Showing posts from July, 2019

The Party of Racism

Was anybody surprised by the tapes revealing the sainted Reagan as a virulent racist?  In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Bill, the Republican Party managed to resuscitate itself from the near death experience of the Great Depression by becoming the party of American racism - albeit more of a wink and a nod racism than the old southern racism of lynchings.  So there is nothing surprising about the Party's leading lights talking like this.  Racist Ronnie:  “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan said. Nixon liked the description so much he later repeated it multiple times. It's a party that's been rotten to the core for at least 50 years.

Your Mileage May Vary: Dem Debate I

The CNN questioners, especially Jake Tapper, my current favorite for most annoying non-Fox News personality, seemed determined that Sanders and Warren get almost all the questions.  Both made effective opening statements, but IMHO, went rapidly downhill from there.  I was deeply annoyed by their seemingly fanatical devotion to Medicare only.  I'm on Medicare (as well as private insurance) and it is mostly great, but Medicare, like any medical insurance system, limits treatments.  That will not change. Forcing everyone into Medicare is deeply unpopular and the notion that it won't cost anybody but maybe a few rich people is ridiculous.  Warren was my favorite candidate at the start of the debate but she lost a lot of credibility for me with her devotion to Medicare only and the Green New Deal. I imagine Warren had prepared this zinger in advance:  “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we

Buying Books to Sequester Carbon

I have always thought that books were a good way to sequester carbon.  Much of a book consists of carbon, and books can last a long time.  My faith in this possibly crackpot idea has been slightly shaken by some calculations showing that the carbon cost of making a book can be rather high - in one case as much as 34 kg/kg of book. Carbon footprints have always looked more like superstition than science to me, especially when the estimates differ by a factor of 30 or so.  In the case cited, much of the calculation seemed pretty dicey - the carbon cost included the carbon incorporated in the book plus the carbon that the tree cut down might have taken from the atmosphere in the future.  Oh please!  Trees grown for fiber are going to be cut down sometime and wouldn't live forever anyway.  Also, they will be replaced by new trees that will in turn grow and take up carbon, and the carbon taken from the tree is now a durable book. Of course I now buy most of my books in electronic

Sports, Race, and Racism

Nature has a review of a new boo k called Skin Deep: Journeys in the Divisive Science of Race , by Gavin Evans.  The US now has a frankly racist President, and by it's cowardly acquiescence, a frankly racist political party, the Republicans.  All indications are that the 40% or so of the population that identify as Republicans buy fully into Trump's resurgent racism.  So the topic remains as relevant as ever. Nonetheless, I can't say that I'm very impressed by Angela Saini's review.  There are just too many places where weak endorsements take the place of fact and logic.  She rightly notes that biology has not been kind to conventional definitions of race - differences among individuals are mostly not correlated with so-called races.  However, when it comes to specifics, she, and perhaps our author, seems confused and dogmatic. Consider: Evans zooms in on two focal points of racial stereotypes: sport and intelligence. His section on the success of Kenyan mara


What is modern?  The root of the word modern seems to mean "of the present time," so in that sense both the hipster living in a NYC condo and the hunter gatherer in the Amazon rain forest today are equally "modern."  Like nearly all words, though, the word has many meanings, some of which are intended to praise new or approved changes in society. I will use it in just that sense. To me, one of the dominant social changes of the past couple of hundred years has been the emergence of rights for marginalized social groups and especially for women.  It's easy to forget that less than 100 years ago, women could not vote in most of the US, couldn't vote even a few decades ago in even such a modern state as Switzerland.  Of course women remain severely restricted and oppressed in much of the world even today. The change has been traumatic for many traditionally male dominated societies.  The Ayatollah Khomeini  apparently became exercised enough to enter po


One of the mysteries in the Jeffrey Epstein case is how he made his money.  Allegedly a hedge fund guy, he seems to have left almost no visible trace of his investing.  One popular theory is that he made his cash as a pimp/blackmailer. Given this suspicion, the fact that Epstein turned up severely injured in his cell suggests either unconscionable carelessness or complicity on the part of the prosecutors and jailors.  His list of powerful and wealthy friends, including accused pervs, Clinton, Trump, Prince Andrew, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Alan Dershowitz and many others suggests that there are many among the rich and powerful who would rather have him dead than talking.  He should be in isolation and under twenty-four hour surveillance.

White Privilege

The NYT Magazine has an article entitled: I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.   The subtitle is: "My college class asks what it means to be white in America — but interrogating that question as a black woman in the real world is much harder to do." So much so, evidently, that in a very long article ruminating on the question she almost never asks the question, much less gets an answer.  I suppose I got off on the wrong foot by wondering why a Yale professor of poetry would use the word "interrogate" in such a strange way.  In my dictionary, questions are asked and persons are interrogated.  The root of the word interrogate means to ask a question of someone. I also think that the whole concept of "white privilege" is a bad idea, but not because persons of color don't experience lots of outrages and inconveniences that whites usually don't.  It is a bad idea for a few reasons, one of which is that the roo

My Household Robot

I hear that Amazon is working on  a household robot.  Nobody seems to know much about it, but my impression is that it is supposed to be something like Alexa with wheels and cameras.  That sounds like a terrible idea.  A household robot better be able to do some stuff, so it needs lots of smarts and some good manipulators. "Vesta, get me a beer!"  (Supposedly they are calling it Vesta). So what are the minimum capabilities a household robot needs?  I have a few ideas. 1)Set the table for dinner. 2)Collect dirty dishes and put them in the dishwasher. 3)Empty clean dishes from dishwasher and put them away. 4)Pick up toys, other stuff off floor and put away. 5)Make the beds. 6)Do the laundry. Anybody have other ideas that might be implementable in the next decade or so?  Assume your robot has good cameras, can map the house, recognize many common objects, and has manipulators something like hands and arms.

Aristocracy in America: Notes for a Review of “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn.

At the very start of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, the governor, John Winthrop, had declared the philosophy of the rulers: “… in all times some must be rich, some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others meane and in subjection.” Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States (p. 48). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition. We Americans like to think of the US as always the land of opportunity, but the facts are pretty different.   In British America, an aristocratic society was established very early. It seems quite clear that class lines hardened through the colonial period; the distinction between rich and poor became sharper. By 1700 there were fifty rich families in Virginia, with wealth equivalent to 50,000 pounds (a huge sum those days), who lived off the labor of black slaves and white servants, owned the plantations, sat on the governor’s council, served as local magistrates. Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United Sta

Joe Biden

I'm a strong anybody but Trumper.  But Joe Biden has a lot of negatives in my mind. Start with the fact that he is too damn old (so are Trump and Bernie).  Biden's ship took on some water after Harris hulled him in the first debate.  It was a prepared but rather unfair attack, since Harris has subsequently waffled on whether she supports the kind of involuntary busing Biden opposed. That attack did not bother me much, but Biden's muddled and inarticulate response did.  Trump is a master of the attack from left field, the over the top smear, and if Biden is this slow on his feet on a topic he should have expected, I can imagine Trump running all over him. I also find Biden's threats to punch Trump childish, but it could be the biggest pay-per-view ever.

How to Make a CRISPR Baby

Many of the steps are the routine ones now used in IVF .  Start with the fertilized egg, grow the embryo until it consists of a number of  cells, but not so many that they aren't still all totipotent .  Treat with CRISPR-Cas9 incorporating the desired genetic changes.  Separate and again grow embryos to multicellular stage, check for embryos incorporating the desired changes, implant and wait 42 weeks. At least two or three CRISPR babies have already been born. The scientist responsible has been widely censured for unethical research, but it is unlikely to stop more of it.  His changes were in the gene for a cytokine called CCR5 .  The change he made limits or eliminates the expression of the protein.  This gene is involved with inflammatory responses, but details are poorly understood, but one effect is widely known - those who inherit two copies of the so called delta32 variant are essentially immune to some types of HIV, since HIV invades white cells by latching on to CCR5.

Genetically Modified Humans

Not very long from now, 5 years or maybe as much as 10, prospective parents will be able to have their future children's DNA edited to eliminate some or all of those numerous genetic diseases lurking in all our genomes.  Likely enough, some clinics, possibly rogue clinics in nonconforming countries will also offer genetic enhancements - maybe boosting height, or deleting less attractive facial features, tendencies toward obesity or enhancing athletic prowess. There is a gene found in mice, humans and most other mammals called myostatin.  It's function is to keep the body from building too much energy consuming muscle.  Deleting or down-regulating this gene produces muscular hypertrophy.  CRISPR has already been used to produce super muscled mice, goats, and cattle.  Occasional mutations of this gene have produced some breeds of ultra muscled cattle and even, in at least one case, a super-strong child. With CRISPR, this kind of modification is cheap and easy.  For now, most

Europe Rising

In women's soccer, that is.  In most other respects it's going to hell in a handbasket, though maybe no as fast as the US and UK. The US narrowly beat the UK, France, and Spain to go to the finals of the World Cup, but those games were close, especially with France and the UK.  Either could easily have gone the other way.  The US ought to be a favorite in the finals too, especially if Rapinoe and Lavelle can get healthy, but it is clear that Europe can now play very well too. According to this excellent NYT article , Europe's rapid advance has been built on the adoption of women's teams by the European super clubs. The explanation for that success is, at first glance, remarkably simple. The well-financed national federations of developed countries that are forces in the men’s game have turned their resources and their expertise on to their women’s teams; the even richer clubs in those countries have invested yet further.   That has allowed players, for the mos

It's a Hard Luck Life

... if you're a bacterium. (notes for an eventual review of A Crack in Creation  by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg) The life of a bacterium tends to be nasty, brutish, and short.  About half the bacteria in the ocean are killed every day by even smaller predators, bacteriophages.  Phages are virus that prey on bacteria by invading them, hijacking their cellular machinery to make more copies of themselves, and then exploding the victim bacteria to spread thousands of copies of themselves. On the other hand, some bacteria  have lived a very long time.  Because they multiply by dividing, it's reasonable to say that every bacteria alive today has been alive since the very first.  Of course the same is true of all the cells of our body, all of which are descended in unbroken living descent from those first bacteria. So how have bacteria alive today survived this ferocious predation by phages, not to mention all the other hazards of existence?  The answer is that