Wednesday, May 31, 2006

GrandMaternal Effects in Humans?

Biologists have known about maternal effects for a long time: the status of the mother can influence the future development of her embyro. To use a plant example, plants will disproportionately provision seeds with different amounts of stored nutrients. This can affect how seedlings grow–and, consequently, affect the future growth of the adult plant.

Researchers in Sweden have found that in a remote Swedish town, Overkalix, that there is a link between grandparents' food supply and grandchildrens' mortality. What's interesting is that there are effects in both sexes, which appear to be mediated by the X and Y chromosomes (it's not clear to me how males would influence offspring development). Even more curious is the observation that the food shortages must occur at precise points in life to influence the grandkids.

I'll be interested to see what the mechanisms for this are. Any thoughts? (Lil' Baby Jebus is not an answer...)

Update: maybe some kind of bizarro, long-term (really long-term) DNA methylation is happening? Or maybe some kind of RNAi type of thing? Hell if I know...

Haditha: Reaping What You Hath Sown?

It now appears that the alleged November massacre of Iraqi civilians last November in Haditha was not an isolated incident. The Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. has accused U.S. Marines of killing his unarmed, non-combatant cousin. (Troll-Be-Gone: I think the Iraqi ambassador is a credible source. Anyone who has a high profile position like his has placed a bullseye on himself and his family. It's not like he's some chickenhawk jerking off to Ann Coulter posters in his little conservative bunker.)

In the last poll I saw of the U.S. military, close to 90% of the troops thought Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11th attacks. I can't help but think that at least some of our troops have internalized that falsehood to the point where they view Iraqis as subhuman. One Iraqi veteran, Spc. Jody Casey claims:
his unit was advised to carry shovels in their vehicles which they could plant on civilian victims to make it look as if they were concealing roadside bombs.

"I have seen innocent people being killed. IEDs [improvised explosive devices] go off and [you] just zap any farmer that is close to you," he said. "You're driving down the road at three in the morning. There's a guy on the side of the road, you shoot him ... you throw a shovel off."
Since it now appears there may have been two or more incidents of murder, I don't think this can be blamed on 'combat fatigue' or stress. Something more systemic could be at work here.

Too bad the Bush Administration never realized that bigotry and hate are tigers that ultimately you can not ride.

Impeach Bush. Then Cheney.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Another Murder in Haditha?

The Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. just accused the Marines of murdering his cousin in Haditha months before the November incident:
BLITZER: But even months before the incident in November, you lost a cousin at Haditha in a separate battle involving United States Marines.

SUMAIDAIE: Well, that was not a battle at all. Marines were doing house-to-house searches, and they went into the house of my cousin. He opened the door for them.

His mother, his siblings were there. He led them into the bedroom of his father. And there he was shot.

BLITZER: Who shot him?

SUMAIDAIE: A member of the Marines.

BLITZER: Why did they shoot him?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, they said that they shot him in self-defense. I find that hard to believe because, A, he is not at all a violent -- I mean, I know the boy. He was [in] a second-year engineering course in the university. Nothing to do with violence. All his life has been studies and intellectual work.

Totally unbelievable. And, in fact, they had no weapon in the house. They had one weapon which belonged to the school where his father was a headmaster. And it had no ammunition in it. And he led them into the room to show it to them.

BLITZER: So what you're suggesting, your cousin was killed in cold blood, is that what you're saying, by United States Marines?

SUMAIDAIE: I believe he was killed intentionally. I believe that he was killed unnecessarily. And unfortunately, the investigations that took place after that sort of took a different course and concluded that there was no unlawful killing.

I would like further investigation. I have, in fact, asked for the report of the last investigation, which was a criminal investigation, by the way.

[Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq] is aware of all the details, because he's kept on top of it. And it was he who rejected the conclusions of the first investigation. I have since asked formally for the report, but it's been nearly two months, and I have not received it.
Just how many more of these 'incidents' are waiting to be uncovered?

Get out. Get out now.

driftglass Does It Again

We have to get driftglass a major newspaper column (seriously, if Peggy "I speak with dead people" Noonan can have a syndicated column, why can't someone who is sane have one too?). On the surveillance state:
This is nothing more or less than that government doing electronically what it never even dared to think about doing with stamps and envelopes and stationery: slitting open and rifling through the mail of every single American.


This alone should be sending every Constitutionalist screaming into the streets, but this plus warrentless wiretapping plus national identity cards, plus tracking every phone call made by every American, plus all the rest are nothing less than the glittering of freshly fashioned Fascist chains the GOP has carefully forged for us all.

If you’re down with that, by all means step up and loudly support Abu G and the rest of these criminals, but please quit pretending that you love this country.

Because you despise this country.

You want a nice, tidy, high-tech police state that keeps good, White Christians warm and snuggly and fuck everyone and everything else. And however despicable the means are to those ends – invading countries based on lies, debasing the Constitution, torture, murder – you are completely cool with them.

But part of the wink-and-a-nod deal you cut is that you absolutely do not want to know what horrors are being committed in your name. You are the Spineless Christian Master Race who categorically refuse to take any responsibility for the disasters your vote has unleashed. Who wants to heap the Declaration of Independence onto the pyre and then make the “anger” of those who are trying to stop you the only issue under discussion.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Six Flags Over Jesus

That's the title of a fascinating post at DailyKos by someone who attended a Southern mega-church. The author writes (italics mine):
At various times during the message, the minister cloaked himself in anti-intellectualism by disparaging scientist or claiming ignorance that wasn't his. It seemed that the embracement of complex intellectual concepts were associated with abandonment of God. College was described as a frightening place where agents of evil teach that Jesus was married or merely mortal. When explaining the odds of Christ fulfilling a certain number of prophecies he explained that it was one in 10 to the power of 157, then giggled and said he really didn't know what that meant. Of course he actually did understand the concept or he wouldn't have included it in the study guide we were provided.

Towards the end of the service the sermon veered towards the scriptural support of Christ's divinity. Surprisingly, the minister said he wanted to move through this section quickly and his rate of presentation increased noticeably. There was no effort to involve critical thinking processes or discuss involved constructs and the very foundation of their faith were glossed over in an apparent aside. The main gist of the message had been to play on the congregations emotions while spoon feeding them overly simplistic sound bites. I was disappointed with the shallowness of their spirituality as well as the self-centered focus. At no time was there any impetus towards service or benefiting others but instead the primary theme was one of fear and the anger it fuels.

The author also found this image at the church, titled "Prayer for Peace":

Prayer for Peace

Think they vote Democratic? Amy Sullivan can click her heels together all she wants, but they're not voting progressively anytime soon...

It Must Be All That Rap Music

From Yahoo News:

Doctors said sexually transmitted diseases among senior citizens are running rampant at a popular Central Florida retirement community, according to a Local 6 News report.

A gynecologist at The Villages community near Orlando, Fla., said she treats more cases of herpes and the human papilloma virus in the retirement community than she did in the city of Miami.

"Yeah, they are very shocked (to hear the diagnosis)," gynecologist Dr. Colleen McQuade said. "I had a patient in her 80s."

"More and more senior citizens are ending up in the gynecologist office, and their diagnosis is a sexually transmitted disease," Local 6 reporter Vanessa Medina said.

Local 6 featured Louis Franklin, who used to date in the community at least three times a week.

"I have had a better dating life since I have been here than I have ever had," Franklin said. "I know there are things going around."

A doctor blamed Viagra, a lack of sex education and no risk for pregnancy for the spike in sexually transmitted diseases at The Villages.

"All I can repeat are the things I have heard which are things like, 'Should I bring the little blue pills over tonight?'" community singles group president Richard Matwyshen said.

I'm just going to leave this one alone...

Microbiology Monday

This isn't a new feature or anything–it happens to be a Monday, and you're getting a round up of some interesting microbiology articles:

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Peter Pan Right and Will

(image from Pandagon)

Amanda has an excellent post about the Right and its obsession with 'will.' If only the U.S. had the will to prevail in Iraq, it would do so. Of course, things like adequate supplies, good tactical and strategic positions, and an intelligent strategy have nothing to do with success. There's an old military adage: amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics. By this standard, those who 'study' will are complete fucking idiots.

As with every other issue, conservatives reduce the entire problem–drugs, terrorism, Iraq, and don't forget Vietnam–solely to an issue of intent, and ignore realities, outcomes, and consequences. Will is everything.

The irony of the conservative obsession with will is that this obsession ultimately leads to a position of ammoral relativism, the supposed shibboleth of cultural conservatives. If you are not winning, you simply must become even more ruthless, more cruel, more inhuman. After all, failure stems from a failure of will, not poor strategy, design, or planning. There is always another law to vitiate, person to imprison and torture, or town to pacify.

Despite the glorification of pseudo-religion by conservatives, the obsession with will reveals a narcissism at the core of modern conservatism. Will is easy. No outcomes to assess, strategies to plan. You do not actually have to know or understand anything. Just click your heels, throw some pixie dust in the air, think happy thoughts, and all will be right.

Weren't these guys supposed to be the grownups?

Update: this idiocy never seems to die.

Good Smackdown of a 'Christian' Conservative

One of the best commentors at is Paul Rosenberg. He writes a devastating response to a conservative who whines:
I must say that I grow tired of being portrayed as a heartless, uncaring, so-and-so just because I don't believe in the majority of government hand-outs (or at least to the extent they are taken).

I won't attempt to argue the meaning of this parable from Matthew (other than to say I would not interpret it as literally as you are doing; but if you want to be literal, look at vs. 33 and see which side the goats and sheep are on :-) because yes, the Bible obviously does say that we need to take care of the poor and less fortunate. However, it does not say that it is the government's responsibility to do so. The thing is, us "hard-core conservatives" (at least the evangelical christians among us) believe it is the church's duty to do this. This is why I give money to my church and to other private charities.

Donating to private organizations allows me to target my giving to the causes I most believe in. Plus these groups are infinitely more efficient than some big government bureaucracy. And if they do go astray and mis-spend their donations, it is much easier to hold their feet to the fire.

So, it's just a different way of thinking and acting. And stating that "hard-core conservatives" don't care about others because we don't believe in hand-outs is completely inaccurate, as you are only dealing with a single side of the issue.

Rosenberg's response (bold original, italics mine):
Two points:

(1) There is no Christian love shown in the rhetoric of those who demonize "welfare queens." However you rationalize your policies positions, if you gain political power in this manner, you clearly do not see Jesus in the least of these. End of story.

(1a) The same applies to "tough-on-crime" rhetoric. And anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well. No matter what you claim on policy grounds, the rhetoric used for political advantage reveals your side to be firmly headed for the fire. No ifs, ands or buts.

(2) We've already tried your way, and it failed miserably. People only turned to the welfare state--rather reluctantly, I might add--after repeated failure to solve social problems by voluntary means alone. Social historians like Michael Katz have thoroughly documented how prolonged this failure was. This is not to say that I'm opposed to chruch-based charity. It's just that nation-based justice does a much better job. We have decades of experience in dozens of counties across the world to back this up.

The fact that you don't know this--or even, perhaps, willfully deny it--is an indication that you don't really care about people being helped. You don't really see the treatment they receive as the way that you treat Jesus. If you did care that way, then you'd be very motivated to find out what works, what really, effectively cares for them.

But you don't. Your interest is in feeling righteous. It's narcissism, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with the people you profess to care about.

I don't blame you for this, necessarily. Most folks who think this way have been lead astray. There are many lead astray for every one who leads them. But here you are also doing some leading astray of your own. So that makes me rather dubious about you. If you really consider yourself a Christian, then you are in a heap of trouble here, just like I already said.

That's gotta hurt.