Recombining science with politics.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Quick Question

Many conservatives, if asked will say that things like the Ten Commandments serve as the basis of western law. The quick question for today is: if this were true should we not prosecute those who carve graven images or children who don't honor their father and mother? What should the penalties be? Should we put those who covet stuff on the same footing with murderers and thieves?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Big F$$k You

I’m probably one of the few people in my neck of the woods to have been face to face with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This was back in the campaign season of 2006 when he was trying to lead his Conservative Party to its first win since the early 90’s. A large group of people was coming down the hall toward the cancer research center where I worked, led by a familiar face that passed by me without a word. It was a photo-op after all. Inside the center he claimed something to the effect of: ‘Our party is going to be the party that funds the downfall of cancer[1]. (Insert additional campaign bullcrap here)’

In 2008, two years after being elected Mr. Harper fired his science adviser. (Nature, 2008

This marked the end of a battle between the Conservatives, trying to make a country rich in natural resources into a top energy producer, consequences to the environment be damned. This battle included forcing government scientists to get approval for press releases and accusations of government intervention in research. To say the least, since he was elected Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has been, at best, combative towards the open exchange of data.

Then in mid-2008, disaster struck. The housing market in the US crashed, leading to financial insecurity all over the world. Even though Canada was in a better position than most countries thanks to better banking regulation, Happy Harper thought it would be a good idea to do some budget trimming. After promising:
…Harper did something that shocked the scientific community. He did not include the Canada Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in the 2009 budget. I don’t mean that he cut their funding in the budget or that he warned that reductions would be necessary. He straight up did not include them. Remember the movie Office Space? Remember how they thought a good way to fire Milton was to just not pay him anymore and let him figure it out on his own? Remember what a dick move that was? Imagine doing that to every Milton in health research in the country. This left hundreds of PhDs, MDs, grad students, lab technicians in the dark about their future. The centre where I work, the same one Harper had visited in 2006, had to lay off two technicians, cancel its training program and restrict funding to the point where untold hours that might be put to good work are now devoted to scrounging and begging for money.

If you go to almost any company in the world and ask them what part of their company is responsible for innovation they will likely respond; Research and Development. Half of that department is RESEARCH. Harper could have easily strengthened the Canadian economy by devoting money to new research, instead we now have a country strictly devoted to development, as in the development of our natural resources. Export the tar sands, export the water. Shit, export our brains while you’re at it. And if those smarty pants types give you any trouble: like pointing out that the tar sands cause three times the greenhouse gas emissions of standard drilling[2], or that leeching of toxins from industrial processes can cause, oh, I don’t know, CANCER! Then just slap a muzzle on them and cut their funding. Damn ingrates.

Today’s announcement that the government is privatizing the National Research Council’s publishing arm, making Canadian universities, journalists, and even the public pay a company for the result of research partly funded by tax-payers comes as little surprise. It’s the latest in a long line of short-sighted, childish governance by the Canadian Conservatives, who are more worried about idealism than objective views of reality.

It’s been almost three years since the economic collapse of 2008 and has any of the funding been put back? Uh, no. So, where did it go? Well, lately there’s been a bit of a political hubbub about how in 2006 Conservatives moved a few hundred thousand dollars to various ridings in order to get reimbursed from the public coffers, effectively getting the taxpayers to chip in just a little more to get them elected. Wasn’t that nice of us? 

How many research grants could that money have paid for, Mr. Prime Minister?

[1] I’m paraphrasing here.
[2] How about innovating us up some electric cars, Stephen?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Group, world to end May 21 -

Flox Populi is taking all bets!
If the rapture happens on May 21, we will pay any bet 20:1 odds! Bet $1 today, have $20 paid to you, the relative or charity of your choice on May 22! Am I serious? I'm as serious as the people promoting this are!

Road trip to the end of the world -

Act now! I'm not terribly wealthy. First come, first served!

By the way. This CNN article is worth the read. These folks end up at a pirate festival, passing out tracts. Hilarity ensues.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A quick question

The recent Citizen's United ruling has affirmed corporations' first amendment rights, because, they think they's 'people'. So the quick question is:

Do corporations have second amendment rights? And, if so, what do the arms they have the right to keep and bear look like?

Breaking the world for fun and profit

Remember justice?
Remember the concept that, regardless of age, sex, religion, color, creed, etc., we are all equal before the law? Remember the morally upright heroes of Saturday morning cartoons. It was a nice idea for a while back in the 90’s, but I think it got lost somewhere back during the Bush administration.
These days it seems that if you break the law, as long as you’re not poor, everyone bends over backward to kiss your ass. It’s all part of what I’ve come to think of as the perfect crime. And here’s a little summary of how it goes:
1.        Make a ton of money by ethically questionable means. As an example, let’s take, oh, I don’t know, mortgage default swaps. These operate (as I understand it) on the idea that you can basically bet against people paying their mortgages. So, if you were to say, run a bank that was giving out mortgages you might say to yourself ‘I’m a sociopathic jerk and I like money, so what I’m going to do is give out a bunch of mortgages to people who likely won’t be able to afford it. Then, I’m going to chop those mortgages up and sell off the pieces to some na├»ve investors. Then,’ - and this is the genius part – ‘I’m going to take the money the investors gave me and use it to bet against those mortgages being paid off.’ Ka-ching!
2.       Using the above method, put the world economy in jeopardy. When all the debts get called in everyone takes the hit except you. A pummelled middle and lower class withdraw from the financial world. Everyone panics, etc.
3.       Have all the money. Basically make yourself so rich and everyone else so poor that if you were to suddenly removed from the marketplace the entire thing would collapse. I mean, what are they going to do, redistribute the money and start all over? Anarchy! Anarchy, I tell you! Demand big payments from everyone else just to keep doing business.
Points 1-3 have been repeated ad nausea by better people than I since the whole 2008-2009 big messy thing that happened. The 2010-2011 story has added a couple of new wrinkles to things.
4.       Fund, fund, fund (until daddy takes the T-bill away). Put your money to work for you. A good investment is in politicians. Actually, even better are groups that pressure politicians, they are usually a lot cheaper. Case in point, the whole Tea-Party fiasco during 2009-2010. FreedomWorks, which was founded by Dick Armey from a larger group run by Koch Industries and which runs bootcamps for Republican supporters, gave buttloads[1] of money to anti-government causes, helping arch-conservatives  win on a ‘lower-taxes’, ‘end the fed’,  and ‘rape my butthole because I secretly like it’  ‘screw the ferners’.
5.       Dance puppets! Have your politicians/pressure groups sabotage the government apparatus at every opportunity. Case in point, the endless circle jerk in the U.S. House, the whole Arizona medicare thing. But above all, you’ve got to lower taxes. It doesn’t matter if it’s just your taxes, or everyone’s, just lower the shit out of them. Less government, lower taxes! Damn the torpedoes. Lower taxes! Why?
6.       Congratulations, you are now above the law. Because you know who’s ultimately responsible for enforcing the law? The government. You know what they use to fund their regulators, auditors, and lawyers. Taxes. What are they gonna do if you decide to dump toxic waste on a playground, or use the city of Toronto as your private hunting reserve? Haul your ass into court? Spend millions of dollars fighting through your army of high paid lawyers? For what, so you can take your money off shore, crippling the economy.
If I make this sound like a conspiracy theory, I’m sorry. I hate those things, but whether directed by an insidious group of shadowy figures or just an unconscious slide into jack-assery, the danger is real. In fact, there is evidence it is already happening up here in Canada.
It’s unsurprising that the extraordinarily wealthy would want to cripple government. It’s the only thing that average people have to keep us out of nineteenth century labour laws and corporate oligarchies. The power of the ballot is really the only power some of us have. We can’t allow a few bad apples to render it obsolete.

[1] Buttloads is a metric measurement of money. It means whatever leeched out of your wallet and into your fat ass.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Two birds with one big science rock.

I love science. I think it's what human beings were meant to do. Of course some people might tell you it's to make love, but seriously, what does that get you other than more people? That's why it's always gratifying to see great advances made in fields that only a decade ago would have seemed impossible.

Spinal cord injury: Human cells derived from stem cells restore movement in animal models

These embryonic stem cells are derived from human embryos, the ones that are left over from in vitro fertilization procedures. Basically a bunch of swimmin' boys are put in a dish with a bunch of floating girls and... mmmm that's good Billy. The developing embryos are placed in an available womb for the requisite nine months, somewhere along the way going through soul implantation and advanced cutening.
However, they have to start with quite a few eggs to make sure they get enough embryos, because a single embryo might not implant. It's an odds game.
If more embryos are created than they can use they have to go off to the dumpster out back.
In vitro fertilization was first successfully performed in 1978 and won its creator Dr. Robert G. Edwards the Nobel Prize last year. It's helped hundreds of childless couples conceive, creating hundreds of families.
Stem cells were first isolated in 1968 and may soon help lame men walk and blind men see.
And yet for some reason, in some circles both of these things remain controversial.
Looking at you Pope.