Proper Drugs Policy

The Confoederatio Helvetica, or Switzerland as it is commonly known, in my opinion the best designed and run State on Earth, has perhaps the most sensible drugs policy in the world. Cannabis is legal for personal use, and each person is permitted to grow three personal plants at a time. Meanwhile diamorphine (heroin), a far more dangerous and addictive drug is treated as a medical condition for which the state provides treatment which often includes supplying the diamorphine itself to addicts unable to overcome their addiction so that they might still function as normal, productive and law abiding citizens. This liberal policy has led to heroin addiction being viewed as a dead end ignoble drug among the youth, and its use has dramatically fallen largely owing to its legal toleration and availability.


Virgin Stem Cell

I have previously posted on another of Sir Richard Branson's brands Virgin America. Since airlines, music, space travel, and cola clearly are not sufficient, Virgin is moving into Stem Cell storage for parents hopeful for the potential future benefits for their newborn children.


Standards and Openness

Norway's consumer ombudsman has declared the Apple iTMS (iTunes Music Store) illegal for selling music which may only be played on the Apple iPod or through the iTunes software. I agree with this action by the Norwegian government and I strongly encourage other enlightened governments to join Norway to hopefully force an opening of iTunes standards setting a good precedent.

Openness and standardisation within the media as with electrical outlets and computer parts are only to the advantage of consumers and society as a whole. It is true that hundreds of millions of people have purchased iPods or have used iTMS despite the unfair limitations. This speaks very highly of Apple's technology and design. However, Apple will continue to have overwhelming success with this product even in a more competitive environment for music distribution.

I mentioned electrical outlets because while travelling last week, I forgot to bring my cellphone charger. Since virtually every cellphone provider and every manufacturer has their own recharger standards, the markets on rechargers are virtually cornered with artificially created demand. I could not just borrow a friends charger because likely they use a different provider, so in a bind one must buy an entirely new charger for somewhere around $25 USD. Luckily in my case, my hotel had a whole collection of chargers that unlucky guests had left in the room so I was able to find a compatible charger for my phone.

Incidentally, Norwegian legend Jon Lech Johansen may have already solved the iTunes DRM difficulties in practice.

The Neurology of Addiction

An interesting article from the NY Times concerning the insula of the brain.

Gay Adoption

I came across this article this morning. The article arises from the current row in the UK concerning whether Catholic adoption agencies may exclude potential adoptive parents on the basis of sexual orientation. Most gays I know disagree with me in recognising pædophilia as a sexual orientation. Nevertheless I do and to the extent possible sympathise with those of such unfortunate predilections. Unlike normal homosexuality though, pædophiles require particular scrutiny and caution when it comes to interaction with children. The problem of adoption comes when normal homosexuals are conflated with pædophiles. If there were a high correlation between the two phenomenon, there may be a case to be made, but I have not seen any such evidence to that effect.

Homosexuals are just as capable as heterosexuals of providing prosperous homes and loving parenting. Indeed, given the population pressures our world is suffering combined with high levels of inequality, affluent homosexual adoptive couples are something of a godsend. Any people innocently, selflessly, and lovingly willing to give their time, energy, and soul to raising another's child should be revered in our society.

Regarding the legality of a religious organisation in discriminating adoptive couples, I must side with the religious organisations. Catholic organisations pushing for the right of discrimination against homosexuals are confused about child welfare and confused about the doctrines of their own faith. However, the right of conscientious action or objection for a religious organisation should be respected. Moreover, biological parents should have at least the control over their child's rearing in selecting adoption agencies holding similar values to their own. Therefore, the marginal decision for potentially gay versus straight adoption should rest with the biological parent. In this case, according special rights to gays in the guise of anti-discrimination actually amounts to pernicious undue privilege.

On the other side of the coin, the most harmful laws in this category are those which ban gay adoption.


A Warning

Recently, Winnipeg scientists have resurrected the H1N1 influenza virus of 1918 which killed 50 million people with a death rate of 2%. The procedure by which the virus was resurrected was impressive and hopefully will lead to a defence against H5N1 or other future influenzas. Nothing against the Winnipeg scientists nor their research, but it is reminiscent of a very dangerous scenario which must be addressed:

In the brilliant Terry Gilliam film '12 Monkeys' (torrent), a lab scientist working silently develops a virus to wipe out 95% of mankind while making the surface of the Earth uninhabitable. There is a sizable population of humanity who in light of the continued and seemingly inevitable destruction of Earth's biodiversity caused by one single species, would support a mechanism to eliminate that species and the threat by whatever means necessary. The only practical means of carrying this out would be the development of an airborne, highly infectious and deadly virus with a long incubation period. While your average misanthrope is not determined enough to wipe out mankind, a motivated biologist who not so abnormally values non-human life on the same scale as human life could very easily rationalise and carry out the decision to develop the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. I have met several people who in principle are not opposed to such an idea leading me to completely reconsider the likelihood of this event.

Biological science should not be stopped for fear of this scenario. While oversight should be strengthened especially where virus work is concerned, security and oversight in the field should not interfere with scientific progress.

Life on this planet will go on with or without humanity. Humanity surely has many thousands more species to eliminate forever, but the real question is whether humanity itself will survive. Ultimately, humanity's probability of survival is directly proportional to its degree of conservation and stewardship of other life on the planet. Given our current direction, I am betting on 12 Monkeys, this time without the time travel.


Science Further Undercut

Economically and scientifically relevant data on the Earth are no longer important priorities for NASA as shown by budgetary cuts in satellite based Earth observation. Robotic space exploration is the only scientifically or economically effective sort, yet funds are being diverted instead on a fool's errand to send men to the Moon and Mars. Observation of the Earth is important especially to measure climate change. Hopefully the ESA will pick up the pieces on this.

Infectious Disease in Prison

Yet again, civilised society owes safety, decent treatment, and proper medical care to all its prisoners. In this case, Susan Oakie writes in the NEJM about public health in US prisons. Clearly, much more needs to be done to prevent the spread of deadly infectious diseases among inmates. Russian prisons have managed to breed extremely deadly multi-drug resistant tuberculosis which kills 40-60% of those infected. In addition to the measures recommended in Oakie's article, I suggest that all prisoners placed in general population should have compulsory testing for transmissible diseases and those who are infected should be publicly labeled as such if not quarantined while regularly educating prisoners on modes of transmission. Moreover, prison managers - in many cases private corporations in the United States - should be held to pay damages to families of prisoners who die as a result of infections they received in prison. Clearly making sex, drugs and tattooing in prisons 'illegal' is not getting the job done; they are prisoners after all. The human rights situations in prisons are tenuous enough without the possibility for prisoners to be infected with pathogens.

The Continued Inefficacy of Copy Protection

Copy protection on media is a losing proposition. The new HD DVD DRM has now been cracked. It is time that both the large media corporations and governments acknowledge the fecklessness of trying to control the sharing of information, and focus instead on developing reasonable economic mechanisms for the creation and free distribution of high quality content. Film, audio, and print media are public goods and should be treated accordingly.

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was one of the most articulate and rational thinkers of the past 50 years. A visionary, humanist, planetary scientist and professor at Cornell University, he put considerable effort into communicating the knowledge and implications of scientific revelation to the general public. On issues from science, public and foreign policy, and informed religious belief, he was an important voice for mankind. Indeed, when in my previous post I declared that technocrats should be the ones setting policy, I was referring to men such as him. His public television series 'Cosmos' should be required viewing.

He died 10 years ago.

Incidentally, most of his public writing was shaped by his regular use of cannabis. While he remained private about this issue during his life so as not to detract from his important public message, he anonymously advocated very strongly for its legalisation and responsible use.

Recently, his wife was interviewed recently by Ira Flatow on NPR Science Friday. This is an archived interview of Carl Sagan himself with Flatow from 1994 which I highly recommend.

My good friend Timothy recently posted about Sagan as well.



This article about genetically engineering complacent zombie animals indifferent to their treatment or conditions reminds me of the Ameglian Major Cow from the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' (part 5) by Douglas Adams. The cow politely offers parts of his body for fine dining.

..."May I urge you to try my liver, it must be very rich and tender by now, I have been force feeding it for months?"

Arthur, disgusted asks, "Is there any reason why I shouldn’t have a green salad?"

The cow replies, "I know many vegetables who are very clear o­n that point sir, which was why it was decided to cut through that whole problem by breeding an animal that actually wanted to be eaten."

While the satire of Adams is proving remarkably prescient, targeted OGM domestication of plants and animals is no different from the millenia of breeding or 'artificial selection' which has produced such agriculturally useful organisms as we have now. Comparing a chihuahua with a wild wolf, one has a sense of revulsion in realising that the chihuahua was the product of human will upon the wolf for in some sense a crime has been committed against nature. However, this act is ultimately no different from the domestication of any other organism. GM is nothing more than the targeted acceleration of the inevitable process of artificial selection and should be embraced despite the 'yuck' factor.

In many ways, humans with less 'yuck' sensibility have a significant survival advantage over those with it in a biotechnology driven world making it somewhat inevitable. I encourage the rest of my species to get over their fears now. Realise the benefits of OGM, and focus on reaping the multifarious benefits it has to offer.

In Defence of the Chimera

This Economist opinion article provides a defence for the creation of chimeras and encourages the expansion of this line of research.

*Update* A classic amusing post from DeLong from a while ago.

Buying a Micronation

PirateBay hopes to purchase Sealand to shield itself from copyright law enforcement. I predict that even if they raised sufficient capital to purchase this currently independent nation, political forces in militarily aggressive empires such as the US and UK would eventually shut them down if only by cutting their Internet connexion. While international copyright laws are severely flawed, these nations would nonetheless have some justification for their action against a cyber-criminal rogue nation of Sealand.

This is reminiscent of Earthstation 5's fraudulent claim to operate out of Palestine to avoid copyright law.

I suggest that in the near future world when high-speed satellite Internet will be available in one's wristwatch everywhere, there is no stopping the flow of information between interested parties. Even absent the wristwatches, the technology for encrypted distributed proxied networks already sufficiently exists for data exchange without Sealand.

Lastly, the idea of purchasing a nation or even creating wealthy bustling nations out of nothing but large fortunes and dirt a la mode de Dubai will become more and more common, especially for special interest groups seeking independence and freedom from persecution just as originally occurred with the colonisation of the New World. The power of Internet communication makes citizenship, political participation, and "nation building" much more accessible to everyone especially the geographically dispersed.


Apple Does it Again

The newly announced iPhone looks absolutely incredible. Too bad we will have to wait until June. Also, too bad we will be limited to Cingulair in the United States. The phone most likely will start at $500 USD plus a minimum $50/month for 2 years commitment, but I dare say it would be worth it for such an amazing device. For a premier device from a company 5 years ahead of its time, who can argue?

Crooked Timber's profound reaction.


Children of Men

I recommend watching the skillfully made, high budget film, 'Children of Men.' (torrent) A science fiction story, it takes place in near-future Great Britain with important parallels to our own time.