New Companion Page

In the Recommended Panel on the right, a Companion Webpage has been added. This page will be gradually expanded with useful links primarily to media. I have begun with convenient links to Annenberg CPB content otherwise found at learner.org in an obtuse format. The 'Art of the Western World' series hosted by Michael Wood and the 'Western Tradition' series by UCLA professor Eugen Weber are the first series I have posted. More and varied content will follow. Eventually, I hope that this page will have an RSS feed of its own.


Designer Babies

Assuming humanity is not destroyed by its own poor decisions nor by a cosmic event, the human species will flourish, become far more varied, and eventually speciate into unrecognisable multifarious forms most beautiful and wonderful, to borrow from Darwin. This process would occur naturally, but humanity's knowledge about its own genetic makeup will greatly accelerate the process. What starts with "Designer Babies" now to eliminate disease from the population, will certainly expand into mere cosmetic engineering, life extension, and superhuman abilities. When in vitro fertilisation was developed, many ignorant reactionaries even questioned if the children born of this would have a soul (while of course assuming that the rest of us do). Now that your best friend could be a test tube baby, the mob has for the most part come to terms with in vitro fertilisation and often see it as a necessity and a right for couples with fertility difficulties. Being a proponent of adoption, I discourage test tube babies for environmental and social reasons. Nonetheless, I do not have an inherent problem with the technology. Similarly, genetically engineered people are as inevitable as genetically engineered crops. You may wish to stay organic, but that will not stop anyone else from moving forward towards greater health, prosperity, and complexity. I instead would call for further research and development and government sponsorship of this technology and its implementation. After all, it is in society's best interests.

The position of the Roman Catholic Church in this matter prompted these thoughts.


California: Abysmal, but the Best the USA Has to Offer

Excerpts from a recent Paul Krugman column in the NY Times concerning California's energy conservation policies.

Regulatory Bodies and Societal Detriment

I have made several statements regarding the absurdity of the FDA's announced position that cannabis has no proven medical benefit. It undermines the legitimacy of this administrative authority. Politically motivated lies and interdiction on medicine, the most sacred of human institutions, originating from the medical regulatory body itself cannot be tolerated. A caveat emptor, free market for medicine would be preferable to draconian restrictions by religiously driven inquisitions.

Now there is some hope. Americans for Safe Access has sued the FDA for violating the Data Quality Act. This comes via the Drug Law Blog (RSS), a very informative source for legal developments in the execrable "War on Drugs," a war against human dignity itself.


Air Traffic

Last weekend I was one of the unhappy passengers to be screwed by the JetBlue fiasco. Hopefully I will be compensated and the company will improve.

On another note, FlightAware is a useful website which tracks and displays US air traffic information. Maps are available showing all airborne planes and flight paths for public airlines.


Ascent of Man

Dr Jacob Bronowski's magnificent 1973 thirteen part BBC television series 'The Ascent of Man' traced our rise both as a species and as moulders of our own environment and future. It covers the history of science, but of science in the broadest terms. Invention from the flint tool to geometry, from the arch to the theory of relativity, are shown to be expressions of man's specific ability to understand nature, to control it, not to be controlled by it. Dr Bronowski's rare grasp not only of science, but also of its historical and social context, gave him great advantages as an historian of ideas. It is a series which gives us a new perspective not just on science, but on civilisation.

Available here on MVGroup or here on BitMeTV.


Gapminder and Worldmapper

I came across this post from Reason magazine pointing out the Gapminder tool for viewing world development statistics. I cannot wait to have proper access to the tools for creating my own statistical displays with this tool.

*Update* Timothy points us to the related site Worldmapper with density equalising maps for World statistics.

The Pigou Club Manifesto

Most readers of this blog will probably already realise that the best way to eliminate carbon emissions is a direct consumption tax on fossil fuels. In the Pigou Club Manifesto Greg Mankiw outlines the seven most important benefits of such a tax.


This TechCrunch article is correct in declaring Gmail a perfect email programme with the addition of the new Mail Fetcher feature. The feature has not yet been made available in all accounts, but it will be soon. It allows users of any POP3 enabled accounts to download their mail to gmail in addition to sending. This will make Gmail far and away superior to any other email product currently available at no cost but for minimal noninvasive advertisements.

*Update* The Mail Fetcher feature is now functional for all gmail accounts. It works very well. If you set up gmail forwarding, it will even forward the POP mail as well.


Doomed to Fail

The Chinese policy of Internet censorship is understandable in the context of recent history. Since the Maoist revolution, Zhong Guo has striven to progress with one mind. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Limited freedom of speech proved very destabilising for the entire country in the Tienanmen manifestation. Since then, the authoritarian government has maintained its mandate under heaven by providing blistering economic growth and prosperity to the cities. Internet access there has grown very quickly also as an essential component of communication and economic development. Of course the potentially disruptive force of freedom of expression that the Internet inherently allows has proven frustrating and worthy in the eyes of the party of systematic suppression. For determined and intelligent internauts, expression is always possible through encryption and proxying, but is certainly more difficult with the incredible resources of the Chinese security authorities and the audience is significantly smaller. What Zhong Guo will ultimately have to prepare for is a completely free and open Internet made possible through coming technologies. By 2020, we should expect to receive satellite Internet in a simple wristwatch and I seriously doubt the Chinese military will start using their new anti-satellite system to shoot down every internet satellite out of the sky. The democratising effect of the Internet is inevitable. China's policymakers who overall have done very well in the past two decades must prepare for this inevitability and focus on the future rather than holding on too tightly to the oppressive past.

*Update* I somehow missed this Economist article on censorship and circumvention.


Google News and Utilities

Three weeks ago, columnist Robert X. Cringely predicted Google would effectively become the Internet thanks to high demand for Internet video. He managed to crystallise in my mind that Google will be the singular dominant information entity of the future and that at $500, its stock is a good buy. After all, it is extremely profitable, rates as the best company to work for, attracts the best talent, and people genuinely like its product and philosophy.

One technology in which they lack accessibility and functionality is their Bookmarks. In December, they took a small step in correcting this by releasing a new Bookmarks gadget. It has some bugs, but is a significant improvement over the first iteration. It is a perfect addition to the homepage. The newly released Google Toolbar 3.0 also has a quality Bookmarks feature built in.

I was surprised to learn that Google Video can be downloaded as an .avi file.

Lastly, the unofficial Google Operating System blog is an excellent source of useful tools and information as is the Official Blog.

Apple Plays a Different iTune

Given the recent drama in Norige, Steve Jobs has started playing a different tune on DRM. Now he has joined me in calling for open standards for iTMS, but is blaming record labels for Apple's inability to do so. Whether or not this is just a well calculated move to ingratiate himself with disgusted customers while seeking greater control for Apple in the music sales business, it is nonetheless a positive development and hopefully will gain momentum. After all, whatever system allows for the continued creation of high quality media at the lowest cost to the consumer is the socially optimal one. Apple's motives are irrelevant. And what of the incentives for artists to create media in a DRM free, copy friendly world? As the boys of South Park conclude in the episode 7 x 9, 'Christian Rock Hard:'
Kyle: ...[A]ll this time we've been so caught up with how to protect our music that we forgot to just play.

Lars: But why play if we're not gonna make millions of dollars?

Kyle: Because that's what real artists do. People are always gonna find a way to copy our music and swap it for free. If we're real musicians, then we should just play and be stoked that so many people are listening.

Stan: Besides, maybe our songs would have gotten downloaded for free, but if they were good songs then people still would have bought tickets to see our band in concert.
It is that simple.


Human Papillomavirus

Human Papillomavirus or HPV comes in over 100 strains which infect skin and mucous membranes of humans and many animals. Some of these strains are fairly benign and unnoticeable, some cause common warts or plantar warts (warts on the bottom of the foot). Other strains are more malignant causing genital or anal warts or cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is responsible for the death of over 280,000 people per year and is almost always caused by sexually transmitted HPV infection. Unfortunately the use of safe sex practices such as condoms to prevent HPV has been clearly shown to be only partially effective since transmission is skin to skin. Conservatives are correct in suggesting that abstinence is the only way to be truly safe.

I had the good fortune lately to dine with a friend who is working at Merck pharmaceuticals company promoting the use of their new HPV vaccine, Guardasil. Guardasil defends against four common cancer causing HPV types responsible for 70% of cancers and 90% of genital warts. The European Union has already approved the use of guardasil in both men and women while the more backwards and highly politicised US Food and Drug Administration, who deny any medical benefit of cannabis, have so far only approved Guardasil for young women and girls. My friend did inform me that some enlightened US doctors will nonetheless prescribe Guardasil to men even though it is not "indicated."

The State of Tejas recently decided to implement mandatory HPV vaccination for middle school girls with exceptions made for allergic or religious conflict. This is an extremely wise decision by the State legislature and much to the benefit of the people of Texas and those who might have sexual contact with a Texan woman. The move is much to the credit of Texas which is often stereotyped as a bastion of ignorant fundamentalist Christian extremism.

Hopefully new vaccines will emerge combating other strains of the virus and others which plague the human species.

Regarding the ethics of infectious disease transmission and sensible public health policies, I will have much more to say. In the meantime, my readers may ponder this post from Volokh Conspiracy. Most importantly I wish my readers to recognise the tremendous prevalence of HPV in our society, and to take a much more sober view of sexual contact than pop culture and health classes would have you believe. 27 million Americans have genital HPV infection. Many people with HPV, HSV-2 or even HIV, even those who know they have it, will lie about their status and knowingly infect their partners out of shame or selfishness.

Be safe and Ja Bless.


Virgin America

Last month the US Department of Trade denied Virgin America, the new US airline hopeful, the permission to fly domestically within the United States on the ground that it is too much controlled by foreigners. Anyone who has ever flown a US carrier knows how disgustingly poor the overall experience is, with the possible exception of JetBlue. Virgin America promises to change that. This is the sister company of Virgin Galactic, the company aiming to send passengers into space affordability. Who would you rather fly, Delta? I encourage all US citizens who read this blog to enlist their support of Virgin America in their next attempt to secure the needed go-ahead from the US government. I further encourage readers to boycott Continental for lobbying heavily to keep VA grounded. I cannot imagine who would choose to fly Continental in the first place.

Knowing an employee at Virgin America, I can attest to the quality this airline will bring to the industry.

*Update* Freakonomics commented on this as well.

*Update 2* via Digg, yet another great reason to campaign for Virgin to fly.


M$ Vista

I have recently downgraded my PC from Windows XP Professional to Windows Vista. I say downgrade because not only do several hardware components like dual video cards no longer function properly, but even the basic selling point of Vista, its flashy graphics and new look, in fact just look completely silly and ugly. Whatever "artist" they chose to design their GUI should be taken out and shot. When switching I was almost tempted to think that Vista might be good enough to maintain my continued use of the Windows platform, but my short experience has disabused me of such a misguided notion. Any future PCs I use will run Linux with VMware or Parallels allowing a virtual Windows Enterprise session.