Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Drunken Gym-rats

My advanced biochem class is interesting. It's like any other biochem class I've ever taken, with all the fun of memorizing metabolic pathways, except with the need to know the reaction mechanisms thrown in (curse you, Silverman!).

But one of the portions there started me thinking. Yes, yes, a rare event, I know.

When you exercise, your body needs to get energy quickly, and it can't wait for the normal breakdown of sugars and whatnot to get it. So, your body uses lactate dehydrogenase, an enzyme, to break down some of the normal metabolites to get fast energy. The reaction takes place partly due to the shortage of oxygen during exercise.

In yeast, a similar reaction takes place in the absence of oxygen, except the same metabolite is transformed into ethanol by a similar enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase. It's how brewer's yeast works to make beer.

We actually have alcohol dehydrogenase in our livers. It's why our livers can change alcohol back into usable molecules.

But I was thinking to myself . . . what if, instead of lactate dehydrogenase, our muscle cells had alcohol dehydrogenase?

My first thought was that exercise would cause the body to produce ethanol. Consequently, exercise would make you intoxicated. I suppose this would instantly cure the obesity epidemic in the US. Especially at colleges. "Hey, what are you doing tonight?" "Oh, everyone's going for a jog around the frat house. I heard they're going to have stationary bikes, and even a couple of treadmills. It's gonna be awesome!"

After thinking about it for a while, though, I realize that that would never happen. In truth, you could probably never get drunk if this were the case. Maybe for a while after you exercised, while your body was breaking the alcohol back down. But the reason we get drunk is because our liver can't break down the ethanol faster than it interacts with our brain. On the other hand, if you had alcohol dehydrogenase in all of your muscle cells, the ethanol from drinking would be broken down so fast that you'd probably have to drink everclear like it was water to even feel anything, much less get drunk.

So, if any of you were hoping for better living through genetic engineering, I guess I just inflated and then burst your bubble in one fell swoop. Better luck next time.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


It's "Revival" time at my church. Yippee.

We had a special preacher give the sermon this morning. I guess you could say I didn't quite care for it. If you asked me what he preached about, I couldn't really tell you. There was almost zero substance to it. Yeah, he started off by reading some verses out of Ezekial, but he only used it as a jumping off point for his sermon. I'm not even sure it was meant to be used as he intended it.

I think analogy works best to describe this sermon. Anymore, American Christianity suffers from both obesity and anorexia simultaneously, sometimes in the same believer. Some overindulge on worthless platitudes and meaningless trivialities, while others claim the mantle of health while never touching any of the things meant for proper nutrition. If revival were to come to the church, Christians would need to throw off the excesses and begin eating properly.

This preacher? Instead of preaching the merits of a healthy diet and balanced nutrition came passing out candy and talking about the joys of chocolate.

American Christianity is sick, and it's something we've done to ourselves. We're losing a lot of credibility in the larger culture, but it's our own fault that it's slipping away. I don't think, however, that we're going to put ourselves on the path to healing and renewal by preaching a gospel of meaningless banalities and trite feel-goodisms. No, doing so will only exacerbate the sickness.

I have no grand ideas for a great solution, something to spark another great revival. But I do know a bad idea when I see one.

Boring Science Documentaries

Yeah, my blog's been kinda quiet lately. I keep thinking, "Oh, I should blog about that!" Then I get distracted and forget what I wanted to blog about, which is pretty much the story of my life.

In any case, one thing I did want to blog about was my molecular biology class. I'm a little annoyed by the professor's stated method of teaching (Reading out loud in class? What are we, in grade school?), but this post more relates to something else. One day, in lieu of lecturing, he showed us a video (Ugh. An equally bad teaching faux pas.). It was a PBS documentary about the discovery of the DNA helical structure. It wasn't so much about the science as it was about the drama and politics of the discovery. If you know anything about that, you know how much can be said on the subject.

Still, the documentary wasn't all that bad. There were some interesting quotes which came from the video which I thought I'd write about. Some are profound, and some . . . aren't.

Near the beginning of the film, the narrator was describing Watson and Crick as graduate students. They weren't very ambitious, apparently. As they were described, they tended to "not get bogged down in experiments . . . they were free to dwell on the big ideas." Which is exactly how I want to do my graduate career. I can just imagine the conversation with my advisor.
Advisor: So, what kind of research would you like to do with me?

Me: Well, I'm not so much of a research guy as I am a "big idea" guy.

Advisor: So, you're saying you want me to pay you to daydream and slack off?

Me: Hey, Watson and Crick did it, and they're science legends now.

Advisor: Get out of my office.
Something like that.

At one point, the narrator was discussing letters between Rosalind Franklin and her father. Her father was religious, and she was, well, not. Go figure, eh? Anyhow, they quoted one of her letters, saying, "Faith in this world is perfectly capable without faith in another." Her point was that you don't need the spiritual to trust and to explore the natural.

Of course, I would disagree with her, but I do find it an interesting quote all the same. I like it when scientists actually talk about such matters. Well, sometimes. I don't think scientists consider the philosophy of what they do often enough, nor its ramifications, but for some people the philosophy is summed up as, "Science explains everything! If you're not an atheist, you're an unenlightened neanderthal a few unwarranted genes away from pooping while you walk!" I've little patience for those folk.

Finally, I just wanted to share a quote I found hilarious, for reasons that are only vaguely clear to me. The third man to win a Nobel prize for the DNA structure was Maurice Wilkins. Of course, he's ancient by now, but he still has quite a bit of spirit in him. Anyhow, the interviewer asked him if he thought he "let the cat out of the bag" on the truth of the DNA structure (he let slip some crucial details to the wily Watson and Crick). His response just cracks me up:
"Well, I don't think science is meant to be kept in bags. Just like cats."
I giggle everytime I read it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Disaster Approaches

Michelle Malkin has a good round-up of reasons why the immigration "reforms" Bush mentioned the other night, and has mentioned all along, will be a disaster for the country.

She may be a tad alarmist, but sometimes that's justified. This might end up being one of those times.

Some Thoughts on Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

I think this is my only Wii game that I haven't talked about on here yet, so I thought I'd just give some general impressions and criticisms.

If you enjoyed Ocarina of Time, then you'll enjoy this game. The game is practically an update of the N64 classic, taking everything that was wrong with it making it work better. That's both a blessing and a curse.

At this point, Twilight Princess feels very contrived. In fact, it feels like exactly the same game. The elements are all there: Bad guy with wicked magic (He's not Ganon as far as I know, but I'm willing to bet the mask will come off sooner or later), saving Zelda, getting the Master Sword, travelling to Death Mountain with the Gorons, Lake Hyrule with the Zoras, and into the Gerudo Desert, tackling the first dungeon in a forest, going into an underwater temple . . . I could go on.

Granted, as I said, there are some things that are improved from previous iterations. New types of bombs, including explosive arrows, are a great improvement. Aiming your arrows with the Wii controller is a vast improvement over a game pad.

It's not a bad game, it's just an old game. It's fun to play, but at this point I feel a little bored with the idea of scouring every nook and cranny of the game in search of heart container pieces.

Perhaps in the future I might post what I'd like to see in a Zelda game. At this point, something new would be nice.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How about a playpen?

According to this article, there's a growing trend of "men's waiting areas" at malls. This is, supposedly, for men to sit and wait while their wives are off shopping.

Really? Has our gender become that sad?

First, let me say that it's a sad indicator of a relationship that you can't even spend an hour or two with your wife as she looks at clothing (vice versa, too). Even if she is being a Non-commital Nancy, suck it up and deal with it. Spending time together is part of a relationship/marriage.

However, in addition to that, why would you need a "waiting area?" If I were at the mall with a woman and she said, "I'm going to go off on my own, meet me at the food court in 2 hours," I think I could figure out how to amuse myself in the intervening period. What prevents you from having some sort of interest? Go look at clothing, movies, books, etc. Take your pick. Have a hobby.

It's just sickening how often these "men are helpless, hairy children" articles come out. What has happened to my gender?

Truth About Muhammad Review

I finished reading Robert Spencer's latest book, The Truth About Muhammad.

It's essentially a biography of Islam's founder, based entirely off of their own most reliable sources. Contrary to popular belief, the Qu'ran is not the only source of wisdom for the muslim; the hadith (collections of Muhammad's sayings and experiences) and the sira (biographies of Muhammad, sometimes based in part on the hadith) also form the core basis for Islamic theology.

The point of Spencer's book is to not only lay out the general consensus for Muhammad's life and most important experiences and teachings as it's found in the muslim community, but also to give a crash course in Islamic theology and show why Muhammad's life is important.

In Islamic theology, Muhammad is the "perfect man." That is, he was as holy as they come. In order to be a good muslim, one should obey all of his teachings and follow his example. After his death, Islamic theology rose around Muhammad's teachings, his example, and his silences (those things he observed but did not condemn).

That, as Spencer observes, is a huge problem for those who constantly remind us that Islam is a "religion of peace." Muhammad spent the better part of his time as a religious leader commanding armies, leading raids on caravans, ordering assassinations, and more. When Muhammad teaches that all good muslims must obey his teachings and imitate his example, this history becomes incredibly problematic.

Of course, as we're reminded, not every muslim out there is strapping bombs to their bellies and blasting off into the afterlife. Unfortunately, it would seem that in order to achieve such peacefulness, one must ignore the teachings of this religion. Peaceful muslims would seem to be the Islamic equivalent to Unitarians.

Spencer argues that the best approach for ensuring peace and security, both for the US and those in the broader world, would be to combine efforts and post-modern secularization for Islam with any international actions, including visa/green card applications. Refusing to acknowledge the danger of Islam's teachings, he argues, does nothing to stem the tide of terrorism at home and abroad.

The book is 90% history, so whether you agree or disagree with his conclusion, it's worth reading if only as a very good look at the life of a figure playing prominently in current world events.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Show Me the Money

Missouri has no idea how to manage its assets.

Metro, the company which runs the public buses as well as the MetroLink trains, is facing a $28M budget shortfall for the coming year.

There are some issues towards explaining this, of course. For example, MO only chips in about $100k to the operating budget, and St. Louis County about $50M. Illinois contributes millions as well, but now stipulates the funds must be spent on our side of the river to prevent it from being a subsidy for MO.

Budget and politics aside, another problem is the fare collection. When you purchase a ticket for the train, you don't go through a turnstile. Instead, you simply board the train, and security personnel will randomly board the train and ask to see your ticket. No ticket? You're fined $75.

This would be fine if the random checks were frequent, but they're not. As the day progresses, they become increasingly rare, and are non-existent when the trains are at their most crowded. This inspires many folk to forgo paying for tickets, bolting from the train at the nearest stop if someone comes in to check.

If Metro made certain that everyone paid, I'd say their revenue from tickets could increase by at least 25%, probably more. The problem is that they built all of the stations without turnstiles or any other rational system, and now implementing such a thing would be costly.

Due to the budget shortfall, Metro will probably be cutting services. Buses will probably be the first to suffer, but I'm betting the trains won't run as often, or as early/late, either.

Blame Metro. Blame Missouri. Hey, blame whoever you want, there's more than enough incompetence in this case to go around.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Missed Connection

My mother recently showed me an article in Discover Magazine about an online dating site for scientists, her not-so-subtle way of trying to help me meet women. Not that I've degenerated to the point of using online dating (yet), but I appreciate her concern.

Still, the article was all a-glow about the site, so I thought I might at least see what the fuss was about. Since the site allows you to search the member profiles without joining yourself, I thought it might be interesting to see if there were any elligible women in the scientific world.

I'm guessing there are, but you wouldn't know it from the site. With a range of my age +/- four years, there were three women on the website. Increasing that by two years both ways only increased that number to six.

The website seems like a good idea, but I'm betting the success stories trumpeted in the article were the only success stories they had. Don't quit your day job, guys.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

'Honor Killings' in UK Still a Problem

More than a dozen women are killed for violating community standards each year in the U.K., according to police. While Nazir's killers were jailed for life, U.K. police ignore hundreds of ``honor crimes'' to avoid inflaming relations with Muslim enclaves as they work to head off homegrown terror plots, say lawmakers and women's rights advocates.
The whole article is worth reading.

If it's true that authorities take to ignoring this kind of thing, that is both truly sad and truly scary, reinforcing Mark Steyn's argument about the coming downfall of Europe as we know it.

The article quotes some unnamed muslim leader saying that this is a cultural problem, not an Islamic one, but I think that ignores some of the reality. For one, Islam is the cultural identification for many of these people. Additionally, note the religion of the people committing the crime. Perhaps there is no sanctioning in the religious texts for this kind of behavior. I couldn't say either way. However, when nearly all the perpetrators of the crimes are muslim, perhaps a deeper look ought to be taken at why it's happening, rather than just giving us the typical "Move along, nothing to see here" brush off.

Back-to-school Blogging

Somehow, having gone back to school has left me feeling both excited and totally drained. I'm a complicated person, but then, aren't we all?

Therefore, since I'm feeling lazy today, I'm going to eschew real posting in favor of a link dump.

If you're not reading Jay Nordlinger's regular column of random odds and ends, you ought to be. His latest is, as usual, a great read.

MLK Jr. vs. Conservatives
I neglected to post this on Monday, but Andrew Busch over at NRO has a column about conservative disagreement with Dr. King in the 60's, and how conservatives ought to consider their praise of him today. It's an interesting read, if nothing else, and reaffirms to me the idea that being right on one thing does not make someone right on everything.

Jim Geraghty reporting
If you were paying any attention, you may have noticed that TKS is no longer in my blogroll, replaced by Hillary Spot. Both are actually the same blog, run by NRO's Jim Geraghty (Man, they ought to pay me for this kind of advertising). TKS once stood for "The Kerry Spot," the blog he began during the 2004 election season. The blog continued under the TKS moniker once the election ended, and now that a new season has begun, he changed the name to reflect the times. He's worth reading, as he does a good job of putting his finger on the various political pulses.


A team of British scientists have genetically engineered chickens which lay cancer-fighting eggs. Well, more accurately, the chickens are engineered to secrete therapeutic proteins into their eggs. The proteins most likely need to be purified to be useful. Still, how fun is that?

Hm . . . what's that I hear? It's as if the voices of a thousand vegans cried out in anguish and were suddenly silenced.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Philosophy of Blogging

It's 1:30 in the morning and I can't seem to sleep. That's why I'm blogging. Actually, I think the question, "why does someone blog?" can be an interesting one.

There seems to be three types of bloggers: Diarists, Essayists, and Journalists. Let's look at each one in detail.
  • The Diarist
This is what most of the blogging community started out as, the very essence of Xanga, LiveJournal, and the 95% of MySpace that isn't pedophiles. These people blog like the family Christmas letter, except since they're not condensing an entire year into one letter, they're free to expand on details both lurid and uninteresting.

When I started blogging, I swore that I wouldn't let my blog end up like that. I find those blogs somewhat boring, and they end up being a horrible replacement for actually interacting with a friend. Why ask them how they're doing when you can read it on their blog?

Besides, I have nothing interesting to write about. Here's how I imagine my blog would look if I took that route:
Well, today was boring. I didn't have anything fun to do, and I didn't feel like being productive, so I played a video game I've already beaten 3 times for about 7 hours. I tried to read some stuff for school after that, but had the concentration of an ADD-riddled chipmunk, so I decided to watch cartoons instead. I think I had a piece of toast for breakfast.
Current Mood: Geeky
Currently Listening To: My mother wishing I would leave the house once in a while
Yeah. Really exciting. I guess this works if you're friends with the blogger. Still, it strikes me as a strange alternative to human interaction.
  • The Essayist
This form of blogging actually seems to be the most interesting. When I think of how some of the great authors and philosophers would write essays, they were striking out from their stardard material. Perhaps the thoughts didn't warrant more than a page or two of well-crafted prose, but there was great insight and wisdom to be delved from the pages. Maybe blogging is the spiritual successor to the essay of days gone by.

Maybe not.

Some essayists cover specialty interests, or choose to tackle interesting (hit or miss) photo-essays. Most end up like editorial columnists, commenting on news and events and wishing for all the world that their opinions would matter. For the record, I do group myself into that batch.

I think this really has a lot of potential, but only in the sense that any form of media has potential. You can leverage a lot of influence running a magazine, but let's face it: Not everybody who staples together photocopies of their latest essays will become the next Time magazine. I'd even settle for Ladies' Home Journal. There's some blogs out there read by people in the upper echelons of power, but they're distinguished by being both fantastically written and highly credible. Hugh Hewitt, the mafia-like Godfather of conservative blogging, teaches Constitutional Law at a law school, and (if I recall correctly) was a White House lawyer for a previous administration. He's pretty savvy when it comes to politics.

Of course, this doesn't mean you have to be intimately involved in some field in order to have an opinion about it, but if you want to get noticed, your ideas had better be sharp.
  • The Journalist
These guys are bold. Not being content to work for a traditional media outlet or just comment, they struck out onto the internet and decided to do original reportage. Actually, a lot of these guys blend in with the Essayists, too, but nevermind that.

There's a wide variety of these guys, ranging from the independent journalist embedding with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan to gossip columnists posting the latest photos of celebrity crotch.

What's there to say? If these guys are good at what they do, they get noticed. Some great examples include Ed Morrisey of Captain's Quarters and his reportage of the Canadian Adscam trial and the Powerline guys and their coverage of the "Rathergate" fiasco.

Of course, none of that really answers why anybody blogs. It just categorizes how they blog.

I guess we blog because we enjoy it. Diarists wear their hearts on the sleeves and want the world to know how they're feeling. Essayists are the same way, except they want the world to know their opinions, not their feelings. Journalists want to spread the truth, and there's no crime in that. Well, the truth and shots of famous genitals, depending on who you read.

I suppose some people do it to be noticed, although I'll bet a lot of them don't start out that way. I'm sure most of the biggest bloggers didn't start out expecting to have weekly readership comparable to major newspapers.

Why do I do it? Writing is fun, and it gives me a chance to express opinions I'm not allowed to in "polite" conversation. But I have no illusions about how much influence my blog will have. I get 120 visits each week, and I'd say half of them are me just using my blogroll to scan other blogs.

I still enjoy it. Now if only I could come up with something witty and humorous to end this post with. Oh well.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Embassy Attack in Greece?

Reports are spreading across the wires that some sort of explosion (maybe) occurred on the 3rd floor of the US embassy in Athens. CNN reports here, with a different account here.

They're saying no injuries. I'll discuss more when I know more.

It seems that they still don't know who the perpetrators are. They suspect homegrown, anti-US/anti-EU separatists, but there's no confirmation for that.

They can confirm, however, that the explosion was caused by an RPG fired from across the street at the 3rd floor. No injuries resulted, and only minimal damage to the embassy.

Still, this isn't the first time such a thing has occurred. I had no idea Greece was such a dangerous place.

Incidentally, I love the folks in forums who are blaming this (and anything that happens to Americans living abroad) on Bush. Yes, because nobody ever attacked American embassies or other targets before 2001. Obsessive nutcases.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What is an 'Activist Government'?

The Pantagraph, the newspaper out of Bloomington, IL, has an editorial taking Gov. Blagojevich to task for his inaugural statements, in particular saying that he has a mandate for an "activist government."

I'm not certain what that means, but I agree with the Pantagraph when they link it to Gov. Blagojevich's unfunded spending-mania.

Look, if you want to talk about how great things like universal healthcare are, that's fine. I don't think it's a good idea, but that's a different discussion. The problem is that the Governor is attempting to implement it while simultaneously running healthcare into the ground in IL. I'm hearing bits and pieces that doctors across IL aren't taking new patients under the AllKids program (sorry, no link, that's from memory). In addition, state payments to hospitals and doctors in IL are behind by nearly a year. Imagine trying to pull something like that with your credit card company.

If you like his policies, great. But let's get the government to spend what they have first, rather than making it a socialist paradise while driving it further into the hole.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Filling Obama's Empty Suit

Well, he's not entirely an empty suit, but there isn't much interest in what he did while he was an IL legislator. In any event, CQPolitics has taken the liberty of comparing his voting record with some of the other Presidential hopefuls. The idea is that you have a general idea of where Clinton or Edwards sit, so you can get a feel for Obama by seeing where they were different. They even include excel sheets giving the bills where the votes differed.

Of course, you'll probably have to look up what the significance of each vote was. It's pretty hard to know why someone voted the way they did when only the name of the bill is given. Still, this goes quite a ways towards giving a solid definition of who Barack Obama the US Senator is.

Of course, you could always just let the man speak for himself, too.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Designer Defects

Here's a story that just makes me shake my head in disgust: A New York Post article all about parents who design their children to have the same disabilities as them, such as dwarfism or deafness.

Such is the madness of our time, I suppose. I've read some people attributing this phenomenon to the very strident identity politics for some of these groups, but all I can think is that such a thing is a sickness.

There was a time when people actually considered defects to be, well, defects. Curses of fate, or what not. Not something you would actively want, or worse, willfully inflict on another person.

Yes, yes, you want a child that is like you. But why would you curse your child to share your disability? Why put them through a lifetime of hardship and trauma just to satisfy your ego? Yes, hardship can bring character, but we usually prefer to have our character built by fate and not by purpose.

What will you tell your children? How will you explain to them that they might have lead a normal life, but you handicapped them to stroke your self-satisfaction?

And where should we draw the line? If parents are allowed to design their children to be deaf or dwarfed, what about paralysis? Should parents be given the liberty to sever their children's spinal columns? How about amputation? What makes genetic defects all right but physical handicaps off limits?

No, this is only a sign of people who love themselves more than their children, as evidenced that they would deliberately inflict this on their offspring. It's utterly degenerate, and I hope such practices are put to an end.

Attack at the Border

And I'm not talking about Taco Bell.

According to this story, National Guardsmen were attacked and overrun at the border.

Most likely, it was Mexican drug-runners. Still, this is a major problem. I suspect the only reason we haven't heard more about this because it presents a diplomatic nightmare for the Mexican government (and our own in some ways), but it illustrates the problem we have at our southern border.

Whoever runs for President in the coming years, I hope somebody is serious about protecting our country. If shenanigans of this kind continue, the incidents will only become worse.

Mandatory Vaccination

In the last few years, it was discovered that several strains of HPV (human papilloma virus) were directly responsible for the development of cervical cancer in some women. Though some strains cause visible warts, the cancer-causing strains do not. This makes them especially tough to ferret out, since there is no blood test available. The virus is typically identified from biopsies of the warts or from cervical scrapings. Thankfully, a vaccine for these strains was also developed in the last few years.

With all of that in mind, an Illinois legislator has proposed making HPV vaccination mandatory for 6th grade girls.

There are some parents who oppose the vaccine, and thus this plan, on moral grounds. They say it will convince their daughters they have a license to be promiscuous. While I don't think such arguments are too far-fetched, I do think such opposition is short-sighted.

As I said before, there is no blood test for the virus. Thus, someone can be a carrier and have no idea, men in particular. (Side note: Why isn't the vaccine being promoted for men, too? Who wants to say that they gave someone cancer?) This makes it easy to pass the virus around, especially since the research is ambiguous as to whether or not condoms prevent the spread of HPV.

I'm sorry parents, but eventually your daughters will become adults who make their own decisions, and the unfortunate reality is that most "adults" don't start off responsible enough to think about consequences that far in advance. How many college freshmen think about vaccinations before their first random hook-up?

Furthermore, the vaccine has yet to be approved for women older than 24 (or 26, I can't recall). By the time current 6th graders are that old, it may be, but you never know.

So, in conclusion, vaccination is a good idea, and I hope those parents don't make foolish decisions about their children's health. Now I just have to work past the fact that, for a change, I actually agreed with Planned Parenthood on something.

Stem Wars Over?

I've devoted many an electron towards blogging about embryonic stem cell research; reasons why I opposed it, developments in alternative extraction, and so forth. It's a rough issue because many of its proponents frame it in a, "We're doing moral good with this research, so you have to support it!" It's half-way convincing, of course, but isn't that the problem with any good lie? You only have to spend a moment to voice it but a lifetime to refute it.

Anyhow, it seems that a compromise everyone can live with may have arrived. A group, publishing in Nature Biotech., has reported taking stem cells from amniotic fluid and creating both viable cell lines as well as differentiated tissue.

Are the cells the same as embryonic stem cells? Well, the researchers are uncertain at this point. However, because these cells seem to offer the same flexibility as those coveted embryonic cells, it seems that they may be a suitable alternative.

Like I always say, the science needs to progress further before any definitive pronouncements can be made on the subject. But I can only hope that people will let the politics slide out of this issue and support a morally neutral source of cells compared to methods that are morally disputed.

Hat tip: Big Lizards, who is, incidentally, guest blogging for Michelle Malkin while she's away in Iraq.

Friday, January 05, 2007

My own 10k

Woo hoo! Today, Halbert's Cubicle had it's 10,000th page view!

(Now if I could only catch up to those guys who get that many in a day . . .)

What is truth?

This is a few weeks old, but I intended to come back to it eventually. It's an opinion piece in the LA Times entitled "10 myths and 10 truths about Atheism." The author, Sam Harris, basically lays out his 10 myths and then attempts to counter them.

I can understand the value of such a thing, but I think the myths have to stand. Since atheism isn't a formal religion, there isn't any sort of set doctrine or dogma. Thus, atheism ends up somewhat like Protestantism, with a very diverse spectrum of philosophical beliefs centered around a defining principle.

This isn't to say that there aren't intelligent, rational atheists out there like Harris would have us believe. It's just that they aren't exactly the majority, or at least the vocal majority. The atheists I've met in person have been generally polite if somewhat impatient with religion and the religious. On the internet? Well, let's just say that the worst myths Harris writes about achieve critical mass.

I do wonder, though. Is that an effect of the internet, or does it say something about the progression of modern atheism? I'm not sure Bertrand Russell would find himself welcome amongst most of the atheist blogs and websites today, but why is that?

Then again, I'm still looking for an answer to my question: Why is it wrong to hurt other people? I think issues revolving around atheistic morality have to start there.

Does Jesus use a Mac?

Maybe you're a computer-savvy nerd. I'm not very knowledgeable with such things, I just get by.

Still, if you're into that sort of thing, here's two very interesting blog posts comparing the development of OS standardization to the development of Christian denominations. It's kinda funny, in a really nerdy sort of way.

New Shirt

I ordered a new t-shirt yesterday:

How fun is that?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Robertson Does It Again

This is one of those rare, rare moments when I'm embarrassed to be a Christian, or, at least associated with other Christians.

Pat Robertson has come out with his latest "prediction." Apparently "God told him" that there would be mass killing in the US in late 2007 due to a terrorist attack.

This is one of the habits of Christians which drives me nuts. Where did it come from? Someone better versed in the development of American Christianity could answer that question, but I'm just baffled.

So many Christians seem to think that God talks to them, telling them various odds and ends. I've blogged about something similar in the past (there's more posts, but I'm too lazy to sift through my archives right now). Whether you're asking God to tell you what job to take, where to go to school, or who to marry, there's a lot of people out there who think that if you just listen to that little voice in the back of your head, the Holy Spirit will tell you what you need to know.

My problem? There's just no Biblical basis for this.

Let's focus on Robertson, specifically. He's not talking about the small stuff here, which is fine, because God usually did pretty important things when he communicated with mankind himself. But how did God speak to people? As far as scripture indicates, either through prophets, through dreams, or through audible communication. There's no basis in scripture for wiggle room, none of this, "Well, I think I heard God" silliness. If God spoke, you heard him. He doesn't fool around with that kind of stuff, and his words are as good as a promise.

That's the real kicker, too.
"I have a relatively good track record," he said. "Sometimes I miss."
Um, you might miss, but if God actually was telling you this stuff, it would happen. When you pull this kind of crap, you make us all look bad. Look, I can't say God isn't speaking to you. Maybe he is. But when you get it wrong? No, the only person speaking to Pat Robertson is Pat Robertson, and you embarrass your faith when you pull stunts like this.

Actually, God just told me something, Pat. He wants you to stop making this stuff up and putting words in his mouth.

The Politics of Gay Sheep

Sometimes you see a story so silly, you can't help but wonder what strange psychosis has gripped those involved.

Case in point: Some researchers at Oregon State University have been conducting research on "gay*" sheep that turns them straight. By changing hormonal levels in the brain, rams become much more inclined to mount the sheep rather than other rams.

And so, what happens? Critics become vocal, declaring that the research is an attempt to cure homosexuality and is the most horrendous attack on their dignity. Of course PETA gets involved, but they're against anything involving animals, their opinions aren't really important here.

So, could this cure homosexuality in people? Well, eventually. Maybe. Remains to be seen.

In strictly humanistic terms, homosexuality is a biological** deviation which reduces reproductive fitness. Biologically speaking, any mutation (or other abnormality) which reduces the ability of a species to reproduce is bad. I suppose if you're so-minded, getting rid of homosexuality isn't a bad thing.

I don't think like that, though, and I can't speak for those protesters, so I'll share my own thoughts on the matter.

First, I wonder what the possibility of hypocrisy is here. It's still in the realms of fiction where parents can genetically design their babies, but science is catching up. I find such work to be somewhat insulting to human dignity, but how many people think it's okay? If it's just peachy to craft a tall, athletic, blue-eyed supergenius in the womb, is it also okay to make sure he'll pass on his genes? If the "cure" is administered prenatal, what happens to a woman's choice? It seems to me if a woman can choose to kill the unborn child, she can choose to prevent homosexuality in it as well. Not that abortion has to be concurrent with this, but again, I'm wondering if there's any hypocrisy at play here. I'm not pro-choice, so I can't speak for them.

What if it's something administered to adults? In this case, that would be an individual choice, and despite the hysteria of the protesters, should be left to each individual to decide. Maybe some people don't want to be gay. Why shouldn't they be allowed to determine that? I'm told all the time that it isn't a choice. If it could become a choice, why shouldn't they be allowed to choose?

So, I'm okay with any potential adult treatments. Prenatal treatments, I'm undecided on. For conditions which threaten someone's life, I'm fine with such developmental tampering. Further than that, and I'm uncertain. Does it impinge on human dignity? Do we step on God's toes by custom-crafting human beings? (Ooh, I just thought of a good one; does God have feet so big that even he can't make shoes big enough for them?)

All I know is, you'd think from the reactions of the people in the article that these guys were kidnapping gay men off the street and dissecting their brains. Let's keep some perspective, and try to talk rationally about the science advancing. If I can remain calm about Amendment 2 in MO, I think we can be civil about this.

* - I use the "scare quotes" because I'm not really certain how they quantify homosexuality in animals. Because the rams like to mount other rams? I'm no expert on the matter, but it seems like non-human homosexuality has more to do with humping anything rather than humping specific genders. But like I said, that's my limited experience talking.

** - Again, I'm not aware of research which limits this to genetic causes or developmental causes. And if it's developmental, are we talking prenatal or postnatal development?

Biology Round-up

Some quick hits on some recent scientific advances:

Sound of a Silent Mutation
As you may know, amino acids, the components of proteins, are coded by triplets of nucleic acids. Typically, the third base in the codon allows for some wiggle room, meaning that mutations usually don't result in a change in amino acid, and thus protein function. However, according to the above article, some researchers have apparently found that these "silent mutations" can change the function.

They surmise that this is due to the difference in rate at which the peptide chain is synthesized, resulting in a differently folded protein. That last bit leaves me a bit skeptical, so I guess I'll be more convinced when I see the following: Data showing that the proteins leave at different rates, and data showing differently folded structures.

Bacterial Air Force
In what seems to be a new method, some scientists have created a different method for detecting different types of bacteria. After collecting airborne bacteria, they used an innovative technique for determining what strains are present. Instead of growing colonies, they separated out ribosomal nucleic acids (rRNA) through the use of a fluorescent dye in solution, then ran the dye over a microarray containing complementary strands of around 8000 different bacteria. A computer records the fluorescent spots as positive hits.

A neat idea, although I suppose you could just as easily use the same type of array Tom Meade came up with.

Bacterial Obesity?
I was actually arguing with some people about this on Fark the other day. Not just an excuse for being overweight, some scientists found that the level of bacteria in your digestive system may be related to obesity, though they can't speculate which direction the relationship would go.

Complex polysaccharides in your diet are broken up by enyzmes provided by bacteria in your gut. By breaking the sugars up, your body has access to their energy (and thus, more calories from the food you eat). The idea is that the two different types of bacteria in your system allow for different rates of metabolism. The research suggests that higher levels of bacteriodetes and lower levels of firmicutes.

Incidentally, there were two studies associated with this: One on humans, the other on mice. If you're curious, I have the mouse paper.