May 24th, 2010

Now I'm just confused.

It is inevitable that a partisan ideology runs into itself. By this I mean inherent conflicts between narratives of different issues. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the tension between a conservative drive for a highly interventionist foreign policy, and the conservative drive for marginalizing the very societies we are "helping".

Obama is often criticized for "alienating our allies". The fodder for such a charge is endless and the arguments offered for the charge are patently disprovable. What is weird though, is how conservative backlash against immigration sits neatly next to conservative lauding of those fine, decent people over there who just want to be free. I mean, as long as they're not coming here. Then they're dangerous.

I mean, the point is, immigrating here means that you agree to assimilate, and we agree to go over and impose our values upon your country. It is a one-way street: immigrants come here and should assimilate, and we should go over there to change their ways. How they reconcile this is beyond me.

What all this does is simply betray true feelings about those people, and is a tacit admission that all this high-falutin' talk about democracy, freedom and decent, hard-working people is just a smokescreen.

Remember this: every conservative who maligns Muslims in this country kills a service-member over there.

Millionares Tax vs State Workers on Furlough

I heard on NPR the other day that Republican Gov of NJ (Chris Christie) has publicly said he will not sign a bill that both houses of the state legislature passed which would increase the millionares tax.

This tax would raise some $600M (maybe it was 670M, but let's work with 600M) for the state. It would affect (effect? w/e, you know what I mean) some 16,000 tax payers.

So how much, on average, would each of these people be paying?



So instead of taxing millionares an extra 38K, the Gov wants to put state workers on furlough and not pay them for 1 day of work per week. So instead of taxing the really rich, he wants to stop paying the middle class for 20% of their work.

Is this not utterly fucked up?

It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.

At 2:00PM EST, Thursday, May 20, my company's local division was sent to the auditorium to watch our CEO make a major, ground-breaking announcement via an international press conference. By about 2:10PM, I was slumped against the auditorium wall, dozing lightly. Craig Venter does have a lot of strengths, but public speaking isn't one of them.

The announcement was that our company had created a new life form, using DNA constructed from a computer file and four off-the-shelf jars of acid. The J Craig Venter Institute had created life.

What does this mean? Is this the dawn of a brave new world? Is this a transforming moment in science? Honestly, based on what I know about the synthetic biology department, (I'm in a different department, and my status there is fairly lowly) the answer is er, kinda.

Philosophically, this is a very big deal. Man said, Let there be a tiny little self-replicating cell, and there was a cell. And man saw the cell, and saw that it was good. Heck, more than good - it scored a publication in Science magazine. I've already seen some religious analysis on the synthetic cell showing up on the web. It is accompanied by a huge wave of concerns by environmentalists, as well as speculations of glowing futures by technology fans.

Scientifically, this is a, um... well, it really is a nice bit of science. Is it groundbreaking? Yes and no. The scientific community has been constructing synthetic bits of DNA for some time now; the Venter team just took it one step further by starting a new program rather than modifying an existing one. The new DNA was injected into an existing bacteria cell that had its own DNA strand removed. This part was a nice piece of work. Cells don't like foreign DNA invasions, and employ restriction enzymes as a security defense force. (Restriction enzymes were discovered by Dr. Hamilton Smith, who was also the senior scientist on this project)
The information encoded in the DNA has been published in other work. Bits of the DNA programming language had do be decoded before the Venter team could cut and paste them into their new program. This language was used to program the wonder cell to replicate, which arguably qualifies it to be the first man-made species.

So the synthetic cell is a moderately important scientific milestone that shakes many non-scientists down to their philosophical cores. Venter probably picked this project for that reason - his genius is in being a great CEO. He doesn't bother trying to wow the scientific world, because scientists don't control the money. He wows the investors into giving him money, then he uses that money to churn out great science. It's a pretty damn effective strategy.

Depending on how the investments and the controversies go over the synthetic cell, this may or may not be remembered as an important milestone in science history. But at the very least, it will force us to change the GMO acronym to something like, "Genetically Created and/or Modified Organism"