Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Sclerosis of Science

Whenever I come back from a conference, I have mixed feelings about the progress being made in the field I work in.  There are times when I feel like we are really discovering what is going on, and moments where I feel that we are merely spinning our wheels.  We are looking at very specific areas of biochemical processes, and I often wonder why we are looking at them.  Are we studying them because we truly understand the overall process and know this is the area that is important, or are  we studying a particular area because it is the only area we know to look at?  Are we studying something because we know it is important, or have we deemed it to be important because it is the only area we know to look at?

In the field I am working in, I feel like everyone is spending an eternity examining meaningless minutiae of the processes we are studying.  This has led to a sclerosis in which very little advancement is being made.  As scientists, we need to be bold, and start thinking about how to take the leaps forward we need to study the overall processes we are examining, and not get lost in the minutiae.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Looking to be Remembered

As many of you may know, there have recently been several "Lone Wolf" terrorist attacks.  We've had the man in Quebec who ran over two soldiers with his car, the Ottawa shooter, and then the hatchet wielder in New York.  All three men died in their attacks, and all three were home-grown converts to Islam.  

Numerous questions are being asked about what would lead these men to do this.  One popular answer, which Mark Steyn has written about extensively, is that the spiritual death of the West is leading many into the arms of Islam, which gives these young men a purpose that they don't receive from their native culture.  While there is much truth to this, I feel it leaves a lot out of the phenomenon and doesn't completely cover why these men become so radicalized that they carry out to us what look like useless and futile attacks.  After all, what does killing one man in a nation of millions do for someone's perceived Jihad against the West.  In order to answer this question, I believe we need to take a step back, and try to answer, if we can, what man's purpose is in life, in a nutshell.

If you were to ask different people what our purpose in life is, you are sure to get a myriad of answers.  Some would say our purpose in life is to reproduce and raise children.  Others would say it is to love and be loved.  Some might say it is to have a worthwhile career full of accomplishments. Still others would say it is to follow your dreams and simply be happy.  I believe the one thing that almost all these answers have in common is they revolve around what I believe to be the main thing people strive for in life, and that is to be remembered after we die.

Much of what we do in life we do because of our mortality and the desire to be remembered after we pass from this Earth.  We have children so we will have a line of descendants that can trace themselves back to us.  We try to make a name for ourselves in work or charity so others will know about our accomplishments when we are gone.  We seek fame, fortune, and create art so our names will be spoken forever.  We want to be remembered, we have the need to make a mark that proves we were here, we existed.

Sometimes, of course, this desire to make a mark leads people to violent acts of evil and depravity. Spree killers seem to be motivated by the desire to commit an act so atrocious that their names will be remembered forever.  Adam Lanza would appear to fit this profile to a T.  The guy was an unemployed loner who seemed to have little chance of having a family or a career where he could accomplish something.  He played video games such as Dance Dance Revolution endlessly in the hope of having his name at the top of the scoreboard.  When he realized that was no path to immortality, he turned his sights to mass murder, keeping a scorecard of the death totals of other spree killers so he would know how many kills he needed in order to make it to the top and stay there, so he would always be remembered as number 1.

The Islamic terrorist attacks of the past week is what occurs when you have a desire for notoriety combined with an attempt to achieve immortality by joining an ascendant movement.  The terrorists who committed the recent attacks undoubtedly saw Islam as an ascendant force that is going to sweep the globe.  While their attacks might have accomplished little to help in that endeavor, their hope likely had to be that future Islamists will remember their names and what they did for the cause.  In this way, they will achieve their immortality on Earth.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Living for a Millennium

I was initially excited when I saw this article on The Week about 1,000 year lifespans, as something I tried to tackle in my book with its alien species was the effects of having a lifespan of a millennium. The article ended up being an extreme disappointment, although it did link to a scholarly paper on the biology of increasing our lifespans.  I've only skimmed it so far, but that at least appears to be interesting.  As for The Week article, it reads like something the author scribbled in a couple minutes before an editor added a few links.  It barely scratches the surface of many issues raised by longer lifespans, and seems to engage in magical thinking about government budgets.  The author does bring up a few questions about longer lifespans that I tried to answer in my novel, though.

First up, the author points out longer lifespans will also mean healthier lifespans, and this will give humans several hundred years to live at their peak physical level.  This has huge implications for work and family.  If our longer lifespans require us to work for centuries, does this mean we will have one career, or several?  Will we continually have to go through re-training or head back to school?  How will we cope with hundreds of years worth of technological change in our jobs?  In my book, I anticipated that with longer lifespans career changes will occur, but they won't quite be a necessity.  In a futuristic knowledge economy, there will always be some career angle for a particular set of skills.  While major career changes won't be required then to stay employed, many people will still go through them as they become bored with their old jobs.  Longer lifespans, though, will allow people to build up capital over centuries that they will then be able to use to follow their dreams.  I believe the rates of entrepreneurship and self-employment will be extremely high if we manage to live for a millennium.

I think the biggest complication with long lifespans is going to come in the area of marriage and family.  If we live for a thousand years, are we really going to want to be married to one person for the rest of our lives?  In my book, I anticipated that the answer would be yes, but with a caveat.  I think people will still marry for life, but they will take the occasional break to go off and do their own thing before returning to their spouse.  I think longer lifespans will make it imperative to have one person who is always there for you, from the time you enter adulthood to the time you die.

How having children will work with a lifespan of a millennium could be very interesting.  If childbearing years could be extended to last several centuries, all kinds of possibilities exist.  Couples could have children over the span of centuries, meaning they could still be having babies when their first set of children are several centuries old, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren or later descendants of their own.  That is something to me that is completely mind-blowing, the idea that a person could have all their ancestors going back centuries still alive.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Importance of Different Perspectives in Science

I feel like I've recently had a certain revelation about the research I'm working on, and it's all thanks to the new Brad Pitt movie, Fury.  Richard Fernandez at PJ media wrote an interesting piece about the tank battles depicted in the movie and whether or not  the German Panther and Tiger tanks were superior to the American Sherman tanks.  He refers to research done by Steven Zaloga in the book Panther vs. Sherman.  In this book Zaloga proposes that the key to almost all tank battles was who fired first.  In his view, battles were won by the side that occupied the high ground first and initiated the hostilities against their enemies.  Everything was decided in that first crucial minute.

In reading the piece by Fernandez I couldn't help but think of the old quote by General Robert Barrow, "Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics."  As Zaloga points out, the tactics of tank combat didn't matter as much as the logistics of how the tanks came upon the enemy and initiated hostilities.  If you wanted to study why a certain force won a battle, you needed to understand the logistics of how it got there.

The article led me to have a revelation about the research I am doing.  My current work involves the examination of RNA binding proteins and how they compete against each other to bind their particular substrate.  In this research, my lab and most others have been delving into the mechanisms these proteins use to recognize the RNA itself as the key to understanding how they compete against each other.  It hit me though, that here we are looking at tactics, when the solution might rely in the realm of logistics.  What if the important thing is not how the protein binds the RNA but how it gets to the RNA.  What if the cell has a pathway for getting a particular protein to a particular point on the RNA at a particular time?  I think I've answered that question for the system I am studying, now I'm just trying to come up with experiments to prove my hypothesis.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Government Incompetence: Part 374,897,392,472

So today when I was coming in to work I had to drive around a crew cleaning up the leaves off the street curb.  Now, I've lived in several different areas over the past decade, and everywhere I have lived previously collected leaves in the same manner.  They had a single large dump truck for vacuuming them up and hauling them away.  This method was quick, easy, and could be done by a crew of just 2-3 men.  In contrast to this simple setup, the locality where I am living apparently believes the only way it can clean up leaves is with a front loader, five dump trucks, and a crew of about ten men.  Instead of vacuuming up the leaves, they were blowing them into the shovel of the front loader before depositing them in the dump trucks.  Needless to say, this way is a hell of a lot more costly, but at least some cronies are making money.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Enterovirus d68

With everyone focused on a possible Ebola outbreak, the growing epidemic of enterovirus d68 infection is getting scant attention.  It has been infecting children all over the country and so far is directly responsible for two deaths and indirectly responsible for at least four more.  While it is primarily a respiratory infection, it has caused paralysis in a small percentage of patients, indicating that it is able to attack the nervous system as well.

The fact that this is getting so little attention now is dangerous.  The enterovirus outbreak is widespread enough that everyone needs to know what symptoms to watch for.  This article explains many of the basics on what to be on the lookout for.

I've seen a lot of speculation that this virus was brought in by all the immigrants Obama allowed in this summer, and I've also seen it connected with other outbreaks in Asia and Australia instead of Central America.  It's a virus that hasn't exactly been non-existent in this country, it was first identified in California in the 60's, and has been around ever since then.  It's always caused a few illnesses here and there every spring and summer, but this current outbreak and its widespread nature indicate a new strain that likely has several points of origin in this country.

This is one area where I truly don't know who to believe.  When the outbreak first made the news, I read a lot of message boards that said it was likely from Central America because polio is still prevalent down there and polio is also an enterovirus, but this categorization is extremely general and really means nothing.  On the other hand, this paper from the Virology Journal does seem to indicate that enterovirus respiratory infections were very prevalent in Latin America just a year ago. It's time like this when I really wish we had a media willing to investigate facts, even ones that may be embarrassing to the current administration.

My concerns with Ebola

With a second case of Ebola transmission in the US, fears of a major outbreak are increasing.  A lot of information is being thrown out there about the way it can or cannot be transmitted.  We are told over and over it can only be spread through body fluids, but are often not given details about what this means.  While the list of body fluids Ebola lives in is long, its presence in mucus and saliva are the two that primarily make it communicable.  A person who has direct contact with the saliva or mucus of an infected and symptomatic individual can contract Ebola, but there are several caveats concerning that.  Ebola can't penetrate the skin, so the infected mucus or saliva would have to come into contact with someone's mouth, nose, etc. to enter the body.  For example, if you shook the hand of an infected individual, they could only pass it to you if their hand had a bodily fluid such as mucus or saliva on it, something that is unfortunately a real possibility.  After that, you would only become infected if you touched your hand to your mouth or nose before washing it, or if the virus found a way to enter through a cut or abrasion.

It gets trickier when trying to determine whether or not someone could catch Ebola from a contaminated surface.  I've read that the virus can't survive long outside the body, but it appears "not long" is still a few hours.  In this case the rules of transmission would be if you touch a contaminated surface a few hours after it became contaminated, you could become infected if the virus then came into contact with your mouth, nose, skin wound, etc.

There has been much discussion about the possibility of Ebola becoming airborne with many doctors and scientists saying it is possible.  While it wouldn't be impossible for it to happen it would seem to me that it is improbable.  The virus would have to make a steady series of mutations to become airborne, a series that I find it unlikely to make in a short time frame.

The greater danger with Ebola isn't that it will make the huge leap to become airborne, but that smaller mutations will cause slight alterations that could greatly enhance its infectivity or decrease our chances to detect it.  A single mutation that allowed it to survive outside the body for a significantly longer period of time would be trouble.  It would also be trouble if a mutation altered its symptoms in a manner that made it harder for doctors to recognize.  For example, this article mentions that not everyone who contracted Ebola gets a high fever that would serve as a flag for it.  The lack of a high temperature in this small percentage of patients most likely is due just to variance in physiology and not an alteration in the virus itself.  However, if an alteration in the virus would allow it to infect individuals without causing a significantly high temperature, at least for some time after a person becomes contagious, it would make it much more difficult for us to detect.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Alphysicist's Tale

One of my favorite book when I was a kid was The Trumpeter of Krakow.  I loved everything about it, but probably my favorite part was naturally the alchemist subplot.  Before reading the book, I had never heard of the historical alchemists and their attempts to turn lead into gold.  Everyone laughs now at their stupidity in trying to carry out an impossible task, but I always knew that what they were doing in theory was possible.  Their ignorant mistake was in thinking they could turn lead into gold through chemical reactions.  It is possible, theoretically, to turn lead into gold, you just need physics to figure out how to alter the nucleus of lead.  Lead has an atomic number of 82 while gold's is 79. This  means that lead differs from gold by having three more protons in its nucleus and three more electrons revolving around said nucleus.  If a process could be developed to remove three protons from lead, it can be turned into gold.  What is needed then is alphysics, not alchemy.

The photo at the top of this post might look like a simple statue, but it is actually a professor who was a pioneer in the field of alphysics.  He devised a process for turning every molecule in his body into lead.  Unfortunately, the reverse process wasn't successful.  His students immediately went to work to try and figure out where he went wrong.  They worked diligently, but couldn't do it.  Recently, funding for the project was pulled as it wasn't considered a high priority.  And so the professor sits diligently, waiting for the day when physics has advanced enough to find a way to turn him back.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Synthetic Biology: Its promises and curse

After much meandering in my career, I am finally starting to put together a project I can take with me in pursuit of my own appointment.  One thing that finally moved me to take this step is the possibilities that are offered by the capabilities of synthetic biology.  DNA production has gotten so cheap that you can get any gene you want to work with synthetically produced.  No more begging other researchers to send you plasmids of something you want to work with.  For the work I intend to do, this will allow me to express any protein I want to work with recombinantly and look at it in the manner I want to.

The increased affordability of synthetically produced biological macromolecules stands to greatly improve the productivity of scientists.  Cheaply produced RNA is probably next in line, which will make the the ability to transcribe and purify RNA a lost and obsolete art.  It will make it easier for scientists with no previous experience in RNA to work with it.

The curse of synthetic biology is the potential it can create for the production of bio-weapons, something that is a plot point in my book.  With the genome sequences of viruses out there, anybody can order a viral genome to work on and mutate.  While the technology isn't there to turn these viral genomes into infectious agents, that is rapidly changing, as outlined in this story about J. Craig Venter and his work creating synthetic life.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why I'm watching sports less and less

For most of my life I have been an absolute sports fanatic.  I would follow almost every sport to some degree, watch whatever game I was on.  I could even watch the same Sportscenter hour after hour. All of that has changed recently, however.  Any desire I have had to watch and follow sports has abruptly disappeared.  I might still have a game on while I am doing other things, and I will peruse the scores every morning, but something has significantly changed for me.

I've read several posts in the manosphere deploring men to play sports, not watch sports.  These posts have helped point out to me how watching sports is a passive activity that can often be a waste of time when there are more important activities one can actively engage in.  For me, this realization came after several incidents in sports that have made me feel that they are no longer worth watching and following.  The SJWs have been attacking sports for several years, and the various league's have been giving in on one front after another.  Sometimes it feels like the games are secondary to whatever "message" needs to be conveyed from week to week.

A significant portion of my turning away from sports can more accurately be described as a turning away from sports journalism, which has been so fully captured by the SJWs that there seems to be almost no coverage of the actual games anymore.  Of course, this is a trend that stared long ago and has a lot of causes.  The people who work for ESPN came to believe long ago that they were bigger then the sports they covered, and everything at the network has reflected that.  I remember several years ago, shortly after LeBron James announced he was going to the Heat on his ESPN special, a friend of mine on Facebook said that ESPN no longer covered sports, they consisted of nothing other then rumors and speculation, most of which was wrong.  The personalities there want to make names for themselves, and they seem to believe the best way to do that is to report scoops, not the games themselves.

I feel like I would be remiss if I didn't mention the worst offender in the poor sports coverage department, NBC's Football Night in America.  The show is so atrocious that I almost believe it was put together with the purpose of making football so boring no one will want to watch the sport.  It's an hour and a half show that is supposed to cover the action of the day, but shows almost zero highlights.  I truly believe that Chris Berman's fastest three minutes in football contains more highlights then this show.  Still, the highlights are better then the analysis, which is done by former players and coaches who seem to have less knowledge of the game then someone watching it for the first time.  Then, once the analysis is over, they go to Peter King and Mike Florio, who somehow are getting big money to tell us such things as "You know that guy whose leg bent in a way that legs aren't supposed to bend and got carted off the field howling in pain with a bone protruding from his skin.  My "insider sources" tell me he's going to be out for a while.  At least two weeks."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Billing Companies, Collections, and the Economy

Earlier I wrote a post about the trouble my sister's radiology practice was having with their billing company.  For some reason they could never understand, the billing company was unwilling to pass along the money it owed them.  They never figured out what the problem was, and at the time I wondered if Obamacare regulations had screwed up medical billing.  I'm starting to re-think what might have been going on with that situation as my university has recently had some problems with billing.

About a week ago, I got an email from the company that does our DNA sequencing that they did not receive payment for several orders.  After I inquired about it, I found out the university did pay the billing company that handles payments for the sequencing company.  Several other labs at the school received similar notices.  The sequencing company specifically mentioned they didn't get their money from the billing company, so it would appear the billing company is at fault here.

When I found out what the situation was, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between this and the one my sister experienced.  I'm wondering what the overlap might be, if there is any.  I tried to look up the billing company to see what kinds of accounts they handle.  I was curious to see if they do medical billing too, but I couldn't find out anything about them.  It's possible they do medical billing too, and their problems stem from that.

Of course the big question is why these billing companies aren't passing along the money.  For some reason, they're in such dire straits that they're holding on to what money they can and trying to extract it from whoever they can fool into overpaying.  If the problem is Obamacare, then at least the problem is regulatory and confined to the medical/scientific sector.  What really worries me is the fact the problem might be more general economics.  I worry that there is just no money out there for these companies to collect, and that is why they are acting the way they are.  If this is true, then the economy is undoubtedly much worse then the media and our politicians are letting on.

In the email I received from the billing company, they said if we didn't settle our accounts, they would report our debt as outstanding.  It made me remember this story that stated 1/3 of Americans have an unpaid debt in collections.  The story contains a map that shows the region by region data. When the story broke, many commenters made a point that the South has more people with debt in collections then other areas of the country.  I wonder how accurate some of the data is, as the map appears to show that Detroit isn't actually too bad about paying its debts.  This would be the same Detroit that had a major controversy over unpaid water bills.  The same Detroit where half the residents don't pay their property taxes.

It should be noted the story about unpaid debts only concerned those actually reported to collection agencies.  A lot of businesses might not report debts if they believe there isn't much chance of getting their money.  I had an uncle who had this attitude with his medical practice.  As a consequence, regions that are horrible about paying their debts might not actually show it in certain data.  I wonder if there's a similar dynamic occurring with the billing problems I'm seeing with our sequencer's billing company.  They've been hopelessly stiffed by so many other companies they are trying to go after any business that has money.  The big question I have is, what makes them think universities have money?  We're in the middle of a higher education bubble.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Locomotive Roundhouse

I recently went to this old-style locomotive roundhouse that some millionaire built near my father's hometown.  It's meant to be a replica of the 19th century roundhouses where locomotives were repaired.  There is a website for it you can visit here.  It's not open to the public yet, as they currently don't seem willing to go through all the permit processes they would need to in order to open it as a public museum.   I was able to visit it as the education association for my dad's old high school had a fundraising event there.  While I'm not much of a train aficionado, it was interesting to go through and just marvel at what they built.  Most of the tour was about the things they had to do to construct it, such as hauling enough dirt to raise the ground 4-6 feet.  It's unfathomable to think someone spent so much money on something as a personal hobby.  I hope one day he or someone else will be willing to open it to the public, because it is quite the sight to see.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

World War I Revisionism

I wrote previously about World War I and some myths surrounding it here and here. I recently came across this article detailing the myths of World War I and the Versailles treaty that were perpetuated by John Maynard Keynes.  It is a very interesting read.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What caused the Japanese surrender in WW2? (Revisited)

After the post I wrote on whether the atomic bomb or the Soviet entrance into the war caused the Japanese surrender, I would be remiss if I didn't point out this article on how the Soviets were passing along allied battle plans to the Japanese in the hopes of prolonging the war in the Pacific.  They were doing this with the hope that if Japan stayed in the war long enough, they would be able to invade the northern islands of Japan and claim a piece of the nation.  Despite this recent news, I still question whether or not the Soviets had the logistical ability to carry out such an invasion of the Japanese home islands.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Did PEDs Contribute to Baseball's Parity Problem?

Back in the late 90's, early aughts, it was almost impossible to read an article about the business of Major League Baseball without it focusing on how the sport had serious issues with parity.  It seemed as though every other article on baseball detailed how only large market teams with high payrolls could make the playoffs, and the small market teams didn't have a chance.  The book "Moneyball", published in 2003, was all about the way the Oakland A's succeeded in being one of the few small market teams that were able to win consistently.

Being a Midwesterner, I could see first hand how the baseball franchises of the Rust Belt cities struggled mightily.  The Reds went fifteen years between playoff appearances, while the Pirates went twenty years without posting a winning record.  Other small markets, such as Kansas City, also saw their teams suffer decades of futility.  In recent years, things have turned around for several of these small market franchises. The Reds have made the playoffs 3 times in the past four years, the Pirates finally achieved a winning record last year, and this season the Kansas City Royals are competing for a playoff spot.

While the teams mentioned above have succeeded because they finally got their acts together in terms of developing players, I can't help but wonder if the recent crackdown on steroids and HGH in the recent years has helped improve baseball's parity problem.

An expensive baseball team is usually an older baseball team.  Players have to accrue six years of service time at the major league level until they are permitted to become unrestricted free agents.  Since most good players come up to the majors around the age of 22, they are not free agents until they hit the age of 28, which is right in the middle of their prime years.  So at the age of 28 they go off and sign a high salary, long term deal with a large market club, maybe the Yankees or the Angels.  The problem for the large market clubs is they get about two years of that player's prime before they hit the wrong side of 30 and start to decline.  Also, as players age and their bodies break down they tend to spend more time on the disabled list. This might not have been such a problem when Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) were rampant in the sport.  Steroids could help prevent the normal decline that came with age while HGH could prevent trips to the disabled list.  Now, with drug testing having been instituted, large market teams are having trouble with their older players not being as productive as expected, or missing more game with injuries.  This has allowed the small market teams with younger players a chance to compete.

Monday, August 11, 2014

IRS Targeting and the Stupidity of the Obama Administration

Just came across this (via vodkapundit) story about how the group Tea Party Express may be little more then a fundraising scam.  This matches up with other stories out there that have shown the money a lot of these Tea Party groups are raising is not getting out to the political candidates.  While a few of these groups might be true scams, most of them just seem unable to do much more then raise money to meet their overhead.  While many Tea Party supporters might be skeptical of these findings, there is much anecdotal evidence that Tea Party money and support is not getting to the politicians.  This was clear in the Brat-Cantor primary, as the Tea Party groups were nowhere to be found in that race.

The recent exposure of the failure of these Tea Party groups shows the stupidity of the Obama administration for having the IRS target them in the first place.  I believe the IRS targeted conservative groups because many liberals see conservatives as evil incarnate and believe they must be stopped at all costs.  Because of this, they feel conservatives clearly aren't meant to have the same free speech rights they are meant to enjoy. This kind of thinking permeates academia and has led to numerous speech codes on college campuses. Being an "academic professor" himself, I'm sure President Obama thinks this way and has been behind the IRS targeting from the start.

With the information we have now about the Tea Party groups, their targeting by the IRS seems downright idiotic.  They destroyed the integrity of the governmental bureaucracy to go after frauds and incompetents who were going to have little impact on the election anyway.  Ironically, the IRS targeting might have actually prevented conservatives from blowing money on these groups.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What caused the Japanese surrender in WW2, the bomb, or the Soviets?

Today is the anniversary of the day the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.  On that same day, August 9, 1945, the Soviets began their invasion of Manchuria.  The Soviet invasion was a remarkable success, and by August 15th, the Soviets conquered all of Manchuria, captured over half a million Japanese troops, and reached the border of Korea.  August 15 would end up being the day Japan surrendered.  While Americans have always assumed it was the dropping of the two atomic bombs that caused Japan's surrender, the Soviet role in the defeat has started to get more attention recently.  In message board discussions on the issue, many people claim it was the Soviet entry into the war that convinced the Japanese it was time to surrender, and the bombs had very little effect.

While the American-centric view of the war has caused the Soviet's invasion of Manchuria to be almost completely forgotten, I think the belief they deserve primary credit for forcing Japan to surrender is a case of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction.   It also seems that people are trying to transpose what happened with Germany to the war with Japan.  In the last days of the European war, the Germans fought furiously to avoid being captured by the Soviets, fearing what they would do to them.  I'm not sure the Japanese would have had the same fear of the Soviets.  The Germans were right to fear Soviet brutality, but much of that brutality stemmed from the Soviets seeking revenge against the Germans for atrocities they committed during their invasion of the Soviet Union.  I'm not sure the Japanese had the same reason to fear the Soviets as the Germans did. 

Another factor to take into account is, "Did the Japanese believe the Soviets were truly a threat to their home islands?"  An amphibious invasion of the Japanese home islands would have been an enormous undertaking, and I haven't seen anything to indicate the Soviets had the equipment to do it.  The American forces had all the landing craft that had been used previously in the Pacific, all the landing craft that had been shipped over from Europe, and from I've read they believed they just barely had enough to invade Kyushu, the first home island they were targeting.

Of course, the Japanese could have been fearful the Soviets would have participated in the American invasion, or that they would get a zone of occupation in Japan if the war lasted longer.  Once again, though, the question must be asked how much would they have had to fear Soviet atrocities in these situations.

In the end, I think Soviet entry into the war must be given credit for the Japanese surrender, along with the atomic bombs being dropped.  The loss of Manchuria deprived Japan of much needed resources, in addition to the capture of the half a million troops.  Before the Soviet invasion, the Japanese might have believed they would be able to negotiate a peace that allowed them to hold on to some of their conquests on mainland Asia, but the loss of Manchuria, and the potential for the Soviets to conquer more of their territories, convinced Japan this was never going to happen.

One good thing that has come about from the debate is that a previously forgotten moment of history is being re-discovered.  There is very little in the way of books or documentaries examining how the Soviet conquest of Manchuria was carried out.  I've embedded a doc I found outlining the Soviet campaign.  It's pretty decent, although it insinuates the timing of the invasion was arranged to take place on the same day as the Nagasaki bombing.  In reality, the timing is just a coincidence.  The date for the Soviets declaring war on Japan had been decided at the Yalta conference, when Stalin promised to go to war against Japan three months after the war against Germany ended.  The European war ended on May 8, meaning the August 9 start date for the Manchurian invasion was set from that.

Are Academics Outsourcing Their Own Jobs?

I recently found this article offering dissertation editing services, and I'm not sure what to think about it.  Is it a sign of declining quality in graduate students that they can no longer edit their own dissertations?  I have to admit, that I have yet to see anyone utilizing these services.  Everyone is still just relying on their peers for proofreading and editing, as I did when I wrote my thesis.  Although, the trend of outsourcing academic work like this is a trend that might be growing.  I attended a conference two months ago where I talked with someone about the growing field of professional grant writing.  Principal investigators are hiring professional writers to do much of their grant writing for them.  While I understand getting a grant approved has become more difficult then ever, I can't help but think the need to outsource this kind of work is evidence of a decline in academia.

Saturday Morning Video

Friday, August 8, 2014

World War 1: The "Accidental" War?

As noted in the article by Jonah Goldberg  on WW1 I linked to earlier, one of the popular perceptions of the war is that it started because "Countries and forgotten empires declared war on each other in no small part because a bunch of aristocrats in funny clothes said they had to."  The perception is that after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, all the leaders of Europe started making threats to overcompensate for their small dicks and then declared war on each other to see whose penis was truly the biggest.  The thinking seems to go if that we could have avoided this brief moment of insanity, the world would have remained stable and peaceful and would be a remarkably different place right now.

I think a war the type of WW1 was much more inevitable then others may think.  One bit of history that often seems to get overlooked are the two Balkan Wars that were fought in 1912 and 1913.  These wars were a  result of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and while Austria-Hungary was not a participant, an enlarged Serbia would soon become a threat to that declining empire as well.

The period of time encompassing the late19th/early 20th centuries saw huge shifts in the balance of power with the rise of Germany and the decline of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.  While Germany is often looked at as the instigator of WW1, a solid argument could be made the war was really the death throes of Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans.  Their days as empires were over, and they were never going to die quietly, or without major repercussions that would be seen years down the road.

Also, when looking at the rush to war that took place after the Ferdinand assassination, I don't think we should be so naive as to assume the common citizens of the nations didn't want war just as much as the aristocrats.  The citizens of the dying Ottoman and Austria-Hungary empires likely wanted back their prestige on the world stage and saw war as the best way to accomplish that.  The Russians were still stinging from their defeat against the Japanese a decade earlier, and were looking for war victories that would revitalize them.  Even the French were likely looking for revenge for their defeat against Germany four decades earlier.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

World War 1 Widows: Source of War Myths?

What is myth and what is fact about World War 1 is a debate that has raged in many forums.  This discussion here highlights many of the main points of debate.  While most of the potential myths involve the manner in which the war was fought, I find it interesting there is a raging debate over the perception of the war at the time.  Today, we almost universally accept the fact the war was seen as futile and a horrible waste of life at the time, but several dissenters argue this was not the case.  If it's true the public saw the war in a positive light at the time it was fought, the question must be asked how did the popular perception of its futility take hold.

I think one possible answer to the above question might be found in this article, which details the stories of young women unable to find husbands because so many men in their age cohort died in the war.  This group of women disproportionately suffered the effects of the war, and would have developed a view of it that diverged greatly from the society around them, if it is true the society around them retained a positive view of the war.

The next question that must be asked is, if the widows' view of WW1 was divergent from the rest of society, why did it eventually win out?   I think the answer might lie in the fact that denied husbands, many of the women would have gone on to pursue careers, particularly in education, which was one of the few acceptable career paths for women at the time.  They would have taught the subsequent generations the war was futile, giving rise to the myth the war was always perceived this way.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

World War I Centenary

With the centenary of the start of World War 1 occurring a couple days ago, there have been numerous retrospectives published about the war and its impact on events today.  This recent article by Jonah Goldberg sums up most of the points being made, which match up with a post made by neo-neocon almost two years ago.  A lot of people seem to share the sentiment made in the latter headline, that we have never really recovered from World War 1.  The popular perception of the war is that it was a unique turning point in history that changed the world in ways most other wars throughout history have not.  I have come to wonder how accurate this perception really is.  If an objective, outside observer with no previous knowledge of human history studied us, would they agree that World War 1 is truly the historical fulcrum we perceive it to be, or would they come to the conclusion that the popular perception of World War 1 is just a meme that hasn't died, and there is truly nothing unique about the war in relation to the rest of human history.  That is a question I hope to answer in several blog posts over the next couple days.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Canada Trip: Ottawa

After two nights in Montreal, I took off for Ottawa, Canada's capital city.  On the day I left, I made one last attempt to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art.  I knew it opened at 11, around check-out time.  I checked out of my hotel after I loaded my car, save for a backpack containing all the valuables I wanted to keep on me.  I walked over to the museum intending to go in, but didn't do it when I saw they were making people check their bags.  I went back to my car and drove to Ottawa.

That night in Ottawa, I ate at The Clocktower Brewery, then went to see Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada's Governor General.  After that I went to see Rideau Falls.  On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at The Beer Store and bought the Okanagan variety pack.  It was pretty good, except for the apricot favored beer.

The next day I did some sight-seeing as  I walked around.  I spent most of the afternoon in the Canadian War Museum, and probably enjoyed that more then anything else I did.  I've always enjoyed history, particularly military history.  It was interesting to learn the early history of Canada, which I was mostly ignorant of.  The museum had several pieces on the battles that were fought around Quebec, so it was interesting to read up on the places i saw around the city when I was there.

The museum had a good amount on Canada's contribution to WWI, and I took a lot of time to go through that.  Since I already know a lot about WWII, I sped through that section and the Cold War end as I was getting hungry and needed something to eat.  After I got something at the nearby Mill St. Brewery, I wanted to do some more sight-seeing, but it was raining, so I headed back to my hotel and turned in early that night.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Morning Videos

"Weird Al" Yankovic has a new album out, Mandatory Fun.  I've listened to most of the songs and it is quite good.  I've been a big fan of his almost since the beginning of his career, back in the early 80's.  It's amazing that he is still around and putting out quality stuff.

His career has had an interesting trajectory.  When he first started out he just did meaningless, silly parodies of hit songs, often just building a song around a slight change to the title; "Beat It" became "Eat it," "Like a Virgin" became "Like a Surgeon," "Bad" became "Fat."  As time went by, his comedy broadened out and he started doing songs that parodied the cultural zeitgeist of the time.

The first song he did this with was "Smells Like Nirvana," by far his best song ever.  He really poked a hole in the grunge movement.  I was a teen at the time, and it pains me to admit this, but I used to love grunge music because I felt like it "spoke" to me, even though I had no idea what anyone was saying.

After "Smells Like Nirvana," "Weird Al" parodied the cultural zeitgeist in songs such as "Headline News" and "White and Nerdy."  With his new album, he has a song in "Word Crimes" which  taps into the frustration many of us have over the ignorance of grammar in our society due to textspeak, among other things.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Canada Trip: Montreal

After the conference was over in Quebec City I headed to Montreal for a stay of roughly two days.  The first day there, I was so exhausted from the conference I did little more then catch up on my sleep.  The next day I got out to do some souvenir shopping and sight-seeing, but not as much as I wanted.  I mostly just walked around the canals to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, taking pictures as I went.

I had hoped to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art, but it was closed on Monday, the day I was there. There were several construction crews there working on some stages.  Initially, I thought they were tearing down the stages and that they were for some event that had been held in conjunction with the Grand Prix, which was run the previous day.  I started cursing myself for having stayed in that night when I could have been attending that event, but then I noticed they were putting the stages up, not tearing them down.  I started to get excited there might be something happening that night, but when I saw the signs for the event, Francofollie de Montreal, I saw the event was several days away.

That night there was a Stanley Cup finals game, so I went to a sports bar thinking it would be packed and raucous.  Instead, it was so dead that when I initially walked by, I thought the place might be closed.  As the game hadn't started yet, I went in anyway thinking the crowd had to come sometime, but nobody came.  I was sad to see Canadians not living up to their stereotype.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Golf Joke

A man and wife were playing in their club's annual "Guys and Dolls" tournament. The man was not happy about having to play, but his wife insisted. On the 12th tee, his patience had reached its limit. While his wife wasted time on the ladies tee, he decided to go ahead and hit his drive from the men's. Unfortunately, he misjudged his shot and his ball hit his wife in the back of the head, lodging the ball deep into her skull.  As he rode in the ambulance with her to the hospital, he pleaded with her to live.  He apologized profusely for losing his patience and told her he wanted nothing more then for her to live so they could spend the rest of their lives together.

When they reached the hospital, she was wheeled into surgery while he waited, crying inconsolably.  When he saw the look on the face of the surgeon who came out to talk to him, he knew the worst had occurred.

"Just give it to me straight, Doc," the man said.

"I'm sorry, but your wife is dead," the surgeon replied.

He started sobbing so loudly the entire hospital heard him.  The surgeon was emotionless as he stood in front of the man.  He had been carrying the forms the man filled out when he arrived, and he began to thumb though them.

"I know this might not be the best time to bring this up, but you said on these forms that you are uninsured."

"Yes," the man replied as his sobbing died down.  "I can't believe what's happened.  Just an hour ago my wife and I were playing golf.  We were happy and had a lifetime together ahead of us.  Now she's dead and I'm going to go bankrupt trying to pay these medical bills."

The surgeon sat down next to the man and looked at him with an expression of the utmost sympathy. "I think you should know that I have the power to make all these bills disappear.  All I need is for you to do a little favor for me."

The man was quite confused by what the surgeon was saying to him.  "And what favor would I have to do for you?"

"Nothing much," the surgeon said with a shrug of his shoulders.  "All I want is for you to play a round of golf with MY wife."

Environmentalism Fail

While writing the earlier post on the unwillingness of climate change believers to reduce their carbon footprints, I remembered this ad from a couple years ago titled "No Pressure."  It shows people who are unwilling to reduce their carbon footprints being gleefully killed, and naturally caused such an outcry it was banished to the far reaches of Hell.

In a way, it's sad the ad disappeared so quickly.  It was from a group called 10:10 global, which was "asking" people to cut their carbon emissions by 10% a year.  A number of rich and big name liberals, such as Prince Charles, publicly supported the initiative.  When the ad disappeared the whole movement fizzled, which is really a shame, because we never got to find out whether all the rich liberals behind the initiative truly reduced their carbon footprints.  While the movement died publicly, that shouldn't have stopped them from trying to save Mother Earth.  Right?

One thing that always got to me about the movement was the fact that the lower classes were supposed to reduce their carbon footprints by the same percentage as the rich.  If you ask me, carbon footprint reduction should follow the same rules as progressive taxation, those with larger carbon footprints should be expected to reduce theirs by a greater amount then those with lesser footprints.  After all, everyone needs to do their "fair share."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Soviet Storm

The series Soviet Storm, which can be found on YouTube, is a Russian series from a few years ago that has been adapted to English.  It tells the story of the Soviet war against Germany from beginning to end.

The war between Germany and the Soviets, or the Eastern Front as it is often referred to, is something that until recently has not gotten the attention it deserves.  With the end of the Cold War, the Soviet archives were opened for scholarly study, and more complete histories of the Eastern Front could be written.  These more complete histories have helped people take notice that the vast majority of German casualties were inflicted by the Soviets.  This has led many scholars to declare the victory over Germany an almost exclusively Soviet endeavor, but it seems to me this is a case of the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction from the previous glossing over of the Soviet contribution to the war.

The video embedded below is the third episode of the series, which focuses on the German conquest of Crimea.  It's an especially interesting one because it presents some of the missions carried out by the Soviet navy and air force.  The Eastern Front is almost always presented as exclusively being a land war.  It was interesting to see the contributions of the other branches of the Soviet armed forces, particularly the strategic bombing campaigns carried out by the Soviets against the Ploeisti oil fields.  The strategic bombing campaigns carried out by America and Britain get a lot of attention.  It was interesting to see how the Soviets carried out their own attacks, particularly against the Ploeisti, as the American  Operation Tidal Wave against the oil fields always seems to get a lot of attention in WW2 histories.

The Border Crisis

While reading all the news stories of Democratic governors (John Hickenlooper, Martin O'Malley, Deval Patrick) unwilling to take in the illegal immigrant children surging across the border, it's clear to me the political life cycle I described in the previous post carries over to this issue as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Life Cycle of Liberal Issues

This story on how believers in climate change use more electricity then skeptics is getting a lot of play on certain blogs.  The story helps to highlight the modern day life cycle of liberals on political issues.

  1. Create a problem
  2. Be unwilling to do anything yourself to solve the problem
  3. Use your unwillingness to do anything to solve the problem as a reason for why government has to enforce coercive measures in order to solve the problem.
  4. Undertake coercive measures.
  5. Find a way to either exempt yourself from the above coercive measures, or find a way to have government alleviate the suffering it might cause you.

One interesting point about the linked study is it only looked at home electricity use.  It would be interesting to see how the carbon footprints from travel compare between believers and skeptics of climate change. Here, the liberal believers might look better as more liberals live in cities where there is ample public transportation.  Although, if this is true, it doesn't say a lot about their willingness to make conscious sacrifices.

Of course, what really interests climate change skeptics isn't how much the carbon footprints vary between believers and skeptics in the general population, but how the carbon footprint of the liberal elite compares to everyone else and even those in the same socioeconomic class who are skeptical of climate change. Although, here we don't need a study to tell us that many of the people who believe climate change will be the apocalypse  have enormous carbon footprints.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Canada Trip: Last days of conference

The conference I attended kept us pretty busy and didn't leave a lot of time for sight seeing, but I did skip some lectures here and there so I could see some of the city.  On Saturday morning I skipped the conference in the hopes of seeing the changing of the guard at the Citadel, only to find out it only occurred Monday through Friday at that time.  I still took the opportunity to walk around the outer edge of the city.  I started at the Plains of Abraham, the battlefield where the British defeated the French in 1759 during the Seven Years War.  This battle gave the British Quebec City and control of the St. Lawrence River, which eventually allowed them to conquer Canada.  Surprisingly, there was almost nothing to mark the spot, but this is currently being rectified as the Canadians are in the middle of building something on the site.

I walked along the river taking pictures constantly as I walked.  The view from the hills that encircle the city is just beautiful.  I walked from the Plains of Abraham to the area of Old Quebec that I visited on the first day I arrived in the city.

I finished up my walk that day by visiting the Basilica Cathedral Notre Dame.  The cathedral is currently celebrating its 350th anniversary, as described here.  In honor of the anniversary, a year of Jubilee was declared and a Holy Door was opened, the first one outside of Europe.  For those who don't know, walking through a Holy Door grants plenary indulgence, something that was a major plot point in the movie Dogma. I had no idea this was occurring when I made the decision to go to the conference.  I first learned about it from a story in the travel section of the local paper two months before my trip.  It was a very pleasant surprise.  Walking through the Holy Door was quite an experience, and the inside of the cathedral was ornately decorated and just beautiful.  It's just too bad the Holy Door is only open until this December.  I wish there was a more permanent door on this side of the Atlantic so more people could have the experience I did.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Canada Trip: Conference

The conference kept me pretty busy when I was in Quebec City.  They had talks and events going from sunrise to sunset most days.  The meal breaks and coffee breaks were long enough that I was able to take some time to walk around the immediate area by the congresscenter and do some sight seeing.  The center was near several old fortifications that surround the eastern portion of the city.  While they look medieval, I later found out they were surprisingly built around 1820.  Both the French and British apparently relied on makeshift fortifications despite all the wars in which Quebec City found itself invaded by a foreign army.  It was only after the American invasion of Canada during the War of 1812 that the British became willing to spend the money on the proper fortifications needed to guard Quebec and protect the opening of the St. Lawrence River.

On one of the nights when I walked around the congress center, there was an amazingly beautiful rainbow in the sky.  I got some amazing pictures of it, and I hope to blow up and frame the one shown below.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Canada Trip: Quebec City: Day 1

After spending a weekend in Toronto, I drove to Quebec City for my conference with a one night stopover in Montreal.  As I just needed a bed to sleep in for the night, I got a room at a hostel at the University of Montreal.  The place was hot, a bit dirty, and smelled of marijuana, but it was just a one night stay so I didn't mind.

I left the hostel early in the morning to get out of Montreal before the traffic got bad.  I made it to Quebec City in the late morning and had some time before I could check-in at the place I was staying, so I parked in Old Quebec City near the river.  It was in an area of shops and restaurants, so I walked around there most of the afternoon.  I got some pictures of the river, but am cursing myself now for not getting some shots of the streets themselves.  The only picture I really got was of a mural, shown below.  The place had a very European feel, both architecturally and culturally.  I saw a couple people greeting each other with the European double kiss on each cheek.

The welcoming reception for my conference was that night.  They had a couple Cirque du Soleil style acts to entertain us, one of which was a male aerialist, pictured below, who was just incredible.  We all marveled at the kind of strength it must take to do what he did.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Canada Trip: Toronto

Since I was so busy during my Canada trip itself, I didn't have time to blog about it.  I'm going to be doing so retroactively over the next week.

My first stop on my trip was Toronto.  I stayed in a hotel around the Ed Mirvish theater, where I saw the musical "Flashdance."  I later saw the play "The Last Confession," and will write up reviews of both later.  Besides seeing those two shows I did some general sight-seeing, and tried out a couple microbrews: 3 Brewers and Mill Street Brew Pub.

I had been to Toronto once before, back in 1997 on  a college trip to see "Phantom of the Opera."  I was impressed with the city back then, although, I hadn't seen too much of the city other then the area around the Rogers Center.  When I first arrived and was walking in the area around my hotel, I wondered what happened to the city as it was not nearly as nice as I remembered it.  I found out the next day the areas of the city I had seen before were just as nice and clean as I remembered.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Reviews

Midway: The Battle That Made the Modern World

This is a decent summary of the Battle of Midway. There's not a whole lot of new information here for someone who has read up on World War II before. The book also comes off as being a dry read. Midway is a very suspenseful battle, but here we just get a simple recitation of the events. On the good side, it does end with a brief analysis of how the American victory possibly affected the shape of the post-war world.

Enduring What Cannot be Endured

This is one of those books that after you read you will feel you have no right to complain about your life ever again. What this woman went through is unbelievable, and it says a lot about her that she persevered the way she did.

I have read a lot of books on WW2, and this gives a perspective of the war I have not seen elsewhere. Most of what I have read gives just snippets of civilian life during the war, with most of them describing how life carried on despite the occupation. This is one of the few that describes how civilians found themselves on the run during the Axis occupation.

If there is one criticism to the book, it is that I wish it had been longer. The book rushes through and just gives us the highlights, when it would have been nice to know some more of the fine details.

Pearl Harbor: Hinge of War

 This book is a good overview of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I’ve read a lot of books on WW2, and this book had a good amount of information I hadn’t come across before.

One weakness to this book is it reads more like an outline than a book. The attack itself is covered by listing out each ship and explaining what happened on each one. This gives a lot of individual details on the attack which might be hard to find elsewhere, but it ends up being a dry read.

There are a few odd errors in it. As another reviewer noticed, the author states the Japanese lost three carriers at Midway when they really lost four. In another section of the book, he implies the attacks against Malaysia and the Philippines only occurred after Pearl Harbor succeeded. Both invasions had launched days before the attack and the Japanese even landed in Malaysia before the first bombs were dropped.

Grade Inflation

The sentiments expressed in this article on grad inflation is something I've seen during my time in academia.  Students will complain to anyone about their grades, and professors can often be forced to up their students' grades by administrators.  Also, student evaluations are a key part of a professor's performance reviews, and students will only give good reviews to professors that give high grades.

Despite all the pressure professors are under to inflate grades, it is still frustrating to here them complain about grade inflation as if they had absolutely nothing to do with it.  They all play along in order to keep their jobs, and then complain about the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality.  This wouldn't be as big a deal if so many of them weren't always patting themselves on the back for all the brave "stands" they're willing to take. Their unwillingness to stop grade inflation shows that when it comes to taking a stand that will truly jeopardize their jobs, they fold like a cheap tent.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What do they know that we don't? Obamacare edition

Before Obamacare was passed, Nancy Pelosi famously said we had to pass the law to find out what was in it.  It appears my radiologist sister might be finding out what is in it at the moment.  Around October last year her practice's billing company stopped putting through a significant amount of their claims.  They didn't really notice this until February, when their accounts ran out of money and their paychecks bounced.  They fought with their billing company, but they still won't pay up, so they tried to go with a new company.  They had one picked out and sent over a contract, only to see that company decline them for no reason.  They are now in the process of going with their second choice, who hasn't turned them down yet.

When I first heard about this, I wondered if there might be regulations in Obamacare that were to blame, but couldn't rule out the possibility this was just one dipshit company.  Since I've found out a second company is unwilling to do business with them, it's clear something is scaring away both companies.  Radiologists make a good amount of money, and might just find themselves at the epicenter of the government cost cutters. These companies might feel there isn't much money to be made by having radiologists as clients if reimbursements rates are going to be cut.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Pathetic Job Market and Millenials

For several years now Millennials have been taking heat for being lazy and entitled.  I have always felt sorry for the younger generation facing this criticism, not because the criticisms have no merit, but because the older generations giving it don't have much of a leg to stand on themselves.  They were just like the Millennials when they were young, but they were fortunate enough to come of age in a better economy and establish themselves in a career before things really tanked.

If their is one attribute to the Millennials they deserve scorn for, it is their cluelessness about their current situation and their future.  The economy and job market have been bad for years, and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.  Yet, many of the Millenials think everything will completely turn around any day now.  I find myself frustrated by the graduate students around me.  Many of them entered graduate school 4 or 5 years ago to wait out the bad job market.  Now they are getting ready to graduate, looking for jobs, and finding their is still nothing out there. Yet, they still think just one more year, and they will have their pick of jobs to choose from.

Monday, May 5, 2014

University Email Spam

When I graduated with my B.S. years ago, I signed up for my university to forward my email from the account I had with them to a different account.  Now that account is filling up with spam that's coming through my old university email.  I remember a few years back receiving a letter that the email system was hacked, so that could be how the spammers got the address.  However, I'm wondering if the university is so cash strapped they sold addresses to spammers.

Cleveland Kidnapping Victim Speaks

Watched the Michelle Knight interview on Dateline last night.  Found it unbelievably annoying how Savannah Guthrie talked to her like she was a four year old.  I know Dr. Phil took a good amount of grief for his interview, but it was a real interview with raw answers from Michelle.  Watching the Dateline interview, I got the impression that her story has been greatly sanitized and Oprah-fied to make it more marketable for mass consumption.

A year ago, when the girls escaped, half of the story was the decrepit neighborhood where they were found and the kind of people who lived in said neighborhood.  It was a  reminder for others that places like that neighborhood exist.  However, now that a year has passed, we have safely forgotten all those unpleasantries. and Michelle's story has been turned into an uplifting tale of overcoming a generic tragedy.

Now we can get back to real tales of hardship, like the pain our elites suffer for not being worshipped enough by subjects they rule over.

Update: The Cleveland television stations just had a story on the girls' rescue.  None of the footage from the neighborhood recorded that night was played.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Scientific Regulation and the death of Sherri Shangji

Robert Conquest's first law of politics states everyone is conservative about what they know.  While there are several areas where this is BS, one area where it appears to often be true is in the area of regulation.  People who favor regulation of other industries might disfavor regulation of their industry since they understand the cost:benefit trade-off in their area of expertise.  This was one of the main thoughts I had reading this story on how regulation is stifling science.  Left-wing scientists who will favor regulation of other industries suddenly have problems when a governing or administrative agency wants to apply oversight to them.  This is something I have seen before.  I remember being enormously frustrated at a talk by a Nobel laureate, in which he stated the best way for science to get done was for university administrators to just stay out of the way of its scientists.  It's a sentiment I generally agree with, but it would be nice if people extended this courtesy to other industries.

The issue of science and regulation in relation to laboratory safety is something that came to the forefront with the death of Sherri Shangji, outlined here.  To sum it up, Sherri Shangji was a laboratory technician who burned to death from mistakes made while conducting an experiment.  Her principal investigator, Patrick Harran, is currently facing criminal charges for safety violations.  Some good has come from this tragedy.  Laboratory safety regulations in academia were laughably non-existent before.  Now, most academic institutions have realized that something has to be in place, and are making the proper changes.

As for the criminal charges Patrick Harran is facing, I can't help but think many people who would have cheered a CEO or small business owner being held responsible in a similar manner are suddenly upset when someone they can identify with is the one facing charges.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Chase Bank Suspends Accounts

Chase Bank recently suspended the individual bank accounts of several porn stars as outlined in this article here.  The article doesn't explicitly state the government was behind the actions, but when I first heard the news the other day, it seemed obvious Chase had to be feeling pressure from somewhere.

This kind of news should be a wake up call to people and industries that have normally been persecuted by the right, but believe the left is willing to leave them alone.  The left craves government power, and will use it against anybody.  The relatively low stature porn stars occupy in our society makes them easy targets for actions such as this.  Chase's actions should worry a lot of people.  If the government is behind their actions, it's likely doing this as a test run for going against bigger fish in the future.

I haven't seen any mention of how Chase identified the porn star's accounts, and it's a detail that would be interesting to know.  Most porn stars operate under stage names, so Chase likely couldn't just run a program comparing account names to a list of known porn stars.  They likely followed the money trail from the porn businesses to the star's accounts.  If this is what they did, then it would seem to me like the government is behind it.  I'm sure Holder would love to be able to apply pressure to the banks and get them to suspend the accounts of people who work for or do business with the gun industry.

Hashtag Wars

A couple years back, Mark Steyn in America Alone wrote about the uselessness of the Free Tibet movement.  He commented on how the concerts and bumper stickers were all for making people feel good about themselves without having to actually do anything.  With our State Department doing nothing for Ukraine other than starting twitter hashtags, it's clear this kind of feel-goodism is now official government policy.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Income Inequality vs. Lifetime Earnings

So the latest fad among our political class is to show concern for income inequality.  The purpose of income inequality is to stir up hatred against 'the rich' and scapegoat this amorphous group for any financial struggles the middle class might be experiencing.

One thing I find interesting about the new income inequality wars is the way the professional class, government bureaucrats and academics, tries to march in solidarity with the working class.  The bureaucrats and academics have good reason to try and distract others with income inequality.  Pensions for government employees are becoming a huge burden on state and municipal governments, and could lead to higher taxes that could hit the middle class hard.  The costs of education is also hitting the middle class, as many struggle to pay their children's tuition.

The government bureaucrats and academics might like to say they are in the same financial boat as the working class, and a snapshot of their income might back them up.  However, a snapshot of yearly income overlooks potential differences in expected lifetime earnings.  Even if the yearly incomes of the academics and bureaucrats are modest, they can earn a solid amount over a lifetime as they can work at their jobs into their 60's.  Tenured academics can easily pull a paycheck in their old age, and government bureaucrats have generous pensions that pay out until the day they die.  Meanwhile, the working class has jobs in manual labor that they might have to retire from in their 50's when their body gives out.

The professional classes are also the beneficiaries of perks that don't count against their base incomes.  Most university and government employees get gold plated health insurance they don't have to pay much for.  A lot of academics also get free tuition for their children.  At private schools that can be a value of $200,000 per kid, and that income is tax free.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

H.G. Wells was wrong. Why alien life would be immune to Earth born pathogens.

In the ending to H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, the invading Martians are killed off by microbial infections they don’t possess immunity to.  Instinctively, this makes sense.  We've seen in our own history how certain populations have nearly died off when they have come into contact with new pathogens they don’t possess immunity to.

What the scenario in War of the Worlds overlooks is the slim possibility an Earth born pathogen would be able to infect an alien species.  Bacteria and viruses infect us by hijacking the biochemical processes of our cells and using them for their own replication.  These pathogens would be unable to do the same thing in an alien organism that contained just the slightest deviation in its biochemistry.

To explain why Earth pathogens would be unable to infect alien organisms, it is necessary to give an overview of the basic building blocks of life.  Our genetic information is carried in DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid.  DNA consists of two linked strands of nucleotides.   Each nucleotide is composed of a sugar residue, a phosphoryl group, and a base.  There are four different bases used in our DNA: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanosine (G), and thymine (T).  Our genetic information is contained in the sequence of these four bases. 

Many of the biochemical processes of our cells are carried out by proteins, molecules that have a unique sequence of their own.  Proteins are large chains of amino acids, and there are twenty different amino acids that can be incorporated into them.   The information for the amino acid sequences of our proteins is contained within the base sequence of our DNA.   A three base sequence, termed a codon, signifies an amino acid.  For example, the base sequence ACG is the codon for the amino acid threonine, while the sequence CGT is the codon for arginine.  Accuracy is important as a single mistake in the amino acid sequence could render a protein non-functional. 

The viruses and bacteria that infect our bodies make use of the same processes mentioned above.  Their genetic information is contained in DNA, which encodes the sequential information for their proteins, using the same basic building blocks.  Pathogens would not be able to replicate inside of our cells if their DNA was composed of different bases, or if their genetic code differed from ours, or if the pathogen needed a different pool of amino acids from the one we use.

I believe there’s a good chance any alien life would have a biochemistry vastly different from ours.  Even if their genetic information was carried in DNA, they might use different bases, or have a different genetic code, or use different amino acids in their proteins; amino acids our bodies don’t produce.

In my series, the Lifespan Wars, the enemies of the series, the Hozans, make heavy use of genetically engineered pathogens.  Because of the differences in biochemistry among the twelve sentient species, each pathogen can infect one species, and only one species.  As humans have an unknown biochemistry to the Hozans, they are unable to construct any bio-weapons to infect them.  This natural immunity has led the Domarians to employ humans in their war effort.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Should the NCAA pay its athletes?

With March Madness recently concluding, the question as to whether college athletes should be played was once again discussed.  Almost all the discussions pertain to whether or not the colleges should be paying athletes themselves.  I'm always amazed that more attention isn't being given to the idea of simply letting athletes earn whatever they can off the field.  The high profile athletes could pull in a substantial amount of money through endorsements, and even the lower profile athletes probably wouldn't have much trouble finding a local booster willing to take care of them.  Rescinding this rule would be easy.  The athletes could make money and the schools wouldn't have to worry about how to fit the athletes' salaries into their budget, or how to deal with Title IX if the only players being paid are the football and men's basketball players.  Everyone seems to agree the worst part of the NCAA rules is the fact the players can't even have someone treat them to a five dollar lunch.  Sometimes I wonder if the reason there isn't a bigger push for this is that many of the people want the athletic departments to lose money before they want the athletes to gain money.