Archive for July, 2013
31 Jul 2013

Gone, But Not Forgotten

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Isabella Kirkland, Gone

Still weeping into your handkerchief over missing Carolina parakeets, Heath Hens, and Passenger pigeons? Studio 360 tells us that modern science is working on bringing extinct species back.

Bringing extinct animals back has usually been left to the world of science fiction. But a group of biologists is attempting it in the real world. The organization Revive & Restore, a project of the Long Now Foundation, held a day-long TEDx conference on de-extinction a few months ago at the National Geographic Society. This is not quack science; some of the research involves Harvard University, UC Santa Cruz, and Wake Forest University, among other institutions.

Painter Isabella Kirkland, who is also a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, opened the event with an image of her painting Gone. It looks like a Dutch master’s oil painting, depicting 63 extinct New World species arrayed on a table elegantly: the Carolina parakeet, the golden toad, and in the central place of honor, Martha, the last passenger pigeon, who died in 1914.

The passenger pigeon is the preoccupation of Revive & Restore’s Ben Novak, a genetic biologist. “It’s my job to bring the bird back to life.” Novak began thinking about resurrecting animals in junior high school, when he did a science fair project on the dodo bird. “It’s the icon of extinction — ‘dead as a dodo,’ as they say — and I learned that the dodo is actually a giant extinct pigeon. It gave me the pigeon bug.” The techniques are complicated and untried, but de-extinction is simple in concept: take DNA from a dead sample in a natural history museum somewhere, and plant it in the egg of a living relative — in this case, the band-tailed pigeon. If it works, the living bird will hatch an egg out of which will come the clone of a long-dead bird.

I would vote for bringing back Pleistocene megafauna, which would provide some excellent hunting trophies. Bringing back the Passenger pigeon seems like a bad idea to me. We already have plenty of Mourning Doves which fill the Passenger pigeon’s ecological niche pretty satisfactorily. Besides, it seems possible, speaking historically, that Passenger pigeons (and Carolina parakeets) were, at least in part, intentionally eradicated because they were voracious flock feeders on crops.

Hat tip to Daniela Imre.

31 Jul 2013

“Sir, Will You Please Run With Me?”

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Last Saturday:

For the 5k at the Venetian Festival in Charlevoix, [Michigan] Lcpl [Lance Corporal] Kerr opted to run the event wearing boots and utes [utilities] and carrying a ruck sack. Several minutes after the other Marines he was with had finished, Lcpl Kerr still had not crossed the line. They feared his extreme level of motivation may have caused him injury and/or fatigue resulting in him dropping out of the race. Moments before they ran back through the course to recover their fellow Marine, Lcpl Kerr came around the last turn along with this small boy. The boy had become separated from those who he had started the race with. He asked Lcpl Kerr, “Sir? Will you please run with me?”. Throughout the course, Lcpl Kerr urged him on when the boy wanted to give up and ensured that the boy saw the course to completion where he was reunited with his party. By his unwavering commitment to help those in need through his ability to inspire others by his unequivocal level of motivation, Lcpl Kerr reflected great credit upon himself and was keeping in the highest traditions of the United States Marine Corps.

Hat tip to Seal of Honor via Madame Scherzo.

31 Jul 2013

“A Remarkable Combination of Arrogance and Impotence”

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Even moderate Ron Fournier is clearly getting fed up with Barack Obama’s excuses and standard operating procedure of blaming Republicans when the country’s economic problems remain unaddressed.

Two New York Times reporters recently posited for President Obama this grim scenario: Low growth, high unemployment, and growing income inequality become “the new normal” in the nation he leads. “Do you worry,” the journalists asked him, “that that could end up being your legacy simply because of the obstruction … and the gridlock that doesn’t seem to end?”

Obama’s reply was telling. “I think if I’m arguing for entirely different policies and Congress ends up pursuing policies that I think don’t make sense and we get a bad result,” he said, “it’s hard to argue that’d be my legacy.”

Actually, it’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t be his legacy. History judges U.S. presidents based upon what they did and did not accomplish. The obstinacy of their rivals and the severity of their circumstances is little mitigation. Great presidents overcome great hurdles. …

In March, a reporter asked Obama why he didn’t lock congressional leaders in a room until they agreed on a budget deal. Obama’s answer was based on two assumptions. First, that his opinion is supreme. Second, he can’t break the logjam. What a remarkable combination of arrogance and impotence.

“I am not a dictator. I’m the president,” he said. “I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that’s been floating around Washington; that somehow, even though most people agree that I’m being reasonable, that most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal, the fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right.”

Obama could still do great things. But not if he and his advisers underestimate a president’s powers, and don’t know how to exploit them. Not if his sympathizers give Obama cover by minimizing his influence. Cover to fail. Not if the president himself is outwardly and boundlessly dismissive of his critics, telling The New York Times, “I’m not concerned about their opinions.”

To say the situation is intractable seems akin to waving a white flag over a polarized capital: Republicans suck. We can’t deal with them. Let’s quit.

30 Jul 2013

Seasonal Headgear

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Hat tip to Ratak Monodosico.

30 Jul 2013

How Government Works Today

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Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the White House. One is from Chicago, another is from Tennessee, and the third is from Minnesota. All three go with a White House official to examine the fence.

The Minnesota contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. “Well,” he says, “I figure the job will run about $900. $400 for mater…ials, $400 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.”

The Tennessee contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, “I can do this job for $700. $300 for materials, $300 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.”

The Chicago contractor doesn’t measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers, “$2,700.”

The official, incredulous, says, “You didn’t even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?”

The Chicago contractor whispers back, “$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence.”

“Done!” replies the government official.

And that, my friends, is how Government works today.

30 Jul 2013

Largest Space Battle in History Took Place on Sunday

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On Sunday night, the largest space battle in history took place, on the server of Eve Online.

The Verge breathlessly reported the approach of the battle fleets.

In less than an hour, a battle of interstellar proportions will break out in the MMORPG Eve Online, a spacefaring simulation with its own politics, economies, and wars — all controlled exclusively by players. Between three and four thousand pilots are set to do battle in one of the largest fights ever on Eve, which you can watch live below or on Twitch.tv.

The battle is expected to rival the legendary Battle of Asakai as one of the most epic battles in Eve history — which totalled equivalent to $20,000 in losses for the losing team. Today’s battle doesn’t yet have its own name, but is taking place in a system known as 6VDT between two of the largest player alliances in the game, TEST Alliance and the CFC. In order to keep lag to a minimum, since the battle takes place on just one server, Eve’s developers will likely slow down time more than 90 percent so its server can process all player actions. This means today’s battle could take several hours to reach its explosive conclusion.

Update, 3:20PM ET: The Verge’s war correspondent in Eve Online is bringing us live updates of the action about to unfold in deep space. As you can see below, the CFC is preparing to meet the TEST Alliance in battle. Intelligence suggests that the TEST Alliance is now staging its fleet.

Today’s battle could be the culmination of months of conflict, propaganda, and preparation.

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Eurogamer reported the outcome:

More than 4000 people took to sci-fi MMO Eve Online last night for the game’s largest ever virtual space battle.

Two of EVE’s biggest rival factions – TEST Alliance and the Goonswarm-led CFC – went head-to-head in a fight that lasted more than five hours and cost more than 2900 ships.

The CFC eventually smashed TEST and sent it fleeing from Fountain, the area of virtual space where the two sides drew their battle lines.

The battle was the culmination of a two-month campaign by the CFC to invade the Fountain area – TEST’s traditional home region – and was directly sparked by TEST’s decision to make an Alamo-style final stand.

30 Jul 2013

Not Only From the Apes…

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Ingrid Newkirk of PETA contends that, really, “A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy.”

Newkirk’s pig=boy equivalence receives support from Phys.Org, which links a scientific blog-site listing a long series of anatomical comparisons, which it argues constitute evidence that human beings do not only descend from apes.

Dr. Eugene McCarthy is a Ph.D. geneticist who has made a career out of studying hybridization in animals. He now curates a biological information website called Macroevolution.net where he has amassed an impressive body of evidence suggesting that human origins can be best explained by hybridization between pigs and chimpanzees. Extraordinary theories require extraordinary evidence and McCarthy does not disappoint. Rather than relying on genetic sequence comparisons, he instead offers extensive anatomical comparisons, each of which may be individually assailable, but startling when taken together. Why weren’t these conclusions arrived at much sooner? McCarthy suggests it is because of an over-dependence on genetic data among biologists. He argues that humans are probably the result of multiple generations of backcrossing to chimpanzees, which in nucleotide sequence data comparisons would effectively mask any contribution from pig.

Generally speaking, interspecies hybrids—like mules, ligers (lion-tiger hybrids), or zedonks (zebra-donkey hybrids)—are less fertile than the parents that produced them. However, as McCarthy has documented in his years of research into hybrids, many crosses produce hybrids that can produce offspring themselves. The mule, he notes, is an exceptionally sterile hybrid and not representative of hybrids as a whole. When it comes time to play the old nuclear musical chairs and produce gametes, some types of hybrids do a much better job. Liger females, for example, can produce offspring in backcrosses with both lions and tigers. McCarthy also points out that fertility can be increased through successive backcrossing with one of the parents, a common technique used by breeders. In the case of chimp – pig hybridization, the “direction of the cross” would likely have been a male boar or pig (Sus scrofa) with a female chimp (Pan troglodytes), and the offspring would have been nurtured by a chimp mother among chimpanzees (shades of Tarzan!). The physical evidence for this is convincing, as you can discover for yourself with a trip over to macroevolution.net.

When I asked McCarthy if he could give a date estimate for the hybridization event, he said that there are a couple broad possibilities: (1) It might be that hybridization between pigs and apes produced the earliest hominids millions of years ago and that subsequent mating within this hybrid swarm eventually led to the various hominid types and to modern humans; (2) separate crosses between pigs and apes could have produced separate hominids (and there’s even a creepy possibility that hybridization might even still be occurring in regions where Sus and Pan still seem to come into contact, like Southern Sudan).

This latter possibility may not sound so far-fetched after you read the riveting details suggesting that the origin of the gorilla may be best explained by hybridization with the equally massive forest hog. This hog is found within the same habitat as the gorilla, and shares many uncommon physical features and habits. Furthermore, well-known hybridization effects can explain many of the fertility issues and other peculiarities of gorilla physiology.

Read the whole thing.

Via the Dish.

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In the film “Gettysburg” (1993), on the evening of July 2nd, Confederate Corps Commander James Longstreet, Divisional Commander George Pickett and his Brigade Commanders Kemper and Armistead, discuss Charles Darwin’s new scientific theory of Evolution. Personally, I think General Pickett gets the best of the argument.

29 Jul 2013

Revenge of George R.R. Martin

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Geek and sundry, earlier this year, released a humorous ditty, urging George R. R. Martin to “write, and write faster. Winter is coming.” And…

“Please bear in mind, in the time that you’ve had,
William Shakespeare turned out 35 friggin’ plays!

And if you keep writing so slow,
You’ll hold up the HBO show.”

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And George R. R. Martin (assisted by Neil Gaiman) caught up with his tormentors only a few months later at the w00tstock 5.0 show at San Diego Comic-Con.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

29 Jul 2013

America the Nice

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Jay Nordlinger, in one of the most enthusiastically fulsome reviews I’ve ever read, quotes one of the characters in Mark Helprin’s new novel In Sunlight and in Shadow making a post-WWII prediction.

Humankind, or at least American-kind, will lose its edge as we produce more and more pipsqueaks and everyone gets nice. Whole generations of pipsqueaks will be so f***ing nice you won’t be able to tell a man from a woman. It will get worse and worse as people mistake nice for good. Hitler was nice, supposedly, most of the time. A lot of good that did. Luxury and prosperity breed pipsqueaks. A century from now the country won’t even be able to defend itself.”

28 Jul 2013

Viral Humor

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President Obama walks into a local bank in Chicago to cash a check. He is surrounded by Secret Service agents. As he approaches the cashier he says, “Good morning Ma’am, could you please cash this check for me?”

Cashier:
“It would be my pleasure sir. Could you please show me your ID?”

Obama:
“Truthfully, I did not bring my ID with me as I didn’t think there was any need to. I am President Barack Obama, the President of the United States of AMERICA !!!!”

Cashier:
“Yes sir, I know who you are, but with all the regulations and monitoring of the banks because of 9/11, impostors, forgers, money laundering, and bad mortgage underwriting not to mention requirements of the Dodd/Frank legislation, etc., I must insist on seeing ID.”

Obama:
“Just ask anyone here at the bank who I am and they will tell you. Everybody knows who I am.”

Cashier:
“I am sorry Mr. President but these are the bank rules and I must follow them.”

Obama:
“I am urging you, please, to cash this check. I need to buy a gift for Michelle for Valentine’s Day”

Cashier:
“Look Mr. President, here is an example of what we can do. One day, Tiger Woods came into one of our bank branches without ID. To prove he was Tiger Woods he pulled out his putter and made a beautiful shot across the bank into a coffee cup. With that shot we knew him to be Tiger Woods and cashed his check.”

“Another time, Andre Agassi came into the same place without ID. He pulled out his tennis racquet and made a fabulous shot where as the tennis ball landed in a coffee cup. With that shot we cashed his check.
So, Mr. President, what can you do to prove that it is you, and only you, as the President of the United States?”

Obama:
Obama stands there thinking, and thinking, and finally says, “Honestly, my mind is a total blank…there is nothing that comes to my mind. I can’t think of a single thing. I have absolutely no idea what to do and I don’t have a clue.”

Cashier:
“Will that be large or small bills, Mr. President?

28 Jul 2013

Good Being a Turtle

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Hat tip to Jose Guardia.

27 Jul 2013

Stormy Weather

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Hat tip to Madame Scherzo.

27 Jul 2013

Best Line of the Week

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Jeffrey H. Anderson: Once again, Paul Krugman appears to have buried his head, ostrich-like, in a pile of New York Times.

26 Jul 2013

Social Conservatism Versus the Liberal Administrative State

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The mad scientist Rotwang works on his Maschinenmensch in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927).

James Kalb contends that modern administrative liberalism successfully eliminates Religion, Nature, and Tradition from serious consideration in political questions of policy, but he remains optimistic for Conservatism’s ultimate victory.

[Today’s] situation is the result of the occupational outlook of those who run things in the West today. People who try to run a mass industrial society with a mixed and fluid population find it easiest to understand their task in accordance with a general scheme that emphasizes equality, technological rationality, and maximum preference satisfaction. Those committed to such a scheme have trouble making sense of traditional understandings based on a very different view of how the world works. Hence the difficulty social conservatives have making their case: their outlook is too much at odds with that of the influential public they hope to reach.

Still, political thought is more than an expression of institutional functioning and occupational perspective. Its highest use is to change and even transform how the social world works for the sake of a better way of life. With that in mind, it seems worthwhile to develop an account of public life and its relation to social conservatism that might aid those in responsible positions to understand the latter and how it functions.

For all the talk of diversity, today’s politics are extraordinarily uniform. The West lives under a single political regime, managerial liberalism, that combines an emphasis on individual choice and democratic values with domination of social life by experts, functionaries, and commercial interests. The liberal and managerial aspects of the system seem at odds with each other, but both are basic, and together they have led to the suppression of many things that have always been fundamental to human society—religion, cultural particularity, even the distinction between the sexes.

Unusual though the resulting form of society may be, people take it for granted, so much so that anything else seems impossible. No one can imagine a future, apart from chaos and tyranny, that is anything but more of the same; and those who want to roll back recent developments, to the ’50s, for example, are considered out of touch or psychologically disordered. If you are skeptical about democracy, diversity, and choice, or if you do not trust the experts, there is something wrong with you. And if you think there is an authority that could call the regime into question, and even at times override it, you are a fanatical extremist.

What is going on? Why the uniform insistence on such an odd political orthodoxy in an age that supposedly believes in freedom, diversity, and reason?

Part of the answer is that political choices have narrowed as one alternative after another has been discredited and an exclusively technological attitude toward social life has taken hold. The First World War meant an end to traditional and multinational monarchies; the Second, an end to any serious European Right or strong conception of national sovereignty. Those and other upheavals made the administrative machinery of the state more all-encompassing and destroyed local traditions and respect for goals other than effectiveness and uniformity.

The world wars were followed by prosperity, TV, cheap jet travel, globalized markets, electronic communications, the contemporary welfare state, and a continued tendency toward the industrial organization of life. People today eat at McDonalds, children grow up in day care, and local establishments have been replaced by chain stores and the Internet. The two wars were also followed by the Cold War. As a modern war, the Cold War further centralized social life and increased government power; as a struggle of ideas, it made thought more ideological. Western governments became accustomed to social management based on grand slogans such as human rights. With the collapse of Soviet communism, the last nonliberal form of modern political life, such tendencies could unfold without external check.

Our current public order claims to separate politics from religion, but that understates its ambition. It aspires to free public life—and eventually, since man is social, human life in general—not only from religion but also from nature and history. The intended result is an increase in freedom as man becomes his own creator. The effect, though, is that human life becomes what those in power say it is. Western political authorities now claim the right to remake the most basic arrangements. If you want to know the nature of man and the significance of life and death, you look to the political order and its authorized interpreters. That is the meaning of the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions and the transformation of abortion into a human right. Man has, in effect, become God, and politics is the authoritative expression of his mind, spirit, and will. …

What allows the managerial liberal regime to function are habits of loyalty and sacrifice, and understandings of natural goods and purposes, which it continually undermines and cannot justify or explain.

Hat tip to John Zmirak.

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