Age and guile, so the saying goes, beats out youth and speed by a long chalk. (As does possession of generous insurance policies.) Age and experience also build up an overflowing reservoir of cynicism about a lot of things; protestations of enduring love, promises by politicians campaigning for election, and belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, among a long, long list of other things.

So it is with heartfelt convictions when it comes to media and academic protestations of “OMG, The Earth Is Gonna End and We Are All Gonna Die!” Sorry, if you’ve been around long enough (as I have been, long enough to collect Social Security while it still exists) you have been to this rodeo before. And to a good many performances, usually championed by the national media with their hair on fire; Existential doom – how many are there, shall I count the ways? The biggie when I was myself in grade school and for a goodly few decades thereafter was Immanent Nuclear War and Annihilation. Nuclear Winter afflicting any of us fortunate enough to survive that! Then there was the catastrophe of Global Cooling – the New Ice Age descending on us all! (insert extraneous exclamation points here.) We were all gonna freeze! More »

08. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Geekery, General, History, Politics, Science!

From a blog Pointman’s, some interesting notes on True Believers, past and present…

The activists swallowed the dream whole. As the apparent success of National Socialism became visible with improving times, it became more reasonable to actively pursue the elements who’d caused the bad times. The denunciations in the mainstream media became gradually more vile. Suitably qualified scientists wrote erudite papers proving Aryans were a superior breed and Jews were the human equivalent to vermin. The first easy step on the road to the Final Solution is to dehumanise the opposition.

All Jewish professors were removed from universities on the flimsiest pretexts without a peep from their colleagues and shortly after the Rassenregeln or race rules legislation was passed. Soon, not only was university entrance barred to them but any position of authority or any decent profession. All they owned was confiscated, which actually meant looted. They became an extensible threat. Anyone else in a position of influence who didn’t bend the knee to the regime was deemed to have been infected by Jewish ideas and could therefore be dealt with similarly.

The pseudo science of Eugenics melded with a deliberate and perverted interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the Nazi sympathisers in academia and science, swung right behind the ideas of that bastard mutant and lent it a spurious authority for the common person. State approved scientists are always well rewarded. It was now settled science and whatever happened to the Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, disabled, mentally handicapped and other inferior races or defective types was just natural selection in action.

Children were sucked into political education organisations like the Hitler Youth, so they too could embrace the dream. They grew up to blow up half of Europe.

Every single organ of the mainstream media blasted the same message at the populace. Any dissenting journalists were soon weeded out and a lot of them fled their own country. They had lots of company in doing that, not least talented scientists who went on to work on the Manhattan Project, which they knew was always intended to deliver a nuclear bomb on Germany, their homeland.

By the end of the thirties, the nightmare subtext of national socialism had gradually split society into two factions; the true believers and everyone else.

The true believers had thrived and were in ruthless control of every organ of state, from the Reich’s chancellery right down to the local parish organisations. They just knew they were a part of something new and glorious. The young middling educated class was fatally susceptible to the dream because it provided a way out of all those slick, articulate but conflicting viewpoints by all those other clever people. It means no more sorting through which one is right, no more doubts about which side of the question they have to be on, an end to uncertainty.

Suddenly it’s been simplified. It’s all about reducing the complication, boiling it down to one thing, perhaps even a few simple phrases. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer – one people, one empire, one leader. Shout it loud brothers and sisters, shout it proud, the more you shout it, the truer it becomes. Join us children of a higher destiny on our great crusade to bring about the thousand-year Aryan Reich. All that’s left is to get the faint hearts amongst us on our side, and we’re going to do that, whether they want it or not. Sacrifices to achieve the dream will have to be made.

(Read the whole thing – found through Classical Values.)

20. December 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!, Site News, Veteran's Affairs

Apparently, we were hijacked by some spam-originator, which resulted in trouble with the host for the Brief … and what with one thing and another, it took most of the weekend to get it straightened out.
As if having to empty out a ton of spam every couple of days, now they’ve added injury to insult. Anyway, we’re back for now, although I’ve had to assign new passwords for the remaining regular contributors.

(Addendum: 8:45 AM – on the advice of our service provider, I am having to approve all comments, to prevent the hacker from doing any more damage to our reputation. We really risk beging taken down permanently, if there are any more complaints about ncobrief.com generating spam, so I do this, apologizing in advance to all the regular commenters.)

There is a sucker born every moment, and who else should have known better, but the shameless old huckster? Even though it’s most probably one of his competitors who actually voiced that deathless observation, PT is the one that we remember today. Fleecing the credulous for a living is not a game which was thought up yesterday. People who desperately want to believe something are as common now as they were in the 19th century; they lined up then to gawk at the so-called Cardiff Giant, and now and again, there are enough poor gullible schmucks who answer a Nigerian spam email . . . and really think that someone with an uncertain grasp of vernacular English and indifferent punctuation skills is really going to transfer umpty-million dollars into their bank account. But belief in such improbabilities is not a crime, and does not generally do any more harm than to the believers’ pocketbook.

Part of this whole ‘free country’ thing is that you are free to believe in any such improbable thing you want to, like Megan Fox can act, or that Dan Brown can write a good book. Or as is sometimes the case – to not believe in something. I, for example, do not believe in global warming, or that sort of alleged global warming supposed to have been caused by human activity, the sort of global warming that calls down unexpected blizzards where-ere Al Gore doth appear, and causes polar bears to fall out of the sky. Never did, don’t and never will. As I have been tiresomely reminding certain of my friends over the years – it was warm enough in Roman times to grow wine grapes in Britain, and in the 10th century for European-style subsistence-farming in Greenland. It was also cool and wet enough for the Pueblo tribes in various places in the American southwest to do pretty much the same. Conversely, during the 16th and 17th centuries it was cold enough in some English winters for the Thames to freeze solid, at or above London. Once there were lush oases in the North African desert, and glaciers covering most of Europe and the North American continent . . . and all of that happened before human kind existed, or that our technologies, and our presence created nothing more than a gentle burp in the cosmos.

So, are we all clear now on the concept? The earth’s climate has changed in the past, sometimes quite drastically, it will change in future, and in fact the weather changes every darned minute. We don’t even have that much precise and reliable data about it anyway: systematic records are spotty at best, much before the 19th century. So, thinking human activity does much to change the climate of the Earth one way or the other? It’s a theory yet to be proven, and massaging, or vigorously pummeling the existing data, and not being able to provide enough of it for anyone else to reproduce the same result? There is a word for that – several ones, actually, but the one I have in mind is ‘opinion’. And dragooning scientific peers and rivals into seeming to share it by monstering or ostracizing them does the actual science no favors. (I would agree, in passing, that generally it is not good to foul our own nests, and to be tidy-minded and to refrain from spilling dangerous pollutants into the air, the earth, or the water; on the whole that has proved to be one of those Good Things that a concern for the environment has engendered over the last forty years.)

The assumption that mere human activity is having Dangerous World-wide Consequences And We Must Do All In Our Power To Ensure Perfect Entropy; that is marvelous to behold, how it became the trend of the moment, among public, the media, corporations and politicians . . . old PT Barnum thought only to fleece the gullible masses by exercising his own creativity! The suspicion about the Global Warmenists – that they were hoping to fleece the gullible by drawing governments into it, as well as corporations – or at the very least, score some more grant money and fat speaking fees for beating the good ol’ Global Warmest/Coolenist/Changiness Drum like a rented mule has been richly rewarded by the leaking of a body of emails from the institution most prominent in recent years for propagating the theory as if it was a matter of established fact. So, no surprise to me, the revelation that the smugly certain Global Warmenist/Coolenist/Changiness advocates were swapping e-mails about how to reward their friends and punish the insufficiently enthusiastic comrade-scientists. What is a bit of a surprise is how miserably like a bunch of middle-school snots deciding among themselves who is really cool enough to hang with the in-crowd that they appear . . . and alternately, how much like a cat trying to hide the crap on the kitchen floor by frantically scratching at the linoleum.

The theory of anthropomorphic global warning is certainly up for more discussion, and for more research . . . that is, honest research in the sense of the search for pure data, uncontaminated by any thought of arriving at the predestined conclusion, or corrupted by receiving the monetary benefits derived from magisterially insisting that it is settled, no more discussion. That’s what a theory is – and to bend the observations in order to serve a conclusion, which is what appears to have happened here – this is not good science. Or it isn’t the science that my dear old Dad taught to us. Science is never settled – what we think to be true is ever-evolving, and one of the first requirements is to be rigorously honest about the data. Fudging the data in order to provide the expedient and much-desired answer? That is not good science. And making social and political demands based on it is even less desirable.

11. July 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: A Href, General, Science!, Technology

Or is it just hidden?

There’s some interesting stuff going on over in Italy, related to discovering artworks that have been painted over. Technology continues to amaze me (I’m easily amazed, but even so…).

Seems that once upon a time, DaVinci began a mural – a battle scene. For centuries, common wisdom was that he’d been unsatisified with his efforts, and destroyed the mural, and it was painted over by another artist, Giorgio Vasari. But in 1977, a young art apprentice was inspecting Vasari’s frescoes, and found two words painted near the top of the wall: “Cerca Trova.” The words were practically invisible from ground level. They translate to “Seek: You will find.”

Skeptical colleagues discounted the discovery. Yet they were the only words on the six enormous frescoes that cover the walls today. To Dr. Seracini, it could mean only one thing: The da Vinci mural must still be there, concealed behind Vasari’s paintings. “We are talking about the masterpiece of the masterpieces of the Renaissance,” says Dr. Seracini, “way more important than The Last Supper or the Mona Lisa.”

Da Vinci and those who commissioned the work left no direct account as to why the master gave up on the mural. Whatever its technical flaws, the painting’s inventiveness and savage passion dazzled artists throughout Europe for a half century before it disappeared from view. “One writer at the time says it is the most beautiful thing in existence, twice as beautiful as the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel,” says Syracuse University art historian Rab Hatfield, a member of the Italian commission overseeing the project.

Dr. Seracini, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, wasn’t the first art scholar to be seduced by the mystery of Leonardo’s missing mural. No one, however, has pursued it with such technical acumen.

Not long ago, art conservationists had only a trained eye to guide their work. Today, sophisticated scientific techniques are becoming part of every art expert’s tool kit. This spring in Vienna, for instance, restorers relied on X-ray fluorescence to analyze the solid gold of a priceless 16th Century sculpture. In France, University of Michigan physicists probed the walls of a 12th Century chapel with nondestructive terahertz beams. In Pittsburgh, NASA scientists used molecules of atomic oxygen to wipe a Warhol painting clean of the lipstick smear left by a vandal’s kiss.

Since that discovery in 1977, Seracini has made use of every technological advance to pursue his search for the DaVinci mural. That search will culminate next year, using a portable neutron-beam scanner that is still in development. Seracini is hopeful the hidden DaVinci will be found.

I hope so, too.

source

There are a good few reasons besides sheer contrariness that I am standing off to the side, pointing and snickering at the antics of the global warming warming crowd. One of them is that I have been to the omigod-it-could-be-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it rodeo before. Several times, actually; when I was in junior high school the panic-du-jour was about overpopulation. Eventually we would all wind up, standing shoulder to shoulder, running out of food and clean water. When I got to high school, it was global cooling; great honking ice sheets were going to advance across the earth, the sun would grow dim and we would all freeze to death. If we didnt starve, first.

Before and during that was the oldie but goodie of global thermonuclear war; we were all going to be annihilated by the Russkies or a melting power plant. Or die of starvation afterwards. For a while in college we were supposed to be all freaked out by the scourge of future shock wherein things changed so fast and so suddenly that our poor little minds just couldnt cope, and we would oh, I forget what was supposed to happen to us with future-shock. Curl up in the fetal position, suck our thumbs and turn up the electric blanket up to high, I suppose.

So, I am a little resistant to someone jumping up and down and screaming oooga-booga! and demanding that I panic along with the rest of the lemmings about the latest panic-du-jour. Deal with it.

See, I know the climate of the world has changed, is changing and will go on changing. There were glaciers over the upper Mid-West, once. In Roman times, it was warm enough in England to grow grapes. Until about the 14th century (give or take) it was warm enough in southern Greenland for subsistence farming. A volcano eruption on the other side of the world resulted in a year without a summer early in the 19th century in the northern hemisphere. So it went. So it goes. How much global warming in the last umpty-ump years-decades-whatever is due to human activity? I dont know, but I am not going to rush into taking a position on the say-so of the same sort of people who were banging on about global cooling, overpopulation, nuclear annihilation, future-shock or whatever in the days of yore.

Sorry. Ill make jokes about them, though.

Which brings me down to the one over-hyped panic-du-jour that followed upon all the others listed, the one that commanded tabloid-style headlines all during the mid 1980s. That would be the ritual-satanic-abuse-of-children-in-daycare-centers scare. While it is not the same kind of issue, it seems to be meriting some of the same kind of popular press. Standing off to one side and looking on, I keep seeing the same sort of shrieking hysteria, the same light-speed jumping to conclusions, the same degree of absolute conviction, the same kind of piling on, and the same shouting-down of all the people who said “now just wait a darned minute”.

The global-warming trend might very be as real an issue, as much as the day-care ritual abuse wasnt, but the degree of shrieking hysteria on display when the issue comes up doesnt do it any favors. Or win me over as a convert, because I am pretty sure that in ten years, the usual suspects will be banging on about something else.

06. December 2006 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!, The Final Frontier

NASA Not Just Aiming For The Moon… It Plans To Stay There

Tue, 05 Dec ’06

Agency Announces Plan For Lunar Base By 2020 It’s no secret NASA plans to return to the moon sometime in the next decade… but what it plans to do there is VERY interesting. Officials with the space agency announced Monday they plan to establish a base on the moon by 2020… with the eventual goal of sustaining a permanent human presence on the lunar surface.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been looking forward to this since I was a kidwhen Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon. Some folks say we can’t afford to do this while we have homeless people and poor people etc.. I say we can’t afford to NOT do this. Someday this planet is not going to be able to sustain us and the sooner we start out for other stars the better. This piece of rock is getting awfully crowded, awfully fast.

19. October 2006 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!

Cool.

First Invisibility Cloak Tested Successfully, Scientists Say

Sean Markey
for National Geographic News

October 19, 2006
Researchers announced today that they’ve built the world’s first invisibility cloak, although the fine print may disappoint science- fiction fans.

The device works only in two dimensions and only on microwaves.

Still, the experiment proves that a theoretical blueprint for building invisibility cloaks unveiled by the same team just five months ago works.

Although, I was hoping for a flying car first.

04. September 2006 · Comments Off · Categories: Critters, Science!, That's Entertainment!

Ya knew a critter would get him someday, but I figured it would be a Croc, not a stingray.

I’m suprised at how sad I am. I loved watching him do stuff that most folks wouldn’t think of doing.

08. April 2006 · Comments Off · Categories: General, Science!

I don’t give much thought to grackles; as I mentioned last summer, they aren’t a big problem here:

Here in California, we thankfully experience these loud, annoying birds only occasionally. But, when they move in, they seem to displace about every other bird in the area – save for the equally aggressive seagulls, and the hawks, which likely find them rather tasty.

But then there was Sgt. Mom’s post from a couple of days ago, comparing Jackson Pollock’s trash to multi-colored grackle poop. And I just saw a short blurb on Fox News Channel about using trained hunting falcons to control “sparrows and crows” at the Kremlin:

Falconers at the Kremlin

They’ve been doing this for quite some time; check this 1987 Discover article, which focuses on bioacoustics, but also mentions their use of falcons. So I thought, “hey, they should be doing that back east.” And, indeed, they are:

FORT WORTH Jeff Cattoor found what he was looking for after midnight Friday morning at the northern edge of downtown Fort Worth: Hundreds of grackles squawking and making their customary mess of the sidewalk from the trees around Chase Bank.

Perched on Cattoors right hand, Blackjack, a chestnut-colored hawk with inch and half long talons, watched silently.

Then suddenly…WOOSH.

With a startling flap of his wings, Blackjack darted into the trees, followed quickly by a cloud of grackles exploding from the branches.

Too late. Blackjack quickly has a large male grackle pinned to the sidewalk, already dead.

“Once he goes, it doesnt take him long,” Cattoor said, walking quickly to take the dead bird before Blackjack eats him and fills up. “He knows what hes doing.”

Cattoor and Blackjack are part of No Grackle Left Behind, the latest effort to rid downtown Fort Worth of pesky, noisy grackles.

So Sgt. Mom, perhaps you might suggest this to the SA city council? Oh, and btw, a lot of people believe hawks prey on housepets, this generally isn’t true.

27. March 2006 · Comments Off · Categories: Politics, Science!, Technology

Philip Chaston at Samizdata blogs on a new IVF clinic in Britain, offering genetic screening for congenital diseases:

The 5 million centre will bring pioneering embryo screening techniques for the creation of “saviour siblings” to Britain.

In addition, it will offer testing for up to 100 inherited gene disorders such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis.

Embryos found to be carrying rogue genes will be discarded and only “healthy” embryos implanted into their mothers.

Controversially, doctors at the centre have already obtained the first British licence to treat a couple with an inherited form of bowel cancer in the hope that their baby will never develop the disease. The centre is to be opened by the private Care at the Park IVF Clinic in Nottingham within three months.

But campaigners last night said it represents a further step by the IVF industry on the slippery slope towards eugenics and parents being able to choose characteristics for their children such as blue eyes or blond hair.

Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “Paying 5 million for a state-of-the-art centre in order to eliminate more embryos with disabilities sounds like aggressive eugenics. We need to develop real cures for genetic diseases, not kill the carriers.”

This may seem a bit odd to us here in the US, where such procedures have been relatively commonplace for years. For all the talk of the antediluvian nature of America’s “Religious Right”, the medical regulatory environment in Britain is far more restrictive.

Eugenics is a term with a lot of emotional impact, due to its association with Nazi Germany and genocide. But the key difference here is the absence of state coercion. Indeed, to the clear thinking and amoral individual, this liberal eugenics lacks the ethical pitfalls of the lamentable chapter in human history. As I see it, only the hardcore Life Begins at Conception crowd could have objection to this. But they have a Luddite objection to IVF procedures in the first place, so nothing new there.

As well, the article uses the term designer babies quite liberally. To me – and I believe I’m in the majority, at least here in the US – genetic selection doesn’t imply design. A real designer baby would be one which has had its genome actually altered to achieve the desired (normal, exceptional or even superhuman) traits. We have a little ways to go with our science before we are there.

13. February 2006 · Comments Off · Categories: General, Politics, Science!

This is from Roger Pielke, Jr., Director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research:

In the 20 February 2006 issue of The New Republic, John B. Judis has an article about how the issue of hurricanes and global warming has been handled by NOAA. Judis is engaging in scientific McCarthyism by arguing that certain perspectives on science are invalid because they are viewed as politically incorrect by some.

The transformation of this part of climate science into pure politics is fully embraced by those on the political left and the right, and most troubling is that this transformation is being encouraged by some leading scientists who have taken to criticizing the views of other scientists because they happen to work for the federal government. These scientists know full well how such accusations will be received. What ever happened to sticking to the science? Read on for background and analysis.

[…]

TNRs Judis appears to acknowledge a scientific debate but then writes as if the previous scientific paradigm has been overturned and anyone who says differently must be in cahoots with the Bush Administrations spin machine or conservative commentators. Bizarrely, Judis criticizes NOAA scientists for making statements fully supportable by peer-reviewed science, and in some cases work that those scientists have published.

Read the whole thing, as well as Judis’ article (free link), which assumes a linkage between global warming (implicitly caused by human activity) and hurricanes as incontrovertible scientific fact, and offers little evidence of this administration’s “conspiracy” to muzzle dissenting opinion, beyond the suspicions of dissenters.

18. January 2006 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!

On the heals of the successful Stardust mission, Leah Hoffmann at Forbes is dreaming of mining outer space:

Theoretically, mining and collecting solar energy in space for use on earth hold tremendous potential. Solar energy can, of course, be gathered on earth, but only about half of the sun’s radiation ever makes it to the earth’s surface–the rest is either absorbed by the atmosphere or reflected back by clouds. As for mining, a 1999 study published in Science magazine calculated that the asteroid Eros contains precious metals–aluminum, gold, silver and zinc, among others–worth at least $20 trillion at current market prices.

[…]

As for mining, it may happen someday–but no time soon. No one can estimate how much it would cost to burrow into the riches of Eros, or to bring those riches home. And even if they did bring them home, such a dramatic influx of metals onto the marketplace could drive down commodity prices to the point where mining didn’t make economic sense. “The rates of return just aren’t there, and it could take another 100 years before they are,” says Charles Oman, a senior research engineer at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

First, of course, we must figure out a safe and inexpensive way to get into orbit.

02. December 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!, Technology

This from BusinessWeek:

Cytori Therapeutics thinks your fat can save your life. The San Diego biotechnology company has come up with a method for isolating stem cells from a patient’s fat so they can be reinjected and grow into healthy tissue. Cytori’s groundbreaking Celution System, expected to begin clinical trials in humans next year, could be used to treat life-threatening ailments, such as ischemic heart disease, a restriction of blood flow to the heart.

[…]

Then there’s the vanity factor. “Everyone’s willing to give up a little fat these days,” says Cytori CEO Christopher Calhoun. And while the Food & Drug Administration currently doesn’t approve the use of stem cells extracted from fat, or adipose, tissue, these cells have been used abroad to repair bone injuries. What’s more, unlike many stem-cell companies, Cytori offers a relatively quick and straightforward procedure that can easily be explained to a patient.

Here’s how it works: After the fat is sucked out with a liposuction-like procedure, Cytori’s Celution device separates the stem cells from the bulk of the tissue. Within an hour of the removal, the patient receives an injection of his or her own concentrated stem cells.

PRIMING THE PUMP. This autumn, Cytori presented preclinical data demonstrating that after suffering heart attacks, pigs injected with their own adipose stem cells showed improvements over a control group. Calhoun says after a few weeks the treated pigs had more healthy cardiac muscle. “Whether it was newly created tissue or salvaged tissue we can’t say yet,” he says. “But the tissue was there.”

The study also found that the test groups’ hearts pumped blood more efficiently than those of the untreated animals. Because the procedure is quick, Calhoun argues that Celution is better equipped to treat the more dangerous acute cardiac episodes than other developing stem-cell treatments, which require the cells to be cultivated for days or weeks outside the body.

Still, the Celution device has a lot of clinical ground to cover. Even in a best-case scenario, it may be three to five years before the method wins FDA approval, Calhoun says. Generally speaking, that’s a little longer than it takes to win approval for a new medical device, but less than for a new drug.

[…]

FAT DEPOSITS. Cytori branched into new fields of medicine in 2002, acquiring StemSource, a company founded by UCLA professor Mark Hedrick, who discovered stem cells in fat tissue. Hedrick is now company president.

Despite the uncertainty of the approval process, outsiders see promise in Cytori. In November, it signed a joint venture agreement with Olympus (the camera maker also has medical-device businesses). Under the agreement, the companies are forming a joint venture that will manufacture future Celution products. Olympus also will take a stake in Cytori and has agreed to make an additional payment based on a predetermined milestone in the device’s development. Cytori plans to list on Nasdaq soon.

Should the Celution be approved, it might be a chance for Cytori to push a service no one ever expected to want: fat banking. Already on offer, it’s almost a novelty since there are no approved uses for the cells. Should Celution or adipose stem cells come into favor, that could change.

Younger fat, Calhoun says, has a higher concentration of stem cells and could be more effective than fat harvested later in life. Stored in a bank or in a body, these stem cells could introduce a new rationalization for rich holiday meals — particularly for the younger of the species. It’s not often that overindulgence could also turn out to be good for you.

Fascinating.

30. November 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Military, Science!, Veteran's Affairs

We recieved this extended comment yesterday to my post: “House Members Want Info On Military’s Human Guinea Pigs.” As it has fallen off the front page, I thought I’d repost it here.

SHADY SHAD SHELLGAME?

The U.S. Armys Project 112 and its Navy component, Project SHAD, started in 1961 when Robert McNamara and JFK allotted $4 billion and ten years to create a Bio-Chemical juggernaut. Decades of unanswered questions had just begun.

In Judith Millers 1999 book, Germs, William Capers Patrick III, the head of Bio-Chemical Weapons development programs at Fort Detrick, Maryland for more than 30 years, states, We didnt sit around talking about the moral implications of what we were doing. We were problem-solving you never connected it to people. Nonetheless, Dr. J. Clifton Spendlove did indeed connect it to people via the Armys Deseret Test Center, Utah command post. Deposed for a class action suit brought by the VVA on behalf of some Project SHAD participants, Spendlove revealed sailors were purposely used as human samplers, citing several documents and films laying out the scope and methods of the tests. Mind you, these human samplers were never trained or warned nor given any informed consent opportunity to opt out. The callous disregard continues to this day as the Pentagon, VA, Institute of Medicine and others ignore all attempts at Congressional oversight intended to reveal the true impact of the events.

At least five Flathead Valley, Montana Sailors served in the Granville Hall. One died by age 36 from cancer of unknown origin. Some were there from 1963-70 as they transported Smithsonian Institution scientists to numerous locations during their Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, the purpose of which was to determine whether migratory birds could be used as effective avian vectors to deliver Biological Weapons. They could. Prior to Project SHAD, the Granville Hall and its sister ship, the USS George Eastman, collected radioactive fallout during a decade-long period encompassing dozens of aboveground nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. Another Flathead Veteran sailed on the Granville Hall shortly after Project SHAD and has been awarded a VA 100% service-connected disability. He never knew of either preceding project until he saw my guest opinion in the Daily Inter Lake.

No one has produced any documentation indicating that these two ships had ever had their interiors effectively decontaminated. The Granville Hall was the main lab ship for the programs, vulnerable to many pathogenic contaminants. The George Eastman had deadly VX Gas pumped directly into its ventilation system. The disturbing truth is that although SHAD Veteran Frank Tetro has located over 350 Granny Boys since 1985, fewer than 10 have surfaced from the George Eastman.

Contrary to the title Shipboard Hazard and Decontamination, which insinuates the concept of defending U.S. Servicemen, theres not one page of the 28,444 listed in the official disclosure of information on Project 112 mandated by Public Law 107-314 containing any data on protective gear created by these programs. Please see here. The entire program from start to finish was designed to find ways to create and distribute deadly Bio-Chemical Weapons. The more than 10,000 Human Test Rats used and abused along the way are consequently no more than an aging inconvenience.

The Billings Gazette quoted Jack Alderson as saying, Most of them are very proud of what they did, theyd just like to have it acknowledged. However, of the more than 150 Project 112 and Project SHAD participants who have contacted me since the programs began being declassified in early 2000, none are seeking a red badge of courage. The want answers. Early on, one unforgettable caller told me, Last week I received notification that I was involved in Project SHAD. Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with liver, spleen, and pancreatic cancer. Can you help me? Hed been deserted by his country and died in shameful ignominy.

Please help us find the survivors. Its crucial to support Representative Rehberg, currently the only Republican co-sponsor out of 16 for House Resolution 4259 [The Veterans Right to Know Act]. If you know anyone who might have been involved, direct them to http//www1.va.gov/SHAD where there is contact information and lists of ships, land locations, and dates utilized. They can also receive information and assistance by calling the VA at (800) 749-8387 and/or the DoD at (800) 497-6261.

Thank you,

J.B. Stone
900 Wisconsin Avenue #16
Whitefish, MT 59937

406-862-7514, 862-8739 message

PS: J.B. served during Project SHAD on the Granville Hall in 1969. He was honorably discharged from the Navy less than 10 months afterward for unnamed physical disabilities. His infant daughter died from secondary SHAD exposures in 1980. Hes still waiting for approval of his VA Disability Claim.

Update: Here’s a recent Billings Gazette story:

Night after night, the jets growled overhead and sprayed clouds of dangerous germs and chemicals over the five U.S. tugboats drifting silently in the dark.

Each time, John Olsen hunkered inside tugboat No. 2085 and waited for the mist to settle.

He and the others then gathered air samples inside the boat and handed them over to the scientists who seemed out of place on a pitching tugboat more than 800 miles southwest of Hawaii.

In the morning, the sailors scrubbed the ship with powerful cleaning agents in preparation for the next airplane visit.

The tests, dubbed Shady Grove, were conducted between January and April of 1965 as part of a larger, top secret government program to try out chemical and biological weapons.

Olsen is sure that some of the germs leaked into the tugboats and is fairly convinced there’s a connection between Shady Grove and his health problems years later.

But back then, they assumed they were safe.

“We were just doing what we were supposed to do,” said Olsen, 65, who lives in Billings. “I trusted them.”

Now, 40 years later, those who took part in the tests are pressing the federal government to account for the harm the tests may have caused.

Read the whole thing.

30. November 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: General, Science!, That's Entertainment!

For the past several weeks, I have been watching the Discovery Channel’s reissue of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. And I am impressed by how well this has held up over the decades.

And I am so amazed at the way he ties the Abyss to the Infinite. This is classic.

I mean, this is all remedial for me: Sagan knew nothing of 11-dimensional String Theory, or Quantum Computing. On tonight’s episode, he marvels at the New York Public Library’s “1015 bits of information.”

I think that’s a gross underestimate. But no matter. Sagan also prophesized the emergence of a “global intelligence.” And is that not what we are approaching with the Internet?

But yet, Sagan also prophesizes about mankind’s rise above the lizard’s instincts of territoriality and homopredation. And I don’t see that we’ve made any progress on that front.

Here, I chose to quote Gene Roddenberry and C. J. Holland (via Patrick Stewart)1 quoting Shakespeare:

Oh, I know Hamlet. And what he said with irony, I say with conviction: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties. In form, and moving, how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel… In apprehension, how like a god!”

Irony or conviction – your call.
____________________

1) From ST:TNG – Hide And Q 11/23/87

20. November 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!

Today dogs – tomorrow, the battlefield:

Scientists at Pitt’s Safar Center for Resuscitation Research in Oakland announced at the meeting last week that they have found a way to revive dogs three hours after clinical death an hour longer than in previous experiments, said the center’s director, Dr. Patrick Kochanek.

[…]

Soldiers in combat and gunshot or stabbing victims often bleed to death because medics don’t have enough time to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or deliver blood. This type of injury kills about 50,000 Americans every year and is the leading cause of death among troops killed in action, said nationally recognized trauma surgeon Dr. Howard Champion, who lives in Annapolis, Md.

Of course, Dr. Kochanek doesn’t like the allusions to Night of the Living Dead. But it should know we’re just havin’ a little fun. :)

13. November 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: General, Politics, Science!

Dr. Pat Santy, a psychiatrist out of Ann Arbor, MI, gives us some insite into the minds of the Bush-haters:

What makes Bush Hatred completely insane however, is the almost delusional degree of unremitting certitude of Bush’s evil; while simultaneously believing that the TRUE perpetrators of evil in the world are somehow good and decent human beings with the world’s intersts at heart.

This psychological defense mechanism is referred to as “displacement“.

One way you can usually tell that an individual is using displacement is that the emotion being displaced (e.g., anger) is all out of proportion to the reality of the situation. The purpose of displacement is to avoid having to cope with the actual reality. Instead, by using displacement, an individual is able to still experience his or her anger, but it is directed at a less threatening target than the real cause. In this way, the individual does not have to be responsible for the consequences of his/her anger and feels more safe–even thought that is not the case.

This explains the remarkable and sometimes lunatic appeasement of Islamofascists by so many governments and around the world, while they trash the US and particularly Bush. It explains why there is more emphasis on protecting the “rights” of terrorists, rather than holding them accountable for their actions (thier actions, by the way are also Bush’s fault, according to those in the throes of BDS). Our soldiers in Iraq are being killed because of Bush–not because of terrorist intent and behavior. Terrorist activity itself is blamed on Bush no matter where it occurs.

It isn’t even a stretch of the imagination for some to blame 9/11 on Bush. This is the insane “logic” of most psychological defense mechanisms. They temporarily spare you from the painful reality around you and give you the illusion that you are still in control.

An extended, but not-too-technical post – and a very good read.

Hat Tip: InstaPundit

Update: Here’s a prime example of a dilusional Bush-hater:

Im an anti-Bush guy, and I know Mary Mapes a little. Shes a neighbor. But I hope youll stick with me even if youre at the other end of the spectrum. Listen, some of my favorite neighbors are pro-Bush, and theyre surprisingly decent people.

One of many intriguing points in Mapes booka thing I shouldnt have had to be reminded ofis that the documents she and Dan Rather based their story on were never exposed as fakes.

Hat Tip: LGF

08. November 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Military, Science!, Veteran's Affairs

This from CNN:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The United States should establish a commission to identify and learn the fate of people exposed during the military’s secret testing of chemical and biological materials in the 1960s and ’70s, two House lawmakers declared Tuesday.

“We cannot be afraid to identify the problem,” said Montana Republican Denny Rehberg, who, along with California Democrat Mike Thompson, plans to introduce a bill they call the “Veterans Right to Know Act.”

Nearly 5,900 people, both military and civilians, may have been exposed to the toxins as part of the military’s “Project 112,” involving about 50 tests from 1962 to 1974, according to a report last year from the Government Accounting Office. –From CNN’s Paul Courson on Capitol Hill (Posted 2:53 p.m.)

06. November 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!

After my Sideways post, I was reflecting on the statement, “the essence of wine tasting is not so much in the palate, as the bouquet.” And I was thinking that it’s pretty much common knowledge, that our ability to discern the flavor of wine – or anything else for that matter – relied principally upon our scent receptors, as our taste receptors are limited to salt, sweet, sour and bitter.

Well, I’ve learned with my movie trivia posts that presuming what others may or may not know is a pretty uncertain practice, so I thought I’d elaborate. But it’s been almost three decades since I studied any of this. So, rather than take my own knowledge for granted, I thought I’d best do a quick refresher. Boy, amazing the new things science has uncovered in the last three decades.

First, it’s “common knowledge” that different regions of the tongue are sensitive to different tastes. But it’s incorrect. I was skeptical apout this from the start, and tested it on myself by dabbing different areas of my tongue with cotton swabs dipped in different solutions. I didn’t notice any difference, save for that different regions had varying sensitivity to every taste. When I told my instructor about this, he called my little experiment “hardly scientific.” Now I feel vindicated. :)

Second, it seems we have taste buds not only on our tongues, but also our epiglottis and soft palate.

Finally, and this is the biggie: There is actually a FIFTH taste quality: umami (pronounced: oo-marmi). This was discovered in Japan almost a century ago, but only known of here in the West since 1996:

Umami is the taste of certain amino acids (e.g. glutamate, aspartate and related compounds). It was first identified by Kikunae Ikeda at the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1909. Recently it has been shown1,2 that the metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR4) mediates umami taste. Binding to the receptor activates a G-protein and this may elevate intracellular Ca2+

Monosodium glutamate, added to many foods to enhance their taste (and the main ingredient of Soy sauce), may stimulate the umami receptors. But, in addition, there are ionotropic glutamate receptors (linked to ion channels), i.e. the NMDA-receptor, on the tongue. When activated by these umami compounds or soy sauce, non-selective cation channels open, thereby depolarizing the cell. Calcium enters, causing transmitter release and increased firing in the primary afferent nerve

1Chaudhari et al, (1996) The taste of monosodium glutamate: membrane receptors in taste buds. J. Neurosci. 16, 3817-3826.
2Kurihara & Kashiwayanagi (1998) Introductory remarks on umami taste. Annals NY Acad Sci 855, 393-397.

Monosodium glutamate
Monosodium glutamate is the main ingredient of Soy sauce. This is added to foods to enhance their flavour. It probably works by activating NMDA receptors which are found in taste cells. NMDA receptors are integral receptor-ion channel complexes and when they open they allow an influx of Na+ and Ca2+ ions. This will depolarise the taste receptor cell and act as an excitatory influence. Then, far less of a particular taste will be required to cause the further depolarisation necessary to bring about transmitter release.

Here I was, just complaining about the quality of programming on contemporary cable/satellite TV. And, by-and-large, that still holds true. But there are some bright spots. For instance, I just watched episode 1 of Men of Iron, on the Discovery Science Channel, which focused on Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Thomas Telford – two rather “interesting” characters (to say the least). While indeed, it had many of the docudrama trappings of most of today’s historical programming, it was still excellent.

27. September 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!

Go here to see some pictures of the elusive Giant Squid “in the wild.” Nobody’s ever photographed live ones before.

Squid are such way-cool bizarro animals. But I think they’d make bad pets.

Hat tip: Professor Bainbridge

25. September 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!, Technology

None other than Arthur C. Clarke himself chimes in on NASA’s further plans for space:

In 1969, the giant multistage rocket, discarded piecemeal after a single mission, was the only way of doing the job. That the job should be done was a political decision, made by a handful of men. (I have only recently learnt that Wernher von Braun used my The Exploration of Space (1952) to convince President Kennedy that it was possible to go to the Moon.) As William Sims Bainbridge pointed out, space travel is a technological mutation that should not really have arrived until the 21st century. But thanks to the ambition and genius of von Braun and Sergei Korolev, and their influence upon individuals as disparate as Kennedy and Khrushchev, the Moon like the South Pole was reached half a century ahead of time.

If Nasa resumes lunar missions by 2018, that timing would be just about right: it will be only a year short of the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrongs famous one small step. But banking on solid rocket boosters to escape from Earth, as being planned, will not represent a big technological advance over the Apollo missions. Even if the spacecraft are reusable, it will still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch every kilogram into space. I think the rocket has as much future in space as dog sleds in serious Antarctic exploration. Of course, it is the only thing we have at the moment, so we must make the best use of it.

But I would urge Nasa to keep investing at least a small proportion of its substantial budget in supporting the research and development of alternatives to rockets. There is at least one idea that may ultimately make space transport cheap and affordable to ordinary people: the space elevator.

First conceived by a Russian engineer, Yuri Artsutanov, in 1960, it was reinvented by a group of American scientists a decade later. And its based on a simple yet daring concept.

Todays communications satellites demonstrate how an object can remain poised over a fixed spot on the Equator by matching its speed to the turning Earth, 22,300 miles (35,780 km) below. Now imagine a cable linking the satellite to the ground. Payloads could be hoisted up it by purely mechanical means, reaching orbit without any use of rocket power. The cost of launching payloads into orbit could be reduced to a tiny fraction of todays costs.

I differ with the great author on two points: First, it was by no great vision or effort of von Braun or Korolev that we reached the Moon in 1969, rather than 2019, but the quest for military superiority. Not to deny their genius. But, had they never even existed, the achievement – or something of similar technological magnitude – would have occurred no more than a decade, rather than a half-century, later.

Second, orbit in the Clarke Belt is achieved because the centrifugal force of the orbiting satellite exactly matches the force imparted upon it by gravity. Propelling a payload up a tether attached to that satellite would upset that equilibrium. Further, their is the distributed mass of the tether itself to consider. It is therefore necessary that the satellite be in a far lower orbit, in order to maintain tension on the tether. Indeed, the path the transport vehicle takes to reach the satellite will not be a straight path, as is popularly envisioned, but a great parabolic arc.

Read the whole thing.

Hat Tip: InstaPundit

Update: A bit red-faced after that sign-inversion. But those sort of things happen when you’re bouncing these things around in your head.

In any event, I never said the space elevator wouldn’t work, only that it wouldn’t be quite as currently envisioned. I still feel that the cable will arc into space, And it appears this effect has already been contemplated for the mass of the transport vehicle (“climber”, if you will), but not for the distributed mass of the cable itself.

Update: There is a spirited debate (of which I am pretty much on the defensive) on this subject, over at Transterrestrial Musings.

21. September 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!, Technology

Today at Tech Central Station, Glenn Reynolds is skeptical about NASA’s plans to go to the Moon:

The problem is that this NASA approach looks like more of the same. Oh, it’s better than some earlier efforts: The program emphasizes astronauts learning to “live off the land” via lunar resources, an approach that seemed quite radical back when Bob Zubrin was first championing it. But the technology looks old — and not “proven reliable,” as Space Shuttle components have been less than ideal — and I don’t see any way this program will deliver what we need most: High flight rates and low costs.

I wonder, then, if the money wouldn’t be better spent on things that have a higher likelihood of delivering those, like space elevators. As I mentioned in an earlier column, space elevator technology promises drastically reduced costs to orbit (from which, as Robert Heinlein famously observed, you’re halfway to anywhere in the solar system in terms of energy) and it looks as if we could build a working space elevator — or several — within the $100 billion pricetag and over the same time frame.

I most hardily agree; our emphasis at this juncture should be on finding inexpensive and reliable ways to put people and materials into orbit. But I wouldn’t limit ourselves to space elevators. Other technologies, such as Fly Into Orbit and Rail Guns as 1st stage boosters are also quite promising. This sort of multi-pronged approach is best undertaken by the private sector.

13. September 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!, That's Entertainment!

I’m currently watching some dreck-science show on the Discovery Science channel. And they are talking about the collapse of our Local Group. And they go into this bit about the Milky Way colliding with Andromeda. And they are talking about “the streets of New York” being ripped asunder,

Oh, give me a fucking break. Do you really think anybody with the intelligence to be attracted to a show like this would even remotely visualize the streets of New York existing, as they do today, three billion years from now?

12. September 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Politics, Science!

In today’s NYT, Glenn Reynolds lists five thought-provoking, and telling, questions he would like to see asked of Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts. My favorite is this:

3. Could a human-like artificial intelligence constitute a “person” for purposes of protection under the 14th Amendment, or is such protection limited, by the 14th Amendment’s language, to those who are “born or naturalized in the United States?”

I’m uncomfortable with Glenn’s unqualified use of “born or naturalized in the United States,” as decisions such as Plyer and Wong Wing have since extended equal protection to aliens as well. But the question is still valid, and one I have used, along with others, to discredit the “personhood begins at conception” argument of “pro-life” religious fundimentalists.

And, surely, this is the stuff of science fiction today (see Star Trek: The Next Generation; The Measure of a Man). But the Roberts Court is likely to extend many years into the future. And questions such as this are sure to come-up.

22. August 2005 · Comments Off · Categories: Science!

Some interesting developments in stem cell research:

The technique uses laboratory-grown human embryonic stem cells — such as the ones that President Bush has already approved for use by federally funded researchers — to “reprogram” the genes in a person’s skin cell, turning that skin cell into an embryonic stem cell itself.

The approach — details of which are to be published this week in the journal Science but were made public on the journal’s Web site yesterday — is still in an early stage of development. But if further studies confirm its usefulness, it could offer an end run around the heated social and religious debate that has for years overshadowed the field of human embryonic stem cell research.

Since the new stem cells in this technique are essentially rejuvenated versions of a person’s own skin cells, the DNA in those new stem cells matches the DNA of the person who provided the skin cells. In theory at least, that means that any tissues grown from those newly minted stem cells could be transplanted into the person to treat a disease without much risk that they would be rejected, because they would constitute an exact genetic match.

All fanciful speculation about a fountain of youth aside, this is exciting enough on its own.

Hat Tip: InstaPundit