|Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced|
Thursday, August 15, 2002
Well, it appears that the New York Times has finally discovered In-n-Out Burger. For those readers outside CA, AZ, and NV, all I can say is, you are missing out! Read the article to find out what you are missing! (Jealous?)
For those who missed Jonathan Turley's Op-Ed in the L.A. Times ( I won't link it, because I really hate their new registration policy, but here is a link to Tom Tomorrow's Blog in which he discusses the issue), it appears to be the case that our government has completely gone off the deep end. Camps? CAMPS??? (for those who haven't read it, Ashcroft has proposed setting up detainment camps for "enemy combatants", including American citizens, where they may be held without any civil rights whatsoever). I seriously can't believe that they even proposed such a horror. Don't they know anything, anything at all about America? What Justice Department lawyer saw this proposal and thought "Of course, if we round up people suspected of being terrorists, and put them in camps, that will be fine." This is not just over the line, it is spitting in the face of all Americans, regardless of race, religion, party affiliation, whatever. I was angry when I first read this, and I thought I would be calm enough to write about this, but I am not.
My only question is, why are the libertarian lawyers so quiet on this subject? Instapundit had a short post on this, and of course, he is more of a "linker" than a "thinker" (no disrespect intended, honest!), but these guys, and others, might want to take a moment from their drive to get rid of the ineffectual Norm Mineta, and think about whether impeaching Ashcroft might not be entirely appropriate.
Dr. Murtaugh gets into some pretty heavy thinking over at his sight, and, since I love the song he starts with, I needed an excuse to get in on the action. His article, to summarize, discusses some cosmological notions of the origins of the Universe, and the "unlikelihood" of Earth (and therefore, of us). These types of arguments always interest me, because people are forever trying to determine whether people are rare or common, in some sense. This is really a proxy for the quest for meaning; if human beings (or life, or Earth-like planets) are "rare", then there must be a meaning why, and maybe there is "proof" of God's existence in this. Before I get accused of "religion bashing", I should stress that I think this is perfectly normal, natural, and probably healthy behavior. Human beings are always searching for patterns, and we like to figure out why things happen, often to excess, in every instance. There is even some evidence from brain imaging studies that belief in God or some other deity-ish overseer of our lives is in some way "hard-wired". This was written up in Newsweek a few months back, but I haven't found a link for it. So, people who have disavowed an active, particapatory God in their lives often search for this sort of deeper meaning in more subtle ways, looking at the physical structure of the Universe, or the cell, or what have you, for evidence either of Intelligent Design, or Cosmic Order, or some such thing.
Some may have noted the "scare quotes" around "unlikelihood" in the preceding "paragraph". Well, I always find it a bit humorous how people with intense mathematical training can blithely state something like "the chance of human beings arising from Evolution are infinitesimal" or "the chance of all of these physical constants being just so, allowing for us to exist, is very small". Any time someone invokes an argument of this type, they are making a serious logical error. How many times have the physical constants of the universe been set? How many times has life on Earth evolved (ok, there can be some debate on this one, given the history of cosmic catastrophe on the earth's surface)? The answer, in both cases, is once. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you simply can't argue "What are the odds?" about something that has only, and can only, happen once! It is simply not a useful discussion.
Now, that said, it is lots of fun! It always strikes me as the sort of thing a bunch of drunk physics dorks would sit around discussing. Since I have some experience in that sort of environment, I guess that isn't surprising. My personal favorite is the Donut-Shaped Universe ala Homer Simpson. If you asked me what my personal opinion on the nature of the universe is, though, I would have to suggest the "oscillating universe" model, which is really a version of Stasis in which the Universe expands and contracts with a very, very long period. It appeals to me for no reason other than aesthetics, and I obviously have no evidence for it. So, in sum, while it is lots of fun to think about such things, it is somewhat meaningless (perfect blog fodder, in other words).
P.S. Go read Murtaugh's entry, and follow the links. It is really good stuff, although I think he takes it a bit more seriously than I do!
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Making the blind see with cool electrodes and digital cameras. Pretty amazing stuff!
(via the great and powerful Instantman)
Seeing the Horror, pt. II
I am not sure what to say about this, so I will just say, these are worth looking at.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Jay Manifold e-mailed me to ask my thoughts on the topic of Post-Transcriptional Gene Silencing. I was e-mailing him back, when I realized that this was a cheap way to get a blog entry for the day, so here it is...
PTSG is not a particularly new idea (in molecular biology terms). The notion of PTGS (also called anti-sense RNA) treatment has been kicking around for at least five or six years. I don't know how much interest the drug-development community has in this. Anti-sense RNA is RNA (ribonucleic acid, a molecule similar to DNA, which plays a very important role in moving information around in a cell) that matches up, or hybridizes with the DNA or RNA that encodes a gene. In the model that you describe, the matchup is between mRNA, which is being used to encode a protein gene product, and the anti-sense RNA, which is complementary to that sequence (DNA and RNA match up in the following way, ala Chargaff A-T, G-C; in RNA, substitute U for T). this interferes with the cell's mechanism for making proteins, which translates single stranded mRNA into a polypeptide chain, and makes a functional protein.
Since I don't work directly on this topic, nor in drug discovery, I can only point out some potential issues. One is basic science. We don't really understand the nature of this system. It is actually a system that is used by cells in their own regulation, so it is clearly a possible functional pathway for therapy, but that, as always, must be tested. There are a number of potential pitfalls to using this therapy as a drug;
1) oligonucleotide synthesis is not cheap In order for a profitable drug to be made, it pretty much has to be amenable to either (relatively) cheap chemical synthesis or fermentation methods (growing bacteria or yeast that make the drug). Neither of these seems good for oligonucleotides, although technological advances in oligonucleotide purification may make fermentation methods feasible.
2)RNA is very unstable This is the biggest problem. RNA is a biologically unstable molecule, which is prone to rapid degradation in and out of cells. It is devilishly hard to work with in the lab (most researchers try like hell to avoid it). Putting RNA into a stable suspension/solution for injection (I am pretty sure an oral delivery system would by unfeasible) might be a real stumbling block. In vivo, RNA molecules that need to hang around are tagged at the ends, so the cells know not to destroy them.
On the plus side, this technique has been shown to be effective in a number of in vitro cell culture systems, and now, it appears, in plants. I suspect it is a long way from the market, but it is very interesting.
Sunday, August 11, 2002
From "Reliable Sources" transcript 8/10/02
KURTZ: Let's get a reality check from Byron York
For those who don't know, Byron York is a columnist for that bastion of non-partisan reporting, National Review.