himself onto the ballot in many states.

The most charitable explanation is that Nader truly believes that American democracy has collapsed. There are many people worried about the health of American democracy, but maybe Nader thinks we're gone over the edge into a covert police state.

A less charitable explanation is that he's an insane megalomaniac who'll take down the world to feed his ego.

Either way, he has guaranteed funding. A tiny portion of the Rove/Bush bankroll will ensure Nader gets the 1-3% of the vote needed to tip the election to Bush. The only mystery is whether Rove need be all that covert about how he funds Nader. After all, if Ralph believes the system is hopelessly corrupt, he might as well take Rove's money.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Neo-Feudalism: Return of the Trades

Essay: A Prettier Jobs Picture?
[The Bureau of Labor Statistics] ... is much less adept at counting employees in small businesses, simply because there are too many small enterprises to representatively sample them. The bureau's occupational survey, which might suggest which jobs are growing, doesn't count self-employed people or partners in unincorporated businesses at all. And many of today's growing industries, the ones adding jobs even amid the recession, are comprised largely of small companies and self-employed individuals. That is particularly true for aesthetic crafts, from graphic designers and cosmetic dentists to gardeners. These specialists' skills are in ever greater demand, yet they tend to work for themselves or in partnerships.

Ahh, yes. The aesthetic crafts. Minstrels and gardeners, servants and carpenters. I had quite an interesting discussion the other day with a master carpenter who makes a fine living doing cabinets ... on yachts.

No more inheritance tax. Increasing concentration of wealth by inheritance, network effects ("winner take all"), regressive taxation and tax avoidance. It all adds up to an increasingly wealthy and powerful elite and an army of gardeners, entertainers, tradesman and craftsman to serve them. Don't send your children to college, let them be minstrels.

The last time we did this there were barons and kings upon the land, and the wealthy lived in walled cities surrounded by the heaving masses ...

Tne Malaysian Connection: the diffusion of nuclear weapons (

Insider Tells Of Nuclear Deals, Cash (
Tahir, however, had turned his attention to Malaysia, marrying the daughter of a former Malaysian diplomat in a society wedding in 1998 and gaining permanent residency there.

He also saw business opportunities. Though he had planned in 2001 to manufacture centrifuge components in Turkey with a Turkish associate, police said, Tahir changed his mind and suggested that the parts be produced by a politically connected Malaysian company, Scomi Precision Engineering.

An astounding story is unraveling, beyond the best of Ian Fleming. A wonderful and terrible example the power of markets.

Tahir was a key player in the China-Pakistan-Libya-Malaysia-Iran (more to come) nuclear weapons trade. The Malaysia connection is highly interesting. Malaysia is a high tech manufacturing nation ruled by Mahathir (semi-retired), an autocratic tyrant with a record of successful rule and a hatred of the "West". It is a police state. Did Mahathir know that a Malaysian engineering firm was doing high tech manufacturing for Libya's bomb?

The other thread in this story is the astounding capabilities of the IAEA and Mohammed el Baradei. Maybe he could assume command of the CIA?

Friday, February 20, 2004

Science and the media: brain rot from electric motors?

ScienceDaily News Release: Exposure To Low-level Magnetic Fields Causes DNA Damage In Rat Brain Cells, Researchers Find
Since Lai first reported findings of magnetic field-induced DNA damage in 1995, several laboratories in Europe and India have reported similar effects.

The other day I commented on how responsibly one journalists had handled the peculiar association between heavy antibiotic use and breast cancer. Now we have the other side of the coin.

The journalist mentions the results of an earlier study were validated by "several laboratories in Europe and India". A corollary of this statement is that NO lab in North America has been able to duplicate the earlier results.

That's a heck of a red flag.

And not pointing that out is cruddy journalism.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

The fall of Howard Dean

NYT, Jon Margolis - Howard’s End
In Vermont, Dr. Dean was never a very good politician. He was quite a good governor. He was a prudent steward of the state's finances. He expanded social services while reducing taxes. During the debate over civil unions in 2000, he not only kept his word but he also kept his cool.

On the campaign trail, though, Dr. Dean was a dud. Here was a man with neither a thirst for the political jugular nor a sense of timing.

Clinton was a very able President, a tremendous politician, and a flawed human being. Roosevelt and Kennedy were rather similar. Washington was a weak campaigner, but never had to campaign. Lincoln had it all. Churchill, despite his tremendous oratorical skills, was (I think!) weak on the campaign trail.

I don't agree with Mr Margolis that Howard Dean was a poor politician. I think to be a an effective governor, which he was, one has to be skilled in many aspects of politics. He was, however, a very weak entertainer. He was not strong in debate. He couldn't manage an attack. He lacked the skills that lawyers learn. He was not a campaigner.

It is a cliche that the very best person to be president would never run, and were they to be forced to run they would never have the campaign skills. There's some truth to that. We're stuck with entertainers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004 | The fight against spam - buying a managed reputation | The fight against spam
THE short history of society's fight against spam—usually defined as unwanted commercial e-mail—may be about to pass into a significant third phase. In the first phase, it was geeks who led the resistance, using techie weapons such as e-mail filters with fancy Bayesian mathematics. In the second phase, politicians joined in, eager to get their names on to new legislation—in America, for instance, 36 states and Congress have passed laws of some sort against spam. Now, in the third phase, the economists are taking over.

This is my managed reputation of sending service proposal, except that one "buys" the reputation. A nice variation!

A star dies long ago and far away ...

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Huge black hole tears apart star
The X-ray outburst is one of the most extreme ever detected and was caused by gas from the destroyed star being heated to millions of degrees.

The black hole is at the centre of a galaxy known as RX J1242-11 and is estimated to have a mass about 100 million times that of the sun. RX J1242-11 is an estimated 700 million light years away from Earth...

'The centre of the galaxy flared up in a brilliant burst of X-rays thousands of times brighter than all of the billions of stars of this galaxy taken together.'

Not that far away really. I wonder what happened to all the peoples alive in that galaxy 700 milllion years ago ...

[update: A later NASA release said that radiation levels at the galactic periphery, aka the habitable band of most galaxies, would not be hazardous to life.] - Study: Pox Vaccine Loses Punch - Study: Pox Vaccine Loses Punch
A study published today suggests that the effectiveness of the chicken pox vaccine decreases significantly in the first year after it's given but also notes that most vaccinated children who subsequently came down with the disease had mild illnesses.

A team led by Dr. Marietta Vazquez of the Yale University School of Medicine found that the vaccine was 97 percent effective in preventing chicken pox in the first year after the shot was given, but 84 percent effective two to eight years after it was administered.

This was always the argument against vaccinating children for chicken pox. As is true with several viral diseases, chicken pox is far more dangerous in adults then children. If by vaccinating we've defered infection into adulthood we'll have injured more people than we've helped.

Monday, February 16, 2004

War and the survivors - NYT Magazine

The Permanent Scars of Iraq
It may be impossible, however, to fully counteract the shock of going from a 24-hour state of generalized fear-apprehension-paranoia, sustained for a year through wartime, to evenings at home on the La-Z-Boy, asked to fulfill the requirements of love and tenderness needed to sustain a family. In a well-publicized string of incidents in 2002, three Special Forces soldiers returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., from Afghanistan and killed their wives in a span of six weeks. All three soldiers committed suicide.

The long magazine article describes the psychic and viscious physical wounds of the Iraq and Afghan wars -- from the American perspective. Many who would have died in previous conflicts live with post-traumatic brain syndromes, obvious disabilities, and psychic trauma.

Breast Cancer and Antibiotic use: responsible reporting!

Study Suggests Breast Cancer Is Linked to Use of Antibiotics
Frequent use of antibiotics has been linked to a greater risk of breast cancer, say researchers who studied thousands of American women and found that those who took the drugs most often had twice the risk of the disease.

The study uncovered a relationship between greater use of antibiotics and a heightened risk of breast cancer, but researchers sought to temper their findings by cautioning that they had only highlighted an association, not a causal link.

Astoundingly this was reported responsibly! The journalist made clear this was an association, and that most researchers don't think the antibiotics are causing breast cancer. Instead the interest is what's special about these women that they use so many antibiotics and/or that they are so susceptible to infection requiring antibiotic therapy.

Since I first read this news report I actually did read the JAMA article:JAMA -- Abstracts: Velicer et al. 291 (7): 827. They found a very strong statistical association between increasing use of oral antibiotics and increased risk of breast cancer -- about doubling risk -- even after "ruling out" other associated factors.

This is roughly similar to the efffect of other things known to increase breast cancer risk, such as frequent periods (infertility, etc). However there are lots of issues and oddities with this study:

1. These association studies don't have a great track record. Over the past 20 years I've guess more than 50% don't pan out. It usually turns out that the there was a missed cofactor that was the real agent.

2. WHY were these women using SO many antibiotics? Did they all have something wrong with their immune system? Did they have some "bad habits" -- like smoking or alcohol use that predisposed them to infection?

3. Because of where they got their data, the researchers have no information on either smoking or alcohol use. Both of these will increase antibiotic use, and both are risk factors for breast cancer. Smoking is getting more attention lately.

4. ALL the antibiotics had very similar effects, despite being very different medicines with very different actions. This suggests that the real cause was not the antibiotics, but something related to these women's need for them.

5. Do we see a relationship in animal models between antibiotic use and breast cancer?

My gut suspicion is that this is spurious, and and that smoking and/or alcohol use are the real actors that are producing an association between breast cancer and antibiotic use.

Frank Rich: My Hero, Janet Jackson (NYT)

Frank Rich: My Hero, Janet Jackson
Two weeks after the bustier bust, almost no one has come to the defense of Janet Jackson. I do so with a full heart. By baring a single breast in a slam-dunk publicity stunt of two seconds' duration, this singer also exposed just how many boobs we have in this country. We owe her thanks for a genuine public service.

Frank Rich is rockin and rollin in this terrific column. He rips everyone but JJ, and does so with gusto, glee and a bit of outrage.

Saffire's recent column on media consolidation is a good companion to this one.

Go Janet!

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The chemistry and biology of love -- how complex are we? (The Economist) | The science of love
If this doesn't keep you awake at night, you're on better drugs than I. Although most Economist articles require a subscription to access, I think this is one of the public articles. I've excerpted portions below. When you read the full article, think about (Science fiction readers, of course, have seen all these discussed in some depth. We didn't really believe, however, that this knowledge would have near-term applicability.):

- why and how children love parents and how one could treat reactive attachment disorder
- the suggested effect of SSRIs (Prozac, etc) on children and adults
- the nature of mass movements, from Hitler to Stalin to Putin to Mao to Moon to ... Did those people not love their master?
- how to make someone, or many people, completely and utterly loyal to a person or a cause - forever
- or, how to make a sociopath
- what it would mean to be susceptible to one sort of behavior (lust or love or caring but not another), and what the social implications are? Are nuns born as well as made?
- the relationship of smoking (nicotine) use and sex may be more than hollywood fancy ...
- someone is going to put oxytocin and/or vasopressin in perfume, and in nasal inhalers
- what do vasopression and oxytocin do in bees and other colony insects?
- would you like to scan your partners DNA and know their capacity for fidelity? I'm sure a biological fluid would contain an adequate sample ...
- how this is part of a trend that suggests much of what we have thought of as complex (love) may have very simple mechanisms (though complex interactions), and what that implies about our nature and how hard it would to create something like us
... understanding the neurochemical pathways that regulate social attachments may help to deal with defects in people's ability to form relationships. All relationships, whether they are those of parents with their children, spouses with their partners, or workers with their colleagues, rely on an ability to create and maintain social ties...

The scientific tale of love begins innocently enough, with voles. The prairie vole is a sociable creature, one of the only 3% of mammal species that appear to form monogamous relationships. Mating between prairie voles is a tremendous 24-hour effort. After this, they bond for life. They prefer to spend time with each other, groom each other for hours on end and nest together. They avoid meeting other potential mates. The male becomes an aggressive guard of the female. And when their pups are born, they become affectionate and attentive parents. However, another vole, a close relative called the montane vole, has no interest in partnership beyond one-night-stand sex. What is intriguing is that these vast differences in behaviour are the result of a mere handful of genes. The two vole species are more than 99% alike, genetically.

... When prairie voles have sex, two hormones called oxytocin and vasopressin are released. [jf: oxytocin is also used in uterine contraction vasopressin constricts vessels -- the meaning of a biological message (hormone,etc) is utterly context dependent, and the human body contains many isolated contexts.] If the release of these hormones is blocked, prairie-voles' sex becomes a fleeting affair, like that normally enjoyed by their rakish montane cousins. Conversely, if prairie voles are given an injection of the hormones, but prevented from having sex, they will still form a preference for their chosen partner...

... when this magic juice was given to the montane vole: it made no difference. It turns out that the faithful prairie vole has receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin in brain regions associated with reward and reinforcement, whereas the montane vole does not. The question is, do humans (another species in the 3% of allegedly monogamous mammals) have brains similar to prairie voles?

[excerpted section -- unsurprisingly the actions of oxytocin and vasopressin are mediated, like all addictive behaviors, but the dopamine reward system. Nicotine and cocaine are the two drugs of abuse that have the most direct action on this system.]

... Dr Young and his colleagues suggest this idea in an article published last month in the Journal of Comparative Neurology. They argue that prairie voles become addicted to each other through a process of sexual imprinting mediated by odour. Furthermore, they suggest that the reward mechanism involved in this addiction has probably evolved in a similar way in other monogamous animals, humans included, to regulate pair-bonding in them as well.

Sex stimulates the release of vasopressin and oxytocin in people, as well as voles, though the role of these hormones in the human brain is not yet well understood. But while it is unlikely that people have a mental, smell-based map of their partners in the way that voles do, there are strong hints that the hormone pair have something to reveal about the nature of human love: among those of Man's fellow primates that have been studied, monogamous marmosets have higher levels of vasopressin bound in the reward centres of their brains than do non-monogamous rhesus macaques.

Other approaches are also shedding light on the question. In 2000, Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College, London, located the areas of the brain activated by romantic love. They took students who said they were madly in love, put them into a brain scanner, and looked at their patterns of brain activity.

... a relatively small area of the human brain is active in love, compared with that involved in, say, ordinary friendship. ... The second surprise was that the brain areas active in love are different from the areas activated in other emotional states, such as fear and anger. Parts of the brain that are love-bitten include the one responsible for gut feelings, and the ones which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snorting coke.

... Last year, Steven Phelps, who works at Emory with Dr Young, found great diversity in the distribution of vasopressin receptors between individual prairie voles. He suggests that this variation contributes to individual differences in social behaviour -- in other words, some voles will be more faithful than others. Meanwhile, Dr Young says that he and his colleagues have found a lot of variation in the vasopressin-receptor gene in humans. "We may be able to do things like look at their gene sequence, look at their promoter sequence, to genotype people and correlate that with their fidelity, he muses."

It has already proved possible to tinker with this genetic inheritance, with startling results. Scientists can increase the expression of the relevant receptors in prairie voles, and thus strengthen the animals' ability to attach to partners. And in 1999, Dr Young led a team that took the prairie-vole receptor gene and inserted it into an ordinary (and therefore promiscuous) mouse. The transgenic mouse thus created was much more sociable to its mate.

Scanning the brains of people in love is also helping to refine science's grasp of love's various forms. Helen Fisher, a researcher at Rutgers University, and the author of a new book on love*, suggests it comes in three flavours: lust, romantic love and long-term attachment. There is some overlap but, in essence, these are separate phenomena, with their own emotional and motivational systems, and accompanying chemicals. These systems have evolved to enable, respectively, mating, pair-bonding and parenting.

Lust, of course, involves a craving for sex. Jim Pfaus, a psychologist at Concordia University, in Montreal, says the aftermath of lustful sex is similar to the state induced by taking opiates. A heady mix of chemical changes occurs, including increases in the levels of serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids (the body's natural equivalent of heroin) ///

Then there is attraction, or the state of being in love (what is sometimes known as romantic or obsessive love). This is a refinement of mere lust that allows people to home in on a particular mate. This state is characterised by feelings of exhilaration, and intrusive, obsessive thoughts about the object of one's affection. ... Dr Fisher's work, however, suggests that the actual behavioural patterns of those in love -- such as attempting to evoke reciprocal responses in one's loved one -- resemble obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). [jf -- SSRIs are used to tread OCD and, the article suggests, could treat infatuation or unwanted love... The author also notes a side-effect ...]

... Drugs such as Prozac work by keeping serotonin hanging around in the brain for longer than normal, so they might stave off romantic feelings. (This also means that people taking anti-depressants may be jeopardising their ability to fall in love.) ...

There's quite a bit more, it's a long article. The scientists and authors don't feel it will be nearly so easy to manipulate these behaviors in humans as it is in voles. I'm not so sanguine, but they're the experts. We'll find out soon enough ...

Friday, February 13, 2004

Kerry and the babes

BBC NEWS | Americas | Kerry wins support from ex-rival
On Friday Senator Kerry dismissed a claim by an internet gossip site that he had had an affair with a female intern.

'Well there is nothing to report, so there is nothing to talk about,' he told MSNBC television. 'There's nothing there. There's no story.'

The gossip site is Drudge Report, and the rumor is that the "intern" was whisked off to Africa. This has to be gotten out now; the worry about Kerry has always been that he would have the Clinton problem (the rest of us don't have the temptations they have).

It doesn't matter what's right or wrong, private or public. What matters is beating Bush. An intern problem should rule Kerry out, so let's get at it now.

If Kerry is out, then is it Edwards? What's his history?

Or, with everything in flux and delegates floundering, time for another to enter the race? Someone who's been fully investigated and harassed and exposed?

No, Hilary can't win.

But Al won once. And Dean could still be a VP candidate ...

Bush: The Character Issues and the Campaign to Come

Krugman: The Real Man
There is, as far as I can tell, no positive evidence that Mr. Bush is a man of exceptional uprightness. When has he even accepted responsibility for something that went wrong? On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that he is willing to cut corners when it's to his personal advantage. His business career was full of questionable deals, and whatever the full truth about his National Guard service, it was certainly not glorious.

I love Krugman's comment about the missing photo of Bush swimming the Yangtze River (Mao's old standard). Twenty-seven Bush photos in the Federal budget .... that's a cult of personality, reminescent of Reagan.

I don't think Bush is evil, but he's as dishonest as any President and a better liar than most. He also has been venerated (literally) by the evangelical right; they believe he has been anointed and appointed by God. To challenge Bush's integrity is to challenge either their understanding of God or to challenge God Himself.

It will be a very nasty campaign.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Mob scams 200 million in small charges, shades of Netfill

Officials Say Mob Stole $200 Million Using Phone Bills
Officials Say Mob Stole $200 Million Using Phone Bills
Published: February 11, 2004

Forget gambling, loan-sharking and labor racketeering. New York organized crime figures bilked millions of unsuspecting consumers out of more than $200 million over five years by piggybacking bogus charges on their telephone bills, federal authorities said yesterday.

The scheme, involving a network of companies stretching from Midtown Manhattan to Overland Park, Kan., marked what federal authorities believe was the first time organized crime figures have been charged with using the billing fraud known as 'cramming' to fill mob coffers.

The nationwide scheme was sophisticated, officials said, but the idea was simple: Callers responding to advertisements for free samples of services like psychic phone lines, telephone dating services and adult chat lines were unknowingly charged up to $40 a month on their phone bills for services they never requested and never used...

Small regular charges fraudulently placed in a hard-to-detect fashion across large numbers of victims. Shades of the NetFill scam of the late 90s, with which I had more than a passing acquaintance.

These scams work because the complexity and transaction volume of modern life exceeds the capacity of we mortals. They also work because the intermediaries typically don't suffer (in this case the phone companies, in related scams it's banks and credit card companies), so they're not strongly incented to implement costly security measures.

They'll only increase ...

MAUREEN DOWD: The Khan Artist (NYT)

Op-Ed Columnist: The Khan Artist
Has Maureen Dowd gotten an infusion of journalism from the (lately silent and possibly ill) Molly Ivins? After years of mediocrity this is the second column in a month or so that's really worth reading.

Even the title is clever. The Khan artist she speaks of is not Khan the brilliant and evil Pakistani scientist, but rather George Bush. She does a wicked job of showing the bizarre contradictions between his words and deeds. GWB's greatest talent, among his many talents, may be an extraordinary capacity to lie successfully. If Clinton could lie as well as Bush, he'd never have been impeached.

PS. I suspect a rather large amount of US resources are now being spent investigating Dr. Khan. His relationship to al Qaeda is a topic of vast and urgent interest.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Photonic computing at silicon prices - Intel may have changed the world ...

NYT: Intel Says Chip Speed Breakthrough Will Alter Cyberworld
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 11 — Intel scientists say that they have made silicon chips that can switch light like electricity, blurring the line between computing and communications and presenting a vision of the digital future that will allow computers themselves to span cities or even the entire globe.

The invention demonstrates for the first time, Intel researchers said, that ultrahigh-speed fiberoptic equipment can be produced at personal computer industry prices. As the costs of communicating between computers and chips falls, the barrier to building fundamentally new kinds of computers not limited by physical distance should become a reality, experts said.

The advance, described in a paper to be published on Thursday in the scientific journal Nature, also suggests that Intel, as the world's largest chipmaker, may be able to develop the technology to move into new telecommunications markets...

... Intel said the technical advance, in which the researchers use a component made from pure silicon to send data at speeds as much as 50 times faster than the previous switching record, is the first step toward building low-cost networks that will move data seamlessly between computers and within large computer systems.

... The device Intel has built is the prototype of a high-speed silicon optical modulator that the company has now pushed above two billion bits per second at a lab near its headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif. The modulator makes it possible to switch off and on a tiny laser beam and direct it into an ultrathin glass fiber. Although the technical report in Nature focuses on the modulator, which is only one component of a networking system, Intel plans on demonstrating a working system transmitting a movie in high-definition television over a five-mile coil of fiberoptic cable next week at its annual Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco...

We had a breather after the dot com crash, but this may take us back into the steep exponential. Intel's share price is up 2% on early news. We're talking about greater than an order of magnitude decrease in the cost/performance equation. That kind of drop is not merely progress, it may constitute revolution.

Distributed photonic computing. Inevitably one wonders about the implication for quantum computing. The hype about "the network is the computer" may become trite wisdom.

This is one of those things that might make it into the history books.

KRISTOF: Watching the Jobs Go By - his weakest column in years

Op-Ed Columnist: Watching the Jobs Go By
Subject: watching the jobs go by: not your best column
Date: February 11, 2004


Get more math and science education -- so you can work for $10 a day?

The whole point of outsourcing is that it's easiest to do for jobs that require technical skills. In rural China, India, Latin American and Africa there are hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people with IQs over 160. Given ubiquitous connectivity, most will be able to quickly learn english, mathematics, science and just about anything else that one can learn by reading. Sure, there are thousands of americans with the same gifts; but they'd be working at the high class sub-Saharan African wages.

The outsourcing of technical work is the greatest boon the world will ever see. It will also induce very great disruption to societies in which, historically, a university degree was a path to success.

You should have been advising our young to study roofing and plumbing. Much harder to outsource -- they need only compete with illegal aliens.

The real answer is to smooth the transition to a future society including:

1. Separate all benefits from employment so people easily move between work and non-work.
2. As part of social security reform, eliminate the idea of age-specific retirement. Income has mandatory contributions to tax-deferred funds and non-work (study, vacation, job seeking, whatever) draws from those funds.
3. Tax reform to reflect a future tax base.
4. Look to the Scandinavians for the rest.

Monday, February 09, 2004

The Pentagon prepares for the climate crash, but there's more fun ahead in the 21st century ... - Technology - The Pentagon's Weather Nightmare
Even as right wing idealogues strive to avoid the idea of global warming, the Pentagon prepares for the wars to come ...
Global warming may be bad news for future generations, but let's face it, most of us spend as little time worrying about it as we did about al Qaeda before 9/11. Like the terrorists, though, the seemingly remote climate risk may hit home sooner and harder than we ever imagined. In fact, the prospect has become so real that the Pentagon's strategic planners are grappling with it.

The threat that has riveted their attention is this: Global warming, rather than causing gradual, centuries-spanning change, may be pushing the climate to a tipping point. Growing evidence suggests the ocean-atmosphere system that controls the world's climate can lurch from one state to another in less than a decade—like a canoe that's gradually tilted until suddenly it flips over. Scientists don't know how close the system is to a critical threshold. But abrupt climate change may well occur in the not-too-distant future. If it does, the need to rapidly adapt may overwhelm many societies—thereby upsetting the geopolitical balance of power.

Though triggered by warming, such change would probably cause cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, leading to longer, harsher winters in much of the U.S. and Europe. Worse, it would cause massive droughts, turning farmland to dust bowls and forests to ashes. Picture last fall's California wildfires as a regular thing. Or imagine similar disasters destabilizing nuclear powers such as Pakistan or Russia—it's easy to see why the Pentagon has become interested in abrupt climate change.

Climate researchers began getting seriously concerned about it a decade ago, after studying temperature indicators embedded in ancient layers of Arctic ice. The data show that a number of dramatic shifts in average temperature took place in the past with shocking speed—in some cases, just a few years.

The case for angst was buttressed by a theory regarded as the most likely explanation for the abrupt changes. The eastern U.S. and northern Europe, it seems, are warmed by a huge Atlantic Ocean current that flows north from the tropics—that's why Britain, at Labrador's latitude, is relatively temperate. Pumping out warm, moist air, this "great conveyor" current gets cooler and denser as it moves north. That causes the current to sink in the North Atlantic, where it heads south again in the ocean depths. The sinking process draws more water from the south, keeping the roughly circular current on the go.

But when the climate warms, according to the theory, fresh water from melting Arctic glaciers flows into the North Atlantic, lowering the current's salinity—and its density and tendency to sink. A warmer climate also increases rainfall and runoff into the current, further lowering its saltiness. As a result, the conveyor loses its main motive force and can rapidly collapse, turning off the huge heat pump and altering the climate over much of the Northern Hemisphere.

Scientists aren't sure what caused the warming that triggered such collapses in the remote past. (Clearly it wasn't humans and their factories.) But the data from Arctic ice and other sources suggest the atmospheric changes that preceded earlier collapses were dismayingly similar to today's global warming. As the Ice Age began drawing to a close about 13,000 years ago, for example, temperatures in Greenland rose to levels near those of recent decades. Then they abruptly plunged as the conveyor apparently shut down, ushering in the "Younger Dryas" period, a 1,300-year reversion to ice-age conditions. (A dryas is an Arctic flower that flourished in Europe at the time.)

Though Mother Nature caused past abrupt climate changes, the one that may be shaping up today probably has more to do with us. In 2001 an international panel of climate experts concluded that there is increasingly strong evidence that most of the global warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities—mainly the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which release heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Indicators of the warming include shrinking Arctic ice, melting alpine glaciers, and markedly earlier springs at northerly latitudes. A few years ago such changes seemed signs of possible trouble for our kids or grandkids. Today they seem portents of a cataclysm that may not conveniently wait until we're history.

Accordingly, the spotlight in climate research is shifting from gradual to rapid change. In 2002 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report concluding that human activities could trigger abrupt change. Last year the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, included a session at which Robert Gagosian, director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, urged policymakers to consider the implications of possible abrupt climate change within two decades.

Two big environmental changes, which share some common roots, are coming towards us like a massive tidal wave: global warming and the exhaustion of fossil fuels.

By the time the boomers are shuffling off the stage we'll be feeling the effects of both fossil fuel exhaustion and global warming. It will require massive adaptation across the entire spectrum of humanity.

Over the same time we'll be dealing with widely distributed low costs weapons of mass devastation (including home bioweapons), emergent nanotechnology with its unique risks and disruptions, genetic engineering & the possible enhancement of human and non-human cognition, the post-industrialization of China and India, the emergence of Africa, a world of 11 billion humans, and the ever-lurking mega-shock of abiologic sentience. No wonder Vinge and others write of the impending singularity.

Social security and medicare are the very least of our concerns, but at least they provide some lightweight near term distractions. Nor need we worry about longterm unemployment -- rebuilding our infrastructure to adjust to the new world will keep most people occupied.

About 150,000 years ago humanity went through a "chokepoint". Only 10,000 or so survived, to then spread across the world (possibly eating other sentient hominids along the way). Our next chokepoint lies ahead. Maybe this sort of thing is why the galaxy seems so quiet.

Oh well, maybe we'll just be smacked by a meteor or cooked by a gamma ray burster.

I think I need to do my taxes.

Not the Gore you thought he was ...

Gore Says Bush Betrayed the U.S. by Using 9/11 as a Reason for War in Iraq
Mr. Gore said he was ready to break his silence about his disagreements with the Bush administration before the Sept. 11 attacks, but afterward he threw his speech in the trash.

But then the war in Iraq came, and he felt betrayed. "It is not a minor matter to take the loyalty and deep patriotic feelings of the American people and trifle with them," he declared, adding with a shout: "The truth shall rise again."

Gore is back, and not going away. During the last election he was mocked as a "phony" for what was thought to be faux populism and outrage.

Turns out, that was genuine. I can see why he endorsed Dean; Gore and Dean are kindred spirits -- save Gore has far greater political savvy. There's nothing the media can do to Gore any more; he's been savaged so much he's now untouchable.

I hope we'll hear a lot from him as he campaigns for the nominee.

Back pain: an untreatable condition? NYT

Healing a Bad Back Is Often an Effort in Painful Futility
Americans $26 billion a year, or 2.5 percent of the total health care bill, according to a new study from Duke University, and far more if disability payments, workers' compensation and lost wages are taken into account. The costs are rising, researchers say, as patients get ever more aggressive forms of treatment...

Yet for all the costs, for all the hours spent in doctors' offices and operating suites, for all the massage therapy and acupuncture and spinal manipulations, study after study is leading medical experts to ask what, if anything, is doing any good.

A variety of studies have suggested that in 85 percent of cases it is impossible to say why a person's back hurts, said Dr. Richard Deyo, a professor of medicine and health services at the University of Washington. And most of the time, the pain goes away with or without medical treatment.

"Nearly everyone gets better, nearly everyone improves," said Dr. Deyo, citing evidence from large epidemiological studies. But he cautioned, "Getting better doesn't necessarily mean pain-free."

Surgery, too, is under new scrutiny, with a national study getting started at 11 medical centers. About 1,000 patients with the problems that most often lead to surgery will be randomly assigned to have surgery or not. The problems under study are herniated disks, spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal that usually occurs with arthritis and aging, and degenerative spondylolithesis, a slipped vertebra.

One of the investigators in the study is Dr. James N. Weinstein, a Dartmouth professor of orthopedics and community and family medicine and the editor in chief of Spine, the professional journal that published the Duke report in its January issue.

"I've met with two groups who said they fear the results will take away their practice," Dr. Weinstein said. "I don't know how to deal with that. I don't know what the results will be."

Back experts say it is clear that surgery can make some patients feel better immediately.

"Let's say you have a herniated disk and let's say you have leg pain and let's say you are as miserable as hell and you convince somebody to operate on you," said Dr. Michael Modic, chairman of the radiology department at the Cleveland Clinic. "You have a 95 percent chance of waking up with no pain."

... Those with disabling pain for three or four months have just a 10 percent to 20 percent chance of getting better in the next year.

For this group, some doctors are now advocating a different approach altogether: teaching people to live with pain, to put aside the understandable fear that any motion will aggravate their injury. They have to learn, Dr. Weinstein said, that "hurt doesn't mean harm."

In programs often known as functional restoration, that is the goal. Patients are trained in strength, flexibility and endurance. They are counseled about their fears of re-injury and about anxiety and depression.

It can be difficult to get them back to work, noted Dr. Bigos, of the University of Washington, because many left their jobs on disability and had bitter disputes with their former employers or with insurance companies. "Usually, lines have been drawn in the sand by one or both sides," he said.

But success is possible, said Dr. Thomas Mayer, director of a clinic called Pride, for Productive Rehabilitation Institute of Dallas for Ergonomics. Among the 3,500 back patients who entered his one- to two-month program and completed it, almost all returned to work and nearly half went back to their original employer, Dr. Mayer said.

"We deal with it face on," Dr. Mayer said. "What are you going to do for the rest of your life? What are you getting from being disabled? What would you get if you were not disabled?"...

This short article is packed with a lot of interesting information. There's an unexplored backstory as well. In the 1980s a federal agency (AHCPR) published guidelines on back pain that deemphasized interventions and studies. A backlash led by orthopedic surgeons essentially destroyed the AHCPR. The AHCPR entered a witness protection program, changed its name, and now lives a quiet but useful life.

Overall the results would come as little surprise to most physicians. I think most family doctors have slowly come to much the same opinion. Exercise and weight control seem to be the only truly useful interventions. In the 1990s there was muted enthusiasm for prolonged narcotic therapy, but that appears to have waned. Chronic narcotics work for some, but misuse harms others -- overall a weak solution.

At the same time as we shift to managing chronic back pain through lifestyle changes and pain management techniques (neither of which will be adequately funded -- it's far easier to get compensation for surgery), we also have research showing a relationship between persistent pain, brain atrophy, and the development of distributed hypersensitivity to pain.

Short of radically reengineering the human back, or moving into the sea, we're stuck with back problems. It's one of our design flaws (the others relating to the fragility of cognition). A weight loss pill will help some, but many people with chronic back pain are not significantly overweight. A drug that reduced the brain's maladaptive response to chronic pain would be even better.

Update 8/1/2010: I was wrong about this. There are good interventions.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Molecular Expressions: Science, Optics and You - Powers Of 10 - a tour of the universe

Molecular Expressions: Science, Optics and You - Powers Of 10: Interactive Java Tutorial
I saw a film of this about 20 years ago, but this version is better. They stop at quarks, I was kind of hoping they'd go down the Planck Length -- but that would be getting pretty speculative. It's a fascinating web site. Also, the first time I've used Java on the client in several years.

The usual perfidy, but what's up with the Wall Street Journal? - Molly Ivins
You may recall this little charmer from last year -- the Bush proposal to "update" the Fair Labor Standards Act...

Now, in another typical move, the administration plans to bypass Congress altogether and issue the new regulations as an "administrative rules change" to go into effect in March.

The administration claims that the new regulations will extend overtime pay to an additional 1.3 million low-income workers. That would certainly be a good thing, except for the fact that it would exempt another 8 million workers from getting overtime by reclassifying them as management or professionals.

Another great deal for the corporations: They get to cut overtime for a lot of higher-paid workers and only have to add a few lower-paid workers. Do you really have any doubts about whom this administration is being run for?

We will, of course, have to listen to the president tell us how wonderful his Medicare drug coverage bill is. The bill includes a special tax subsidy to encourage employers to retain prescription drug coverage for their retirees.

But (oops) The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House quietly added "a little-noticed provision" that allows companies to severely reduce or almost completely terminate their retirees' drug coverage without losing out on the new subsidy.

And guess what? The major backers of that "little-noted provision" are all major donors to Bush and the Republican Party.

More of the same, except the bit about the WSJ. This is the second time in a week they've exposed Bush lies. The other was the budget. If you can't trust the WSJ, who can you trust?

Friday, February 06, 2004

Can Bush rely on a 2 month American memory? Krugman on the Bush rewrite of history.

NYT: Krugman: Get Me Rewrite!
Right now America is going through an Orwellian moment. On both the foreign policy and the fiscal fronts, the Bush administration is trying to rewrite history, to explain away its current embarrassments.

Let's start with the case of the missing W.M.D. Do you remember when the C.I.A. was reviled by hawks because its analysts were reluctant to present a sufficiently alarming picture of the Iraqi threat? Your memories are no longer operative. On or about last Saturday, history was revised: see, it's the C.I.A.'s fault that the threat was overstated. Given its warnings, the administration had no choice but to invade.

A tip from Joshua Marshall, of, led me to a stark reminder of how different the story line used to be. Last year Laurie Mylroie published a book titled "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the C.I.A. and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror." Ms. Mylroie's book came with an encomium from Richard Perle; she's known to be close to Paul Wolfowitz and to Dick Cheney's chief of staff. According to the jacket copy, "Mylroie describes how the C.I.A. and the State Department have systematically discredited critical intelligence about Saddam's regime, including indisputable evidence of its possession of weapons of mass destruction."

... Now let's turn to the administration's other big embarrassment, the budget deficit.

The fiscal 2005 budget report admits that this year's expected $521 billion deficit belies the rosy forecasts of 2001. But the report offers an explanation: stuff happens. "Today's budget deficits are the unavoidable result of the revenue erosion from the stock market collapse that began in early 2000, an economy recovering from recession and a nation confronting serious security threats."...

The trouble is that accepting that excuse requires forgetting a lot of recent history. By February 2002, when the administration released its fiscal 2003 budget, all of the bad news -- the bursting of the bubble, the recession, and, yes, 9/11 -- had already happened. Yet that budget projected only a $14 billion deficit this year, and a return to surpluses next year. Why did that forecast turn out so wrong? Because administration officials fudged the facts, as usual.

I'd like to think that the administration's crass efforts to rewrite history will backfire, that the media and the informed public won't let officials get away with this. Have we finally had enough?

Delong has popularized the phrase "I'll stop calling this administration Orwellian when they stop using 1984 as an operations manual". Krugmans is picking up that meme. Good. Orwell would approve.

Historically, excluding people directly impacted by war or disaster, the length of the American memory has been two months. As a culture we have severe short term memory loss. Has that changed?

There's only one new thing I can think of. The blogosphere (awful word) has a longer memory buttressed by cross-linking and enabled by Google. The combination of connectivity, the blog format, and Google may be producing a new kind of meta-memory, a sort of emergent cognitive phenomena. Yes, only a tiny minority actually read these blogs (in my case my wife and my mother) -- but journalists read them. In the last month I've seen at least two very well read commentators cite an external memory based on blogs. Fascinating.

Corporate maneuvers migrate into Episcopal/Anglican struggles?

Memo discloses AAC’s strategy for replacing Episcopal Church
The Washington Post on January 14 disclosed a confidential memo written by one of the American Anglican Council's (AAC) chief strategists that reveals the organization's ultimate goal is to replace the Episcopal Church governed by the General Convention with its own confessionally-based jurisdiction.

"Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission," said the memo [see below], dated December 28, 2003 and signed by the Rev. Geoffrey Chapman, rector of St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley, the largest parish in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. "We believe in the end this should be a 'replacement' jurisdiction with confessional standards [and] closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism… We seek to retain ownership of our property as we move into this realignment."

I suspect that behind these maneuvers are people with quite a bit of experience in the material world of corporate acquisitions and hostile takeovers. Of course the corporate world merely rediscovered the techniques of Machiavelli and the machinations of Papal Italy.

History is nothing if not the cyclic reexpression of the fundamental aspects of human nature.

The other struggle here is between the evangelicals and the (nearly defeated) rationalists, mirroring our current political combat. There is little new under our sun.

See also Georgian evolution and the Yahwhites and the Jesites.

Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science | Online - Staring at the Sun

[Page 750] Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science | Online
This is curious in so many ways. Wolfram thinks science took a wrong turn around the time oF Leibniz and that it needs to be redone using models of recursive numeric rules. He's wealthy, so after 20 years of reclusive labor he published a massive and beautiful book.

He's a certified genius (the genuine article), so people read the book. It got mixed reviews. In addition to being wealthy and brilliant, he has an ego to rival Rumsfeld's. I guess it's easy to see how that coud happen. His ego does not make for easy reading. He's been credibly accused of repurposing published ideas without citing the source. That's not good.

Now he's put the entire massive book online. Very curiously, he chose to represent every page as a GIF image! Google can't parse them. Maybe that was the idea. Despite this odd choice the text is relatively easy to read and the website is a masterpiece of intelligent hyperlinks. (Maybe registration allows one to view the material in another format. I submitted the registration form but have not received the promised registration info.)

I read the page on consciousness. I think he's been staring at the sun a long time. On the other hand, there's increasing evidence that we live in a bizarro universe, perhaps a certain amount of madness is an unavoidable consequence of extensive contemplation of reality.

I think he is guilty of presenting well discussed topics as though he was the first to think of them. It may well be that for him it was de novo discovery, but he is rather well read. Still, this is one web site that can stretch the mind every single day. It should, however, have a warning label of some kind ... Danger: Don't stare directly at the sun.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Mad Cow Disease is American Now

Ban Urged on All Animal Protein for Cattle
Dr. Ulrich Kihm, a Swiss veterinarian, said the United States 'could have a case a month' of mad cow disease if it was doing enough testing, Reuters reported.

...Decisions about what animals go into cattle feed are made by the Food and Drug Administration, which last week banned feeding cow blood, chicken waste [jf - shit] and restaurant scraps to cattle, but continued with rendered hogs and chickens. Industry critics objected, saying hogs and chickens eat rendered cattle, so the disease could pass through.

It's here, we've got it, our children are eating infected cattle. As risks go it's not a high risk, it does not appear to be very contagious -- yet. Who knows, maybe some new strains will turn out to be more contagious than those we've seen so far.

All avoidable. Such a stupid waste. I can't even blame this one on Bush.

The American cattle industry deserves the devastation heading their way. They could have avoided this by pressing for stronger safeguards.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004 | Antonin Scalia has no more credibility than the US government | The Democrats' secret weapon
... If Cheney's relationship with Halliburton represents the evils of crony capitalism, then his relationship with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia epitomizes the evils of crony democracy.

It's not just that Cheney and Scalia had dinner and went on a duck-hunting trip together while the Supreme Court was being asked to overturn a lower court's decision requiring Cheney to reveal the names of his energy task force members. It's that these guys can't, for the life of them, see why anybody would have a problem with this overly cozy state of affairs...

'I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned,' said Scalia, responding to questions about the propriety of a sitting judge rubbing elbows -- and blowing small game birds out of the air -- with a named party and material witness in a case he's about to hear...

Once upon a time the supreme court actually had a reputation to uphold.

Kaplan: A half trillion dollar military budget is too much

Trimming the Fat - How to put the military budget on a diet. By Fred Kaplan
...The U.S. Navy currently has 55 perfectly capable nuclear-powered attack subs. The only mystery is what their crews do when they go out on patrol. They don't track Soviet subs like they did in the old days, and they don't play cat-and-mouse games with enemy anti-submarine-warfare assets for the simple reason that there are no naval enemies and, if there were, they don't have ASW assets. Similar questions can be directed to much of the U.S. surface fleet.>

By Kaplan's estimate Bush is presenting the largest military budget since the height of the Korean war. One suspects it has something for every Bush consituency, especially the swing states.

Only Slate has any reasonable coverage, the rest of our media seems to have given up.

This is really nuts.

Geoghan: capital punishment by the back door

Inquiry Lists Errors in Killing of Pedophile Priest in Prison
The death of John J. Geoghan, the defrocked pedophile priest who was killed in his prison cell last summer, was largely a result of a series of mistakes and failures by the state prison system to treat him fairly and responsibly and to protect him in jail ...

The published report, behind euphemisms and gentle words, paints a picture right out of The Shawshank Redemption. Geoghan was murdered by his guards and their supervisors at two prisons; the prisoner who did the dirty work was basically a tool.

The explosive report is still pending -- a review of the entire Massachusetts prison system. I think most people are confident that the Geoghan case will turn out to be fairly typical.

If we were to repeat the same study in every state in American, I suspect they'd come to the same conclusion. No, I haven't spend time behind bars, though 20 years ago I was a moonlighting medical resident at a couple of prisons. I base my prediction on a culture which has swung towards vengeance and "Evangelical Sharia" over the past two decades. In that context, with continued cutbacks in legal resources for the indigent (includes almost all prisoners), institutional abuse is as inevitable as sunrise.

I hope the authors of the system report quote a bit of Dickens in their introduction.

Ricin and the Post Office

NYT Science: Ricin Poses Postal Risk, but Different From Germs
The postal system is particularly vulnerable to poisons because its main defenses are all aimed at killing or detecting harmful living organisms, like anthrax, which is a bacterium. Irradiation machines, which sterilize all first-class mail bound for Washington government offices, work by disrupting an organism's DNA. They have no effect on poisons, which are simply molecules that happen to have devastating effects on human physiology.

Moreover, though the Postal Service is installing air sampling systems to test for anthrax spores around sorting machines at 280 regional mail hubs, these systems, to be ready starting in March, will not initially be able to test for poisons or other harmful substances.

After the anthrax scare I was pretty sure the postal service was finished. Others agreed, Adobe got a boost in its share price because its Acrobat technology is an alternative to mailed documents.

Didn't happen. Turned out there really aren't that many competent whackos out there. I'd have to guess that only a half dozen Americans combine both reasonable intelligence and insane malevolence (see the Unabomber, a victim of paranoid schizophrenia). Even al Qaeda, I suspect, is having a very hard time finding competent fanatics -- not the least because a large number of their "best" are dead (including the 9/11 hijackers or in captivity).

The Ricin could be al Qaeda, but even they would know that no-one in the US Government opens their own mail. I suspect it's another paranoid schizophrenic, and that's probably who the FBI are looking for. On the other hand, Richard (the shoe) Reid was both was probably a threefer -- developmental delay, paranoid schizophrenia, and al Qaeda.

Kristof joins the ranks of the shrill

Kristof: Sex, Lies and Bush on Tape
I'm sorry if I sound screechy. But my first beat at this newspaper, in 1984, was covering the Latin American debt crisis. Later I lived in Japan as its economy went from a global juggernaut to a global laughingstock. After you've seen how quickly national leaders can bungle national economies, and how difficult it is to put Humpty Dumpty together again, you have less patience for high-risk intellectual dishonesty like Mr. Bush's fiscal policy.

Eventually, all the rationalists reach a breaking point, when they realize Bush is not just another exceptionally partisan president. He is not demented as was Reagan, and so we can't rely on hidden hands to guide the nation. He is if full possession of his power, and he's off the deep end.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Why does Apple keep releasing Java updates?

Mac OS X Java Runtime Environment
Apple keeps releasing Java updates. You have to wonder why -- there are few client applications for OS written in Java.

There's rumor than the next release of OS X will support many more Linux API calls. At the same time Sun and IBM are major supporters of both Linux and Java.

One has to wonder if Apple, IBM, Sun and Red Hat are moving towards a unified Java/Linux API platform ...

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Scandal in LA: Poor Hospitals Deliver Poor Care

Yahoo! News - Report: L.A. Nurses Left Patients Alone
Nurses at a public hospital serving the poor in south Los Angeles left critically ill patients alone for hours and were ordered to lie about patients' conditions, according to a federal report.

The unreleased report obtained by the Los Angeles Times could lead to a criminal investigation and the loss of the hospital's federal funding, a county official said.

Federal inspectors had previously reported that nurses failed in providing basic patient care, doctors allowed problems to fester and Los Angeles County was guilty of poor oversight at Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center...

...The hospital, established as a response to the 1965 Watts riots, is the only public hospital in the south Los Angeles area and serves a largely poor population...

We could repeat this study across the nation and find a hundred such facilities. Few would be as bad, but many would come close.

I'd assumed people knew that poor underfunded institutions delivered very poor care to poor people. Heck, relatively well funded teaching hospitals used to deliver poor care to "charity" cases (they're somewhat better now).

Alas, there will be no outrage and no call for a national examination of care for the poor. We've succumbed to so some vile meme that the poor deserve only to be ignored.

We need a modern Dickens to stir our outrage. So Much For the WMD: Greed, Corruption and power So Much For the WMD -- Feb. 09, 2004
What CIA analysts imagined to be dispositive evidence of Saddam's nuclear ambitions turned out, in Kay's judgment, to be proof of plain, old-fashioned greed. For months the Administration claimed that finely machined aluminum tubes, imported with ever higher tolerances—that is, precision in their specifications—were part of a campaign to produce gas centrifuges for the production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel. But after examining the tubes and talking to the scientists who procured and used them, Kay became convinced that the increasing tolerances were to meet not technical requirements but financial ones. The ever changing tolerances meant new purchases, which in turn meant that the engineers who were working on Saddam's missile programs, for which the tubes were in fact destined, had continuing contracts from which to skim money. Kay concluded, 'An analyst looks for rational explanations and usually finds them in the technical realm they're used to, but Iraq was almost like a parallel universe. The explanations were driven not by technical reasons but by the moral and personal depravity engendered by the regime. A rational person would look at it one way, and it would be completely wrong, because in this parallel universe there was a different set of rules.

Greed, corruption, telling the powerful what they want to hear, a ruthless ruler who expunges the disloyal, a mystique of faith, power and confidence rather than reason and rationality, yes, it's easy to see how Americ... err, I mean, Iraq could have deceived itself.

Remember when the CIA claimed that the Soviet Union was close to acheiving missile superiority? That was in the Reagan administration, just prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Later we found that their military was in an advanced state of collapse.

I wonder when someone will make the connection between the mistakes made in Iraq and those made 20 years ago. Maybe after the investigations are complete, and we read internal CIA documents making exactly this comparison. I'm willing to bet that there were intelligent and honest analysts who suspected what was happening, and that their careers have not gone well.

WaPo: Chemical and bioweapon attacks on planes

Flights Cut on Fear Of Al Qaeda Attacks (
Intelligence indicating that al Qaeda terrorists are seeking to release a chemical or biological agent aboard an airliner, or transport a radiological device in cargo, was one of the factors that prompted the cancellation of six international flights scheduled for today and tomorrow...

Small amounts of chemical, biological or radiological material would be difficult to detect...

Difficult being an understatement. I've long wondered why al Qaeda hadn't yet released a bioweapon or chemical agent on an airplane. It doesn't require any imagination, just a passing familiarity with movies. I've supposed that al Qaeda has indeed been very distrupted.

In 2001 there was talk of an accelerated program to develop chemical and bioweapon detectors that could be placed in public places and on airplanes. It's obvious one cannot prevent such an attack -- I don't think even Israel's El Al could do it. The goal needs to be early detection. I wonder what happened to those detectors? If there was a "Manhattan Project" to develop such detectors it was kept very secret -- so secret that they're not now available.

Maybe Rove felt such programs would generate negative vibes, and thereby impair someone's reelection.

Fighting AIDS: Bush is more hat, less cattle

Bush Scaling Back Dollars for Third World
President Bush plans to scale back requests for money to fight AIDS and poverty in the third world, putting off for several years the fulfillment of his pledges to eventually spend more than $20 billion on these programs.

Hardest hit would be the United Nations-supported Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, whose contribution from the United States would drop to $200 million in fiscal year 2005 from $550 million, according to Congressional officials who have been briefed on the president's budget proposal.

I'm shocked, shocked, to hear that a grand promise will be broken. Were I less naive, I might suspect that the residual funds are earmarked for Bush campaign donors.

GWB's lack of integrity is not noteworthy. This is significant because GWB's actions constitute a major threat to our national security. If we don't control HIV in Africa our children will pay the price.