Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nanoparticles bearing genes

Bioscience Technology reports.
Using silicon-based nanoparticles, researchers delivered genes into the brains of living mice. The technique, they say, may offer a more precise and safer alternative to the use of viral vectors for therapeutic gene delivery.

$1.5 Billion Giveaway to Halliburton and Sugar Land, Texas Secretly Slipped into Energy Bill

In a letter to Speaker Hastert, Rep. Waxman writes that after the energy legislation was closed to further amendment in the recently concluded conference, a $1.5 billion provision benefiting oil and gas companies, Halliburton, and Sugar Land, Texas, was mysteriously inserted in the text.

12 pennies

Here are two ways to do the 12 pennies problem. The first is mathematically more elegant; the second is procedurally more elegant.

1. This is the elegant (but tedious) mathematics approach. Consider the numbers 0, 1, …, 12 expressed in ternary notation.

 0. 0 0 0
 1. 0 0 1
 2. 0 0 2
 3. 0 1 0
 4. 0 1 1
 5. 0 1 2
 6. 0 2 0
 7. 0 2 1
 8. 0 2 2
 9. 1 0 0
10. 1 0 1
11. 1 0 2
12. 1 1 0

Now, replace the digits with L, N, R (for left pan, no pans, and right pan).

 0. L L L
 1. L L N
 2. L L R
 3. L N L
 4. L N N
 5. L N R
 6. L R L
 7. L R N
 8. L R R
 9. N L L
10. N L N
11. N L R
12. N N L

The basic idea is to use each of the three weighings to determine one of the three digits of the bad coin. To follow that strategy blindly we would do the following weighings.

1. 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 - <empty>
2. 0, 1, 2, 9, 10, 11        - 6, 7, 8
3. 0, 3, 6, 9, 12            - 2, 5, 8, 11

If we could do these weighings, this would tell us the answer. If the results were, for example, L, R, R, (meaning that those sides went down on the three weighings) that would mean coin 8 is heavy. Of course we can’t do the weighings as indicated. The pans don’t have the same number of coins on each side. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Note that with 3 ternary digits, one can count from 0 .. 26. Since we are counting from 0 .. 12, there are 14 numbers that we aren’t using (13 .. 26). That also means that the complement of each number below 13 refers to a non-assigned number greater than 13. (Note L and R are complements. N is its own complement.) So let’s assign each of the unassigned numbers to the coin whose number is its complement. So R, L, L and L, R, R now both correspond to coin 8, for example, and the coin 7 corresponds to both L R N and R L N. So each coin now corresponds to two numbers, where each number is the complement of the other.

Now to fix up the weighings. We have to convert coins into their complements so that each weighing has 4 coins on each side. For the first weighing, since we have 9 coins, we have to throw one out. Since we started with 13 numbers (0 .. 12) let’s throw out coin 8, leaving 12 coins. Then lets complement coins 0, 1, 2, 7, and 12. When we complement coins we move them from one side of each weighing to the other. The result is as follows.

1. 3, 4, 5, 6     - 0’, 1’, 2’, 7’
2. 7’, 9, 10, 11  - 0’, 1’, 2’, 6,
3. 2’, 3, 6, 9    - 0’, 5, 11, 12’

With these weighings we can now determine the bad coin. Suppose coin 0 is heavy. Then the results will be R, R, R. Suppose coin 0 was light. The results will be L, L, L. In either case, L, L, L, and R, R, R correspond to coin 0. The same holds for any of the other coins.

2. This is the elegant procedural approach. In this approach we start with unlabelled coins and label them as we go along.

In the first weighing, weigh 4 coins against another 4 coins. There are two possibilities. The two pairs of 4 coins balance, in which case we mark each coin G for Good. Or the two pairs of coins don’t balance, in which case we mark the coins on the heavy side H for heavy and coins on the light side L for light.

Let’s continue with case 1: the original weighing balanced. Now weigh three of the unknown coins against 3 of the good coins. Again, there are two cases. The coins may balance, in which case the 4th unknown coin is now known to be bad. The coins may not balance, in which case one of the three previously unknown coins is bad. Mark those three coins H or L depending on whether they were heavy or light compared to the good coins. Now weigh one of those potentially bad coins against a second of them. If they do not balance, the coin that was consistent with its previous weighing is the bad coin. If they do balance, the unweighed bad coin is the bad coin.

Now to continue with case 2. Weigh 2 of the H coins and one of the L coins against the other 2 H coins and another L coin. If they balance, we know that one of the other 2 L coins is bad. Weigh them against each other. The one that is consistent is bad.

If the second weighing doesn’t balance, the bad coin is either one of the two consistent H coins or the consistent L coin. Weight the two consistent H coins against each other. If they balance the consistent L coin is bad. If they don’t balance, the consistent H coin is bad.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Impact of estate tax repeal on the Bush cabinet

Representative Henry Waxman's Government Reform Minority Office has issued an analysisof the effect of making permanent the repeal of the estate tax.
The estate tax, the most progressive American tax, is paid only by the very wealthy. The top 5% of taxpayers pay almost 99% of estate taxes, and the top tenth of 1% of taxpayers pay more than 33%.3 The vast majority of Americans are already exempt from the estate tax. As a result, they will receive no benefit at all from making the repeal permanent.

Those with much to gain from the repeal include the President and his Cabinet. Based on estimates of the net worth of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and each of the Cabinet members, the President, Vice President, and the Cabinet are estimated to receive a total tax benefit of between $91 million and $344 million if the estate tax repeal is made permanent. The President himself is estimated to save between $787,000 and $6.2 million, while Vice President Cheney is estimated to save between $12.6 million and $60.7 million.
Can't say I'm surprised. No one ever accused Republican of not looking out for their own welfare as their first priority. Who cares about the deficit as long as they can save millions for themselves.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

12 pennies

This is an old one. You have 12 pennies. One is fake, either lighter or heavier than the others. You also have a balance scale. How can you determine which is the bad one in 3 weighings?

When is 100 < 99?

Answer in a comment if you know.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Meat-Eating Caterpillar:

It hunts snails, ties them down, and then eats them.
A newly named species of Hawaiian caterpillar sneaks up on a resting snail and quickly spins silk strands around it, lashing it to the spot. The caterpillar then reaches into the snail shell's opening and has lunch.

Message-Oriented-Middleware as a web service

Although I haven't heard this said anywhere, the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that there is a lot in common between message based systems, also known as Message-Oriented-Middleware (MOM), (such as the Java Message System) and web services. Web services are really nothing more than a bunch of text messages sent back and forth among web sites. A message based system is designed to do exactly that — and more.

So my question is: why hasn't anyone developed a MOM service as a second tier on top of the web? I can understand why people might not want to commit themselves to it. (They would be captive; it may not be reliable; etc.) I can also understand why it might be hard to make money from it. (There is no advertising. The messages are read by programs, not people. So you would have to charge for the service.) But even so, it seems like such a potentially useful thing that one might imaging an open source system being developed. Why not? Also, such a system would solve most if not all of the WS-* or WS-SCRAM issues.

Greenspan Rejects Estate Tax Repeal Without Offsets. Finally!

From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
In testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on July 21, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan reiterated his opposition to tax-cut proposals that increase the deficit and made clear that this opposition applies to proposals that repeal or drastically reduce the estate tax without fully offsetting the costs.

With the reappearance of high deficits, Greenspan has called for reinstating the "pay-as-you-go" rule (often-called PAYGO) that require the cost of all entitlement expansions and tax cuts to be offset, so that they do not increase the deficit. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Greenspan about the affordability of estate tax repeal if the cost were not offset. Greenspan stated that, despite favoring "reducing taxes on capital," he only supports such tax cuts "under PAYGO" and would advise Congress not to repeal the estate tax if the cost of repeal were not offset.

Schumer also asked Greenspan about estate tax reform proposals that cost nearly as much as repeal. For instance, Senator Jon Kyl has proposed allowing the first $8 million of an estate to be tax free ($16 million for a couple) and setting the estate tax rate equal to the capital gains rate, which is currently 15 percent. This proposal would cost 93 percent as much as repeal, according to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.[1] Greenspan responded that he also would oppose such costly estate tax reform proposals if they were not offset.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"No nudity. No violence. Unspeakable obscenity."

A Joke Too Blue to Repeat, and the Movie That Dares to Tell It, Repeatedly is about The Aristocrats a Penn Jillette movie in which famous comedians tell
their versions of a joke that involves every imaginable form of sexual perversion in graphic detail, including but not limited to incest, scatology, bestiality and sadism. Rabelais would blush.

So what's the joke? Basically, it's this: a guy walks into a talent agent's office and says he has a terrific family act. The act, the guy explains, involves a husband who comes out onstage with his wife and two kids.

What follows is the part that can't be told in this publication, or most others, but it's the point at which each comedian in the film cuts loose in a can-you-top-this exercise in pornographic oratory. Cut to the kicker where the talent agent asks, What's the name of the act? The answer comes: the Aristocrats.
You'll be hearing more about it. Opening at a theater near you (if you live in a big city).

The paradox of North Korea

Nicholas Kristof, who seems to go everywhere, says,
The central paradox of North Korea is this: No government in the world today is more brutal or has failed its people more abjectly, yet it appears to be in solid control and may even have substantial popular support.

It's about Bush

Frank Rich says it's not about Rove.
[P]ut aside Mr. Wilson's February 2002 trip to Africa. The plot that matters starts a month later, in March, and its omniscient author is Dick Cheney. It was Mr. Cheney (on CNN) who planted the idea that Saddam was 'actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.' The vice president went on to repeat this charge in May on 'Meet the Press,' in three speeches in August and on 'Meet the Press' yet again in September. Along the way the frightening word 'uranium' was thrown into the mix.

By September the president was bandying about the u-word too at the United Nations and elsewhere, speaking of how Saddam needed only a softball-size helping of uranium to wreak Armageddon on America. But hardly had Mr. Bush done so than, offstage, out of view of us civilian spectators, the whole premise of this propaganda campaign was being challenged by forces with more official weight than Joseph Wilson. In October, the National Intelligence Estimate, distributed to Congress as it deliberated authorizing war, included the State Department's caveat that 'claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa,' made public in a British dossier, were 'highly dubious.' A C.I.A. assessment, sent to the White House that month, determined that 'the evidence is weak' and 'the Africa story is overblown.'

AS if this weren't enough, a State Department intelligence analyst questioned the legitimacy of some mysterious documents that had surfaced in Italy that fall and were supposed proof of the Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. In fact, they were blatant forgeries. When Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said as much publicly in the days just before 'shock and awe,' his announcement made none of the three evening newscasts. The administration's apocalyptic uranium rhetoric, sprinkled with mushroom clouds, had been hammered incessantly for more than five months by then - not merely in the State of the Union address - and could not be dislodged. As scenarios go, this one was about as subtle as "Independence Day" and just as unstoppable a crowd-pleaser.

Once we were locked into the war, and no W.M.D.'s could be found, the original plot line was dropped with an alacrity that recalled the "Never mind!" with which Gilda Radner's Emily Litella used to end her misinformed Weekend Update commentaries on "Saturday Night Live." The administration began its dog-ate-my-homework cover-up, asserting that the various warning signs about the uranium claims were lost "in the bowels" of the bureaucracy or that it was all the C.I.A.'s fault or that it didn't matter anyway, because there were new, retroactive rationales to justify the war. But the administration knows how guilty it is. That's why it has so quickly trashed any insider who contradicts its story line about how we got to Iraq, starting with the former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.

Next to White House courtiers of their rank, Mr. Wilson is at most a Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. The brief against the administration's drumbeat for war would be just as damning if he'd never gone to Africa. But by overreacting in panic to his single Op-Ed piece of two years ago, the White House has opened a Pandora's box it can't slam shut. Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there's only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it's essential to protect the king.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Stock market technical analysis

My favorite technical analyst says
The S&P 500 closed at a new 3-year high on Friday, signaling that the primary up-trend has resumed. This could still be a marginal break, however, with the tall shadow and strong volume at [4] signaling resistance. A rise above the high of [4] would dispel this. …

The most likely scenario is that the Dow continues to range between 10000 and 11000 for some time.
Note how the Google ads generated by this entry crowded out all the others. I guess the investment people bid a lot to get their ads placed.

More peaceful spokespersons

When I recently asked Who speaks for peaceful Islam?, I mentioned Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It isn't as if all the spokespersons for peace and human dignity are dead. More recently we have Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma), and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. Where are their Islamic counterparts? Whom else should we add to this honor roll?

Showers cause brain damage

[S]howering in manganese-contaminated water for a decade or more could have permanent effects on the nervous system. The damage may occur even at levels of manganese considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

"If our results are confirmed, they could have profound implications for the nation and the world," said John Spangler, M.D., an associate professor of family medicine. "Nearly 9 million people in the United States are exposed to manganese levels that our study shows may cause toxic effects."

The study is the first to show the potential for permanent brain damage from breathing vaporized manganese during a shower. It was conducted by reviewing the medical literature and calculating, based on animal studies, the amount of manganese people would absorb by showering 10 minutes a day.

Because manganese is monitored in public water supplies, high levels of this naturally occurring metal are especially found in wells and private water supplies.

Spangler and Robert Elsner, Ph.D., published their findings in the current issue of Medical Hypotheses, a forum for ideas in medicine and related biomedical sciences.
As far as I could tell, this story was not reported in any of the mainline US media. Try Google Search: manganese showers Spangler for the latest results.

Friday, July 15, 2005

"Cardinal says Catholics can believe that God guided evolution"

Bob Parks of What's New highlights the following AP story (Cardinal says Catholics can believe that God guided evolution) about another Catholic Cardinal and evolution.
Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick … told reporters at the National Press Club that … Catholics can believe in evolution — as long as it's understood to have been guided by God rather than chance. …

Cardinal McCarrick said the church cannot accept the belief that 'this is all an accident.' But he added that 'as long as in every understanding of evolution, the hand of God is recognized as being present, we can accept that.'
Interestingly, this story was not reported very widely. The media doesn't seem to be interested. And perhaps the fact that one Cardinal expresses an opinion, doesn't mean that much.

If you take Cardinal McCarrick seriously though, the question I have for him is about the role of chance in history. Is he saying that history is determined (by God)? Or is there a role for chance in history? Quantum theory gives chance a significant role in the universe. I doubt that Cardinal McCarrick is saying that quantum theory is heresy. Having just recently recovered from their Galileo mistake, they probably don't want to do it again. My guess is that the Cardinal just hasn't thought things through very carefully. Otherwise, it's not clear what he is saying.

The other way to interpret Cardinal McCarrick's position is that "the hand of God is recognized as being present" not only in evolution but in everything, including phenomena governed by quantum theory. That seems to be consistent with the Catholic notion of God, which by definition seems to entail that the hand of God will be present everywhere. Perhaps that's tautological enough to be both meaningful enough to the religious and meaningless enough to the non-religious to make everyone happy.

I wonder if the problem isn't with the word accident. The relevant Merriam-Webster Online definition of the word is
a : an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance;

b : lack of intention or necessity

But there also seems to be something deprecatory about accident. Perhaps that's what's bothering the Cardinal.

Even this definition is not clear. Chance does not mean unforeseen or unplanned. Chance is not the same as lack of intention or necessity. When science and mathematics talk about chance, that's not the same thing as saying there is a lack of planning or that something is unforeseen. The term chance doesn't have anything to do with human (or other) planning or the ability or lack of ability to foresee something. Those are two different realms. I wonder whether the Cardinal would consider the result of a coin flip an accident? I wouldn't. It is a chance event, but the term accident imports a human framework into the understanding of the event that does not belong there. No one says that evolution is an accident in this sense. It is just that there are elements of randomness and probability involved. That seems to me to be different.

If one takes the notion of accident as applying to the Catholic notion of God, then presumably nothing is an accident. I assume that according to the Catholic Church nothing is unplanned (by God) or unforeseen (by God). So we are back to our tautological situation in which both sides can be happy.

Otherwise I don't understand how The Cardinal can avoid calling quantum theory heresy. And as we said above, I'm sure the Catholic church doesn't want to go down that road again.

Who speaks for peaceful Islam?

Thomas Friedman has a story on terrorist bombers.
Islam has a long tradition of tolerating other religions, but only on the basis of the supremacy of Islam, not equality with Islam. Islam's self-identity is that it is the authentic and ideal expression of monotheism. Muslims are raised with the view that Islam is God 3.0, Christianity is God 2.0, Judaism is God 1.0, and Hinduism is God 0.0.

Part of what seems to be going on with these young Muslim males is that they are, on the one hand, tempted by Western society, and ashamed of being tempted. On the other hand, they are humiliated by Western society because while Sunni Islamic civilization is supposed to be superior, its decision to ban the reform and reinterpretation of Islam since the 12th century has choked the spirit of innovation out of Muslim lands, and left the Islamic world less powerful, less economically developed, less technically advanced than God 2.0, 1.0 and 0.0.

"Some of these young Muslim men are tempted by a civilization they consider morally inferior, and they are humiliated by the fact that, while having been taught their faith is supreme, other civilizations seem to be doing much better," said Raymond Stock, the Cairo-based biographer and translator of Naguib Mahfouz. "When the inner conflict becomes too great, some are turned by recruiters to seek the sick prestige of 'martyrdom' by fighting the allegedly unjust occupation of Muslim lands and the 'decadence' in our own." …

One of the London bombers was married, with a young child and another on the way. I can understand, but never accept, suicide bombing in Iraq or Israel as part of a nationalist struggle. But when a British Muslim citizen, nurtured by that society, just indiscriminately blows up his neighbors and leaves behind a baby and pregnant wife, to me he has to be in the grip of a dangerous cult or preacher - dangerous to his faith community and to the world. …

The people and ideas that brought about [the] sudden conversion of Hasib Hussain and his pals [to be terrorists] - if not stopped by other Muslims - will end up converting every Muslim into a suspect and one of the world's great religions into a cult of death.
Where are the Gandhi and Martin Luther King of Islam? These leaders spoke for cultures that could not compete technologically with their oppressors. Yet they spoke for human dignity, to which all people have a right. Where are the leaders who will speak for the traditional of human dignity from the Islamic perspective?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

256MB Flash Drive for $31,95 — with key ring link

I just ordered a 256mb Apacer Handy Steno USB 2.0 Flash Drive from for $31.95 (+$2.00 insurance + $4.95 SH). That seemed like the best deal I could find.

I particularly wanted one with a link that I could put on a key ring. (I keep losing them.) I'm surprised that so few of them have such a feature.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Useless Piles of Cash

Daniel gross in Slates says that corporations have a huge stash of cash.
In the past several years, instead of spending cash on hiring, new machinery, R&D, or dividends, CEOs have just been sitting on it. Huge, useless mountains of dollars, yen, euros, and pounds sterling. …

If executives sit on too much cash for too long, management or outsiders will seek to take the company private in a leveraged buyout and use the existing cash to pay down the debt. And as Gregory Zuckerman noted, aggressive investors like Carl Icahn, who are targeting "cash-rich companies such as Siebel Systems and Mylan Laboratories, Inc.," stand up and demand that if management can't think of anything to do with the cash, they should give it back, either through dividends or stock buybacks. Indeed, Zuckerman notes that "buybacks surged 91 percent during the first quarter of 2005 and rose 64 percent during the past year."

In the end, CEOs will likely be motivated to unwind the savings glut not by outside pressure but by the factor that motivates them above all else: self-interest. The crew from JP Morgan notes that the corporate-savings glut is probably partially responsible for the equity markets' poor performance of late. All the cash sitting on the sidelines is a signal to investors that insiders don't think this is a great climate to be investing. Once corporate cash is put to work—prudently—to buy back stock, purchase other companies, or to invest for growth, that should help push stocks higher. And while a rising tide lifts all boats, it lifts the yachts of the bosses highest.
This would seem to be good news for the stock market and the economy in general. Just like other "technical indicators," this one says that corporate pessimism has produced a huge reserve of money available for investment, which could provide a significant stimulus to the economy and the stock market.

Catholic belief

A Slate Explainer discusses the Catholic Church's position on evolution. In the course of doing so it refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I had, of course, heard the term catechism, but I had never thought much about what it contains. According to the author of the article, it is "the church's official compendium of teachings and beliefs."

I'm impressed. It takes guts (also a bit of arrogance and possibly some foolishness) to write down the details of what one believes. It seems impossible to do a complete job. Yet the Catholic Church has apparently put its beliefs on the line—online

Yet another power curve

From news @
Fifty years ago, the British mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson found that graphs of the number of fatalities in a war plotted against the number of wars of that size follow a relationship called a power law, where all the data points fall on a straight line if plotted logarithmically.

This power law encodes the way in which large battles with large numbers of deaths happen very infrequently, and smaller battles happen more often.

Recently, the same kind of power laws were found to hold for terrorist attacks over the past four decades or so. But the precise form of the power law depends on the type of country to which it relates. Terrorist attacks in Western industrialized nations are rare but tend to be large when they happen. Terrorist attacks in the less-industrialized world tend to be smaller, more frequent events.

[Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Oxford] says that the bomb attacks on London's public transport system on 7 July, in which more than 50 people were killed, fit this statistical picture. 'They absolutely fall into line,' he says.
I don't understand how a death toll of 50 falls into line in this picture. London is an industrialized city. Terror attacks there should should be infrequent (which they are) and large (which this one wasn't, at least in terms of number of people killed).

Here is the abstract from "From old wars to new wars and global terrorism"
The frequency-intensity distribution of fatalities in 'old wars', 1816-1980, is a power-law with exponent 1.80. Global terrorist attacks, 1968-present, also follow a power-law with exponent 1.71 for G7 countries and 2.5 for non-G7 countries. Here we analyze two ongoing, high-profile wars on opposite sides of the globe - Colombia and Iraq. Our analysis uses our own unique dataset for killings and injuries in Colombia, plus publicly available data for civilians killed in Iraq. We show strong evidence for power-law behavior within each war. Despite substantial differences in contexts and data coverage, the power-law coefficients for both wars are tending toward 2.5, which is a value characteristic of non-G7 terrorism as opposed to old wars. We propose a plausible yet analytically-solvable model of modern insurgent warfare, which can explain these observations.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

JavaOne 2005

TheServerSide at JavaOne 2005
Jonathan Schwartz [president of Sun Microsystems, creator of the Java programming language] ended the morning keynote by declaring, 'The information age is history. We are now entering the Participation Age.'"

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The impulse for meaning

In an earlier post on evolution I wrote that there is no meaning in the universe. I also said that we as human beings want to find meaning. We talked about this at dinner the other day. My fundamental belief is that our primary responsibility as human beings is to be aware of ourselves. Awareness, in my view, is the highest value. From awareness, all else flows.

Awareness doesn't mean deprecation. The fact that the impulse for meaning is in us and not in the universe doesn't say anything one way or the other about the value of searching for meaning. It simply says that we should be aware that we are looking for meaning to satisfy something within us rather than because the universe must have meaning. It is similar to hunger. Being aware of hunger doesn't mean that hunger is unimportant. When one is hungry it makes sense to eat. But even that is a decision. Hunger is a subjective experience. It is then up to us to decide what to do about it.

The Terasem Movement, Inc.

is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charity endowed for the purpose of educating the public on the practicality and necessity of greatly extending human life, consistent with diversity and unity, via geoethical nanotechnology and personal cyberconsciousness.

The Terasem Movement accomplishes its objectives by convening publicly accessible symposia, publishing explanatory analyses, conducting demonstration projects, issuing grants, and encouraging public belief in a positive technologically-based future.

The Terasem Movement's main office is at 201 Oak Street, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951. The Terasem Movement also maintains a retreat in Lincoln VT (10,000 square feet on 25 acres completely surrounded by 500 acres of the Green Mountain National Forest) and a Washington DC-area office. Its phone and fax numbers are 321-676-3690 and 321-676-3691, respectively.

The Terasem Movement was formed in 2002. A sister organization, the Terasem Movement Foundation, was formed in 2004.

The founders of Terasem are concerned that the potential of nanotechnology and cyberconsciousness for relieving human suffering and extending human life will be truncated due to unwarranted fears and concerns. The founders are also concerned, however, that nanotechnology and cyberconsciousness could be made available only to an elite, or in a manner that creates class divisions within society. The founders believe that nanotechnology and cyberconsciousness needs to be developed consistently with full respect for diversity and unity so that the potential for greatly extending human life and relieving human suffering can be realized.

Terasem is funded with an endowment from its founders. Terasem does not seek or solicit outside financial contributions. It is managed by the founders based on advice from experts in the fields of nanotechnology and cyberconsciousness.
The web page doesn't say who the founders are. It does say that Terasem is sponsoring its "1st Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology" in Lincoln, Vermont, July 20th, 2005. It also says that
Martine Rothblatt endowed the sponsor to encourage earth to move forward with curative GRAIN (Genomics, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Nanotechnology) technologies. Based on her experience in implementing new world-changing technologies, she believes that publicly accessible information and reasonable regulatory controls are essential to overcome resistance to technological change. She was previously responsible for co-founding the first non-governmental international satellite communications system (PanAmSat), launching the global vehicle tracking industry (Geostar), creating the satellite sound broadcasting alternative to shortwave (WorldSpace) and founding/running a major satellite-to-car digital radio company (Sirius Satellite Radio).

She also represented the Radio Astronomy quiet band interests of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Radio Frequencies and led the International Bar Association's effort to provide the United Nations with a draft Human Genome Treaty. In 1996 she formed United Therapeutics, a NASDAQ-traded biotech company with FDA-approved therapies for pulmonary disease, advanced clinical trials in oncology, and one of the world's largest telemedicine networks.

Vegetarian beef?

Reuters reports that
Laboratories using new tissue engineering technology might be able to produce meat that is healthier for consumers and cut down on pollution produced by factory farming, researchers said on Wednesday. …

Writing in the journal Tissue Engineering, [Jason Matheny, a University of Maryland doctoral student,] said scientists could grow cells from the muscle tissue of cattle, pigs, poultry or fish in large flat sheets on thin membranes. These sheets of cells would be grown and stretched, then removed from the membranes and stacked to increase thickness and resemble meat.

Using another method, scientists could grow muscle cells on small three-dimensional beads that stretch with small changes in temperature. The resulting tissue could be used to make processed meat such as chicken nuggets or hamburgers.

"There would be a lot of benefits from cultured meat," Matheny said in a statement. "For one thing, you could control the nutrients."

Meat is high in omega-6 fatty acid, which is desirable, but not in large amounts. Healthful omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in walnuts and fish oils, could be substituted.

"Cultured meat could also reduce the pollution that results from raising livestock, and you wouldn't need the drugs that are used on animals raised for meat," Matheny said.

Raising livestock requires million of gallons of water and hundreds of acres of land. Meat grown from tissue would bypass those requirements.

The demand for meat is increasing worldwide, Matheny said. "China's meat demand is doubling every ten years," he said. "Poultry consumption in India has doubled in the last five years."

Writing in this month's Physics World, British physicist Alan Calvert calculated that the animals eaten by people produce 21 percent of the carbon dioxide that can be attributed to human activity. He recommends people switch to a vegetarian diet as a way to battle global warming. [But this would be an alternative.]
How would you feel about eating cloned meat tissue? It seems to get around the problem of killing sensate beings? Somehow it still seems unsavory(!), though.

Other versions of the story are in this Google Search.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Finding meaning in evolution?

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna wants to find design in evolution. (A NY Times story on the essay appears here.)
Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided process of random variation and natural selection - is not. …

The [International Theological Commission's 2004] document … reaffirms the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church about design in nature: "An unguided evolutionary process - one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence - simply cannot exist."
Apparently it's the meaninglessness that bothers Schönborn and other Catholic theologians (and a lot of ordinary people as well).

Schönborn does on to quote Benedict XVI, the new pope, as saying,
"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution."
And how is meaning to be included in evolution? The quotation continues as follows.
"Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."
In another context, I've referred to the work of Irvin Yalom, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine on Existential Psychotherapy, who makes the point that we have four great fears in life: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness.
  • We will each die.
  • We must each make our own decisions.
  • We are each ultimately an isolated individual.
  • There is no meaning in the universe.
Difficult as it may be to accept, Yalom is right. Evolution is meaningless.

Are unions making a comeback in public opinion?

A recent survey by the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University found that
although 36% of voters — including 53% of Republicans — say they'd like to see unions have less influence in California, 56% of voters say they'd prefer for unions have as much or more influence as they have today. …

SPRI asked voters whom they would be more likely to support in a battle over school spending: Schwarzenegger or teacher and school administrators. California voters say they would side with teachers and school administrators by a margin of two to one — 60% to 31%.

That is explained in part by the finding that when they consider teachers' impact on California, 62% of the voters think of teachers as classroom instructors and only 20% of them think of them as union members.

"Attempts to frame the political debate in California as a battle between Gov.
Schwarzenegger and his reforms on the one hand versus greedy unions and special interests on the other hand have yet to gain much traction," said SPRI Director Phil Trounstine.

SPRI tested 22 different "special interests," but found that the term had no consistent meaning to voters who did not distinguish, for example, among nurses, HMOs, teachers, financial institutions, trial lawyers, oil companies or fire fighters. Even referring to "greedy special interests that have too much power in Sacramento" in one round of interviewing did not help voters distinguish among various interests.
So perhaps this means that the public just isn't paying attention to anything. This needs more work. It would be nice if unions did a better job of PR for themselves.

African poverty

The Plexus Institute has a series of "Thurday posts," which it later publishes on its website. Here is an extract from this week's.
[Jeffrey] Sachs begins an essay in Time Magazine with a description of the small village of Nthandire in Malkawi, where there are no able bodied adults to work in the fields or build bins to collect rainwater. Instead, the aged are caring for a generation of malnourished young children orphaned by AIDS. Crop yields are minimal because of drought and soil depletion, and a grandmother who carried a child six miles to a clinic was sent home because there was no medicine to treat the youngster’s malaria. Death is an overwhelming presence. Carol Bellamy, the head of UNICEF, has described Malawi as “a perfect storm of human deprivation” where extreme poverty, climatic disaster, drought, AIDS, malaria and other diseases create a maelstrom of suffering.
It's hard to read this without having some emotional reaction: we should so something or it's all their own fault. The first thing to do is simply to read it and acknowledge the facts. Then, once we are emotionally ready to think about it, we can decide what to do.

Unintended consequences department: evolving smaller fish

From Yahoo! Groups : CAS-Group Messages : Message 702 of 702 This is from an article in
If you thought evolution was slow and gradual, think again. Humans may even be helping it along, as our activities force species to adapt or die.

Every weekend angler knows to throw back very small and tiny fishes (the 'tiddlers'). Likewise, commercial fishermen use large-meshed nets to spare smaller fish. Both are working on the principle that by reducing their haul this way, they can keep fish populations vigorous and healthy. But they could be making a terrible mistake. It is becoming increasingly clear that such well-meaning strategies may actually have the opposite effect to what the fishermen intend.

What they and most of the rest of us have overlooked is evolution — not the familiar glacier-slow process found in textbooks, which takes millennia to work its wonders, but a quick evolutionary change that can occur in a matter of years or decades.

The strategy 'leave the smaller fish' is a selection, and it can influence and alter the natural selection of evolution. By leaving the smaller fish, fishermen may be shifting the rules of natural selection, reshaping fish species as they go. If humans only catch the big fish, then the fish population as a whole evolves to smaller and smaller fishes. The result is that the average size of fish shrinks dramatically. The fish species which are small enough survive. The others perish.
This is not different from the way "real" evolution works. It is a very good illustration of natural evolution. What happens is that when an environment wipes out a part of a population, what remains becomes the new population.

That's the way bacteria "develop" a restance to drugs. By killing off the bacteria that are vulnerable and leaving only the small percentage that somehow manage to resist the drug, we breed a new population that consists primarily of resistant bacteria — because that's all there is left.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Is it Rove?

Lawrence O'Donnell thinks it is.The One Very Good Reason Karl Rove Might Be Indicted"
In February, Circuit Judge David Tatel joined his colleagues’ order to Cooper and Miller despite his own, very lonely finding that indeed there is a federal privilege for reporters that can shield them from being compelled to testify to grand juries and give up sources. … Tatel actually found that reason and experience “support recognition of a privilege for reporters’ confidential sources.” But Tatel still ordered Cooper and Miller to testify because he found that the privilege had to give way to “the gravity of the suspected crime.”

Judge Tatel’s opinion has eight blank pages in the middle of it where he discusses the secret information the prosecutor has supplied only to the judges to convince them that the testimony he is demanding is worth sending reporters to jail to get. The gravity of the suspected crime is presumably very well developed in those redacted pages. Later, Tatel refers to “[h]aving carefully scrutinized [the prosecutor’s] voluminous classified filings.” …

Tatel’s colleagues are at least as impressed with the prosecutor’s secret filings as he is. One simply said “Special Counsel’s showing decides the case.”

All the judges who have seen the prosecutor’s secret evidence firmly believe he is pursuing a very serious crime, and they have done everything they can to help him get an indictment.

Stop the NRA

The Brady Campaign says
The gun industry and the gun lobby are pushing legislation that would strip gun violence victims of their legal rights. As part of their efforts, they have repeatedly misrepresented the sweeping effect of [legislation soon to voted on in Congress].
They answer the arguments of the gun industry here.

Reform the Patriot Act

Risk privatization

It's clear that the game these days is shifting risk. Bush wants to shift risk from corporations and government to individuals. That's what private social security accounts are all about. That's also what the newly toughened bankruptcy laws are about. The question is whether this is a good idea.

Here's a Paul Krugman column on the subject: The Debt-Peonage Society.

Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale specializes in this area.

A good case can be made that one of the fundamental strengths of the American economy is that it makes it safe to take risks and that in doing so it encourages entrepreneurial behavior.

But who should bear these risks? If we weigh down our businesses by forcing them to carry risks for their employees, for example, in the form of employer paid health insurance, we risk making them uncompetitive.

The answer would seem to be to pool risks socially but not to burden our businesses with them. For all practical purposes that means that the government should be the risk bearer of last resort. And after all, that's one reason to have a government, to share burdens that we can't each bear individually such as defense, etc. Everyday personal risks, e.g., unemployment, health costs, natural disasters, sustenance during old age, etc., are among those burdens that must be shared globally.

And while we're talking about it, I think it's important to distinguish between private accounts for social security and investing the social security trust fund in equities. We can invest the trust fund in equities without private accounts. All that would be required is to do it. Instead of buying Federal bonds, the trust fund (or at least part of it) could be invested in an index fund. (It's not quite that easy. Since the trust fund is now used to fund ongoing government expenses. The way it is accounted for must be changed. But that could be done if politicians had any intellectual integrity.)

What's more important is that by investing the trust fund as a whole (or part of it) in equities, it would be the goverment that would be taking the risk if the market failed. Not individuals. If investing in equities is such a great idea, let's do it that way.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Criminal ethics

Day to Day has a short series on "A Shadow in the City", a book by Charles Bowden about an undercover narcotics cop. In today's segment the now-reassigned cop tells of finding out that he was not anonymous. He said that he was once told by someone he had arrested (who was now out of jail) that "everybody knows where you live," and that it was just the unwritten rules of the drug culture that was keeping him alive.

This brought to mind a similar code among the Mafia. I wonder if anyone has done an academic study of the ethics and values embodied by these criminal codes.

There have also been a number of popular attempts to catalog universal values. See, for example, the Values in Action Institute Classification and The Josephson Institute's Six Pillars of Character. (One thing that surprises me about these efforts is that awareness doesn't seem to be one of the universal cultural values. But that's a separate issue.) My questions here are (1) is there a universal criminal code of values? and (2) if so, to what extent does it match these other universal value codes?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Tell FirstGroup to Cease US Union-Busting

My experience with SEIU is that it is a good union, working hard for people who need a union. Here's a way to help. Take Action: Tell FirstGroup to Cease US Union-Busting
When it comes to unions, U.K.-based bus and rail giant FirstGroup speaks out of both sides of its mouth. In the United Kingdom, FirstGroup depicts itself as a company that respects workers and values their unions. In its 2003-2004 'Corporate Responsibility' report, the company writes: "We have developed strong partnerships with our trade unions at both local and national levels, leading to joint working across a range of issues, including education, staff welfare, and employee benefits."

However, when employees at FirstGroup's U.S. subsidiary, First Student, have attempted to form a union to raise employment and service standards in the United States, company managers have responded with campaigns that attack unions, distributed anti-union literature, required workers to watch anti-union propaganda videos, and urged employees not to sign union cards. The company's U.S. employee handbook has a 'Union-Free' section which states: 'First Student will vigorously oppose any attempt by a union to organize our employees, by every legal means available.'

Please join us in calling upon FirstGroup CEO Moir Lockhead, FirstGroup Director of International Development and Marketing David Leeder, and First Student CFO Raj Sankar to respect U.S. workers' right to form a union and immediately direct the company's U.S. managers to cease their anti-union activities.
SEIU is one of the unions that is urging the AFL-CIO to take a more active role in defending workers' rights. I hope they succeed. Someone should start defending labor against the Bush reactionaries.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Food Freedom?

The Center for Consumer Freedom wants you to know.
Far too few Americans remember that the Founding Fathers, authors of modern liberty, greatly enjoyed their food and drink -- from drafting the Declaration of Independence over pints to serving French fries in the White House. Now it seems that food liberty -- just one of the many important areas of personal choice fought for by the original American patriots -- is constantly under attack. Don't let the tyrants rule your food choices -- this Fourth of July, remember your food freedoms, and sign our Declaration of Food Independence.
Paul Krugman wants you to know that
The Center for Consumer Freedom [is] financed by Coca-Cola, Wendy's and Tyson Foods. …

According to a study recently published in the journal Health Affairs, the extra costs associated with caring for the obese rose from 2 percent of total private insurance spending in 1987 to 11.6 percent in 2002.
So even though we are getting better at reducing the risk of mortality associated with weight gain, it's costing us lots of money.

You should also know that the Center for Consumer Freedom makes fun of Peta and other animal rights groups, which they call lunatic fringe. In an article on an attempt to give pregnant sows in Florida enough room to turn around, they quoted a Florida state Senator as follows.
Senator King put it all in perspective last week in The Tallahassee Democrat: "I went to the proponents and asked why, and they said, 'Well, we want the sows to be able to turn around,' and my first thought was, 'To see what?' Is it any different for a pig, looking behind or looking forward?"
I guess that settles that. Krugman should stop picking on the intellectually defenseless.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Since I don't listen to much music on the web and since I don't own an iPod, I had no idea how podcasting worked. The NyTimes has an article that explains.
'Podcast' is an ill-chosen portmanteau that manages to be a double misnomer. A podcast does not originate from an iPod. And it is not a broadcast sent out at a particular time for all who happen to receive it.

It is nothing other than an audio or video file that can be created by anyone — add a microphone to your computer, and you're well on your way. The file begins its public life when you place it on a Web site, available for anyone to download to a computer and, from there, to transfer to a portable player, which may or may not be an iPod. It's encoded in such a way that the receiving computer can pick it up in successive installments automatically, whenever they are posted to the Web site. Subscribing is the term used for the automatic downloads, and it's apt.

The delivery mechanism for a podcast subscription is rather slick. There's no need to go to the trouble of browsing the Web site again for fresh material: the new stuff moves without so much as a beep from the original server to your computer. Then it moves automatically to your attached portable player, keeping the content perpetually refreshed. Welcome to the post-Web era. …

Last week … Apple released a new version of its iTunes software with podcatching capability built in.

It also added a directory of more than 3,000 free offerings, grouped by subject - public radio, talk radio, comedy, news and so on - making browsing easy. When you find something that looks interesting, it takes only one click to subscribe, and you're done. Someone else's server will now keep your portable player perpetually well stocked, and you won't have to pay a penny for the service. …

When Apple makes it so easy for a visitor to its iTunes store to find freebies, isn't it sabotaging its own commercial interests … [and for] , Apple's exclusive supplier of more than 17,000 audio book titles for the iPod.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Another way Bush and his conservative cronies are destroying what's great about this country

New Bankruptcy Legislation Undercuts Important Safety Net for Entrepreneurs is a report sponsored by the which claims that
the new bankruptcy legislation failed to account for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, independent contractors and self employed individuals who traditionally have turned to bankruptcy relief as an important safety net in their effort to recover from a failed undertaking.
In other words, by allowing lenders to squeeze the poor for every last penny, Bush and his conservative fellow-travelers have once again damaged a feature of our culture that has made us great.

As Daniel Gross points out in ,
America's economic system is exceptional in part because it encourages, pardons, and excuses failure. Nobody starts a business intending to go bankrupt, but it happens. And when it does, the nation's bankruptcy system—and its general tolerance of failure—has enabled people to pick up, move on, and try again with relative ease. In today's economy, which affords people unprecedented opportunities to start their own businesses, credit cards are frequently the preferred method of financing. So, while the new bankruptcy law might deter some people from overborrowing, it might also deter some people from leaving their dreary jobs and opening a store, or selling on eBay, or importing T-shirts. At the margins, lots of mundane businesses, and perhaps even a few great ones, may never get off the ground.
By contniuing the conservative trend of shifting risk from large organizations (businesses and government) to the individual, Bush is helping make our country a less attractive place to live and a less attractive place to innovate. How foolish can they be.

Friday, July 01, 2005

How Bush is tarnishing history

I was in Washington recently and drove past Arlington cemetery on the way back to the Airport. (Did you know that there is a bus from downtown Washington to the Airport of $3.00? A terrific bargain!)

As I drove past the cemetery, the image that came to mind was that of a burial ground for a war machine — something like the war machine of the bad guys in Starwars. I've never thought of our dead soldiers like that before. But unfortunately, that is one of the consequences of Bush's war.

I believe that the soldiers and marines currently in Iraq want to do good. They don't want to hurt people. It is part of our national heritage that we believe we do good for people. We like to think of ourselves as liberators. I'm sure most of the soldiers in Iraq want to think of themselves in that light.

But unfortunately, that's not how the world thinks of us. Our soldiers are thought of as occupiers. And our military is thought of as a heavy-handed conquering force. That rubs off on the past. So when one rides past our military cemeteries, those who are buried there are having their reputations tarnished by Bush's war in Iraq.

Another place to sign up to defend the court

I got an email from Senator Patrick Leahy urging support for Democracy For America. The email said in part
We cannot allow the independence of our courts to be threatened by a judicial activist who places personal ideology above the law. The Supreme Court is no place for fringe judges. And the Senate is not a rubber stamp for any president's nominations.

Join me in calling for inclusive, thoughtful deliberations during this process:

The Constitution requires that the President seek the Senate's advice and consent in making appointments to the federal courts. As a Senator and as the Democratic leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I take this responsibility very seriously.

America must maintain separate but equal branches of government. Neither the legislature, nor the judiciary, should be subjugated to the will of any president - or to the loudest wing of any political party.

President Bush will decide whether there will be a divisive or unifying process and nomination. If consensus is a goal, bipartisan consultation will help achieve it. I believe that is what the American people want and what they deserve. The President can unite the nation and the Senate with his choice, or he can once again divide us.

Join me in calling for meaningful consultation between the President and Senators on both sides of the aisle at:

If the President chooses a Supreme Court nominee because of that nominee's ideological fervor or record of activism in the hope that he or she will deliver political victories, the President will have done so knowing that he is again choosing the path of confrontation. He will do so knowing that we will once again be forced to defend our belief that the Supreme Court should not be an arm of either political party. It belongs to all Americans.

If the right-wing activists who were disappointed that their nuclear option was averted convince the President to choose a divisive nominee, they will not prevail without a difficult Senate battle. And if they do, what will they have wrought? The American people will be the losers: The independence of and respect for the judiciary will have suffered a damaging blow from which the judiciary may not soon recover.

We need to send a message that the Supreme Court should be above such partisan politics at:

The President and Republican leaders have a choice: choose a battle that divides America, or seek a middle ground with a nominee we all can trust to fairly interpret and uphold the Constitution and the law. Let the Senators who will make this important decision know that America doesn't want us to rubber stamp the President's nominee. Tell them now:
Part of this battle will be a contest to see who can get people to sign statements on their side. Both sides will be doing it. It is important to sign up to protect the freedoms we have left.

Supreme court nominee

MoveOn is collecting signatures as a way to set the tone for the nomination to the Supreme court. The issue is how many people care. Here is the text of the petition.
The Senate must stand up to President Bush and demand a Supreme Court nominee who will protect the rights and freedoms of the American people.

Pollack and Krugman on Iraq

In an interesting pair of op-ed pieces, Kenneth Pollack and Paul Krugman take significantly different positions, each of which has its own internal logic. Pollack says
A main point of counterinsurgency operations is that ensuring the safety of the people and giving them an economic and political incentive to oppose the insurgency is more important than fighting the insurgents themselves. Insurgencies wither on the vine without popular support. Thus the first big change would be to de-emphasize chasing insurgents around the Sunni Triangle, and to instead put a higher priority on protecting Iraqis as they go about their daily lives.

Many Iraqis will tell you that they are less concerned about terrorist attacks than about street crime and the burgeoning organized crime syndicates, which scare them into staying home and hinder the distribution of goods, paralyzing Iraq's economic and social life.
Pollack goes on to acknowledge that to be successful will require significantly more troops than we now have in Iraq. But if we provide the resources, Iraq can be won.

Krugman says that we should set a timetable for withdrawal. He says that
if the Iraqi government knew that our support had an expiration date, it would both look to its own defenses and, more important, try harder to find a political solution to the insurgency.

The Iraq that emerges once U.S. forces are gone won't bear much resemblance to the free-market, pro-American, Israel-friendly democracy the neocons promised. But it will pose less of a terrorist threat than the Iraq we have now.

Remember, Iraq wasn't a breeding ground for terrorists before we went there. All indications are that the foreign terrorists now infesting Iraq are there on the sufferance of a homegrown insurgency that finds them useful for the moment but that, brutal as it is, isn't interested in an apocalyptic confrontation with the Western world. Once we're no longer targets, the foreign terrorists won't be welcome.
Both Krugman (PK) and Pollack (KP) make a good case. They may both be right. The fear with Krugman's plan is that we are giving up control and will have little to say about the Iraq that emerges. The fear with Pollack's plan is that it may not work and we may be stuck trying to make it work indefinitely. With Pollack's plan we remain engaged and have some basic control over what happens in Iraq. But that control may be costly. With Krugman's plan we are disengaging and hoping that things will turn out ok. Befroe either Krugman or Pollack gain the support of a significant majority of Americans they will have to clarify the worst case scenarios of their respective plans and tell us what we would do in those situations.