30 July 2007

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Well, you can see the water, of course! If you can see the water already, by the time these young folks are ready to retire, their home will be several hundred feet under water!

It simply goes to show you that global warming denialism is all about profit, pure and simple. Look at all the huge mega-developments erected along the US South Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Everyone knows that global warming is heating up hurricanes to apocalyptic proportions! Why would real estate agents be willing to sell retirees and others these precariously located domiciles, if not for denialist profit and callousness?

Is it too late for the Americans to elect Al Gore, and make up for all their past mistakes?


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28 July 2007

Large Scale Renewables

This is an interesting approach to large scale wind power suggested by Brian Wang at Advanced Nanotechnology.

Here is the MagTurbine site, which gives more information about the concept.

Here is a Discovery Channel video of the planned mega-scale Australian solar tower, using hot air updraft to drive multiple wind turbines. Click on some of the other large scale projects on the same page, for more information.

If renewables are to assist nuclear energy in replacing large scale burning of fossil fuels for energy, they will have to be scaled up significantly--to the gigawatt scale, cumulatively. Geothermal energy is particularly promising in that regard. Biomass also promises large scaling potential.

Solar energy can be scaled to megawatt ranges using light concentrating mirrors. This German company is working with China to build the world's first gigawatt solar facility.

Wind energy is generally more difficult to scale than some other renewables. Energy in the wind increases as the square of the area swept by a rotary blade, and as the cube of the velocity of the wind. That is why many "flying wind generators" have been proposed--tethered turbines floating or flying thousands of feet in the air. Unfortunately, besides the obvious flight navigation hazards, suitable tethers for such turbines do not exist currently.


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27 July 2007

CAGW Orthodoxy: How Do The True Believers Know They're Not Wrong

A recent article in Live Science provides a great example of "begging the question." Entitled "Global Warming: How Do Scientists Know They're Not Wrong," the article is a model of journalistic credulity. Quoting historian Naomi Oreskes extensively, author Andrea Thompson demonstrates why journalists, and the people who take them seriously, cannot think.

The title of this posting is meant to reflect the technique of "begging the question" that the title of the Live Science article utilises. The title of an article can be an almost subliminal persuader. "Scientists?" What "scientists?" Thompson does not really say, other than to quote Oreskes, an historian. When she does quote Richard Lindzen--an MIT atmospheric scientist of high esteem among peers--Thompson hastens to quote historian Oreskes again, in order to neutralise Lindzen's short quote.

Of course this blog is entitled to rhetorical flourish, since its theme is the coming singularity/apocalypse and what lies on the other side. A supposedly neutral article of science journalism in Live Science and other "Science" websites is supposed to reflect the reality of the subject matter--not to use logical fallacies to convince the unpersuaded to adopt the author's viewpoint.

Here is Oreske's essay in Science where she makes the claim of scientific consensus in climate research.

Here are criticisms of Oreskes study from Benny Peiser, and from Viscount Monckton.

Read the links above and consider how "consensus" is arrived at in science. Does science arrive at consensus by "shutting down the debate?", as Oreskes has attempted in a rather underhanded and dishonest way?

Or is "consensus" arrived at (if ever) by allowing all theories to attempt to prove themselves in a public forum--without editorial bias or other forms of intentionally skewing access to ideas?

The future of science, and how humans utilise their minds to arrive at closest approximations of truth, is at stake. If humans forget what "begging the question" means--the fallacy it represents--they have tied part of their brains behind their backs.

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25 July 2007

Truck Mounted Laser--For Shooting Down Rockets and Mortar Shells

Directed energy weapons will be more common on the battlefield, for shooting down incoming rockets, missiles--even artillery shells. Boeing was recently awarded a contract to develop a truck-mounted laser weapon for defending ground forces against incoming explosive ordnance, such as rockets, artillery, and mortar shells.
The High-Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD) Phase I contract contains options that would call for Boeing to build and test a significant component of the HEL TD system, comprised of the BCS integrated on a vehicle platform, and to refine requirements for the entire HEL TD system. The options would increase the contract cost to approximately $50 million.

The HEL TD program is intended to demonstrate that a mobile, solid-state laser weapon system can effectively counter rocket, artillery and mortar projectiles.

Laser and particle beam weaponry will receive a large amount of military funding in the coming decades. Eventually, anti-satellite and anti ballistic missile weaponry will be mainly directed energy weapons, due to their accuracy and speed.

Personally, I would like one of these mounted on the back of my car, for dealing with tailgaters. Which suggests that humans may not be ready for advanced technology after all.

Seriously, directed energy weapons are another example of revolutionary weapons technology--including nano-weapons, bio-weapons, nuclear weapons, and electromagnetic weaponry--that may dramatically alter the way society is structured.

It is only a matter of time before a highly virulent, almost universally contagious engineered bio-weapon is loosed into modern populations. It is likewise only a matter of time before invisible yet deadly reproducing nano-weapons are allowed to escape into the environment.

Nuclear weapons technology is propagating deeply into militant Islam and other enemies of modern civilisation such as North Korea. Nukes will be used against large populations of civilians in surprise attacks. The repercussions from such attacks are frightening and unpredictable.

If directed energy weapons technology escapes into the general population of arms dealers, safe air travel may become impossible in certain parts of the world, such as Europe.

Electromagnetic weapons include electromagnetic pulse weapons (EMPs), electronically activated and timed conventional weaponry, hypersonic electromagnetic rail weaponry, electromagnetic ballistic cannons--including suborbital and orbit capable weapons.

And that is only scratching the surface.

Many of these weapons can make large areas of Earth's surface virtually uninhabitable to densely packed human settlements such as modern cities. Some of these weapons can lay waste to large areas of planted cropland, triggering mass hunger. And so on.

Given the modern predominance of narcissism, psychological neoteny, and academic lobotomy, it is unlikely that most modern persons will know how to react to the coming of these brave new weapons.

But you will know, won't you?

Update: Those of you who believe in the Peak Oil Theory are already thinking along these lines. Big cities with their surrounding suburbs and country bedroom communities full of commuters will not be viable in the age of ultra-expensive gasoline, and oil.

The jury is still out on that theory. Fossil fuels will certainly be more expensive, forcing some hard choices. But that is not really on the same level as mass-death from plague or out of control nano-killers, is it?

Consider looking into the Lifeboat Foundation, or the Society for Creative Apocalyptology. Think about surviving into the next level.

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On Losing Your Depression Quickly

Conventional antidepressants may require from a few weeks up to a few months to achieve their antidepressant effect, when they are effective. Depression is a very common condition worldwide, very expensive in terms of lost time and lost lives. A quicker way to lose one's depression would be quite useful.

A new study has revealed more about how the medication ketamine, when used experimentally for depression, relieves symptoms of the disorder in hours instead of the weeks or months it takes for current antidepressants to work. While ketamine itself probably won’t come into use as an antidepressant because of its side effects, the new finding moves scientists considerably closer to understanding how to develop faster-acting antidepressant medications – among the priorities of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Ketamine blocks a receptor called NMDA on brain cells, an earlier NIMH study in humans had shown, but the new study in mice shows that this is an intermediate step. It turns out that blocking NMDA increases the activity of another receptor, AMPA, and that this boost in AMPA is crucial for ketamine’s rapid antidepressant actions. The study was reported online in Biological Psychiatry on July 23, by NIMH researchers Husseini K. Manji, MD, Guang Chen, MD, PhD, Carlos Zarate, MD, and colleagues.
...Almost 15 million American adults have a depressive disorder. During the long wait to begin feeling the effects of conventional medications, patients may worsen, raising the risk of suicide for some. Depressive disorders also affect children and adolescents.

By aiming new medications at more direct molecular targets, such as NMDA or AMPA, scientists may be able to bypass some of the steps through which current antidepressants indirectly exert their effects – a roundabout route that accounts for the long time it takes for patients to begin feeling better with the conventional medications.

While ketamine appears to achieve this, it is an unlikely candidate to become a new treatment for depression, because of the side effects it can cause in humans, including hallucinations. It is approved as an anesthetic by the Food and Drug Administration at much higher doses than those given in the study, but its use is limited because it may cause hallucinations during recovery from anesthesia.

Of course ketamine would be an absurd choice for routine antidepressant treatment--it is administered by injection, incapacitates an individual for a period of time, and often subjects an individual to horrific nightmares on emergence from the drug.

And yet if scientists and clinical researchers can learn from the effects of ketamine on the brain and on subsequent mental states, why not?

Ampakines are drugs under development by Cortex Pharmaceuticals (Amex: COR) that also affect the AMPA receptors. And like ketamine, some ampakines also have an antidepressant effect.

I suspect that we are due for a breakthrough in therapy for depression, given how long it has been since any significant progress has been made in that area of neuropharmaceutics. Looking at glutamate receptors in that regard can certainly not hurt. If we accidentally stumble across better therapies for Alzheimer's and other neurological conditions in the process, vive le serendipity!

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Mass Producing Babies--Toward an Artificial Womb

There is a strong need for reliable artificial wombs in the developed world. Women are as deeply immersed in work and careers as men--not to mention just as vain about their appearance as men. They do not wish to sacrifice the time, and the wear and tear, that pregnancy and childbirth entails.
Teruo Fujii of the University of Tokyo in Japan and his colleagues are building a microfluidic chip to nurture the first stages of pregnancy. They hope, eventually, to create a fully automated artificial uterus in which egg and sperm are fed in at one end and an early embryo comes out the other, ready for implanting in a real mother. They say using such a device could improve the success rate of IVF.

.... Fujii’s team has created a “lab on a chip” that is 2 millimetres across and 0.5 millimetres high, in which up to 20 eggs can be fertilised and then grown until they are ready for implantation. Endometrial cells, which line real wombs, are also grown in the device, so that the chemicals they produce can reach the embryos and help them grow.

“We are providing the embryos with a much more comfortable environment, mimicking what happens in the body,” Fujii says.

Experiments in mice suggest that the chip is more successful than traditional IVF at producing embryos that will grow into healthy fetuses. Of 50 fertilised eggs grown on the chip, 30 developed into early embryos, compared to 26 out of 50 fertilised eggs grown through “microdrop” IVF. Here a drop of mineral oil is used to cover the fertilised egg and a small volume of culture fluid to stop the egg drying out. In a separate experiment, Fujii’s team implanted embryos grown on the chip into mice and found that 44 per cent of them developed into healthy fetuses, compared to 40 per cent of those grown in microdrops. “It’s not just about more embryos surviving to be implanted, they also seem to be doing better once they are implanted,” says Wheeler.

....For now the sperm and eggs are still prepared for fertilisation manually but the researchers are working towards automating those steps too. Wheeler’s team has already automated them, but has not compared his chip-grown embryos with ones produced by conventional IVF, nor grown endometrial cells on a chip. He suggests that combining his approach with Fujii’s might produce even better results.

The chip could also be used for growing genetically modified animals, stem cells and cloned embryos, he adds.

For now, these chip-conceived embryos will be implanted into a living female host. Eventually, living wombs outside the bodies of females will receive the embryo implants. Further on, completely artificial wombs designed and grown for this purpose would act as recipients of embryos, and incubators for the developing fetus.

When the fertilisation process is automated, and the subsequent pregnancy takes place entirely in an artificial womb, pregnancy will be within the reach of anyone who possesses both sperm and egg--or anyone who can afford to buy them.

Sperm is successfully frozen and used years later. Egg freezing will eventually reach the same degree of reliability. Certainly embryos themselves can be frozen for years before being implanted. The entire process of fertilisation, pregnancy, and childbirth are being revolutionised before our eyes.

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24 July 2007

Eternal Mindshine of the Spotless Sun

We take the sun's light and heat for granted, particularly during the summer. But the sun's activity is cyclic. Today is the fifth day without a sunspot.
The 11 year long solar cycle is marked by two extremes, solar minimum and solar maximum. Solar minimum is the period of least solar activity in the solar cycle of the sun. During this time sunspot and solar flare activity diminishes, and often does not occur for days at a time.

When spots begin to appear on the sun once again, scientists know that the sun is heading into a new season of extreme solar activity. At the cycle's peak, solar maximum, the sun is continually peppered with spots, solar flares erupt, and the sun hurls billion-ton clouds of electrified gas into space.

If you are interested in monitoring solar activity, check in with Solar Cycle 24.
Analysis of Solar Active Regions and Activity from 22/2100Z to 23/2100Z: Solar activity was very low. The visible disk remains spotless.

Solar Activity Forecast: Solar activity is expected to remain very low.

NASA scientists tell us that the solar conveyor, which helps determine solar activity, is expected to continue slowing--possibly triggering decades of sub-normal temperatures beginning around 2015 to 2020.

The Little Ice Age, from which we are still recovering, was thought to have been triggered by a solar minimum similar to the one we are expecting within the next decade or so. We need our Sunshine for warmth and food.

How ironic would it be for the sun to "fade" when oil supplies were beginning to plateau, and so many of the developed nations are firmly fixed in a politically correct prejudice against nuclear power? So many neotenates of pristine mind, who have never experienced hunger, cold, or deprivation. What in their experience could possibly have prepared them for the difficult decisions they will need to make?

Why, nothing at all. Which is why they will not be able to think the thing through, and make good decisions.

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23 July 2007

Simulated Childbirth--Quite Painless, Really

Medical and surgical simulators are becoming an indispensable part of the education process for physicians and nurses. Now birthing simulators are good enough to become an important part of a medical students' and midwife's curriculum.
"It gives us the opportunity to learn and practice but do no harm," said Dr. Kay Daniels, a clinical associate professor who trains students at Stanford University.

Interactive simulation robots first became popular in the 1990s after scientists developed them for anesthesiologists in training. They've since been designed for various types of medical training and even for veterinary students, who work on dog mannequins.

Unlike commercially available birth simulators, this one has a pelvis that mimics soft tissue which allows for better training in matters of maternal manipulation.

The fetal model is equipped with bioengineering instrumentation that allows measurement of the effect of clinician-applied force on the fetus. The nylon-lycra glove has pockets sewn into it to house force-sensors, which measure the traction in delivery. Wires emanating from the sensors are connected to a computer-based data-acquisition system that stores and then processes the data on a laptop.

From an earlier story.

High quality simulators and virtual reality training scenarios make it more likely that the University of Phoenix or another clever educational entrepreneur will soon offer credible medical training online, including all pre-clinical and quasi-clinical content.

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Dangerous Ideas--Bring Them On!

What are some of the dangerous ideas that you are afraid may be true? You are so afraid that these things may be true that you are willing to suppress them--stamp them out?

In modern intellectual circles, there are many such "dangerous ideas."
Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?

Were the events in the Bible fictitious -- not just the miracles, but those involving kings and empires?

Has the state of the environment improved in the last 50 years?

Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer no lifelong damage?

Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape?

Do men have an innate tendency to rape?

Did the crime rate go down in the 1990s because two decades earlier poor women aborted children who would have been prone to violence?

Are suicide terrorists well-educated, mentally healthy and morally driven?

Would the incidence of rape go down if prostitution were legalized?

Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men?

Is morality just a product of the evolution of our brains, with no inherent reality?

Would society be better off if heroin and cocaine were legalized?

Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?

Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give parents the option of euthanizing newborns with birth defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability?

Do parents have any effect on the character or intelligence of their children?

Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism?

Would damage from terrorism be reduced if the police could torture suspects in special circumstances?

Would Africa have a better chance of rising out of poverty if it hosted more polluting industries or accepted Europe's nuclear waste?

Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because duller people are having more children than smarter people?

Would unwanted children be better off if there were a market in adoption rights, with babies going to the highest bidder?

Would lives be saved if we instituted a free market in organs for transplantation?

Should people have the right to clone themselves, or enhance the genetic traits of their children?

....Though academics owe the extraordinary perquisite of tenure to the ideal of encouraging free inquiry and the evaluation of unpopular ideas, all too often academics are the first to try to quash them. The most famous recent example is the outburst of fury and disinformation that resulted when Harvard president Lawrence Summers gave a measured analysis of the multiple causes of women's underrepresentation in science and math departments in elite universities and tentatively broached the possibility that discrimination and hidden barriers were not the only cause.

But intolerance of unpopular ideas among academics is an old story. Books like Morton Hunt's The New Know-Nothings and Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate's The Shadow University have depressingly shown that universities cannot be counted on to defend the rights of their own heretics and that it's often the court system or the press that has to drag them into policies of tolerance. In government, the intolerance is even more frightening, because the ideas considered there are not just matters of intellectual sport but have immediate and sweeping consequences.
More at Source

Pinker is quite right about that last part. Academics will defend their own dogma all the way to the death of free inquiry. Such academic and societal intolerance dates back to Socrates and beyond.

Universities as mental cookie cutters? Perhaps that is not so unusual, historically. What is unusual, perhaps, is that so many children are pushed toward a university education, without a careful analysis of the intellectually stifling atmosphere on campus toward free inquiry. For that, parents come in for most of the blame.

The modern social sciences, ethnic and women's studies, language studies, political sciences, and liberal arts departments are the academic areas most likely to be supremely brittle in terms of dealing with dangerous ideas. The university is rife with "insider mentality," bent on exclusion of the "other," the dangerous idea.

Given the western leanings toward freedom of expression and inquiry, combined with an ascendancy of scientific research and technological innovation, the ingredients for conflict are present in large portions.

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22 July 2007

Do You Know What it Means to "Beg the Question?"

Am I the only person who is getting tired of people using the term "begs the question" when what they actually mean is "invites the question?" It is the type of breaking down of the language of logical reasoning that typifies the practice of academic lobotomy for psychological neotenates that is so prominent in university classrooms.

Here is what "begging the question" actually means:
Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. This sort of "reasoning" typically has the following form.

1. Premises in which the truth of the conclusion is claimed or the truth of the conclusion is assumed (either directly or indirectly).
2. Claim C (the conclusion) is true.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion. Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim. This is especially clear in particularly blatant cases: "X is true. The evidence for this claim is that X is true."

Wikipedia has a short discussion of this issue on this page.

Even professional writers, who certainly should know better, are guilty of misusing this phrase. But doing so telegraphs a logical illiteracy that shouts "uneductated!" to persons better trained in verbal logic.

So if you find yourself guilty of this misuse, consider using the term "invites the question" next time you are tempted to perpetuate the error. And learn what "begging the question" really means. You can certainly surprise the hell out of a lot of logical illiterates--perhaps your professor--if you do.

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The Utopian Delusion--Wishful Thinking for Academically Lobotomised Neotenates

Eager souls, mystics and revolutionaries, may propose to refashion the world in accordance with their dreams; but evil remains, and so long as it lurks in the secret places of the heart, utopia is only the shadow of a dream. Nathaniel Hawthorne

During the early 1990s, it was fashionable in the west to declare "the end of history." Now that Eastern Europe had been liberated from its oppressive autocratic yoke of tyranny, many western academics and intellectuals believed that liberal democracy would continue to spread, to topple the fortresses of autocracy scattered thickly across the globe. Alas. The future they imagined was not to be.
The assumption that the death of communism would bring an end to disagreements about the proper form of government and society seemed more plausible in the 1990s, when both Russia and China were thought to be moving toward political as well as economic liberalism. Such a development would have produced a remarkable ideological convergence among all the great powers of the world and heralded a genuinely new era in human development.

But those expectations have proved misplaced. China has not liberalized but has shored up its autocratic government. Russia has turned away from imperfect liberalism decisively toward autocracy. Of the world 's great powers today, therefore, two of the largest, with over a billion and a half people, have governments that are committed to autocratic rule and seem to have the ability to sustain themselves in power for the foreseeable future with apparent popular approval.

Today the competition between them, along with the struggle of radical Islamists to make the world safe for their vision of Islamic theocracy, has become a defining feature of the international scene.

The differences between the two camps appear on many issues of lesser strategic importance -- China's willingness to provide economic and political support to certain African dictatorships that liberal governments in Europe and the United States find odious, for instance. But they are also shaping international relations at a more fundamental level. Contrary to expectations at the end of the Cold War, the question of "regime" or "polity" is once again becoming a main subject of international relations.

...Neither Russia nor China has any interest in assisting liberal nations in their crusade against autocracies around the world. Moreover, they can see their comparative advantage over the West when it comes to gaining influence with African, Asian, or Latin American governments that can provide access to oil and other vital natural resources or that, in the case of Burma, are strategically located. Moscow knows it can have more influence with governments in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan because, unlike the liberal West, it can unreservedly support their regimes. And the more autocracies there are in the world, the less isolated Beijing and Moscow will be in international forums such as the United Nations. The more dictatorships there are, the more global resistance they will offer against the liberal West 's efforts to place limits on sovereignty in the interest of advancing liberalism.

The general effect of the rise of these two large autocratic powers, therefore, will be to increase the likelihood that autocracy will spread in some parts of the world. This is not because Russia and China are evangelists for autocracy or want to set off a worldwide autocratic revolution. It is not the Cold War redux. It is more like the nineteenth century redux. Then, the absolutist rulers of Russia and Austria shored up fellow autocracies -- in France, for instance -- and used force to suppress liberal movements in Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain.

....It is no longer possible to speak of an "international community." The term suggests agreement on international norms of behavior, an international morality, even an international conscience. The idea of such a community took hold in the 1990s, at a time when the general assumption was that the movement of Russia and China toward western liberalism was producing a global commonality of thinking about human affairs. But by the late 1990s it was already clear that the international community lacked a foundation of common understanding. This was exposed most blatantly in the war over Kosovo, which divided the liberal West from both Russia and China and from many other non-European nations. Today it is apparent on the issue of Sudan and Darfur. In the future, incidents that expose the hollowness of the term "international community" will likely proliferate.

....Today there is little sense of shared morality and common political principle among the great powers. Quite the contrary: There is suspicion, growing hostility, and the well-grounded view on the part of the autocracies that the democracies, whatever they say, would welcome their overthrow. Any concert among them would be built on a shaky foundation likely to collapse at the first serious test.

American foreign policy should be attuned to these ideological distinctions and recognize their relevance to the most important strategic questions. It is folly to expect China to help undermine a brutal regime in Khartoum or to be surprised if Russia rattles its saber at pro-Western democratic governments near its borders.

....The United States should express support for democracy in word and deed without expecting immediate success. It should support the development of liberal institutions and practices, understanding that elections alone do not guarantee a steady liberal democratic course.

....Today radical Islamists are the last holdout against these powerful forces of globalization and modernization. They seek to carve out a part of the world where they can be left alone, shielded from what they regard as the soul-destroying licentiousness of unchecked liberalism and capitalism. The tragedy for them is that their goal is impossible to achieve. Neither the United States nor the other great powers will turn over control of the Middle East to these fundamentalist forces, if only because the region is of such vital strategic importance to the rest of the world. The outside powers have strong internal allies as well, including the majority of the populations of the Middle East who have been willing and even eager to make peace with modernity. Nor is it conceivable in this modern world that a people can wall themselves off from modernity even if the majority wanted to. Could the great Islamic theocracy that al Qaeda and others hope to erect ever completely block out the sights and sounds of the rest of the world and thereby shield their people from the temptations of modernity? The mullahs have not even succeeded at doing that in Iran. The project is fantastic.

The world is thus faced with the prospect of a protracted struggle in which the goals of the extreme Islamists can never be satisfied because neither the United States nor anyone else has the ability to give them what they want. The West is quite simply not capable of retreating as far as the Islamic extremists require.

If retreat is impossible, perhaps the best course is to advance. Of the many bad options in confronting this immensely dangerous problem, the best may be to hasten the process of modernization in the Islamic world: more modernization, more globalization, faster.

....In the 1990s serious thinkers predicted the end of wars and military confrontations among great powers. European "postmodernism" seemed to be the future: the abandonment of power politics in favor of international institutions capable of managing the disagreements among nations.

...Perhaps it was these grand expectations of a new era for humankind that helped spur the anger and outrage at American policies of the past decade. It is not that those policies are in themselves so different, or in any way out of character for the United States. It is that to many people in Europe and even in the United States, they have seemed jarringly out of place in a world that was supposed to have moved on.

As we now know, however, both nationalism and ideology were already making their comeback in the 1990s. Russia had ceased to be and no longer desired to be a "quasi-member" of the West, and partly because of NATO enlargement. China was already on its present trajectory and had already determined that American hegemony was a threat to its ambitions. The forces of radical Islam had already begun their jihad, globalization had already caused a backlash around the world, and the juggernaut of democracy had already stalled and begun to tip precariously.
Much more at the Source

Most people have come to realise that the forces of history continued unabated, undiminished throughout the 1990s to the present day. But the temptation remains to declare that the natural state of humanity is a harmonious community of nations with common aims and goals.

It is almost irresistibly tempting to blame the imperfect state of the world on a single person, a group of persons, or an entire nation. Without this person, these people, the world would revert to its natural perfection and harmony.

That is the delusion of utopia, in the service of petty politics in the mind of a lobotomised neotenate.

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21 July 2007

Iran's Ahmadinejad Finds Himself A Bit Overextended

Iran's provocative president is finding it difficult to pay for his long wish list. Ahmadinejad wants to be the Middle East's biggest of big men, but he has not done well with his domestic economy.
According to the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), monthly inflation rates since January 2006 have varied between 2.8 and 3.2 percentage points, making for an annual rate that could reach the 30 per cent mark next year. Theoretically, in an oil-based economy the government has a built-in interest in inflation. The problem, however, is that Ahmadinejad has presided over a massive increase in public expenditure. Part of this is due to an estimated 21 per cent rise in the budgets of military and security services in preparation for a war with the United States.

....Ahmadinejad has also increased expenditure on his so-called “exporting the revolution” programme. Syria has received almost $3 billion in cash and cut-price oil. The Lebanese branch of Hezbollah has been rewarded with $1.8 billion while the Palestinian Hamas movement has collected almost $1 billion. A further $3 billion has been spent on financing anti-US political and armed groups in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The government has also made provisions worth $4 billion to cope with emergencies in its quest to dominate Iraq in case the Americans run away.

....Fears that the nation’s economy may be heading for the rocks prompted 57 of Iran’s best-known economists to publish an open letter to Ahmadinejad, warning that his policies were making for disaster. The letter, circulated and widely discussed throughout the country, forced Ahamdinejad to invite the signatories to a debate.

In the event, some 40 economists turned up but there was no debate. Instead, Ahmadinejad treated them to a gallimaufry in which obscurantist religious beliefs were mixed with half-understood economic concepts. He told the critics that his administration feared no economic meltdown for two reasons. The first was that the “Hidden Imam” would not abandon “the world’s only truly Islamic regime,” at a time it faced a war with the American “Great Satan.” The second was that the government was launching a massive privatisation programme to raise billions of cash.

Unfortunately for the common Iranian, Ahmadinejads "privatisation plan" is eerily reminiscent of Vladimir Putin's privatisation plan in Russia--a corrupt "giveaway to presidential cronies" at the expense of the public.

One is forced to wonder what the mullah-kings of Iran think about the upstart president's plan. Their high living style depends upon the profits of state-owned enterprises. If Ahmadinejad sells some of the more profitable businesses to his friends, that would represent a significant shift in power for the Islamic Revolutionary state.

30% annual inflation will not destroy the government, but it will not make it more popular with common Iranians on fixed incomes. With popular dissent steadily increasing, the clumsy and corrupt handling of Iran's economy may make for more interesting domestic times than Ahmadinejad is planning for.


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20 July 2007

Carnival of Space #12 and Water in Space

The Carnival of Space #12 is hosted at Music of the Spheres blog. I have been quite impressed at the high caliber of postings that have been consistently appearing on the COS.

Centauri Dreams blog has an intriguing post on the possibility that the Kuiper Belt objects may possess more liquid water than all the water on Earth.

Wherever humans go, they will need a reliable source of water--for drinking, for making fuel, for making oxygen to breathe, and for crops--even if grown aeroponically--the most efficient means of growing crops known, water-wise.

If the lunar pole craters contain water, that would make the moon a good staging area for further advance--given its lower gravity than Earth's. If Mars contains as much water as expected, then that planet would be a good staging area for the asteroid belt and the gas giant moons. If the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are as rich as it appears they may be, they would be a good staging area for going beyond the solar system to the neighboring star systems.

Humans need to learn to live in extra-terrestrial environments, sustainably. While we can take excellent care of our home planet, we will never be perfectly safe from existential risks. So while we continue to make this planet safer and cleaner, we must also make our move outward.

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17 July 2007

TV Host Avi Lewis Receives a Much Deserved Humiliating Spanking from Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Hirsi Ali is a refugee from Islam who is grateful to be living in freedom. Avi Lewis is an unintelligent television host who plainly cannot hold his own with someone of Hirsi Ali's caliber.

Lewis must still be applying the diaper rash balm after receiving this "pants-down spanking" from the erudite but plain speaking Ali. The thrashing must have been ten times more painful for Hirsi Ali's soft-spoken and gently smiling delivery.

Avi, you total fucking moron. Do you even have the wits to realise when you are outclassed?


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16 July 2007

Husbands for Rent: Not a Gigolo Service

What do you do when your "Honey-do" list is long, but your honey doesn't have the time or the skills to do what needs doing? You rent a husband.
The Husbands for Rent handyman service is available to perform all those little and big jobs around the house like putting dry wall or plumbing kitchen and bathrooms.

Owner Anthony Storelli’s crew of husbands is currently rehabbing a house that realtor Margaret Zecher will then sell. Zecher, who is single, first hired the company work at her own house.

"I love it! I know I can call Husbands for Rent and they will be there within 24 to 48 hours and the job will be done," she said

Storelli said no job is too big or too small and their clientele runs the gamut.

This concept seems to be catching on across the continent--in fact it is being franchised extensively.
Todd Recknagel, brand president of Mr. Handyman, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, announced the opening of the 250th Mr. Handyman franchise unit.

"We're celebrating this milestone because it validates the market opportunity, our franchise model, and the passion that's shared by our entire Mr. Handyman team," said Recknagel.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, six out of ten homeowners have home improvement to do's, and most Americans have an eye on seven or more projects at any given time. For millions of homeowners, tending to these nagging repairs while balancing work and family has created a thriving demand for professional, reliable and reasonable home-repair services.

The Mr. Handyman concept is squarely positioned to capitalize on this critical market need and is recognized as one of America's fastest-growing, service-oriented franchise systems. Entrepreneur magazine ranked Mr. Handyman the #1 handyman service in their January 2007, issue.

The question of whether men across North America are becoming "less handy" was tossed around here.
Are men getting less capable when it comes to traditional male skills? We’ve debated about outsourcing household chores before on the Juggle. In this case, I’m talking about traditional “dad” tasks, such as replacing a light switch or resodding the lawn.

...Readers, have you noticed a decline in the level of handiness? If so, why do you think it’s happening? Alternatively, do you see more women handling these tasks, or are these chores getting outsourced to professionals?
More at the Source, including fascinating comments

In modern day North America, society stresses university education and professional level jobs, but rarely do we see the important message that "it is good to be handy." No matter how high your salary, if you are employed by someone else, you can be fired or laid off. While you are "between jobs" it might be nice if you could deal with unexpected expenses, rather than having to dip into your savings time and again.

On a recent trip to a region where I once lived, I found myself helping a friend remodel a rental property, helping with landscaping at another place, and doing several household repairs for another friend. There is something satisfying about being of use, when you are not particularly expected to be.

Personally, I think men are becoming less handy, overall. It goes along with the trends toward narcissism, psychological neoteny, and academic lobotomy--for the university educated.

I suspect that much of the problem with drug addiction, depression, and illegal immigration, derives from the unholy trio of incompetent helplessness mentioned above. Remember--if you are a worthless incompetent fool, you are not supposed to feel good about yourself.

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We All Live in a Yellow Submarine

Many people own luxury yachts and houseboats, but very few people own luxury submarines for living aboard. That is the way the world's militaries would like it to remain, but times are changing nonetheless.

US Submarines builds a variety of civilian subs for many purposes. Their most luxurious sub, priced at US $80 million, is the Phoenix 1000. Now that is a sub that almost anyone could live aboard. US Subs Seattle 1000 is smaller, costing only US$20 million.

The Integrity Subs model 68 also provides comfortable living conditions for a far lower cost, around US$ 5 million. Operational depth and range are more restricted than with the US Subs luxury submersible, however.

As the world sees more billionaires--particularly ones with a sense of adventure intact--you can expect to see them trying to outdo each other in adventure and luxury. This will take them places most people never go, such as the underseas, the high atmosphere, and into outer space.

Here is an interesting description of a US Submarines design for an "ambient pressure undersea habitat." Such habitats would not require special breathing gases nor decompression time. They would have to be designed differently than typical undersea habitats up until now, but the advantage of allowing untrained personnel to inhabit them would no doubt draw a large tourist crowd.

The undersea world contains many riches. Not nearly as many as the asteroid belt and the rest of the solar system, but then the undersea world is more accessible. It is likely that some of the billionaires who approach the submarine world as a novelty, may decide to invest there more seriously.

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15 July 2007

Generation Seed Ships for Colonising Space

Unless science discovers a workable faster than light drive in the next century or two, it is likely that humans will attempt to launch generation ships to cross the interstellar gulf between star systems. On a generation ship, a voyage between star systems may take several millenia. For the many generations growing up, living, and dying aboard these ships, the destination becomes secondary to the journey itself.

Centauri Dreams blog discusses this issue, using a Michael Anissimov posting as a launch pad:

Noting Marshall Savage’s projection that the asteroid belt could theoretically house 7,500 trillion people if exploited in its entirety (this is drawn from the latter’s The Millennial Project), Anissimov goes on to ponder the motivations for space exploration itself. Here’s one relevant bit:

Why expand into space? For many, the answers are blatantly obvious, but the easiest is that the alternatives are limiting the human freedom to reproduce, or mass murder, both of which are morally unacceptable. Population growth is not inherently antithetical to a love of the environment - in fact, by expanding outwards into the cosmos in all directions, we’ll be able to seed every star system with every species of plant and animal imaginable. The genetic diversity of the embryonic home planet will seem tiny by comparison.

That is a very good point.Our very own solar system possesses resources that would allow humans to build a prolific base of operations for launching into the interstellar spaces. The best way to go beyond the asteroid belt and the Oort/Kuiper regions, is to build a sustainable/expandable infrastructure in those very regions first.

The best raw material for a generation ship is an asteroid or comet. The inertia/mass would be large for initial acceleration out of the system, but the raw materials would be indispensable for the long voyage outward. Tunneling into the interior of the asteroid/comet provides a protected living and working environment. Aeroponics would provide a good method of growing crops. Nuclear energy would be the most logical method of propulsion and energy supply--fusion if available.

Here is more on:

Colony Ships

Interstellar Travel

Space Colonisation

And why the surface of a planet may not be the best place for humans to evolve further.

For more mind expanding thoughts on expanding human existence, check out the latest postings at Accelerating Future and Advanced Nanotechnology blogs. Both Michael and Brian have posted some extraordinarily thoughtful posts recently.

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14 July 2007

Climate of Fear: Exposed on CNN

Interesting look at Al Gore and the rest of the climate debate. Actually, it's far wider in scope and more interesting than Al Gore, but you can judge for yourself.

When Al Gore was Vice President of the US, he said the US would never ratify Kyoto until [China and India] were required to follow Kyoto mandates. Conveniently, he has forgotten that truth. But other people have not forgotten, nor have they forgotten that Bill Clinton never sent the Kyoto accord to the US Senate for ratification. Yes, that's right. Clinton signed the paper, but never sent it on to be ratified. What was up with that empty gesture?


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Comes the Cold, and Let Slip the Dogs of War!

When earth's climate was even warmer than today's--during the medieval warm period--humans grew plentiful crops in areas considered marginal today. If we are lucky enough to continue the current warm period, we can expect a similar cornucopia from the world's breadbaskets.

But if the weather should turn cold, beware! Drought, pestilence, and widespread warfare await the cold.
warfare frequency in eastern China, and the southern part in particular, significantly correlated with temperature oscillations. In fact, almost all peaks of warfare and dynastic changes coincided with cold phases. Zhang speculates that in times of such ecological stress, warfare could be the ultimate means of redistributing resources.

Zhang concludes that; "it was the oscillations of agricultural production brought by long-term climate change that drove China's historical war-peace cycles." Looking to the future, Zhang and colleagues suggest that shortages of essential resources, such as fresh water, agricultural land, energy sources and minerals may trigger more armed conflicts among human societies.

So if war is often driven by the threat of loss of food resources, it is logical to expect more wars of this type to occur during cycles of cold weather--when the growing season becomes perilously short, and surplus populations are expected to starve.

Those are the cold hard facts of life that capitalism, medical science, and large scale farming, refrigeration, and transportation have hidden from our pampered selves.

We live in a complex house of cards civilisation. If we lose transportation or electric power for refrigeration, we will lose a lot of food--and people. If our economic system breaks down, the basis for long distance trading and markets will disappear, and a lot of people will die.

Think of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, except on a worldwide scale. There will be no cavalry riding to the rescue. It will be cold, hungry, and violent. That is the natural variation of climate, which humans will never learn to deal with as long as they are chasing phantasms of imagination such as CAGW.

It will not require a nuclear winter--although nuclear war is far more likely should the nuclear powers suffer a loss of productive cropland in a cooling climate. These are the things we should be thinking about and working to prevent, or at least mitigate. The things that kill, such as cold.

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13 July 2007

Space Mining and Carnival #11

Space Carnival #11 is up at Space for Commerce blog.

It is another fine collection of space postings, but my favourite is this posting on asteroid mining from the fine space blog, Colony Worlds.
With most of these invaluable asteroids tens of millions of miles away from the nearest colony world, asteroid miners will find themselves heavily dependent upon supplies for food and water. Their isolation will also make them prime candidates for space pirates, not to mention feuding powers from Earth, Mars and the Jovian systems.

Unless these outposts are protected by a space fleet, they may soon find their boring schedule filled with being invaded by unwelcome guests.

Another danger of asteroid miners will be radiation. Since most (if not all) asteroids lack a magnetic field, asteroid outposts will be at the mercy of the Sun's wrath, not to mention cosmic rays from abroad. Although outposts will probably have magnetic shields surrounding their bases, this does not guarantee that the rocks that they mine upon are free from being radioactive.

....asteroid miners also face the dangers of micrometeorites piercing holes through their suits and stations, or (even worse) encountering a meteor shower from an incoming comet.

Future outposts will probably have to rely upon the eyes (and scientific "ears") of astronomers to warn them of the dangers of nearby comets, although they may have to "take a gamble" when dealing with incoming space pebbles as armor may prove useless against these solar bullets.

But despite the fact that these dangers surround future asteroid miners, there presence in our star system will be desperately needed. Asteroids have the potential of supplying invaluable resources, and the purity of metals could be worth up to $500,000 a ton.

In fact, it is possible for an asteroid mining venture to net US $21 trillion or more from a single asteroid. The terrestrial value of mineral resources contained in the asteroids is incalculable. Compared to the payback, the expense of mounting a commercial venture fades to insignificance--after the payback, that is.

When will we see asteroid mining start? Well, it will only become viable once the human-presence commercial in-orbit economy takes off. Only then will there be a market. And that can only happen after NASA ceases acting as a near-monopolist launch provider and thwarter of competition, and reverts to being a customer instead.

A developing in-space economy will build the technical capability to access NEAs, almost automatically. And regardless of the legal arguments about mineral claims in outer space, once the first resource recovery mission is successful, what's the bets on a surge in interest similar to the dotcom-boom and biotech-boom?

The first successful venturers will develop immense proprietary knowledge, and make a mint. And some as-yet unidentified (but almost certainly already discovered) NEAs will be the company-making mines of the 21st century.

In fact, most of the expensive ventures that Luddites are always whining about--orbiting solar platforms, moon bases, Mars missions, space stations, etc., become instantly affordable with "pocket change" once asteroids start sending their wealth earthward.

People such as Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and other high rolling tycoons may have just caught a whiff of the possibilities.

Most politicians are relatively clueless, however--which may be a good thing. While the nations of Earth might warrant a healthy tax chunk of some of the profits from space mining and enterprise, there is not a nation on Earth that should control all of space and all space assets.

So far, the only Earth nation that has demonstrated space weapons intent and capability is China--with its irresponsible kinetic kill of one of its obsolete satellites having created dangerous space debris in orbit. The US has many projects and plans for using space as part of coordinated defense. Military spy satellites themselves are vital to US defense plans. Russia, like China, would like to control space, and no doubt would, if it could.

The next few decades will be critical, in determining whether the future of space will be free to enterprising individuals and groups, or closed by nation-states with the military clout to lock everyone else on Earth.

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11 July 2007

Advance Look at Top Secret iPod Killer

Here, at last, is the technology destined to make iPods obsolete. Built into the case of a watch, it could not be more convenient. The advanced waveguide sound system eliminates the need for unsightly ear buds! All in all, a victory for advanced audio design.
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Academic Lobotomy: The Public Slowly Becomes Aware

Freedom of speech has grown rare on university campuses, over the past two or three decades. Until recently, however, the general public seemed unaware of the academic crusade against intellectual freedom. The secret scandal of widespread academic lobotomy may finally be leaking to the public at large.
a majority of Americans believe the political bias of college professors is a serious problem, a new Zogby Interactive poll shows.

Nearly six in 10 - 58% - said they see it as a serious problem, with 39% saying it was a "very serious" problem.

....Men were much more likely than women to see the bias of professors as a problem - 64% of men agreed, while 53% of women said the same.

Whites were twice as likely to call it a "serious problem" as African Americans, the survey showed.

The survey also showed that an overwhelming majority also believe that job security for college professors leaves them less motivated to do a good job than those professors who do not enjoy a tenured status - 65% said they believe non-tenured professors are more motivated to do a good job in the classroom.

Asked whether they think the quality of a college education today is better or worse than it was 25 years ago, 46% said they think it is worse, while 29% said it is better. Another 16% said the quality now is about the same as it was a generation ago.

When you combine psychological neoteny, academic lobotomy, and runaway narcissism, today's university student has hardly a chance to learn to think for him/herself, and mature into an independent person of solid judgment. It is a shame to lose an entire generation. But if members of the public--including parents and financial supporters of academia--can wise up at last, intellectual freedom may be allowed back on campus.

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Climate Quest: The Mysterious Missing Carbon Sink--A Multi-Billion Dollar Quest for a Phantom Grail of IPCC Climate "Science"

First of all, how long does CO2 stay in the atmosphere?
Until recently, the world of science was near-unanimous that CO2 couldn't stay in the atmosphere for more than about five to 10 years because of the oceans' near-limitless ability to absorb CO2.

"This time period has been established by measurements based on natural carbon-14 and also from readings of carbon-14 from nuclear weapons testing, it has been established by radon-222 measurements, it has been established by measurements of the solubility of atmospheric gases in the oceans, it has been established by comparing the isotope mass balance, it has been established through other mechanisms, too, and over many decades, and by many scientists in many disciplines," says Prof. Segalstad, whose work has often relied upon such measurements.
Why is it important to IPCC modelers to have CO2 stay in the atmosphere longer?
Climate change scientists began creating carbon cycle models to explain what they thought must be an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These computer models calculated a long life for carbon dioxide.

Amazingly, the hypothetical results from climate models have trumped the real world measurements of carbon dioxide's longevity in the atmosphere. Those who claim that CO2 lasts decades or centuries have no such measurements or other physical evidence to support their claims.

Neither can they demonstrate that the various forms of measurement are erroneous.

"They don't even try," says Prof. Segalstad. "They simply dismiss evidence that is, for all intents and purposes, irrefutable. Instead, they substitute their faith, constructing a kind of science fiction or fantasy world in the process."
Very Curious. What happens if the IPPC modelers' blind faith is misplaced?
In the real world, as measurable by science, CO2 in the atmosphere and in the ocean reach a stable balance when the oceans contain 50 times as much CO2 as the atmosphere. "The IPCC postulates an atmospheric doubling of CO2, meaning that the oceans would need to receive 50 times more CO2 to obtain chemical equilibrium," explains Prof. Segalstad. "This total of 51 times the present amount of carbon in atmospheric CO2 exceeds the known reserves of fossil carbon-- it represents more carbon than exists in all the coal, gas, and oil that we can exploit anywhere in the world."
But that would defy logic, would it not?
Also in the real world, Prof. Segalstad's isotope mass balance calculations -- a standard technique in science -- show that if CO2 in the atmosphere had a lifetime of 50 to 200 years, as claimed by IPCC scientists, the atmosphere would necessarily have half of its current CO2 mass. Because this is a nonsensical outcome, the IPCC model postulates that half of the CO2 must be hiding somewhere, in "a missing sink." Many studies have sought this missing sink -- a Holy Grail of climate science research-- without success.

"It is a search for a mythical CO2 sink to explain an immeasurable CO2 lifetime to fit a hypothetical CO2 computer model that purports to show that an impossible amount of fossil fuel burning is heating the atmosphere," Prof. Segalstad concludes.

"It is all a fiction."


If it is all a fiction, it is a very high-priced fiction--taking in many billions of dollars a year in its support and propagation.

Or is it possible that a mysterious missing carbon sink is out there, just waiting for the right model, the right number of billions of dollars, the right political has-been crusader to find and display in triumph? Stay tuned.

Hat tip Green Watch.

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10 July 2007

One Pill to Stop Smoking AND Drinking? How'd They Do That?

Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol go together like sweating and mowing the lawn. So is it really so surprising that a pill that is approved in the US for smoking cessation, may also work as an aid for alcoholics to stop drinking?
The drug, called varenicline, already is sold to help smokers kick the habit. New but preliminary research suggests it could gain a second use in helping heavy drinkers quit, too.

Much further down the line, the tablets might be considered as a treatment for addictions to everything from gambling to painkillers, researchers said.

....Pfizer Inc. developed the drug specifically as a stop-smoking aid and has sold it in the United States since August under the brand name Chantix. Varenicline works by latching onto the same receptors in the brain that nicotine binds to when inhaled in cigarette smoke, an action that leads to the release of dopamine in the brain's pleasure centers. Taking the drug blocks any inhaled nicotine from reinforcing that effect.

A study published Monday suggests not just nicotine but alcohol also acts on the same locations in the brain. That means a drug like varenicline, which makes smoking less rewarding, could do the same for drinking. Preliminary work, done in rats, suggests that is the case.

"The biggest thrill is that this drug, which has already proved safe for people trying to stop smoking, is now a potential drug to fight alcohol dependence," said Selena Bartlett, a University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist who led the study. Details appear this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pfizer provided the drug for the study, but was not otherwise involved in the research.

....Several experts not involved in the study cautioned that there is no such thing as a magic cure-all for addiction and that varenicline and similar drugs may find more immediate use in treating diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

This is rather fascinating, when you think about it. Of course we all know there is no cure-all for addiction. Otherwise, the inventor of such a cure-all would now be the world's richest person, and we would all have read about it.

Nevertheless, there are few drugs on the market that affect the brain's nicotinic receptor system directly--other than nicotine itself--and this drug is interesting if for no other reason than that. This drug may actually prove to be more effective for treating Alzheimer's Disease than for treating alcoholism--time will tell.

The exact mechanisms of the reward systems in the brain, and how nicotinic receptors are involved, is still being worked out. But the brain's reward system is very central to human motivations and behaviours. This drug and analogs of this drug should prove very useful in ongoing research to tease out the intricacies of these systems.

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Hobie Makes a Kayak Trimaran With Pedal Propulsion

This nifty one-person sail kayak has trimaran stability and pedal/flipper drive. The outriggers are retractable and the sail is fully reefing.
The Hobie Mirage Adventure Island is a 16-foot, single-person “Sail/yak” that combines the Hobie MirageDrive pedal-propulsion system with a 5.38 square meter sail and two amas (outriggers) that provide stability on the water and fold back into the hull for docking and beaching.

The newest edition to the Hobie line-up has a mast height of 15’2” (4.62m), weighs 115lbs (52.16kg) when fully rigged and can carry 350lbs (159kg). With the amas extended the craft is 112” (2.84m) wide, reducing to 42” when folded.

....The Hobie MirageDrive system employed in the company’s range of kayaks is a pedal/flipper mechanism that swings laterally underneath the hull like a penguin's fins to produce forward drive. Steering is via a hand-controlled rudder that can be retracted to the horizontal when not in use.
Check out this video from Hobie that demonstrates the sail-yak in action!

I'm looking forward to getting one of these fun toys in the surf and seeing how she handles.

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09 July 2007

After Synthetic Biology: Comes the Plague?

Synthetic biologists such as Craig Venter, are optimistic about their future. They believe that once they have mastered the art of forcing nature to do their will, the good life will follow--for everyone.
Synthetic biologists, as they survey all the new genes and control elements whose DNA sequences are now accumulating in data bases, seem to feel extraordinary power is almost within their grasp.

“Biology will never be the same,” Thomas F. Knight of M.I.T.’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory wrote recently in describing the new engineering discipline he sees as emerging from it.

....“Grow a house” is on the to-do list of the M.I.T. Synthetic Biology Working Group, presumably meaning that an acorn might be reprogrammed to generate walls, oak floors and a roof instead of the usual trunk and branches. “Take over Mars. And then Venus. And then Earth” —the last items on this modest agenda.

Most people in synthetic biology are engineers who have invaded genetics. They have brought with them a vocabulary derived from circuit design and software development that they seek to impose on the softer substance of biology. They talk of modules — meaning networks of genes assembled to perform some standard function — and of “booting up” a cell with new DNA-based instructions, much the way someone gets a computer going.

The first practical applications of synthetic biology may not be so far off. “The real killer app for this field has become bioenergy,” Dr. Collins says. Under the stimulus of high gas prices, synthetic biologists are re-engineering microbes to generate the components of natural gas and petroleum. Whether this can be done economically remains to be seen. But one company, LS9 of San Carlos, Calif., says it is close to that goal. Its re-engineered microbe “produces hydrocarbons that look, smell and function” very similarly to those in petroleum, said Stephen del Cardayre, the company’s vice president for research.

Synthetic biologists are well aware that, like any new technology, theirs can be used for good or ill, and they have encouraged open discussion of possible risks at their annual meetings.

One possible danger is bioterrorism.

Bioterrorism. For western scientists looking for all the good things in life for themselves and others, bioterrorism is not first on their minds. Yet for hundreds of millions of religious fanatics and apocalyptics, the possibility of ending man's reign on earth offered by a perverted synthetic biology must be too strong to resist.

Most of us simply do not want to think about it. Why not simply dwell on all the good things biotech, nanotech, advanced computing, robotics, and molecular fabs will bring to our living rooms and workshops? Why think about a potential hell when we could be thinking about a potential utopia?

Because we like to think about the apocalypse. There is no apocalypse like a "plague apocalypse." Remember 12 Monkeys, or 28 Days Later? How about the classics Earth Abides, No Blade of Grass, or Andromeda Strain?

In a plague apocalypse, the victims can die as long and as painfully as the author desires. Victims can even pass into a zombie state to prey on survivors and the uninfected. Or instead of humans dying from plague, they can die from starvation when diseases attack food crops--destroying the entire food chain from the bottom up.

The White Plague is a revenge tale, about a scientist who loses his wife to terror and embarks on a far more lethal campaign of terror himself. Why not? Scientists are as human as anyone else. Anyone who has not witnessed the passion of a scientist probably just doesn't know any scientists very well.

The point is, synthetic biology makes synthetic plagues--aimed at people or plants--possible. And given the rampant religious apocalyptic fanaticism that possesses the young burgeoning populations of certain countries, it is likely that many of these fanatics will take up biological science as a profession. In other words, it will happen if we let it.

What will our world be like if we get sloppy, and allow the secrets of synthetic plague to slip into the hands of fanatic apocalyptics? To visualize that, you must use your imagination. Reading some of these books might help. Or you may want to read some of these. After all, apocalypses share many consequences among them.

Facing these possibilities is what organisations such as the Lifeboat Foundation and the Society for Creative Apocalyptology are all about.

It is not inconceivable that the future will belong to the city-state, rather than to the nation-state. A city-state can trade with other city-states and with the surrounding countryside, but is more defensible than the nation-state--having shorter borders.

The US-Mexican border will not keep out a deadly plague. Neither will the long border of the Mediterranean Sea between much of the third world and Europe. Chinese military officials have threatened to devastate the US west coast with nuclear weapons, but why bother when a simple microbe will do even more damage?

Round the world cruises and air travel are custom made for spreading deadly plagues. It is quite possible that we will look back on these days as a time of extraordinary freedom to travel and experience the world. In the future, many unknown perils wait.

This is not a time for academic lobotomies or psychological neotenates. It is a time for teaching children basic skills of living and survival, as a matter of course. Think of life in an orbiting colony or on a moonbase. Think of how children would have to be raised in order to deal with the deadly hazards existing right outside the door.

Then start thinking realistically about what life on Earth could easily be like in a decade or two. And stop wasting generations of human life by dooming them to incompetent neoteny and frivolous helplessness.

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Robert A Heinlein Birth Centennial--A Bold Author in a Timid World

Robert A Heinlein was a prolific author who left a legacy in writing and endowment. For many readers here, Heinlein was too far before their time (born 7 July 1907, died 1988) to have been exposed to very much of what he wrote. For you, there is the book navigator pulldown menu, for brief synopses of most of his novels.

I had the privilege of hearing Heinlein speak shortly before he died. Although he had undergone surgery for occluded carotid arteries, and was nearly 80 years old, his mind was crystal clear and his voice was strong. It was fitting that Heinlein's mind was sharp at the end of his life, after a brief interlude of carotid vascular insufficiency. He was able to make the farewell tour and appreciate how much he was admired, respected, and loved.

Heinlein was one of the first authors I read, when I started reading science fiction. Along with Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Poul Anderson, Heinlein introduced me to the far imaginings and possibilities of speculative fiction--fictional worlds with no boundaries but science.

Heinlein was not afraid to face his critics, who were typically people who did not want to learn from another person's experience. When Heinlein stood before a large crowd during the Vietnam War era and declared "there will always be war," he was soundly booed, and branded a fascist by psychologically neotenous mind-children yet to experience real life. Naturally, Heinlein was able to take their measure and place their criticism where it belonged.

Heinlein was controversial and bold. He spoke his mind and stayed around to confront anyone who wanted to debate ideas reasonably, based upon logic, science and history. Most of his critics were not up to the task, but rather sniped at him from a safe distance. Unfortunately, it was these cowardly critics and their like who took over most of the universities and still control them today--still smothering campus atmosphere with lockstep PC oppressiveness.

My favourite RAH novels include Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Tunnel In the Sky.
[Tunnel In the Sky] is the story of a High School graduating class's final examination. Course 410 is an elective senior seminar called Advanced Survival, and the students must successfully complete (i.e., survive) the final field exam to pass. Rod Walker and his classmates receive 24 hours notice to prepare themselves before being blindly transported to an unspecified planet, with unspecified climate and terrain -- and unknown hazards. At moments reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, this is a must read, really!

Tunnel In the Sky is similar to Alexei Panshin's "Rite of Passage." It is true that the "rite of passage" theme is used in science fiction frequently, which is one reason that I favour using science fiction as reading material for young teens--the scientific constraints of good science fiction teach logical thinking, and the frequent use of teenaged characters placed in trying circumstances allows SF to entertain teens as it educates.

Citizen of the Galaxy is another good example of Heinlein's use of the "rite of passage."
Citizen is an impassioned plea for life-long education. In many of Heinlein's books, a principal character is portrayed over time, beginning in relative ignorance, learning from experience, receiving the benefits of tutelage from an authoritative source, and then using those teachings to resolve subsequent problems. A formula, but one that works very well, repeatedly, in the hands of this master story teller.

Citizen portrays this young man's education in four stages: a disenfranchised child tutored by a man of wisdom, an adolescent in an artificial space-faring culture that may prefigure tomorrow, a young recruit in the Guard, and an unwilling adult but youthful player in economic, social, political, and legal machinations that clearly satirize 20th Century America's corporate civilization.

Heinlein's life is the antithesis of psychological neoteny. He took responsibility for himself and his ideas, and proceeded to find his forte` and pursue it without apology. He left his critics in the dust, forgotten. One of the lessons of his life is that anyone who chooses can do the same.

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08 July 2007

Employment Outlook Good for US Graduates

For recent university graduates in the US, employment prospects could not look much better.
"If you want a job and you're a college grad, you can get one," is the smart—only somewhat overstated—observation that Roy Krause, head of staffing company Spherion, just imparted to me over the phone. Indeed, college grads had just a 2 percent unemployment rate in June, according to new Labor Department data, vs. 3.5 percent for those with "some college," 4.1 percent for high school grads, and 6.7 percent for those who did not finish high school.

More good news came from the June income numbers: Real wages for workers—not managers—increased by 3.9 percent, year over year. Deflate by the core May inflation rate of 2.3 percent—the latest numbers available—and you get real wage growth of 1.6 percent. Not too shabby. Right now, Wall Street recession expectations are pretty low. "The threat of recession has abated, as job and income gains provide the wherewithal to support consumer spending," is the analysis of former Federal Reserve governor Lyle Gramley. In fact, the Big Money Crowd is more worried about China than U.S. housing as a source of future trouble.

In reality, it is very possible for high school dropouts in the US to become millionaires within 20 years, if they use discipline and good sense. Of course, those are not attributes generally applied to high school dropouts. The sad truth is, however, that a high school dropout or graduate could easily achieve a higher paying job than many college/university graduates by learning a useful trade and traveling to where the high paying jobs are. In other words, in the US economy, being useful can easily be more important than having a lot of letters behind your name.

In fact, in a general atmosphere of academic lobotomy and psychological neoteny, the sooner a strong-minded and ambitious person strikes out on his/her own, the better. Parents should consider what they would want their children to know, should they step out into the real world at the age of 18 or 20, and begin teaching them when they are young.

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