Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pravda:

The proud American will go down into his slavery with out a fight, beating his chest and proclaiming to the world, how free he really is. The world will only snicker.


Even the Russians can see it. Why can't we?

I'm reminded of the words of Senator Padme' in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith--"So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause."

Those Amazing Stem Cells

Stem cells containing protective genes may provide permanent control of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in infected individuals, according to research presented at the American Society of Gene Therapy 12th Annual Meeting, May 30.

In a landmark study, researchers demonstrated that a hematopoietic stem cell therapy could safely and effectively provide long-lasting control of HIV.

“This study was the first phase II randomized, controlled, double-blind study for cell-delivered HIV gene therapy and the first controlled HIV gene therapy study to show positive impact on viral load and CD4 count,” said Geoff Symonds, PhD, senior research director at Calimmune, Inc. “This study is a major advance in the field and it paves the way for future treatment with this new therapeutic paradigm.”



Remarkable.

Language...

...it's in the genes.

Kurzweil Takes on Newsweek

I think Kurzweil clearly wins.

Glowing Monkeys

Scientists have created the first genetically modified monkeys that can pass their new genetic attributes to their offspring, an advance designed to give researchers new tools for studying human disease but one that raises a host of thorny ethical questions.


Freaky, but promising.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Maryland's Missing Millionaires

Wall Street Journal: The Maryland state revenue office says it's "way too early" to tell how many millionaires moved out of the state when the tax rates rose. But no one disputes that some rich filers did leave. It's easier than the redistributionists think. Christopher Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, notes: "Marylanders with high incomes typically own second homes in tax friendlier states like Florida, Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia. So it's easy for them to change their residency."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Robot Love

One of the psychologically interesting things is that these systems aren't designed to promote intimacy, and yet we're seeing these bonds being built with them," said Peter Singer, a leading defense analyst at the Brookings Institution and author of "Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century" (Penguin Press HC, 2009).

Singer highlights many accounts of human soldiers feeling strong affection for their robots - especially on the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams where Packbots and Talon robots undertake the risk of disabling improvised explosives planted by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One EOD soldier brought in a robot for repairs with tears in his eyes and asked the repair shop if it could put "Scooby-Doo" back together. Despite being assured that he would get a new robot, the soldier remained inconsolable. He only wanted Scooby-Doo.

And Then They Came for Me

First they came for the smokers, and then the beer drinkers, and then the soda drinkers.

And then...they came for me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Michael Lewis goes...

inside Buffett, via Alice Schroeder.

Depression:

It's in the genes?

Law of Accelerating Returns at Work

A Cambridge genomics company called Knome said it will provide such a service for $24,500 per individual; there's also $19,500-per-person rate for couples and families.


That sounds expensive, until you consider that a year ago it cost more than $100,000, and not long before that more than $1 million. Within a few years, you'll be able to get your whole genome sequenced for less than a thousand bucks.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Derek Thompson reviews Wolfram Alpha

Search engines have long advertised themselves as providing answers, when what they were really doing was providing direction. For example, Ask Jeeves, the first search engine I ever used, originally masqueraded as an e-butler providing answers to your questions, when all it was doing was using your key words to funnel you toward articles it considered relevant.

But Wolfram Alpha really does provide answers. No URLs come back in the results, only a page of often dizzyingly detailed and up-to-date information, like a research report culled by mad scientists with complete access to a universal library. For a telling example, let's compare search results on Google, Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha for the search term "Pluto."



You can find the results of his experiment here.

Wolfram Alpha really does seem to represent something new, even revolutionary. Clearly, it's not perfect, but if it can improve itself at an exponentially increasing rate, it soon may be close.


UPDATE:> Another brief review here.

Historic Fossil Find

"This is like a holy grail for paleontology," said Jørn Hurum, a scientist at the University of Oslo's Natural History Museum who arranged to buy the fossil from private collectors about two years ago. Hurum is co-author of a paper published today in the journal PLoS ONE detailing the finding. "This fossil will probably be pictured in all the text books for the next 100 years," he said.


Here's why.

Hmmm. I guess you have to be a paleontologist.

Inhale Your Antibiotics

So-called "nanotechnology" may improve the effectiveness of antibiotics by allowing the medicine to be put into an aerosol form, new research suggests.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's In the Genes

A genetic test that predicts whether colon cancer will return in certain patients will have a significant impact on treatment options, researchers said on Thursday.

Dutch Living Longer Than Expected

The life expectancy of the Dutch population has increased much more than initially forecast, the Actuarial Society (AG) has suggested.
***
The AG said men born between 2002 and 2007 are now likely to live almost four months longer – to up to almost 77 on average – compared to the recognised prognosis.

Whereas the forecasted age of women born in the same period was 81 years and one month, the observed rise is exceeding this by approximately three months, the AG said, adding that the observed age rise applies to all age cohorts.



I expect to see many more stories like this in coming years.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jeanne Whalen Wonders:

Are biohackers friend or foe?

Why is Alternative Medicine Alternative At All?

A sham form of acupuncture using toothpicks that don’t penetrate the skin works as well as traditional needle acupuncture for relieving back pain, researchers report in the May 11 Archives of Internal Medicine. Both procedures outperformed non-acupuncture alternatives, such as medication alone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An Interesting Lawsuit Over Breast Cancer Genes

The lawsuit, believed to be the first of its kind, was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and filed in federal court in New York. It blends patent law, medical science, breast cancer activism and an unusual civil liberties argument in ways that could make it a landmark case.


While I'm sympathetic to the plaintiff's issue, the fact is that the genes wouldn't have likely been discovered, or at least not as quickly, but for the potential profits that arise from doing such research. And if companies can't protect those profits via patents, then they will have no motivation to absorb the tremendous R&D costs that such discoveries require.

Government Run Healthcare

Medicare, the U.S. federal health insurance plan for the elderly and disabled, will not pay for so-called virtual colonoscopies, which check for colon cancer using scans.

Natural Selection at Work:

Natural selection is favouring snails with reduced metabolic rates, researchers in Chile have discovered.

Edward Albro:

I am not smart enough for Wolfram Alpha.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Well, At Least He's Honest About It

Hugo Rifkind: “Of course,” she'll bleat, “we're not against free speech, but...” Stop it. Grow some balls. Yes you are against free speech. Almost all Brits are. It's in our nature. I first realised this a few years ago, watching one of Louis Theroux's many documentaries about rural American Nazis. He was quite charming, this Nazi, but that didn't stop him climbing up on a stage, giving a Hitler salute, and screaming “nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger!”. Blimey, I thought. We wouldn't stand for that at home. And we wouldn't have to. Because we don't have free speech. Good.
***
Personally I'm quite proud that Britain won't put up with this sort of thing.



Why don't these people realize that banning free speech enables the very overreaching they seemingly deplore? One idiot screaming "nigger!" is unlikely to do much if any damage to very many people. But a government empowered to silence such "hate speech" can oppress millions.

The line between hate speech and strenuous criticism is a thin one. When the government exempts certain persons, classes or ideas from criticism, democracy is threatened.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gay Marriage in Massachusetts

Five years later.

The Bible and The People

Louis A. Ruprecht reviews Lori Anne Ferrell's new book, The Bible and the People:

Revealing why citing “chapter and verse” once had no meaning, why 16th century Catholics capitalized “Word” but not “God,” and why the King James Bible is anti-Puritan, Lori Anne Ferrell’s new book reminds us that everything is historical: the Christian religion, the Christian people, the Christian book.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

It's In The Genes

Scientists discover link between female fertility and family longevity.

Interesting.

Silent Sun

Space.com: A couple years back, scientists were predicting that the next peak in solar activity would be among the strongest in modern times. Now they say it could be the weakest since 1928.
***
Why the change?

The sun has been very, very quiet lately. This unusually long, deep lull in sunspots forced the revision, the panel stated. Some have even raised the possibility that the quiescence could lead to a Little Ice Age, as the sun pumps less energy our way. Scientists say that's very unlikely.



That extra CO2 in the atmosphere may prove useful.


UPDATE:> Over at WUWT, David Archibald graphically compares the current solar minimum with the Maunder Minimum, the one that corresponded with the Little Ice Age.

Friday, May 8, 2009

You'd Think These Guys Would Know Better Than to Piss Off The CIA

Intelligence officials released documents this evening saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefed in September 2002 about the use of harsh interrogation tactics against al-Qaeda prisoners, seemingly contradicting her repeated statements over the past 18 months that she was never told that these techniques were actually being used.

Bioelectricity v. Ethanol

Bioelectricity wins. By far.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Bet They Were Just Trying to Stimulate The Economy

In January 2007, Medicare shut down the businesses of 18 medical equipment suppliers in Miami-Dade County after investigators told the federal agency that the companies were shams.

But when Medicare heard their appeals, the operators were quickly reinstated – only to be indicted later that year for submitting more than $10 million in phony claims to the very agency that had let them back in business, court records show.

A Bleg:

Can someone please define "severe, repeated and hostile behavior" for me?

And, does repeatedly calling Tim Geitner a tax cheat qualify?

Big Progress on Alzheimer's

Associated Content: The researchers discovered, in mice, the specific gene responsible for Alzheimer's and they have been able get the affected mice to regain long-term memories and the ability to learn. The scientists are hopeful that the same result can be achieved in humans suffering from the Researchers Find Possible Gene to Reverse Alzheimer's Disease debilitating disease.


UPDATE: Maria Shriver has a new documentary on Alzheimer's called The Alzheimer's Projet.

That Was Fast!

Scientists at Winnipeg's National Microbiology Laboratory announced yesterday they've completed the first genetic sequencing of H1N1 flu samples from Canada and Mexico.
***
"The fact that we did it in less than a week, working through the night, often, is pretty incredible," Plummer said.


Very impressive.

An Interview With Futurist Ray Kurzweil:

Adam Kushner...

explains why the US will never go nuclear. At least when it comes to power.

Awwww, come on Harry. It's for the COMMON GOOD, dontchano.

It's Only a Matter of Time Though

NYT: In a setback for the fledgling field of personalized medicine, Medicare has decided not to pay for genetic tests intended to help doctors determine the best dose of the blood thinner warfarin for a particular patient.


As the article notes, this view seems to be a odds with the position of the Food and Drug Administration which recommends such genetic test for purposes of dosage selection.

I wonder if economic considerations may not be in play here.

Jonah Goldberg:

On Pragmatism and liberalism and the F-word.


His posts on this subject should be required reading. (Oh wait...that would make me a fascist, wouldn't it).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's In The Genes

ScienceDaily: For the first time, scientists have discovered a single gene defect that causes thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections as well as early onset coronary artery disease, ischemic stroke and Moyamoya disease. The research is led by scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Josh Friedeman

offers some interesting insights into world geographic trends.

It's In the Gene's

Telegraph: Researchers at the University College London believe they have discovered a genetic link between whether people are cautious with their money or prepared to invest in a long shot.

Genetic Testing Labs to Obama: "Regulate Us!"

Genetic tests that predict a person's risk of disease or suggest which types of treatments may succeed or fail are taking center stage in medicine. However, the lack of consistent government oversight of the testing industry poses enormous concerns for consumers and health professionals, experts said in a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It's In the Genes

The Hindu: Scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health have identified a gene associated with narcolepsy, a disorder that causes disabling daytime sleepiness, sleep attacks, irresistible bouts of sleep that can strike at any time, and disturbed sleep at night. The gene has a known role in the immune system, which strongly suggests that autoimmunity, in which the immune system turns against the body's own tissues, plays an important role in the disorder.

George Weigel elucidates

Pope Benedict's view of scripture.

His bottom line?

[A]s Father Rausch puts it, Benedict's biblical commentary is built on a "finely tuned sensitivity to biblical themes and images, which he traces effortlessly through both testaments."


What does that mean?

I dunno.

Andrew Nusca is...

liveblogging from Amazon's Kindle press conference.

Health Insurers to Obama: "Regulate Us!"

"We are not asking people to trust us," Karen Ignagni, the president of America's Health Insurance Plans, told a key congressional panel on Tuesday. "We are asking people to trust government."


Heaven help us.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In Genetic Diversity, Africa is Tops

Washington Post: Africans are more genetically diverse than the inhabitants of the rest of the world combined, according to a sweeping study that carried researchers into remote regions to sample the bloodlines of more than 100 distinct populations.
***
"This is an absolute landmark. It's incredible," said Alison Brooks, a professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University. "It's the most comprehensive document ever published describing the very complex issue of African genetic variation."

Technology and Deflation:

It is true that from 2001 to 2009, the US economy has actually shrunk in size, if measured in oil, gold, or Euros. To that, I counter that every major economy in the world, including the US, has grown tremendously if measured in Gigabytes of RAM, TeraBytes of storage, or MIPS of processing power, all of which have fallen in price by about 40X during this period. One merely has to select any suitable product, such as a 42-inch plasma TV in the chart, to see how quickly purchasing power has risen. What took 500 hours of median wages to purchase in 2002 now takes just 40 hours of median wages in 2009. Pessimists counter that computing is too small a part of the economy for this to be a significant prosperity elevator. But let's see how much of the global economy is devoted to computing relative to oil (let alone gold).


Read the whole thing.

How you keep score...

affects how you play the game.

Perhaps It's Just Because They Are "Over-nourished"

Age of puberty for Europpean girls declines over the last 15 years.

Interesting, the finding only applies if we measure onset of puberty by breast development and not by first menstruation.

A Biocentric Theory of the Universe

Stem-cell guru Robert Lanza presents a radical new view of the universe and everything in it.

Technology is Subversive:

A traditional argument of the anti-gun establishment is that firearms are ineffective weapons of self-defense. Clayton Cramer is proving them wrong with his 4000th entry on the civilian gun self-defense blog.

Democracy is No Check on Tyranny

And what seems so right to so many at a given moment often turns out to be horrid in hindsight.

Consider, for example, Alexander Stephens' defense of the the Confederacy. Racism is abhorrant as between individuals, but only the power and influence of the state can institutionalize it into true slavery.

As our founders recognized, our protection and our salvation lie not in empowering the government to do what the majority believe is good at a given moment, but rather in disempowering government so that it can't.

Medical Imaging

via smartphone.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lance Burri is Offering Free TrogloLanches

Just for the asking.

Email him and he'll link to you. For one week only.

The Other McCain Offers Advice:

How to Get a Million Hits on Your Blog in Less Than a Year.


Clearly, I need some coaching.

The Common Good is an Emergent Property

First as candidate and now as president, Barack Obama has been preaching a brand of collectivism and elitism which, though well-intentioned, may come to present a threat to individual liberty.

In speech after speech, Obama has repeatedly emphasized that many of the country's current problems result from an excesses of individualism, and that to remedy the situation, personal self interest and ambition must be sacrificed to the "common good". The will of "the few" must be bent to that of "the many."

Some Obama quotes will help illustrate the point:

In America, we have this strong bias toward individual action. But individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.
***
Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition.
***
Yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on individual initiative, on a belief in the free market. But it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, of mutual responsibility. The idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity. Americans know this. We know that government can't solve all our problems - and we don't want it to. But we also know that there are some things we can't do on our own. We know that there are some things we do better together.

What we need, we are repeatedly told, is to replace the "small" individualistic ideas of the recent past with the coordinated "big" ideas of today's most brilliant thinkers:

When people are judged by merit, not connections, then the best and brightest can lead the country, people will work hard, and the entire economy will grow - everyone will benefit and more resources will be available for all, not just select groups.
***
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.


These ideas--pursuit of the common good at the direction of the "best and brightest"--are appealing in the extreme, but they are insidiously dangerous. This is because pursuing the "common good" directly is a prescription for totalitarianism. It is, in fact, the "totalitarian temptation" against which so many have warned us.

Those who think I state the case too strongly need only consider the history of the last century. As a means of denying our (or our ancestors') complicity in their criminal conduct, we prefer to conceive of the brutal dictators of the 20th Century as usurpers seizing power by force, brutally inserting their will in place of a resistant peoples'. But the inconvenient truth, as documented at length by Jonah Goldberg in Liberal Fascism, his wonderful history of the Left, is that most dictators initially enjoyed the support of the masses (e.g., Mussolini), some (e.g., the Nazis) were elected to power, and virtually all promoted a populist brand of politics with advancement of the "common good" or "general welfare" at the top of their agenda. As to this last point, consider the 1920 platform of the Nazi party and ponder especially the significance planks 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, and 25. Any of that populism sound familiar?

True, the platform is not as artfully worded as a modern politician would spin things. But, rid the Nazi platform of its racist, nationalistic and militaristic components and a simple fact remains: It's goal was to achieve the "common good" by expanding the role of government into most every aspect of its citizen's lives. In short, even without the racism, nationalism and militarism, National Socialism was still totalitarian, as was Italy's particular brand of statism known as fascism.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that modern statists seek to distinguish their ever-expanding "benevolent" federal government from the evil excesses of government under Hitler and Mussolini primarily by eschewing any semblance of nationalism, racism or militarism (e.g., by refusing to police borders, avoiding flag pins in their lapels, and generally criticizing military action, just to name three). But is racism, nationalism, and militarism all that made the 20th century's dictators abhorrent? Were those their only excesses? What about the fact that they simply advanced...totalitarianism, or the idea that more government and less individualism is the solution to most every societal problem? At their core, wasn't the true flaw with these systems that they placed the collective "common good" above individual liberty, and enforced this hierarchy via use of the coercive power of the state?

To squelch such questions, liberal statists have sought to distinguish the totalitarianism of the last century from their own brand of statism by reference to the ballot box. We, at least, were elected, they argue. But, as we have already seen, it is only a staggering ignorance of history that allows this rationalization to persist--for both National Socialisim and historical fascism were wildly popular idealogies, frequently winning at the ballot box and leading directly to Hitler's election and Mussolini's rise. But regardless, as our founding father's recognized when they warned of a "tyranny of the majority", democracy by itself is no check on totalitarianism. Quite the contrary! Democracy actually promotes totalitarianism since, if unchecked, the majority can vote themselves an ever higher station in life, and impose that station over the minority using the power of the state.

My comparison of today's statists to the last century's dictators is not meant to suggest or imply that Obama or his predeceassors have evil intentions. I don't believe that at all. Rather, I mean to suggest that the path to hell is paved with good intentions, and that what appears to be "good" today is often self-evidently evil only in hindsight. Again, those who think I overstate my case should consider the evidence of the last century.

For instance, before Hitler's horrible crimes gave racism and eugenics a bad name, few considered them to be evil or even politically incorrect. Sure, there were some who decried their immorality, but both ideas were commonly accepted throughout society and actively promoted among the intellectual class. As Robin Phillips has noted:

[I]t is a fact of history that the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the National Research Council, Planned Parenthood and the pre-1960's Democratic Party, all supported the right of the US government to engage in Eugenic selection, while thirty states adopted legislation aimed at compulsory sterilization of certain individuals or classes.

And, as Jonah Goldberg has documented at length in his above-referenced book, most of the great progressive intellectuals of the day openly advocated eugenics and racism. There was no shame or embarrassment in it. H.G. Wells wrote: "It is in the sterilization of failures, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of ht human stock lies." George Bernard Shaw wrote: "The only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialization of the selective breeding of Man." As for criminals and genetically undesirables, Shaw wrote: "With many apologies and expressions of sympathy, and some generosity in complying with their last wishes, we should place them in the lethal chamber and get rid of them." And writing for the majority of the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice Holmes wrote:

[T]he principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.... It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.[T]hree generations of imbeciles are enough.

John Maynard Keynes (the founder of Keynesian economics), Aldous Huxley, Harold Laski, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and many, many others advocated eugenics openly. Those who are not familiar with just how enamored our late 19th and early 20th century forefathers were with the now-disgraced field of eugenics should Google the term. It was not until the full horror of Hitler's Third Reich became known that these horrid ideas became unpopular and politically incorrect.

While eugenics may provide us with the most disgusting example of the masses "finding religion" after the fact, there are many others, as any student of history can readily attest. Slavery was once widely accepted in America, but is now rightfully vilified. Jews were once openly vilified, but are now generally accepted. I could go on an on, but by now my point should be sustained: Democracy is no check on evil, and what was once thought of as "good" or acceptable is only seen as evil in hindsight.

For this reason, we should all be reluctant to empower government to pursue "the common good" too directly and too emphatically. For who can be trusted to discern the "common good" when even democracy can't?

America's founding father's answered this question emphatically: No one can. They understood that "common good" cannot be pursued directly without an unacceptaable risk of tyranny (or what we today would call totalitarianism). Rather, properly understood, the common good is an emergent property: It is simply "what happens" when individuals acting separately or in voluntary cooperation exercise their responsibility to make decisions in their own long-term best interest, free from government coercion or interference to the maximum extent reasonable. This understanding of the common good is sometimes called "classical liberalism", or more often today, "libertarianism." Classical liberals and libertarians define freedom negatively--as in "freedom from" government coercion in their lives.

But classical liberalism stands in sharp contrast to today's "progressive" liberalism. Ignoring concerns of totalitarianism and rejecting the limitations on government imposed by our founders in the Constitution as promoting selfishness and materialism, today's "liberals" define freedom positively. By their definition, one is "free" only when one has the "right" to certain things, things that the state will provide if life won't.

But, what are those things to which we are all entitled, according to modern liberal statists? Those things that advance the "common good", of course. But, who is to decide which things advance the common good and which don't? Aye, there's the rub! We've already seen that democracy can't be trusted. Providing a satisfactory answer to this questions has been a problem for statist liberals since the time of Rousseau. Thomas J. DiLorenzo frames the issue nicely:

Rousseau thought that society should be guided by the "general will," but what exactly that concept entailed has perplexed later commentators. It cannot be equated with what the majority of a certain society wishes: it is only when the people's decisions properly reflect the common good, untrammeled by faction, that the general will operates. But if the general will need not result from straightforward voting, how is to be determined? One answer, for which there is some textual support in Rousseau, is that a wise legislator will guide the people toward what they really want. Those who dissent will "be forced to be free."

And how do we determine who that "wise legislator", the one who will "force us to be free" by coercing compliance with the general will, will be? Debates over that question explain most of the wars, political and real, of the last century.

But rather than fight about it, Obama presumably envisions some way by which such legislators will arise by "merit":

When people are judged [read "elected"] by merit, not connections, then the best and brightest can lead the country, people will work hard, and the entire economy will grow - everyone will benefit and more resources will be available for all, not just select groups.

But, of course, Obama fails to explain how he will change things so that people will be find public office by virtue of "merit" rather than by virtue of "connections". And, even if he could, who is to decide who is "meritorious" who is not? Again, there's the rub.

It is sad that so few people today side with our founders--those who included a host of checks and balances in our Constitution in hopes that it would prevent us from falling prey to the totalitarian temptation of empowering government to satisfy our needs. Instead, too many today seek ways of subverting these check and balances so that they can vote themselves a larger percentage of the public largesse. They should beware, for as Thomas Jefferson noted, the government that is powerful enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have.

And if history is any guide at all, someday it will.

Transcendent Man

Aaron Saenz reviews Ray Kurzweil's docu-bio Transcendent Man, which recently premiered to rave reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival:

Kurzweil, his family, his friends, his colleagues, and his detractors all appear in filmed interviews to discuss his most famous predictions: intelligence is following an exponential growth curve, as technology increases the differences between technology and humanity will shrink, and eventually the human-machine civilization will be advancing so quickly that no one can truly understand what it will be like. The last concept is known as the singularity. Borrowed from physics, Kurzweil and others use the term to describe the inability to comprehend the seemingly limitless intelligence that will arise past this point in our future. This intelligence will have amazing powers of perception, communication, and understanding. As this future being (or beings) grows it will encompass the universe and would seem in our eyes to be God-like.

Transcendent Man does a good job of describing this concept to its viewers. Flashing diagrams and evolving graphs are interposed with images of current robotic technology. Ptolemy pushes ideas into the audience with repetition and visual support. Words from Kurzweil and other interviewees are captured and reappear as flowing, growing subtitles. Data and statements swirl around faces as they talk about them. It’s like watching an interactive holographic projection of their thoughts and it works beautifully.



The movie should be in theaters this summer. Here's the official trailer:

Are Universities a Thing of the Past?

Drew Halley: Goodbye freshman seminars, beer-pong, student loans, and your cap and gown. Hello online coursework, digital textbooks, lecture mp3’s, and a radically new form of higher education. I can hear it already: “College is so 20th century.” As technology booms, is the university a dinosaur lumbering its way to extinction?

In the eyes of many, yes. David Wiley, a professor at Brigham Young University, recently claimed that the modern university “will be irrelevant by 2020.” Why pay for expensive, boring lectures when you can tap the same vein - for free - with lectures on your iPod? What use are pricey textbooks when their content is widely available online? Critics see the ivory towers of higher education crashing down, quickly replaced by the pillars of the information age. But are these predictions prophetic, or simply alarmist?

NewScientist:

Eight things you didn't know about the Internet.

NYT Corrects Recent Inflamatory Article on Climate Change

Unfortunately, as Anthony Watts notes, such corrections are seldom front page news.

BIG Natural Gas Find in Louisiana

This is big. Very big. But I haven't heard much about it. Wonder why?

David Hardy:

Arms v. Pirates. Arms win.

Wonder why I'm not hearing this story anywhere else?

Related information here.

Today Especially We Would All Do Well To Remember That There's No Such Thing As "Irresponsible Individualism"

Robin Phillips: Although contemporary left-wingers have tried to hush it up, it is a fact of history that the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the National Research Council, Planned Parenthood and the pre-1960's Democratic Party, all supported the right of the US government to engage in Eugenic selection, while thirty states adopted legislation aimed at compulsory sterilization of certain individuals or classes. Conservatives, orthodox Roman Catholics and radical libertarians, on the other hand, were routinely ridiculed for their opposition to such policies.

The underlining premise behind the American eugenics movement was the view that irresponsible individualism in breeding would act as a cancer on the human gene pool, harming posterity. Government held the future of the human race in its reigns and could improve the evolutionary direction of the nation – and indeed the world - through strategic intervention.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

If This Works as Advertized, It Will Be Revolutionary Indeed

The Independent: The biggest internet revolution for a generation will be unveiled this month with the launch of software that will understand questions and give specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never managed before.
***
The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet's Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does.
***
If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in "10 flips for four heads" and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.



UPDATE:> Video of Wolfram's demonstration of Wolfram Alpha:

Invading America (or the South at least) Would Be A Very Bad Idea

David Hardy: In the last three months of 2008, that's right, three months, Americans bought enough guns to outfit the Chinese and Indian armies, combined. Actually, that's just reflective of the NICS checks, which don't cover sales by private parties, and buys by CCW permit holders. There were also 1.5 BILLION rounds of ammo sold, which explains why I'm having trouble finding .45 ACP lately.


But something tells me these weapons weren't bought as a check against foreign invasion.

Progress

Singularity Hub: [T]he Mini DV, the self-proclaimed “world’s smallest video camera” rolled out in Hong Kong this month. About the size of your thumb, it captures up to 8 gigs of video feed and boasts an impressive 2-megapixel resolution. It has a two-hour battery life, and uploads your adventures via USB 2.0. It even clips to your clothing so you can show your friends exactly how “dope” your skydiving trip was.





Just for the sake of comparison, here's a picture of me from the late 80's sporting a comparable technology of the age:

At Last: Gay Rights the Right Way

By vote!

World's Smallest Engine?

PopSci.com: Doctors have miniaturized almost everything they need to send robots inside your brain's blood vessels to treat damaged tissue. But making a motor small enough to squeeze past blood cells has held things up. Now, engineers at Monash University in Australia have built a micromotor that brings bitty 'bots closer to reality.

We're with the government, and we're here to help...

make sure that you watch your children the way we want you to.

We know what's best. Trust us.

Or else.

Vote With Your Searches

Google gunning for guns.

Obam Admin To Hasten "Age of the Computer Doctor"?

In a New England Journal of Medicine article published April 9, just after his appointment to the Obama administration was announced, Blumenthal explained that if electronic technology is to save money, doctors will have to take advantage of “clinical decision support,” a term of art for computers telling doctors what to do.


The author is dismissive of the idea, but for well more than a decade computer programs have been able to diagnose many illnesses at least as well, and sometimes better, than the average human physician. In fact, the free "symptom checker" over at webmd.com ain't half bad as a starting point. Imagine how much better a program that "knows" your entire medical history (including the results of your latest diagnostic tests) would perform.

I doubt we'll see full-blown robotic surgeons before Obama's administration is over, but the role of GP's may be replaced by computers far sooner than most realize. And once medicine becomes digitized, the Law of Accelerating Returns takes over from there.

Dr. Paul Kengor remembers...

Joan Clark.

Haven't heard of her?

Neither had I.

TNR:

Recasting Souter as a judicial conservative.

Jonah Goldberg:

On Taxes and Tyranny.

Americans work an average of 103 days a year just to pay their taxes. If you had to work 365 days a year to pay your taxes, that would be a kind of slavery or indentured servitude, because all of your productive labor would be going to the government. You would have no resources of your own to provide for the life you wanted. Instead the government would provide you not with what you want, but what the government decides you need.

That sounds like a kind of tyranny to me.

And, I think if we had to work 364 days a year it would still be a kind of serfdom (after all, serfs were allowed a little plot of their own). Ditto 363 days, 362 days, 361 days etc. Now, at some point the difference of degree becomes a difference in kind; working one day a year to pay for the government doesn't sound oppressive to me. But it seems to me that it's hardly absurd to think that 103 days a year is too much, or to believe that if that number goes even higher, we're losing something important.

I would also add that it's sort of crazy for liberals to equate government hand-outs (positive liberty, FDR's economic bill of rights and all that) with "freedom" but to equate the desire to keep more of the money you make yourself with greed and oppression of some kind. Money does make all sorts of liberties possible (you have to pay for your megaphone and all that). But government money only pays for the "liberties" the government thinks you should have, and therefore it can determine how you exercise them. That turns liberties into privileges dispensed at the whim of the state.



Read the whole thing. Whether you agree with him or not, Jonah is a brilliant writer.

Life in Totalitarian Britain

No, really.

I fear that the US may not be far behind the Motherland.

Technology is Subversive:

Since the MSM won't, a lonely video-blogger puts the Obama Administration's proposed budget discipline into perspective:



Scary stuff.


UPDATE:> Et tu AP?

Solar Energy Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels Within Five Years?

Believe it or not, it's likely.


UPDATE:> More evidence here.

Kyocera Takes "Flip Phone" to A Whole New Level

GoodCleanTech: Kyocera has unveiled a kinetic energy-powered phone with a flexible OLED display that can be folded up like a wallet, reports Slashdot.

No Brainer

GoodCleanTech: Mercedes-Benz has announced it will implement start-stop technology on all of its engines, probably by 2011, according to Automobile.
***
Start-stop systems cut power to the engine block while the car idles, and then automatically kick it back in as the driver depresses the gas pedal, saving gas and reducing emissions in the process.

Even I Can Probably Manage This:

Drinking half a glass of wine daily is likely to boost life expectancy by five years in men, according to a Dutch study.
***
And men who drank only wine, and less than half a glass of it a day, lived around 2.5 years longer than those who drank beer and spirits, and almost five years longer than those who drank no alcohol at all.

Obama To Strip Lady Justice of Her Blindfold?




What do you expect from a judge? Justice or compassion?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Medicine Goes Online

Newsweek: One part doctor, one part tech innovator, one part salesman: the sum of those parts have made Parkinson the face of a new kind of health care. At his New York City clinic, his team of doctors uses dozens of means of communication—instant messaging, e-mail, texting, etc.—to communicate with their patients and each other. They are working on a platform that could allow doctors across the country to do the same. And they say that by streamlining health-care delivery, partly by refusing to deal with health insurance, they're improving how primary care is delivered, making it more appealing to young doctors and improving the medical system as we know it.


I've been waiting for this.