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[ 20020831 ]

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Lest the air defense post make anyone think I've gone soft on gov't expenditures ...

I am not making this up. This is the actual logo of DARPA's Information Awareness Office:

IAO Banner
IAO Logo
IAO Logo
IAO Logo
IAO Logo

Nor am I making this up. This is the actual symbol for Homeland Security used by the US Patent & Trademark Office:

Thanks to Jesse Walker of Reason Magazine for both (see p 74 of the October 2002 issue, now arriving in subscibers' mailboxes.)

Jay Manifold [1:48 PM]

Air Defense Math

Buried in Suicide Missions Considered on 9/11 are some remarkable figures:

... it was unclear how many hijackings would occur, and [Air Force Col. Robert] Marr [Jr.] knew he had only four armed fighter jets available in his area of responsibility, called the Northeast Air Defense Sector, stretching from Minnesota to Maine to Virginia.

The fact that the United States had only a small number of armed fighter jets on air defense duty on Sept. 11 reflects that in the aftermath of the Cold War, aerial attacks were considered a minimal threat. Also, the U.S. military never before had the mission of defending against domestic aerial attack.

This site informs us that

The sector monitors the skies ranging from the Montana-North Dakota border to the coast of Maine down through South Carolina.

The Northeast Air Defense Air Sector's area of responsability [sic] covers more than one-half million square miles of airspace including that over New York City; Washington, D.C.; Chicago and other major metropolitan areas.

So on the morning of 9/11/01, that was > 125,000 mi2 per armed fighter, which works out to an average separation of over 350 miles. Assuming a response time equivalent to an average speed of Mach 1 gives a time-to-intercept of about half an hour. Obviously a good deal of mischief could be done in that time, so suppose we want to cut it to 10 minutes. This cuts the desired average separation by a factor of 3 and therefore the area covered by each aircraft by a factor of 9, so we'd need 36 armed fighters in the NEADS.

How much would 27 more planes cost? The marginal expense would not be for the aircraft themselves, or their armaments, which we already have, but for the labor needed to keep that many more planes continuously available.

This source informs us that the US Air Force has ~390,000 active-duty members and ~4,700 aircraft of all types, and this source states that the FY 2002 Air Force budget is $~81 billion (all numbers rounded to 2 significant figures). Note the ratio of 83 personnel per aircraft, which seems high; but also note the labor cost of $~100/hr, in line with most technology-intensive industries -- and arguably far lower, as this calculation assumes a 40-hour workweek. I conclude that adding 27 armed fighters to the NEADS would cost -- or rather, is costing, since there have been plenty of changes since last September -- $~470 million.

Multiply this by about 4 to get the cost for the entire contiguous US: $~1.9 billion. Divide it by 280 million people: $~6.80 per capita. I wish everything the Feds did was this cheap.

Jay Manifold [11:02 AM]

[ 20020830 ]

You've Got Dissent!

-- is the title of a Rand Corp report about the back-and-forth battle between Chinese dissidents and the regime. This was brought to my attention by an AP story, Rand: China Uses Web Vs. Activists. Turning to the summary, we find that in spite of "counterstrategies ... including blocking of web sites, e-mail monitoring and filtering, denial, deception, disinformation, and even the hacking of dissident and Falungong web sites," swarming happens in China, too:

... the Internet .... allows ... activities to take place in some instances without attracting the attention of the authorities, as exemplified by the unexpected appearance of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 members of Falungong outside Zhongnanhai, the Chinese central leadership compound, in April 1999.

Perhaps most importantly, however, "[t]he regime understands implicitly that the center of gravity is not necessarily the information itself, but the organization of information and the use of information for political action." Notwithstanding this mindset, the summary ends on a note of cautious optimism:

While Beijing has done a remarkable job thus far of finding effective counterstrategies to what it perceives as the potential negative effects of the information revolution, the scale of China’s information-technology modernization would suggest that time is eventually on the side of the regime’s opponents.

As one who well remembers those few days of wild hope in June of 1989, I can only devoutly wish for the dissidents' success.

Jay Manifold [7:09 AM]

[ 20020829 ]

Good News on Smallpox Vaccination

Three years ago, Richard Preston's The Demon in the Freezer appeared in the New Yorker, proclaiming that

Most people today have no immunity to smallpox. The vaccine begins to wear off in many people after ten years. Mass vaccination for smallpox came to a worldwide halt around twenty-five years ago.

Fortunately, like Preston's other major contention -- that "each infected person infects an average of ten to twenty more people" (in reality, smallpox victims rarely infect more than two or three other people, and usually infect 0 or 1) -- this turns out not to be the case. Old smallpox shots may still work, says Reuters, but the UPI story has more details:

... researchers found the body's immune system cells exhibited a response indicative of the ability to suppress the virus whether the person had been vaccinated 5 years ago or 35 years ago ...

Those vaccinated 35 years ago showed some drop-off in activity but it was only a small decline, [Jeffrey A. Frelinger, chairman of microbiology and immunology in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine] noted. They still had two-thirds the response of people vaccinated 5 years ago.

Frelinger also pointed out that during an outbreak of smallpox in Liverpool, England, in 1902, people who had been vaccinated 50 years previously were protected from death and serious disease. The vaccine being used at that time was essentially the same as the one in use today, so this suggests people may be protected for up to 50 years, he said.

It's starting to look like the concern over smallpox as a bioterror agent is largely unwarranted. Vaccine should certainly be made available for those too young to have received it by the mid-1970s when routine vaccination ended, and of course for anyone voluntarily requesting a booster shot. But there are already 155 million doses available -- neatly demolishing Preston's prediction that DOD and HHS mismanagement would prevent the production more than a few hundred thousand doses by 2006.

Or, for that matter, his implied position that dealing with a smallpox outbreak would require "an authoritarian ... government ... exercis[ing] full emergency powers."

UPDATE (3 PM CDT Sun 31 Aug): Reynolds posts on the subject. Advantage: Arcturus! But the article Glenn points to has more quantitative info; go read it.

Jay Manifold [7:04 AM]

[ 20020828 ]

Tell me brother, have you heard from Johannesburg?

Via JunkScience.com, the Boston Globe, of all newspapers, takes on the United Nations' World Summit on Sustainable Development. It all reminds me of a song ...

Jay Manifold [11:43 AM]

[ 20020827 ]

What Might Have Been

Biographies are loaded with implied "first-order counterfactuals," to use Niall Ferguson's term -- gigantic changes in history caused by single decisions or small physical events going the other way. My current bedtime reading is no exception:

In 1938 Eisenhower received another strange but lucrative offer to return to civilian life. He had heated arguments with Hitler supporters within the Spanish populace in Manila, and even with some American civilians. His anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler views had become well-enough known to Manila's tiny Jewish community that he was approached by a committee of Jewish expatriates who wanted him to establish sanctuaries throughout Asia for escapees from Hitler's anti-Semitic Reich. In return, they guaranteed him the princely sum of sixty thousand dollars annually for a minimum of five years -- more than $1.85 million in 1989 dollars. Eisenhower politely declined.

This would presumably have gotten Ike a listing in Yad Vashem. But how would the Anglo-American alliance have fared without his diplomacy and organizational skills? Harry Turtledove, call your office.

Jay Manifold [8:22 PM]

Mathematical Psychohistory

Peer Pressure in Numbers: Physicists model the power of social sway, says Science News (sorry, subscription required):

... peer-influenced behavior might explain many puzzling patterns that show up in everything from financial data to fluctuations in animal populations, says a team of physicists that has modeled the behavior mathematically.

"The equations are complex, but they have a rather simple physical meaning," says Jayanth R. Banavar of Pennsylvania State University in State College. He and his colleagues describe their model in the Aug. 19 Physical Review Letters.

The new model may form a foundation for studying diverse systems that operate under a kind of peer pressure: from ants and bacteria that lay down kin-attracting chemical gradients to people that sell stocks or donate money based on what their peers do, Banavar says.

A foundation, you say? ;)

Jay Manifold [6:59 PM]

History Lesson

Bill Walker's latest connects alternate history, time travel, genetics, and slavery reparations.

Jay Manifold [6:42 PM]

Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Leistungtest!

I'm generally a pretty optimistic guy, and I do think that the US is the best place in the world to live, but honesty compels me to admit on occasion that there is some evidence that I'm surrounded by idiots. Americans Support New National Education Legislation is a good example. Right out of the gate, we've got the "not my kid" syndrome:

Parents continue to give high marks to the schools their own children attend, while the public at large offers more mixed reviews of the public schools in its communities and is generally critical of the nation's public schools as a whole.

Also, the younger they are, the sillier their beliefs:

... the sharpest distinctions are seen by age, with support for federal involvement [in local public school affairs] high among young adults, but lower among older age groups.

The concept of federalism doesn't seem to have penetrated, either:

... new legislation gives each state discretion in establishing its own standards and tests, but a substantial majority of Americans say it would be best to require all 50 states to use a nationally standardized test.

One People! One Empire! One Achievement Test!

Jay Manifold [6:34 PM]

A Rare Topic

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden (via Dave Trowbridge), something you'll be better for reading.

I don't blog a lot about this, probably because notwithstanding that I felt what lots of other people all over the world did, I'm very aware that I watched it on TV from twelve hundred miles away. I hesitate to offer observations -- the hundreds of thousands of people who had to evacuate, to say nothing of those who lost friends or family, will have far more relevant and valuable things to impart. Of all the first-person accounts I have read, the one that impressed me most appeared in, of all places, the in-house magazine of my former employer, a large telecommunications firm. Amazingly, we didn't lose anyone that day, in spite of having lots of people in lower Manhattan. One was a young woman from KC who was there for a business meeting. At one point during the initial chaos after the fall of the towers, she found herself with a group of people, all strangers to one another: "We held hands and said the Lord's Prayer. It felt like the end of the world." The accompanying photograph was carefully posed, and of course she had dressed and done her hair and makeup for the picture, but the look on her face was pure 9/11. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

Jay Manifold [6:38 AM]

Needed: IFF for Rare Birds

Well, that's the implication of Wired Goose Shot Down by Arctic Hunter. Ouch!

Jay Manifold [6:37 AM]

Gimme Back My Cookies

"... put 'em back where they belong!" Explanation for a week's absence: goofed up setting on home PC. When it doesn't accept cookies, whaddaya know, Blogger Pro becomes uncooperative. I was about to begin making daily blogging visits to public libraries when She Who Must Be Obeyed diagnosed and corrected the problem.

Expect lots of posts today. You've heard of pent-up demand -- this is pent-up supply.

Jay Manifold [6:36 AM]

[ 20020819 ]

Paging Larry Niven

Joel Garreau (of The Nine Nations of North America and Edge City fame) had a column in Sunday's Hartford Courant called Swarming: The New Phenomenon which was more than a little reminiscent of the "flash crowds" Niven predicted for a world of instantaneous travel. Turns out we don't need "transfer booths" -- just instant messaging:

At the University of St. Andrews, royal hottie Prince William can't even go out for drinks with friends without being tracked electronically by a pack of wired women.

"A quite sophisticated text messaging network has sprung up," an insider told the Scottish Daily Record. "If William is spotted anywhere in the town then messages are sent out" on his admirers' cellphones. "It starts off quite small. The first messages are then forwarded to more girls and so on. It just has a snowball effect. Informing 100 girls of his movements takes just seconds."

At one bar, the prince had to be moved to a safe location when more than 100 "lusty ladies," so alerted, suddenly mobbed the place like cats responding to the sound of a can opener.

Garreau nicely generalizes the concept:

Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, accused of massive corruption, was driven out of power two years ago by smart mobs who swarmed to demonstrations, alerted by their cellphones.

"It's like pizza delivery," Alex Magno, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, told The Washington Post then. "You can get a rally in 30 minutes - delivered to you."

Cellphones drove political change in that upheaval the same way fax machines enabled Tiananmen Square, cassette recordings fired the Iranian revolution, photocopiers fueled the Polish Solidarity uprising and short-wave radios aided the French Resistance.

In Washington, mobile-mediated swarms are regular highlights of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund protests.

OK, so idiotarians can use it too -- technology's like that. Needless to say, you should Read The Whole Thing.

Jay Manifold [3:51 PM]

[ 20020818 ]

Organlegging Correspondence

Evidently a few people still read this thing, for which I am grateful. And they're not shy about providing me feedback, either. One semi-regular correspondent, the erudite John W. Braue, III, sent in a correction:

I don't think it's quite accurate to characterize Niven's "organlegging" concept as one in which "condemned criminals are made the sole source of organs and the death penalty is steadily broadened to meet the need". Rather, "organlegging" implies that that source is STILL inadequate, and that criminals kidnap and murder people randomly as a supply of organs, which are then sold on the black market to those who cannot supply their needs from the government supply...

John is entirely correct. Niven presupposed an inadequate supply and hypothesized the, er, liberal use of the death penalty to meet the demand.

Also, previously unknown reader -- as I keep saying, the best kind -- Jim Gwyn, who prefers not to have his e-mail address published, somewhat alarmingly addressing me as "Sir," writes:

I have a suggestion to addresss the shortage of organs. As you know, many people are unwilling to register as organ donors due to either superstitious reasons or the fear that they'd recieve poorer emergency medical care to increase the chance of harvesting their organs. Other than altruism there is no benefit to listing as a donor and no penalty
for not.

This us unfair to those of us who are registered organ donors. I suggest that in order to recieve a transplant one must have been registered as a potential donor. In short; no pay, no play. If you are not willing to donate organs, you will not be allowed to recieve organs.

This proposed policy would become effective four years after promulgation. For an adult to be eligable to recieve an organ, that person must have registered as a donor at least three years before learning that they had a condition which had a reasonable probability of causing them to need a transplant. Note that the waiting period would kill many who only listed when they learned that they needed a transplant. Tough.

I can see three and only three exceptions: those already on the organ waiting lists and children.

Is this a merciless policy? I certainly hope so because I am a man of justice. (For more on that, read Ayn Rand's thoughts on the subject.)

Other than a counting error (how many fingers?), my only objection to this is that it would seem to require more state intervention than I'm comfortable with -- how would those with enforcement powers know who was eligible? One more database with everybody in it (paging Larry Ellison).

Having said that, there is one relatively minor intervention which could be done at the state level in the US: no motorcycle certification to be added to a driver's license unless that driver agrees to become an organ donor (and I ride, so I'm not picking on somebody else here). But my true preference would be for insurance companies and medical providers to develop a (as I keep calling it) discreet system of compensation -- perhaps a promise to compensate the individual's estate by an agreed-upon amount of money in the event of untimely death and the use of that individual's transplantable organs.

Jay Manifold [4:20 PM]

No Joy in Mudville

-- or in Amherst, Belchertown, or Pelham, Massachusetts, the various locales from which I attempted to observe 2002 NY40 last night. A combination of skyglow, clouds, and insufficient aperture kept me from spotting it, though the sites farther east were much darker. Having seen asteroids before, I was disappointed but not crushed. Send observing reports here.

Jay Manifold [3:57 PM]

[ 20020816 ]

Asteroid Fly-By Details

(Ref this earlier post) -- are at SkyandTelescope.com; to cut to the chase, I recommend printing Chart B and Chart C. The brightest field star which 2002 NY40 will pass near is 4th-magnitude q Herculis -- viewers in eastern North America will see the asteroid come within a fraction of a degree of this star at 12:47 AM EDT on Sunday the 18th. It will also pass 4° southwest of b Lyrae at 10:53 PM EDT on Saturday the 17th and just over 2° southwest of k Lyrae just after midnight.

Here's a larger map; q Herculis is a few degrees east of the northeast corner of the "keystone." (b Lyrae is obscured by the "M" in "M57" on this map.)

Why the EDT times? Because one of the tracks on the Sky&Tel maps is for Boston, and because I'll be in western Massachusetts. Posting may be light for the next several days ...

Jay Manifold [8:38 PM]

[ 20020815 ]

A Night in the Life

I will begin with a memory that is no more than the faintest of echoes, of being awakened in the early morning to ride in deep twilight through the sleeping city, along the boulevards and out onto rural roads in eastern Jackson County paved forty years earlier by Harry Truman when he was presiding judge. Dim impression of forest alternating with fields, and the hills near the Little Blue River as we approached Lake Jacomo, where my father liked to fish. Cool, humid air after the warmth of the city, and patches of fog in the hollows; smells of car exhaust and tobacco and aftershave on the way out, and watery/fishy smells once we got there. He was younger then than I am now.

Twenty years later, scratching out a living after dropping out of college, I joined the Astronomical Society of Kansas City and began frequenting their observing site in Blue & Gray County Park (this was before Powell Observatory was built). The park has had some work done on it, and the field we used to set up in is gone, but there is a picnic shelter nearby with a large parking area, plenty of open ground, and restrooms. Here I arrived last night shortly before midnight with my house-sitting buddy Troy and set up my telescope and a couple of lawn chairs, having thoroughly stoked myself for the occasion on caffeine and a chocolate malt.

A married couple was already there -- they told us it was their ninth anniversary -- and I gave them an abbreviated version of the summer-sky grand tour: globular clusters M22 in Sagittarius and M13 in Hercules; the Ring Nebula in Lyra; the beautiful double star Albireo in Cygnus; the Andromeda Galaxy. Then we all settled down to watch meteors. There weren't very many. The shower had peaked a couple of nights earlier, but this was the first clear night we'd had in a while. Sky transparency and "seeing" were both quite good; I had no trouble, later on, spotting 10 or 11 stars in the Pleiades, and satisfied myself that perhaps I don't need a new eyeglass prescription after all by splitting e Lyrae with my unaided eyes.

The Summer Triangle was overhead, with the Milky Way a great swath running almost straight north-south. For a galactography lesson, lie with your feet toward the east: the galactic core ("in") is on your right, near the southern horizon, in Sagittarius, thirty thousand light-years away; the north galactic pole ("up") is behind/above you near the north-northwestern horizon; the south galactic pole ("down") is below your feet; and the direction of the Sun's motion ("forward") is almost directly in front of you, near the zenith, toward Vega.

The Cygnus Rift was of course clearly visible. I thought of how few people, even today, can look at it and know what it is -- and of course no one at all knew before a couple of centuries ago. I looked at Deneb, the brightest star within two thousand light-years of the Solar System, and suddenly wanted a calculus refresher so I could work through my Stellar Atmospheres book.

This is half of reality, and it's above our heads every single night. If people knew what was out here, amateur astronomy would be as popular as every other outdoor activity combined. The day after the Perseids every year would be a holiday so we could all stay out all night and sleep it off.

The temperature was in the middle 60s Fahrenheit, with a slight breeze -- unexpectedly cool and comfortable for August in the Midwest. I drifted off to sleep from about 2 to 3 AM. When I woke up, the summer sky was rapidly being replaced by fall. The Milky Way now described an immense arch with its apex, in Perseus, high in the northern sky, appearing to rest on the southwestern and southeastern horizons.

Out past Fomalhaut, toward the south galactic pole, the stars fade. Fomalhaut is a portent of the end of summer, and the beginning (in youth) of autumn's responsibilities -- but also of its earlier and longer nights, and the winter glory of Orion to come. But even in that empty quadrant of sky, there are hidden treasures; and in the invisible foreground are countless millions of stars. Suppose we wanted to find one like the Sun: say, between spectral types F5 and K5, not part of a double or multiple system, and at least a billion years old (to let things settle down a bit). Perhaps one percent of all the stars in the spiral arms of the Milky Way meet these criteria, and there is one star in each 300 cubic light-years in the solar neighborhood.

Figuring the volume of a cone whose apex is the Sun and whose base is the "surface" of the galactic disk, oriented in the direction of the south galactic pole, there would be nearly thirty thousand Sun-like stars in that dark stretch of sky, home only to faint constellations like Cetus and Eridanus.

The last thing I looked at before packing up and leaving was Saturn, presently quite close to one of the "horns" of Taurus. The rings are near their maximum tilt with respect to Earth, and as always, the pronounced oblateness of the planet itself was clearly visible. Titan was some distance above and to the left of the planet. Everyone I have ever shown Saturn to in a telescope has reacted instantly with awe, gratitude, and an intense desire to share the experience with others.

As for me, I'm dead tired and reeking of insect repellent. And I feel wonderful.

Jay Manifold [7:24 PM]

[ 20020814 ]

Good Question on Organ Donation and Cloning

Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Bill Picou writes:

I assume from your comments that you are opposed to Britain's proposed 'opt-out' policy on organ transplants.

I also assume from your comments that you are in favor of cloning, especially that distinguished (speciously) as 'therapeutic.'

I can not understand your opposition to the former in light of your support of the latter. They are both commodifications of human life.

The question for me is -- who decides?

In an opt-in system, the individual decides whether or not to donate. The decision may be affected by whether or not monetary compensation is involved, but it remains the donor's prerogative.

In an opt-out system, the decision is made for the donor by (in this case) the State. Whether or not compensation (monetary or otherwise) is offered, informed consent has been replaced by presumed consent.

Transplantable human organs are subject to the principles of economics -- they are "scarce resources which have alternative uses," as Thomas Sowell puts it. What we are seeing is the result of their price being set at zero: great demand and severely limited supply, with many would-be recipients dying on waiting lists.

While I might abstractly prefer a purely voluntaristic approach, where anyone is allowed to sell a transplantable organ at any time for any reason, public (and my) revulsion at, for example, the act of selling a kidney to cover a gambling debt suggests that while we should acknowledge the economics of organ donation, we should take care to develop a discreet system of compensation.

The de facto nationalization of transplantable organs being proposed in the UK is frighteningly similar to Niven's "organlegging" concept, in which condemned criminals are made the sole source of organs and the death penalty is steadily broadened to meet the need.

The analogous question on cloning is also "who decides?"

There are multiple problems here:

  1. The difference between scientific and political debate, especially the tendency of political decisions to foreclose options vs that of scientific discoveries to multiply options.

  2. The potential for somatic-cell nuclear transfer (sometimes called "therapeutic cloning") to provide a source of stem cells suitable for the growth of replacement organs which will not be rejected by the recipient's immune system.

  3. The similarity of reproductive cloning to in vitro fertilization, over which it is essentially an incremental advance, and the economics of infertile couples' desire for children.

  4. Finally, the sense in which public funding of research forces taxpayers morally opposed to certain activities to fund those activities.

Considering all of the above, I favor minimal restrictions on research in this area, but also oppose public funding of it. I also hope for the development of less ethically problematic sources of stem cells and replacement organs.

I was hoping someone would ask about this. Bill, thanks for providing me with the opportunity to comment!

Jay Manifold [10:46 AM]

Please Help

Innocent children are being forced to wear dorky hats!

Jay Manifold [5:45 AM]

[ 20020813 ]

Perseid Update

OK, make that tomorrow night; it's still partly cloudy here and not expected to improve before sunup. (Ref earlier post.)

Jay Manifold [7:18 PM]

RNA Interference

This is something I should have blogged a long time ago, but to my embarrassment, I just learned about it (via JunkScience.com). It's also known as post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS), and potential applications include stopping the growth of tumors and preventing viruses from replicating -- in other words, entirely effective treatments for cancer and AIDS: "Perhaps most exciting, however, is the emerging use of PTGS and, in particular, RNA interference (RNAi) — PTGS initiated by the introduction of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) — as a tool to knock out expression of specific genes in a variety of organisms."

In a delightful example of serendipity, the phenomenon was first noticed by plant-breeders trying to deepen the purple color of petunias. Later work with nematodes found that "... injection of just a few molecules of dsRNA per cell was sufficient to completely silence the homologous gene's expression. Furthermore, injection of dsRNA into the gut of the worm caused gene silencing not only throughout the worm, but also in its first generation offspring [my emphasis - JDM]."

"Gene knockout" studies on the human genome will help to establish the function of the tens of thousands of genes whose purpose is unknown, greatly accelerating research in "functional genomics." This source notes that only about one-eighth of human genes are understood in this way.

Jay Manifold [10:38 AM]

[ 20020811 ]

The ABA Gets It

Well, mostly:

... the proposed ABA position implicitly opposes cloning for reproductive purposes ...

The ABA long has advocated academic and scientific freedom, and for legal and ethical reasons should not stand by if the government tries to wall off scientific inquiry, said Robyn Shapiro, director of the Center for the Study of Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and an author of the proposed policy.

"The course upon which the law embarks regarding this field of research will be critical to helping either protect or diminish the freedom of scientific inquiry in the future," wrote lawyers who drafted the proposed policy.

Chalk one up for the dynamists.

Jay Manifold [8:55 PM]

[ 20020808 ]

Mandatory Donor Watch

See also this earlier post. Who needs informed consent when you've got presumed consent? Organ shortage puts transplants at risk tells of the move in the UK toward organ harvesting:

... the Liberal Democrats said the figures highlighted the need to change the way organs are obtained.

Its health spokesman Dr Evan Harris urged the government to replace the current donor volunteer programme with a system that presumes consent unless someone has expressed a wish to opt out.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson of the British Medical Association backed the opt-out system and called on the government to change the law on organ donation.

She told the BBC: "We need to look to parliament for legislation particularly for a system where we opt out - that is, we assume that anyone who dies whose organs can be used will be used unless they have registered that they wouldn't want their organs to be used."

To its credit, the BBC story ends with a phone number for UK residents to dial to add themselves to the opt-in list.

This story notably does not mention any advocacy of involuntary organ donation. American exceptionalism, perhaps?

Jay Manifold [6:51 AM]

[ 20020807 ]

Not to Overlook the Obvious --

-- the Perseid meteor shower, that is, which peaks next Monday night; I would be remiss if I did not mention that Rand Simberg has blogged this as well.

Me, I'll be at Blue & Gray, as usual, specifically here, that is, near the picnic shelter ¼ mile east of Buckner-Tarsney Rd on Hammond Rd. Locals, let me know if you're interested. Yeah, I know it's a Monday night -- strictly speaking, Tuesday morning -- which is kinda tough if you're employed; but I'm not. Hah!

UPDATE (Sunday): Based on the current weather forecast, I'm planning to go out on Tuesday night instead. Fewer meteors, but a lot better chance of seeing them.

Jay Manifold [7:27 PM]

Seeing an Asteroid

Persons interested in actually seeing one of these things are directed to read this, which includes this handy diagram; to convert from GMT to CDT, subtract 5 hours. The asteroid will pass a few degrees south of Vega about 10:30 PM on Saturday the 17th. See also this Planetary Society article, this CNN article, and this NASA/Sky & Telescope news release, which explains:

On that Saturday evening, 2002 NY40 should become as bright as magnitude 9.3 during the period when it is well placed for viewing from North America. Its angular velocity will exceed 4 arcminutes per minute, a motion easily perceptible in small telescopes.

As viewed from KC, Vega will be nearly at the zenith at 10:30 PM on Saturday the 17th. It will be the brightest object in the sky except for the Moon, which will be well to the south in Sagittarius, and Venus, which will be setting in the West. The asteroid may be visible in 35mm binoculars, but I recommend using larger binocs or a telescope and traveling to a dark-sky site if possible.

Go get it!

Jay Manifold [7:02 PM]

Th' Inconstant -- c?

Paul Davies, yes, that Paul Davies -- is proposing, based on observations of a quasar 12 billion light-years away, that the speed of light may be decreasing. A shorter version of the story is here.

Jay Manifold [6:32 PM]

[ 20020806 ]

Same Planet, Different Worlds

-- politically speaking, that is. Instapundit points to an Andrea Dworkin column which I'm afraid is all too typical. Meanwhile, my regular reading included For Men Only: A Husband’s Personal Checklist, which nicely packages the behavioral memes being actively promoted in one of the subcultures most despised by stereotypical feminists. You know, all that oppressive patriarchal stuff like never raising your voice at your wife, always treating her as your intellectual equal, etc.

Warning for husbands of the subculture in question: there are 123 items on the list. You have zero chance of getting to the end of it without wincing in self-recognition a few times. Also, you may notice a few that she's violating, and guess what? You still have to do your job. This kind of marriage is not for weenies.

Jay Manifold [9:22 AM]

Bears Defecate in Woods

You can read the totally unsurprising story here. It's nice to see the mainstream media move away from the status quo, those full-page ads from our "friends" notwithstanding:

"The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader," stated the briefing prepared by Laurent Murawiec, a Rand Corporation analyst .... "Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies."

It's time for a policy of containment, which I hereby revise to include a blockade. As someone once said, a moderate is an extremist who's run out of ammunition. Running out of food should speed up the moderation process even more.

Jay Manifold [7:53 AM]

[ 20020805 ]

Life Imitates the Onion

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

Jay Manifold [1:12 PM]

[ 20020801 ]

A Modern-Day Warrior ...

Following up yet again on a much earlier post. Out to Bonner again for another amazing concert, this one being everybody's favorite Canadian power trio. Returned suitably hoarse, sweaty, and thirsty. Well, there's just one thing to do after something like that -- grab today's Becky Thatcher, take the train to St Louis, and see them again tomorrow night. No posting this weekend, and apologies in advance to the St Louis bloggers I didn't synch up with -- we could have had the first ever Missourian blogger bash.

Jay Manifold [11:38 PM]