Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Akin's extreme "prolife" position points to an intellectual conundrum

There has been a distracting (perhaps) firestorm within the GOP over Todd Akin’s statements  about wanting to protect the right to unborn life even immediately after rape or incest.

I have to give the pro-life movement more credit than I had before, for wanting to have a simple principle for protecting all human life, one beyond all political manipulation. 

And at a certain intellectual, abstract level, I cannot really find one. 

Akin would say that an unborn child’s (even the day after conception) right to life trumps a woman’s freedom from having duty imposed on her.  That is, to protect another’s life, it is permissible, maybe necessary, for the state to impose a duty on the woman to carry the baby ti term (then it could be put up for adoption).

Of course, reasonable civil libertarians oppose placing of all involuntary duties on people. Gloria Allred, on CNN’s Piers Morgan show, called this “forced motherhood”.

And we all know that, at a certain psychological level, some heterosexual men want to keep the absolute “right” to force women to have their babies at their will.  Conservative writer George Gilder even admitted that in his books in the 70s and 80s.

Many people forget that Roe v. Wade focused primary attention on the right of the mother and her own physician to make decisions consistent with her own health.  The decision did not confer a “right” to have intercourse without responsibility for the life that it creates.

Whenever a mother’s health or life is at risk, it is logically impossible to protect everyone’s absolute rights (the child’s and the mother’s) without making some kind of informed relative judgment. In a civilized society, it seems intuitively appropriate to give a lot of weight to the health of the mother.

What is more difficult to resolve in an absolutely principled way is preserving life when it will be severely disabled or have (in apparent view) very poor quality.  Society makes a judgment to go a long way in protecting the rights of the vulnerable to life to avoid a slippery slope.  Still, in modern medicine, with increased longevity and ability to preserve biological life indefinitely, novel moral problems are inevitable.

At a certain point in our thinking, emphasis shifts from the absolute respect for every individual life to concern over the “common good”.  Of course this is dangerous.  But it has seemed inevitable throughout history, leading to moral double standards.

For example, we used to have a compulsory male-only military draft.  And then we created exceptions, or deferments: first for married fathers, and then later for students.  In the 1960s, going into Vietnam, we baldly decided that some male lives were more valuable than others.  That’s not intellectually consistent with absolute fidelity to right to life.

In a broader sense, throughout most of history, culture has often required men to be willing to sacrifice themselves (or make themselves fungible) to protect women and children, and this often applied to young men who had not yet had a chance to reproduce.  (Remember “Titanic”.)  Failure to do so was considered cowardice.

Even today, men often feel compelled to take grave risks to save others in sudden emergencies, such as floods or fires.  Culture expects this of them. Is this totally consistent with “the right to life”?

A culture that will bend over backwards to support all life also places responsibilities on others beyond the scope of their own choices.  Everyone is exposed to the likelihood of increased responsibility for eldercare now. 

Update: Aug. 31

On CNN, Sanjay Gupta discussed some of the "personhood" bills and amendments that would define personhood at the moment of creation of any embryo or fertilized ovum.  This could complicated in vitro fertilization (for heterosexual couples where the wife cannot get pregnant naturally, or for surrogate parenting for gay couples) because extra embyros are created which now are discarded, but the medical process is likely to get more efficient so that extra embryos don't get made. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Outbreak of hantavirus reported in Yosemite in CA

The Los Angeles Times reports the recent outbreak of hantavirus in Yosemite National Park to be unprecedented.

The virus is spread by rodents and might be minimally airborne.  It eventually can cause the lungs to fill up with a fatal pneumonia.  The disease has been grouped with the hemorrhagic fevers (like Lassa and Ebola) as one of the more dreaded infections, and was discussed by Laurie Garret in her 1995 book “Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance” from Penguin. It has been known for a long time in the American southwest.

The Los Angeles Times has a detailed story, including accounts of what it takes to disinfect and clean cabins, here.)

A second person has died of the virus, according to ABC. All cases stayed in one particular campground in the park. Cases can take up to six weeks to appear and may remain mild in many or most cases.  

Katie Moisse provided the ABC story.

I was near Yosemite, in the Mono Lakes area, in late May. I stayed in Mammoth Lakes, across the Sierra.
Residential areas of Dallas have been sprayed heavily to eradicate mosquitoes because of West Nile virus.   That ABC video plays right after the one on hanta. 

See related post on “idiopathic” immune deficiency on International Issues blog Aug. 24. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Did southern VA have an unnamed tropical storm today?

This morning, in a hotel adjacent to the Virginia Air and Space Center, I was awakened at 4 AM by heavy rain pelting the window panes.  The rain followed me up Interstate 64, often truly torrential.  I read later that an area on I-95 near the Virginia-NC border had over eleven inches of rain.

Winds were relatively modest, but probably topped at about 40 mph in the biggest torrents on I-64.  Sometimes torrential rain came down with a clearing visible in the distance, and the rain seem to come from very high in the atmosphere. 

Did a low pressure system become “extra-tropical” – that is, an unnamed tropical storm (with warm core characteristics) at a time when everyone wants to see T.S. Isaac trash the Repulican Convention in Tampa, FL?  (Not sure of that statement includes Log Cabin Republicans).

The forecast a few days ago had called for a sunny weekend, with just a few showers in the Tidewater.  

What in the world happened, metereologically speaking?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Solar-power entrepreneur could be put out of business by "protectionism" favoring larger solar companies

Thursday night, Anderson Cooper presented the problems of a small company, “Sunrise Solar”, owned by Bill Keith, which may go out of business because it cannot get a particular critical manufacturing part from anywhere but China, and must pay a huge tariff to import it.

The company, located in Indiana, manufactures solar-powered attic fans.

Sunrise Solar has its site here

Keith seems to be the unintended victim of “protectionist” policies from the Obama administration (Commerce Department and Customs) that were favored by larger solar energy companies (like Solyndra).

The AC360 detailed story and video are here

 Pictures:  Solar panel at rest stop on I-94 in Michigan; Indiana University

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Study shows that older fathers more likely to have kids with autism

NBC Nightly News reported today on a “Nature” study published today, showing that the chance of fathering a child with autism rises steadily with each decade from age 20 through age 60.  So potential dads have a biological clock, like women; and the pressures to wait to have children until finishing education and being able to make enough money could lead to more problems caused by random genetic mutations.

A majority of children with autism are boys, because they don't have spare genes to make up for "Y chromosome" issues.  

The media did not report whether the numbers included Asperger's Syndrome, viewed as a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder, as its inclusion has been controversial and may be changing. 

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My own father was 39 (almost 40) when I was conceived in late 1942.  And I did have issues with physical development and coordination (leading to teasing), even though my problems were not nearly as severe as those of many others.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Maryland GOP Congressman warns of impending catastrophe for power grid, preaches survivalism

Monday, August 20, the Metro section of the Washington Post carried a curious story by Ben Pershing, about the survivalist GOP congressman Toscoe G. Bartlett, from a normally “blue” state, Maryland.
Bartlett has a  survival cabin at an undisclosed location in the high Allegheny area of West Virginia, and warns that the electricity grid could collapse permanently at any time.  In a post-industrial society, money would be worthless, and people would have to learn to survive in their own shelled family units.

Bartlett says that the power grid can fail because of cyber attack and assaults on power distribution centers as well as electromagnetic pulse attack and solar storms. 

I have followed these issues considerably in recent months, and I do think that the natural event, a severe solar storm, is substantially more likely to be catastrophic than any of the man-made terrorist scenarios that he proposes.  Why?  That would take a lot of detailed discussion, but I think I am coming to know this area pretty well.

The article says that experts are divided on whether the doomsday talk about EMP and Carrington-like solar storms (and coronal mass ejections) is credible.  Bartlett promotes the book “The Second After” (books blog, July 20).  He and his associates have been working on a couple of documentary films, “Urban Danger” and “American Cities”.  I could not locate these on Netflix or on Amazon yet.

Some interest in going back to the country and in self-sufficiency has been around for decades, as with Howard Ruff, who had preached the value of rural real estate, physical self-sufficiency, local food, and particularly hard precious metal cash. 

When I attended graduate school at the University of Kansas in the 1960s, I encountered a couple of students (believers in Ayn Rand) who thought that city slickers are "parasites".  I encountered some people who believed this when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, even though Dallas is a sophisticated, technology-advanced urban area. 

The link for the Post story is here

I think that the possibility of such a civilization-changing apocalypse can affect our personal moral thinking.  If such a possibility is really unavoidable, then every single one of us has the moral responsibility to grow up learning a lot more physical self-sufficiency and the ability to provide for others in a family, even when childless.  (This is what the extreme Right obviously wants.)  On the other hand, if we can “do our jobs” and make sure that a Carrington-like catastrophe really can’t happen, that kind of ukase at the individual level disappears.  However, in a democracy, individuals have a responsibility to become informed on these matters (most people aren’t) and to put pressure on politicians and public utilities to harden their networks.  Short term thinking in the financial markets, to the extent that it may discourage utilities from the long term investments they must make to harden the grid, is downright dangerous, going into the area of “real life” beyond what we saw in 2008.

I don’t think I could survive in a world like that of NBC’s upcoming series “The Revolution” (starts Sept. 17), and think about the title!

 In my own writing (in a screenplay script., "Prescience") I have explored the idea that an alien civilization (capable of performing UFO abductions) with people-like beings (essentially more of us), could have a money-less economy, although the values might be rather Maoist.  The "intentional community" movement (April 7, 2012 here) moves in that direction. So do the Amish. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Big business uses big government to drive out "amateur" competition (is this crony capitalism?)

On the weekend (Aug. 18) edition of the Wall Street Journal, on p. A13, Chip Mellor has an important article “How big government and big business squeeze entrepreneurs”, link (may require subscription) (wesbite url) here

Mellor talks about an independent tax preparer in Wisconsin who may give up his business rather than submit to the time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes politically demanding steps of becoming a “register” tax return preparer,  according to new IRS rules.  Of course, HRBlock and large accounting companies would love to eliminate small-fry, capital-free, “amateur” competition.

In Nevada, normally a more libertarian state, a cosmetologist has to get a license, not just to practice her own craft but to teach others to do the same (making the others more employable).
About fifteen years ago, John Stossel did a piece for ABC 20-20 on similar problems, where a cosmetologist who wanted to specialize in African-American hair braiding was shut down in Kansas, and a woman in North Carolina who baked cookies was shut down because she didn’t have a commercial kitchen.  (And I thought these were small-business-friendly states).  I wonder what some of the entrepreneurs recently shown on ABC (Troy Dunn and Sean Belnick or, a few years ago, Cameron Johnson) would think of all this.

Even writers haven’t been immune.  In Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Jersey, back in the 1990s, some writers were enjoined from working at home.  (I’m told that the problems in LA did stop.)  A township in New Jersey tried to stop a rabbi from writing his sermons at home, back around 1998.  How could this affect bloggers?

Be careful where you move.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Market-driven switch to natural gas by electric utilities is helping reduce carbon emissions

Kevin Begos is reporting in an Associated Press story that the market-driven switch to natural gas by some electric utilities is helping the United States reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.  The use of natural gas (which has fallen in price – I can see that in my own bills) is part of the “Pickens Plan”.

The link in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is here.

I noticed after the derecho that the use of natural gas to power an entire house with a Briggs and Stratton generator cost about $10 a day now, not bad for an emergency.

The story also appeared on p A8 of Friday’s Washington Times

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Illegal immigrants brought here by parents can get two year deferral: massive lines to apply

The media is reporting huge crowds at various locations around the country, as adult children of illegal immigrants brought here illegally apply for deferral of possible deportation, allowing them to work here and go to school.

The New York Times has a typical story of the crowds at the Navy Pier on Lake Michigan in Chicago, story by Julia Preston, here

In the Washington DC area, people lined up in the Prince Georges county suburb of Langley Park, MD.
In Arizona, governor Jan Brewer said that the individuals involved could not receive public benefits.

Fairness is indeed a difficult problem here, as the people had no choice about being brought here, and for some the best way (if possible) is legal marriage to a US citizen. 

There are some conservative sites that report that employment opportunities for poorer people are improving in Mexico (despite the cartels) and that the Obama administration would prefer to see Mexican improvement relative to US jobs as a way to reduce illegal immigration. Here’s a typical claim, link

West Nile virus targets Dallas, but it could make long sleeves and pants common everywgere

West Nile virus infection is “spiking” across the United States, with the greatest concentration in and around Dallas, Texas, where Dallas County Health Department has declared an emergency and started heavy mosquito spraying of residential neighborhoods.

The virus is more likely to cause symptomatic illness (including encephalitis) in those over 50.  Many of those exposed or infected (especially young adults) never have symptoms.

Nevertheless, avoiding outdoor activity at dawn and dusk and covering skin, even in hot weather, is being recommended.  It’s not apparent that a lot of people are particularly concerned yet.

USA Today has a story by Laura Bly, “Pack that repellant: West Nile virus spiking across the USA”, link here

One reason for the outbreak is the mild winter did not disable enough mosquito nesting grounds.  As a whole, insect born illness has not been terribly important in the US over the years (except perhaps for lyme disease, from ticks). 

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Affordable Care Act could stiff some families with children

On Sunday, Aug. 12, on page A10, the New York Times ran a story by Robert Pear, “Ambiguity in health law could make family coverage too costly for many”, link here

The IRS has been saying that the determination of affordability (before the penalty “tax” kicks in) is based on the cost of individual coverage.  But family coverage, especially with children, can be several times an individual’s coverage.
Even when people get insurance through employers, group coverage rates for family coverage are often several times that of employee-only coverage.  This was a sore point back in the 90s when I was still well “within my career”. 

"Road games": you need relief pitchers against aggressive drivers

Having taken some recent extended auto trips, I must note that I’ve never seen so much aggressive driving as recently.  I guess I've had plenty of practice with defensive driving skills. 

Last night, as entered the Delaware Memorial Bridge from the north (New Jersey), and saw orange cones blocking the left lane (with notice), two cars cut in right before me “just in time”.  The second car could easily have hit the cones. 

The New Jersey Turnpike right now has over 40 consecutive miles of road work with mostly no shoulders, much of it south of Princeton where more right-of-way for a cars-only track has been cleared. 

Recently, in Michigan a truck ran me off the road completely.

And generally, I see at least one red light being run every other day when on “the road.” (as in a movie by that name). 

And cyclists ride without helmets and go the wrong way, being impossible for drivers to see when pulling into traffic.  

I'll add that I drove by an apartment complex that I had lived in, near Bound Brook, NJ, back in the 1970s, just before moving into "The City".  It looked like it had been flooded during Irene or Lee.  I've escaped from some places I have lived in time (an apartment complex in Dallas had a fire after I had moved out). I couldn't find any place to stop for a photo, but I did find a park near the rogue river later.

On the way back, I drove through a heavy thunderstorm that seemed to stop at the Harbor Tunnel, and didn't resume on the other side.  I wondered if the tunnel could ever flood. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan is a "conservative reformer " -- maybe

Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan as his running mate will certainly help refocus some debate on debt ceiling and entitlement reform.

Karen Tumulty has the most comprehensive chart, on p A8 of the Sunday Washington Post, here

Ryan may have softened his own positions to bring them closer to Romney, but his ideas still float. 

Eventually, he wants to privatize Medicare (or make Medicare a minor option among advantage programs).

He wants to raise Social Security retirement age and institute some means testing – although recent numbers suggest that people who have retired since the late 90s have earned, actuarily speaking, the benefits they receive.

He wants to turn most responsibility for Medicaid back to states (and interesting prospect of systems professionals maintaining state MMIS programs). 
He wants to simplify income taxes, but there is a lot of talk that he doesn’t want the “rich” to pay.  He seems to believe that family responsibility is not an entirely chosen thing.

Ezra Klein calls him a “conservative reformer”.

And, yes, Paul Ryan is “cute”.  But Romney doesn’t look bad either. 

Ryan is reported to have voted against repeal of "don't ask don't tell" and hate crimes legislation. But he is said to oppose workplace discrimination.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Driving through the midwest, I can see the effects of climate change -- I think

Driving through the eastern part of the Midwest this past weekend, I did have a chance to see the condition of crops on the ground.

The corn crops in Ohio, particularly in the hilly eastern part north of I-70, didn’t look all that bad. But as I drove into Indiana Friday afternoon, I noticed that the crops looked to be in fair shape at best. The cobs were shrinking. 

The weather was consistently hot and humid, even when cloudy, until Sunday afternoon, when a dry front had moved through.  It was still warm, even on the Lake in Cleveland near the Museums, but it was comfortable.

Persistent northerly position of the jet streams will mean hot dry summers all the way up into Canada.  Maybe crops will just be grown farther north, but the soil changes as one moves up toward the Hudson Bay.  

It will mean warmer winters, and more violent weather in early spring (tornadoes), and more large bow-echo atmospheric collapses, leading to regular derechoes in the East.

On the other hand, the jet stream appears to have dipped farther south over Europe.

A modern society depends on its food producers – but maybe the “personal risk” has been reduced by large corporations buying up farms and ranches from individual families.

I saw road signs staking both sides of the natural gas fracking issue (particularly in the Appalachian part of Ohio), and also signs claiming that President Obama would take away coal jobs.  Sorry, when driving alone at 70 mph, I can't snap pictures.  

I also saw a tacky "red state" sign on the Ohio Turnpike complaining that Obama supports abortion and gay marriage, and asking "do you?"  Free speech, yes, but very bad taste.  

I also saw some reckless driving. In Michigan, an 18-wheeler ran me off the road, although in a heavy evening thuderstorm where it was hard to see the lanes.  In the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel in Pennsylvania coming back, another truck cut in illegally (there are double lines in the tunnel) in front of me in the right lane. I got to practice my defensive driving skills (or else I would be dead now). What happens if a truck jackknifes in the tunnel?  But I enjoy the PA tunnels; I don't support taking more of them out. 

Gas was high, in the high $3.80 are, but over $4.35 in Detroit itself. 
I also noticed, on my car thermometer, some basic physics.  The temperature dropped from 81 to about 78 as I climbed up the Laurel Mountain pass (where a tunnel was removed), elevation 2950 or so.   
We have to watch our karma here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Cleveland transit system seems to have a "trackless" light rail -- a good idea for DC Metro all night service?

While in Cleveland this weekend, I noticed the widespread use of bus-only lanes, with frequent heated sheds, set up with cycled lights so as to emulate a trackless light rail system.  Cleveland has long had a rail transit system, with about three lines, connecting the city  (Public Square and Terminal Tower) to the Hopkins Airport, and also running across the Flats to the East End. 

It strikes me that the DC Metro could take a hint.  The Metro complains it does not have enough time for track work and often threatens to shut down late night service on weekends, which bars and nightclubs depend on.

It would seem that Metro could set up a “trackless” dedicated bus lane system running parallel to the Metro lines and run a dependable service all night long, which would also help nighttime workers who depend on a “second rush hour” as well as entertainment workers.  And it could reduce driving after consuming alcohol and reduce the need for parking in dangerous areas.
Below: an outdoor impromptu soccer game at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Note that it looks like Arlington VA will get a light rail line down Columbia Pike (to the Pentagon), between the Orange and Blue lines.  

Friday, August 03, 2012

Can modern semiconductor chips be hardened against EMP, solar storms?

I talked to an executive of an process engineering film about Newt Gingrich’s warnings about EMP and solar storms (July 15 post).

He suggested that semiconductor chips can be designed to be hardened to these kinds of threats, and that such an approach might in the long run be more effective than schemes to build Faraday cages or ground power equipment in particular ways.

However, companies cannot take on this kind of innovation without big investors and public policy action by Congress.  You would think that the big banks, the Fed, etc. would be behind something like this.  So would the biggest players in Silicon Valley – perhaps Google more than Facebook right now.

We should remember -- we can fail as a civilization, and lose it all -- and wind up with a world run only for the benefit of the socially powerful in a more primitive "survivalist" world.  It may have happened to the Maya.  Don't let it happen!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Army considers allowing women into all combat roles, according to TWT

The “conservative” Washington Times has a lead story July 31 by Rowan Scarborough on the Army’s tentative plans to allow women to train for full infantry duty.  There is discussion of “gender-free” vs. “gender-fair” training requirements.  But it is hard to reach upper echelons of field grade rank without Ranger qualifications.

The article discusses the details of the biologically-based ability of most men to outperform most women on tasks requiring both explosive strength and some (not all) tasks requiring endurance.  Women normally have a higher ratio of fat to lean muscle than men. All of this may not comport completely with results in the Olympics.

The link for the story is here.
The article doesn’t go into it, but gay men will normally perform physically at the same level as straight men, despite popular beliefs to the contrary.
In earlier eras, men and women accepted naturally differing risks for the good of everyone. Men fought in combat (often drafted) and did the physically dangerous jobs.  Women took a lot of risk in childbirth.