Saturday, August 05, 2006
A growing number of maverick scientists, doctors, researchers, biogeneticists and nano-technologists, many with impeccable academic credentials, insist that the war against ageing can be won. All believe significantly longer lifespans and, perhaps eventually, true biological immortality, are not only possible but also scientifically achievable. What's more, it could happen in time to aid those now living.As a believer in the ability of human beings, using the scientific method, to achieve almost anything I have no doubt whatsoever that we can end aging. If progress can be made with mice it can be made with men. A man is a more impressive creature than a mouse but biologicly they are equally complex. The problem then becomes a social one. The population would increase theoreticly to an unlimited extent. The entire concept of pensions, either private or public becomes redundant. Perhaps most dangerously any treatment is likely, intially, to be expensive. In the longer term it is likely to become much cheaper both because of economic growth & because of economies of scale. This is what happened with the motor car & even moreso with the computer. However, while it is expensive it may produce social tensions between the rich & poor which will make the era of Marx look gentle.
The first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today; indeed, he or she may be about to turn 60, says Aubrey de Grey, the Cambridge University geneticist who has become the de facto spokesman of the anti-ageing crusade. "Whether they realise it or not, barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40 years or younger can expect to live for centuries". Nutty? Some scientists do dismiss de Grey as a wildly optimistic crank. But plenty of others, though not necessarily accepting all his predictions, have joined in the search for a real fountain of youth. "I am working on immortality", so says Michael Rose, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, who has already achieved breakthrough results extending the lives of fruit flies. "Twenty years ago the idea of postponing aging, let alone reversing it, was weird and off-the-wall. Today there are good reasons for thinking it is fundamentally possible".
.........Federal funding for research into the biology of ageing, excluding work on ageing-specific diseases like heart failure and cancer, has been running at about $2.4bn (£1.3bn, E1.9bn) a year, according to the National Institute of Ageing, part of the National Institutes of Health. Though enthusiasts of long living say much more spending is needed, the tally now is not far from the $3bn the government doles out for research in all behavioural sciences, or the $3.5bn for research on women's health beyond breast cancer.
.........Molecular geneticists at the University of Southern California, meanwhile, stunned colleagues when they reported finding that deleting a gene known to prolong ageing somehow ended up greatly extending lifespan. And at the University of Washington, researchers have successfully lengthened the lives of laboratory mice by 20% by boosting natural antioxidants. The hope is that these findings and others could point the way to entirely new classes of drugs to lengthen lives or treat specific, age-related ailments like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
On the other hand improved health care means we already have an appreciable lengthening, approxiamately 1 year for every 4 that passes for the last century & nobody would wish to reverse this. I therefore disagree with the opponents at the end of the article.
American Enterprise Institute fellow Leon Kass, the former head of Bush's Council on Bioethics, insists that "the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual". Bioethicist Daniel Callahan of the Garrison, New York-based Hastings Centre, agrees: "There is no known social good coming from the conquest of death."Unnecessary death annoys me. If the survival of the individual is not a "social good" then be damned to whoever holds that notion of society. I think we should start thinking about what to do to ameliorate the inevitable problems but that we should SPEND THAT MONEY.
Arguments like that could hurt the efforts of anti-ageing enthusiasts to win more federal funding. They'd like to see more funds not just for stem-cell research but for the full range of anti-ageing studies. Despite the efforts by the National Institute of Ageing, federal support for the field still lags well behind that for specific diseases. Research into brain disorders, for instance, gets $4.7bn a year, nearly double the sum for anti-ageing. "If the same amount of money was spent on this as is now being spent on AIDS, breast cancer or even diabetes, we would see breakthroughs come much faster," argues noted futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of the book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.
Addendum http://www.sens.org/how.htm by Aubrey de Grey has been brought to my attention. I reccomend it for further reading.
Friday, August 04, 2006
On Thursday their was a short power outage in central London due toI have yet to have any letter published which refers to my terminated membership of the Lib Dems. This may be a coincidence.
high demand caused by the heat. Another way of saying high demand is low supply. I fear that this is the first small cloud on the horizon that presages approaching disaster.
We all know that Britain & even moreso Scotland face massive losses in our electricity generating capacity over the next few years. Scotland faces 50% closure including both Hunterston (in 2011), Torness & in 2015, new emission controls closing much of our coal generated capacity. Even on top of that gas, as many will have noticed, is becoming more expensive & difficult to obtain.
In October 2001 I spoke at the Scottish Lib Dem conference in favour of new nuclear power as being economical, safe, presenting no serious long term waste problem (due to the short half life of reactor waste) & sustainable for at least the next 4.5 billion years. Unfortunately the Executive amendment opposing all nuclear power passed. Part of the reason for it passing was a very fine speech by Ross Finnie which focussed not at all on the scientific & engineering questions raised & entirely on asking the conference not to embarrass the leadership. In this he made the absolute promise that the leadership would "not allow blackouts to happen" in which statement he clearly had the support of his colleagues. In a subsequent discussion with me, when I gave him a copy of my speech & begged him to look seriously at the points raised, he made the same promise. I was subsequently expelled from the party for supporting nuclear power & economic & technological innovation generally.
In fact no party is being serious about this looming catastrophe. Even Mr Blair's deathbed conversion is not as much as it seems. The government is still committed to spending 5 years doing paper work investigating whether the French, Canadian or US designs available are actually fit for purpose & would work & whether the sites would be able to sustain a reactor. Since all this work has been done years ago by France, Canada & the US, they clearly do work & have for years & the laws of physics do not vary with national boundaries this is clearly nonsense. A long investigation into whether it is possible to site a reactor on the Hunterston site is equally pointless. The actual building should take another 4 years. With Hunterson due to close in 2011 we need a replacement in 4 year. The solution is obvious & still perfectly feasible. Even now unnecessary fuel poverty kills 24,000 UK pensioners a year but if we have massive midwinter blackouts the carnage will be unthinkable.
In the circumstances those members of all parties who say we can get by without new credible power sources (i.e. ones which actually form the baseload of any nation anywhere in the world - this does not mean windmills of "clean coal") should publicly repeat the SLDs guarantee they will not allow blackouts due to high demand & low supply. At least then we make properly demand that when the inevitable power cuts come they resign their seats & make way for somebody who places competence above political correctness. Of course by then it will be to late to save 100s of thousands of lives.
The second one was a response to correspondence in the Herald about America's role in the war & how they expect everybody to be eternally grateful for it. The writer produced a listing of other participants which did not include Yugoslavia. I am sure no deliberate slight was intended it is merely that when, over many years, the media forget to notice an event it tends to slip out of public memory.
In Ian Mitchell's listing of countries which joined us in the fight against Nazism, other than the US whose continual cries for gratitude he correctly despises, he forgets a very important one. The people of Yugoslavia rose against their own government when it appeared to be making an accomodation with Hitler. Germany was thus forced to turn her full power against Yugoslavia & Greece & thus put off the the invasion of Russia by one month, As a result Germany met their first defeat in the middle of winter beforre Moscow. This on its own changed the course of the war.I can see that this is a perhaps somewhat of a rant & more importantly getting a bit off the topic which had been running in various letters. On the other hand I feel historical truth to be important. When I was young all our comics showed various Brits (usually called Dusty Miller or similar sobriquets) winning the war with the aid of the odd yank & Aussie. It was only in my teens that I learned the Russians (then the hated enemy) had even been in WW2.
Their country was occupied & they fought with incredible bravery against their Nazi occupiers & various collaborators. As a result they, if Churchill is to be believed, held down more enemy troops than Britain & America combined up till D-Day. The Germans killed 2 million Yugoslavs, mainly Serbs. This Holocaust is ignored in western histories.
If the Americans expect to demand gratitude for their role in WW II they must also pay it to those they owe. Instead they have bombed & murdered the children of those who saved them (Milosevic's parents were well known Resistance heroes). The same applies to Britain who has betrayed the memory of our "finest hour" by bombing our bravest allies. Germany, of course, has shown more gratitude to their Nazi collaborators. So, sucking up to Germany, have we.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
May I commend Chris Walker on his amusing letter about the hypocrisy of present condemnations of Israel following our flying bombs to Saddam Hussein, back when he was our friendly "strong leader" (like Pakistan's now) & the remarkable failure of the media to report it?
May I also remind you that it is only a few years since planes were taking off from Britain to deliver bombs, including cluster bombs to Yugoslav cities & indeed hospitals, without the inconvenience of landing?
This was done not to oppose terrorism but to support a KLA whom the US government had said were terrorists & according to Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, were engaged in genocide.
It is noticeable that many politicians (Jack Straw, Ming Campbell, Clare Short, Nicol Stephen etc.) who are loudest in calling the Jews self defence a "war crime" were among the most enthusiastic supporters of bombing civilians then. The remarkable failure of our media to accuse the governments involved then of war crimes or to report the subsequent non-existence of the mass graves, on which that war was sold, or the subsequent genocide carried out under NATO rule should be a matter of shame.
PS This will be the 3rd letter I have sent you in a week. Let us hope this one meets the Herald's exacting literary standards.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
INDIE MAINTAINS IT'S NAZI-ANTI-SEMITIC LINE
Today you decided to publish a letter quite gratuitously using the name of Slobodan Milosevic a man whom the editor must know to someone "to whom any from of racism is anathema" as an example of somebody who might commit war crimes such as dropping explosives on them & cutting off electricity.
As you know perfectly well not only did he do no such thing but it was the genocidal racists running NATO who did so.
Indeed people such as Scottish Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen have gone on record to say that for Israel to attack a power station is a war crime when he is perfectly well aware, blond aryan that he is, that his party very actively supported not merely that war crime against Yugoslavia but far far worse ones such as ethnic cleansing, child sex enslavement & genocide in Kosovo under NATO's authority.
Clearly it is absolutely impossible for anybody who supported any such war crimes, even the minor ones like attacking power stations to oppose Israel on remotely humanitarian grounds. Their opposition must be purely anti-semitism. In the case of those who supported the War To Help The KLA Commit Genocide this is unsurprising since they are already proven Nazis.
While not everyone will entirely agree with what I have said anyone who checks the facts will accept that it is factually indisputable. On the day on which the man who committed the Srebrenica massacre, Naser Oric was released as a fine upstanding representative of NATO & Nazism generally it would be impossible for any newspaper which was not out & out pro Nazi to fail to publish letters putting both sides.
PS Considering the last sentence I look forward to the Independent, if a non-racist paper publishing this or if not, not.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Wendell Cox: That's right. We looked at housing affordability in 100 markets in six nations. My great interest in that has to do with the recognition that home ownership is the principal driver of economic growth. What we found is that in Australia things are pretty bad. As I think most Australians know, housing affordability has been greatly lost. The great Australian dream, I would argue, is in the process of being destroyed for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of future households. As you think, for example, in the Sydney area, housing prices relative to incomes are three times what they should be, three times what they are in Atlanta or Houston. In places like Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth, housing prices relative to incomes are about double what they should be, and this is being caused principally by the kind of regulations you've mentioned and that's the extreme regulation of land going under the name urban consolidation, anti-sprawl, et cetera, and it is doing to have, I believe, very serious impacts on the Australian economy in the long run.So all the bull we have from the politically correct numptys in Holyrood about "affordable housing" is merely to cover the fact that the only thing that makes housing unaffordable to even relatively well paid people like teachers & policemen is the regulations they saddle us with. In my opinion if the government were also to give some support to off site modular manufacturing of homes they could get the prices down even below the 3Xincome figure. Currently, of course, regulations act to ensure all that mass production cannot be applied because houses need individual rather than type planning approval.
......What we did is we looked at median house price and compared it to median household income in each of the countries. Essentially, historically, whether we talk about Australia or the United States or the UK, that measure is normally about three where the market is allowed to operate
......Atlanta, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston are the three fastest-growing large urban areas in the first world, housing affordability...with the huge demand those guys have got, housing affordability is down in the three range instead of the eight-and-a-half range or the six range
....Whyhy do you think urban consolidation was and still is so popular?
Wendell Cox: It is principally popular among a group of planners for whom what the city looks like aesthetically is the most important thing. They have done all sorts of research that's largely wrong, you hear them complaining about land being taken out of agricultural production because of urbanisation when in fact, for example, in Australia all of the land taken out of agricultural production for the last quarter century exceeds the size of the state of Victoria because you've gotten better at producing agricultural products.
......Michael Duffy: I once gave a lecture, not that long ago, at a university on urban planning and at the end one of the horrified students in the class said to me, 'But you can't just let people do what they want!'
Wendell Cox: Yes, but the interesting thing is all sorts of economic studies around the world show that economic growth and affluence happen where people are allowed to do what they want, and that's what is really at risk here. I don't know what the impact is going to be but it is not a good impact when you significantly increase the price of housing for no good reason.
Finally here is a remark on public transport which I wish I had seen before doing a bit on the 29th June on why building a bullet traibetweenen Glasgow & Edinburgh is insane.
Looking around the world at all the cities you've studied, is there any evidence you can actually shift people out of cars and onto things like light rail?
Wendell Cox: Not a shred. For example, when they built the Portland Oregon light rail line they found a reduction of traffic congestion along the adjacent freeway for a matter of about 30 days. The fact is that the basic problem with public transport, while we all love it, is that it only gets you to one place. If you go to any city, I don't care if it's Sydney or Portland or Perth or Paris, what you will find is public transport gets you to the core but is absolutely useless and uncompetitive in terms of getting you around the urban area otherwise. You think about Sydney, for example, only 13% of employment is downtown. That means 87% of the employment can't reasonably be reached by public transport.
Monday, July 31, 2006
My old chum Lord Snooty – aka Mark Douglas-Home – former editor of The Herald, isn’t having much luck with his latest project. His ghosted autobiography of LibDem leader Sir Minging Campbell, although well received by the publisher – has been shelved four a couple of months, until after the LibDems Brighton conference in September. The official reason is that Campbell is too busy to co-operate with Snooty, but that’s crap. The book contains details of Minging’s role in the downfall of Chuckie Kennedy, his predecessor, and is said to show how he organised the coup that led to Kennedy’s resignation after he admitted suffering from alcoholism. This will be the same coup that was the topic of Chinese whispers that preceded Chuckie’s downfall and which Minging so vociferously denied at the time.
By the end of the year, China's foreign exchange reserves will likely exceed $1 trillion. This is a huge amount of money, about 43% of China's gross domestic product, and easily the largest reserve stockpile in the world. It is also far more than China needs. Yet with the mainland absorbing some $20 billion to $30 billion worth of capital inflows a month from its trade surplus, foreign direct investment, and other sources, there seems to be no stopping it.The Americans & we have sought the illusion of power by killing people, known as "punching above our weight". The Chinese have achieved the reality by creating wealth. Good for them.
The Chinese money machine raises two big issues. Much attention has been focused on how best to stop the reserves from increasing further and whether Beijing financial authorities should let the yuan appreciate. Let's put that debate aside for the moment and dwell on another more interesting question: What should China do with all this money?
This topic has triggered a lot of debate in China. Discussion has focused on whether China should buy fewer U.S. government bonds, just in case the dollar falls in value and China is left with less valuable securities. Some analysts and quasi-government types have floated the idea of buying oil and other raw materials, given China's obvious needs......
Oh yes - they also have a growth rate of 10.9%. The US has just had a 3 month equivalent to 2.5%. I doubt if the UK will match the US & Scotland certainly won't. We could at least do nearly as well if we tried.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
HOW ISRAEL COULD CONQUER THE MIDDLE EAST
Their problem is that though they can win any war they can't take the hearts & minds. For that they need some way to talk to the Arab people.
Israel should launch a geo-synchronous communications satellite (one that stays at all times over - not Bethlehem but the equator) and use it to broadcast to the entire Middle East. If a nation of Jewish entrepreneurs can't produce TV news that can whip al Jazerra, which is certainly whipping all the official state media in Arabia then they aren't the Israel we all know. All they have to do is put in the straight honest news the people never get to see plus a certain amount of juicy gossip about which Saudi prince is sleeping with which (or occasionally princess), how much is in Mrs Arafat's French bank account & which Moslem leader (not Arab admittedly) said they need to arrange the massacre of 5,000 of their own people to get sympathy.
For generations the various Arab leaders have been able to use war with Israel as a way of keeping their street in line. This would allow the Israelis to go direct to the people. Because a satellite beams straight down it cannot even be jammed the way line of sight broadcasts can. There is barely a single Arab politician who, if he roused Israel's ire, could stand a campaign exposing his corruption. Paradoxically Hamas would probably come closest because they are, by comparison, uncorrupt, but thems the breaks. Would the Arabs watch programmes from the hated enemy - I think so, after all Brits listened to Lord Haw Haw during the war. To keep an audience would depend on the Israelis treating their audience honestly but they are clearly more equipped to do that than the Arab leaders (& I suggest our own). If this worked the next middle east war would be between the Arab peoples & their leaders. Of course this assumes that Arabs are not congenitally wedded to a fundamentalist Islam & that as individuals they would like out of their medievalism. This is a matter of opinion but my opinion is that people are pretty much the same all over if you don't drive them into their cultural shells.
There is the minor question of getting from here to there. Israel has launched a satellite but they had to do it the wrong way (East to west up the Mediterranean) to avoid enemy airspace. This won't work for geosynchronous so the y would have to launch from Canaveral or Baikonur. I would suggest they should try for the Russian one. A rocket launched from the US would be seen as a US rocket with the Israelis piggybacking, one launched from Russia would, correctly, be seen as a primarily Israeli achievement & such an achievement itself would enormously raise Israel's standing.
Would Putin agree. There is only one way to find out but I think he would. He is an intelligent pragmatist & so long as they paid well I think he gains substantially. He would lose his Moslem friends, but they are more acquaintances than friends. He would gain Israeli friends & more importantly the US Jewish community would look on Russia in a considerably better light. Most importantly this would put the Russian space effort into a strong position vis a vis the US.
Launching from the US, while Israel's prime ally, would probably cost a lot more (NASA is an expensive mess) & take longer to make a political decision. I wouldn't even ask Europe - they would spend 20 years discussing the contract & then Malta would veto it. China, while having potential is still largely potential.
Of course the Moslem leaders would scream to the UN about Israel violating their cultural heritage but then one of the nicest things I have read about the middle east in recent years was when Bay Watch topped the Iranian ratings. All the same under the jibab.
A major TV series to be broadcast later this year will set out to find the greatest events in Scottish history. Viewers will be asked to nominate their most important moments and then vote for them in a nationwide poll.Good to see BBC Scotland spending some money on this even if, following the success of Great Britons, it is a bit of a no-brainer. I have commented
Great battles will compete with feats of engineering, culture, intellectual thought and politics for the top slot, although seminal sporting moments will not be forgotten.
The producers want to find out which events have captured the imagination to the extent that they are ingrained as part of the national identity.
This means key dates such as the victory at Bannockburn in 1314, and the Act of Union in 1707 will be compared with the publication of a work of literature or a major achievement in the sporting arena.
The series, with a budget in excess of £100,000, will be kick-started by TV promotions asking viewers to send in their nominations. Three half-hour programmes in November will use on-screen champions - celebrities and historians - to make their case for 30 key events. Viewers will then be encouraged to vote for their favourites online.
The series will culminate in a one-hour studio debate among a seven-strong panel of Scotland's leading historians, chaired by Professor Tom Devine on St Andrew's Night (November 30), when the winner will be revealed.
Events already certain to feature strongly are the Wars of Independence, in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, the 18th-century publication of the works of Robert Burns, the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, and the 16th-century Reformation.
Les Wilson, the creative director of Caledonia TV, which is making the series for BBC Scotland, said: "We want to generate a public debate about the 10 things you really should know about if you are living in Scotland. It is a way of stimulating discussion and debate about Scottish history."
The programme will follow a similar format to other blockbuster series in which the public has played a major part, including Restoration, about neglected buildings, and Greatest Britons, in which viewers voted for Winston Churchill as the towering figure of British history.
1) James Watt's invention of the steam engine. All modern industry grew from this. Purists can say he merely improved Newcomen's engine in the same way Shakespeare merely improved on the earlier play called Hamlet.Despite the fact that the events suggested by the BBC (& indeed the "great & good") are conventional history or show-biz related it should be remembered that the runner-up in the Britons series was Isambard Kingdom Brunel so I hope Scots show a similar regard for progress.
2) Publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations The modern world's economy is based on this.
3) James Clerk Maxwell's equations. While not as simple as Einstein's he acknowledged that he had built on Maxwell. Electronics, radio & most of modern physics is derived from this.
4) Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin. This has savedliterallyy many hundreds of millions of lives including that of Churchill during the war. There is some argument as to how it happened & whether the Americans would have got there a bit later anyway but nonetheless its importance is clearly enormous.
5) The Declaration of Arbroath. This overturned the feudal position that authority devolves downwards & established firmly that all authority comes from the citizen, willing to defend his rights to the death if need be & that the ruler is merely our representative. The anarchistic strain to all Scots & our respect for education rather than bowing to rank & what this article, hopefullyironicallyy, refers to as the great & good. One can argue that, like Magna Carta, it was an agreement to restrain the king in the interests of the great nobles but it is a vastly more philosophical document than that.
It will be seen that I have omitted Bannockburn, Stirling Bridge (with more regret) & other battles, Burns, Knox & Walter Scott (all of whom are world class figures) & all footballers & film stars since I don't think the total influence of any of them, no matter how great, matches that of my choices.
I am sending a copy of this article to the BBC & will put any response on here as addendumum.