Friday, January 28, 2005

"We're having a heat wave!! A tropical heat wave!!"

It only got down to 3 degrees last night. We are thinking about hitting the beach. Thursday morning we were almost 20 below zero when I jump into my truck. At least it is sunny. With the temperature this low, our boiler and the circulation pumps run non-stop. That means running the generator 6-8 hours every day, instead of 8-10 hours every third day. We don't even have the 2005 budget completed yet, and it is already completely blown. Ah well.

This weekend we plan to spend every available minute working on the house. I will be swinging into our new Lowes store to pick up some this-and-that type stuff so we can really crank out the work. I hope to call for the final inspections Monday. Not that I expect to pass any of them, but having them out to the house will give us another 30 days to do more work. These jerks want to play games, I can play games too.

I picked up a prescription for Nestina yesterday. The drug costs $500 for 30 pills. That works out to nearly $17 per pill. Now I understand all about research costs, production costs, liability costs, regulatory costs, etc., etc. I'm not one of the Free Lunch crowd that believes new drugs fall from heaven like manna. But I am sorry; $17 for a pill I can hardly see is just out of line. I know that patent laws, the FDA, and generic drugs have all conspired to force a company to recoup the entire cost of R&D in a couple years at best. And I would understand if the drug was one that was rarely prescribed, but it isn't. Half the people I know are either currently taking it, have taken it in the recent past, or should be taking it, but can't because they can't afford $17 a pill. My fear is that the only solution will be the government take-over of health care followed by the complete implosion of the heath care industry (see Canada or England). I'm seeing some of that first-hand; the first wave of layoffs hit Munson Medical Center today. My former employer, who shall remain anonymous, has resorted to breaking off parts of the medical center and selling them to meet current expenses. Of course, the only parts that anyone would want to buy are those that make money, so that is hardly a viable long-term strategy. I think the term is utter desperation. We live in interesting times. As in the ancient Chinese curse.

Jerry Pournelle has more on education. If you want to understand one of the root causes of the coming collapse of our Republic, pay attention. If all you are interested in is trading your paycheck for pizza and beer, feel free to return to your coma; I apologize for disturbing you.

Bob Thompson sums up my views on copyright law pretty well:
When laws are far divorced from reality, as is now the case with copyright law, I think it's everyone's responsibility to ignore those laws and instead behave in what they determine for themselves to be a morally correct way. Here are my own guidelines:

1. If I have ever had a right to have a personal copy of a movie or television program, I always have that right. For example, the Cadfael mysteries; the Poirot mysteries; Upstairs, Downstairs; I, Clavdivs; and All Creatures Great and Small have all been broadcast on PBS. I had and have the right to record copies of them for personal use, and in fact I have copies of many of them on VHS tapes.

2. The source or format of a particular copy is immaterial. The copyright pigs try to differentiate based on the source of the copy. For example, years ago radio stations began using hard disk MP3 copies of music tracks. At least one company began shipping actual hard drives to radio stations, pre-loaded with MP3 playlists. The RIAA shut them down, even though the radio stations already owned physical CD or vinyl copies of all the tracks being distributed on the hard drives. The RIAA claimed that possession of the original CD tracks did not give the radio stations the right to receive or use the MP3 versions distributed on hard drives. That's crap. Once the radio station (or I) has the right to use something, they have the right to use it in whatever format they choose. They, and I, have the right to re-encode the material in a different logical or physical format for convenience and ease of use.

3. Whether or not I actually made a copy at the time of broadcast is immaterial. If I ever had the right to make a copy, as I did as soon as the material was broadcast, I always have that right. So, for example, if I choose to make a personal copy of a Cadfael episode, it doesn't matter when I choose to make that copy, the source of the original material from which I make the copy, or the format of the copy I make. I have the right, for example, to record a broadcast of that episode to a VHS tape or a DVD+R disc. Or I could rip a DVD from whatever source--purchased, borrowed, rented, or a copy from the library.

4. I have the right to make derivative works for personal use. For example, if I record Left Wing next week, it is my right to modify what I've recorded by removing commercials and storing the commercial-free version on a tape or disc.

5. I have the right to lend my personal copies to friends, and to borrow their personal copies from them. They have the right to make personal copies of anything I lend them, and I have the right to make personal copies of anything I've borrowed from a friend.

6. I do not have the right to profit commercially from personal copies. (Well, actually, I do, because the Constitution doesn't permit Congress to authorize copyright protection for films and recorded music, but I'm speaking of moral rights here rather than putative legal rights.) If I make a personal copy, I am entitled to do anything with it I wish to do, except distribute it for profit.

In fact, I'll make few copies of anything, because I'd rather spend my time reading. But that doesn't change the fact that I have the right to make personal copies if I choose to do so.

I wonder how closely my own guidelines correspond to those of others. Pretty closely, I suspect.

People ignore laws that violate common sense. Our copyright laws, like most of our legal code, attempts to criminalize ordinary, every-day, common-sense behavior engaged in by the vast majority of US citizens.

That's all I have. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves. All two of you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Been a crazy week as usual, which is why things are sparse here lately. The weekend was working on the house for the most part. Sunday was the usual, Monday was work and then into Kalkaska for a new battery for Nestina's car. It was 20 degrees below zero Sunday morning and froze her old battery solid. Another hundred bucks. Tuesday was work and a deacons meeting.

Today was actually warm. The temperatures were just above freezing for the first time in a long time. It didn't last. When I left work, it was 28 degrees. An hour later, it was 8 degrees. Two hours after that, it was -8 degrees and still falling. This has to be the strangest winter in a long time. I haven't bothered to plow snow in over a week. We get a little bit from time to time, but the total snow on the ground only a couple inches or less. Next summer, the water table will not be looking good; our total snow pack is less than two feet.

Found while browsing around:

The Free Women's Breasts movement is back again. The problem is that the women that want to do this really need to keep their boobs in their shirt. Some things just shouldn't be seen...

This is something new at Northern Michigan College here in Traverse City. It will be interesting to see where it goes. The quality is uneven, which should be no surprise, but I will be interested to see if the average quality of the segments increases over time, or decreases.

Jerry Pournelle on education. What he is talking about is important, which of course means we will do nothing with it.

And it is way past bed time.

Friday, January 21, 2005

This is now my third try at this post. The first was lost to a glitch in the internet. The second was lost to a glitch in the Blogger editor (or possibly IE). If you highlight from the bottom to the top of a post (in preparation to do a copy/paste into Notepad in case the internet glitches again) everything disappears when the cursor hits the top line. Nice.


Yesterday, I just had a quick stop at the copy place for some youth group materials, then off for home. Nestina had an appointment in Traverse City and wanted to follow me home as she isn't real confident she can find it from TC. Debbie had dinner done by the time we got home, so we crashed in front of the TV and watched Escanaba in da Moonlight while we stuffed our faces. The movie is pretty funny if you have ever stayed in deer camp. If you haven't, the humor probably seems too over-the-top, but take it from someone who has been there: you have to reach pretty far to make satire out of what happens in deer camp. I don't know if it is the cold, the alcohol, the lack of sanitation, or all of the above, but things can get pretty surreal.

In any case, Nestina headed for bed about half-way through the movie, and Debbie and I barely made it to the end. I don't know if it is the flu or what, but we have all been feeling tired and yucky lately.

Today was supposed to be dinner at the pastor's house for all the deacons and their wives, but our pastor's grandmother died yesterday, so that has obviously been postponed. We will likely just head home and get all the jobs on the house set up for tomorrow. We have a whole list of little things that need to be completed this weekend.

A couple reading assignments:

Fred Reed once again blasts our "educational" system. This time it is for failing to teach kids to read after they have been in school for twelve years. This isn't entirely the schools fault. After all, both my sister and myself knew how to read before ever darkening the door of a school. So did both of Fred Reed's daughters. However, the majority of the blame still rests on educators given that they have told two generations of parents that education should be left to the professionals, and that parents need to butt out.

Paul Graham also beats up on our schools pretty good, but that isn't the main point of his article. The meat of what was supposed to be a speech to high school kids, is that school should not be the complete focus of a kids life. As this directly contradicts the party line from the educational industry, it is hardly any surprise that his speech was shot down by the school administration. In any case, read the whole thing, then think seriously about reading it with your high school kids.

And that should be enough for the day.

Yesterday was work, then a quick stop at the copy shop for youth group. Nestina was in Traverse City for an appointment. She called me at work to see if I could meet her someplace and lead her home. She still isn't comfortable trying to find all the turns in the dark to our place from TC. Debbie had dinner ready when we got home, so all three of us ate in front of the TV so we could watch Escanaba in da Moonlight. Lots of deer camp and yooper humor. It was pretty funny if you go for that sort of thing.

And that was pretty much it. Nestina only made it through half the movie before she hit the sack, and Debbie and I barely made it to the end. I think the flu is trying to hit us; no one has full blown symptoms yet, but we just all feel yucky and tired.

Some reading assignments:

Fred Reed once again hammers our "educational" system that cannot manage to teach children to read after 12 years. Understand that both of his daughters knew how to read before starting school, as did both my sister and myself. That means the fault is not entirely the schools, although they certainly share the majority of the blame, especially after telling parents for two generations that education should be left to the professionals.

Paul Graham also takes on the educational system, although only tangentially. This is a speech he was to give to a high school. The idea was killed by the school. After reading his speech, I can see why. Not that it isn't spot on, but I don't know of any school administration that would allow a speaker to say that all textbooks "suck" and that everything you do in high school is "fake" work. As I said, absolutely true, but not something that is likely to make one popular with the school board for saying. But those comments are merely support for his main point, which is the most important thing that a high school student should be focused on is not school. It is a long article, but worth reading yourself, then reading through with your kids.

That should be enough for one day.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Blogger seems to be acting up today, so if you see half a post or something else weird, that's why.

This is an organization that tracks how well schools are doing compared to other schools in the state. I knew that Kalkaska wasn't exactly a Mecca of learning, but I didn't expect it to be this bad. It certainly explains a great deal about the areas economic problems. What business would want to locate in a county where less that a quarter of the students can read and do math up to expectations?

Oops. Daughter just called and I have to meet her here in Traverse City. More later if I can find the time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Winter is back in a big way. We have lots of snow and COLD. Not just cold as in your nose hairs freeze or you get frost on your eyeballs. That just normal January weather. I'm talking serious cold that makes body parts just drop off.

Obviously, I haven't been here much because I have been putting a lot of miles on the truck plowing our place, the church, my parents, etc.

More on the Huygens probe here and here. I had hoped for a splash-down, but we got a splat instead. That's OK; I'll take a splat. There still are not a lot of images on the internet, but from the ones I have been seeing, the probe landed right on the beach of a large body of... well... of what no one seems to know for sure. But there is definitely something liquid happening on Titan, and that makes my week.

I haven't really spent that much time on line, so I don't have much reading material for everyone. I know that really disappoints some (most?) of you, but I'm sure you can handle it. Besides, I'll give every one a double dose tomorrow.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Huygens is at the top of the news today. In case you have been in a cave (or don't follow space stuff, which is pretty much the same thing, IMO), that is the name of a small probe released by the Cassini space craft back on Christmas Day. Cassini has been loitering around the Saturn system for several months filling up NASA's photo albums with pretty pictures. Huygens was designed to enter the atmosphere of Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Titan is interesting primarily for its dense atmosphere; the only moon in our solar system to have one. Parachutes were used to slow down Huygen's descent, but even then, it hit with a pretty good thump. There was no guarantee that the probe would survive the landing in good enough shape to keep transmitting. But not only did it survive the landing, it was still transmitting after Cassini was programmed to turn away and begin retransmitting the probe data to earth, long after its battery was supposed to be dead. It should be noted that Germans built Huygens; maybe NASA should contract with them to build shuttles that can survive landing.

OK, that was probably uncalled for. Sort of. Maybe. A little. I promise to feel guilty about it for at least a full 30 seconds. Some other time.

In any case, the data is still in transit, but I would expect to see the first pictures taken from the surface of Titan on the evening news.

Way cool.

In more down-to-earth news:
In 1994, the IRS printed and distributed 500,000 copies of 1040 forms and instruction booklets in Spanish and manned an 800-number hotline with Spanish-speakers. Of the half-million forms distributed, only 718 were returned. The total cost of the Spanish forms was $113,000, bringing the cost of each completed form to $157. The IRS is considering expanding this service to other languages.

The return rate was fifteen one-hundredths of one percent. That would be considered a complete failure in the business world, but not by the IRS. They plan to expand this wildly successful "service" to other languages. At least government is consistent; the response to a failure is always to do more of what failed and hope it works better next time.

Meanwhile, at UN headquarters: 250,000 people are dead in one of the biggest natural disasters ever, but never fear, the UN has just what the survivors need. Cartoon condoms!! I can't make stuff like this up. Bodies are piled on the beaches around the Indian Ocean like cordwood and the UN introduces cartoon condoms. Named Shaft. And Stretch. And Dick.

If you are not depressed enough about Iraq, go read this and Jerry Pournelle's response to it. None of which should be a surprise to anyone. It was all predicted before the first Marine stepped foot into Iraq. History has lessons, and we all know what happens to those who fail to learn them.

The death of the mainstream media has been announced. On MSNBC. The irony knows no bounds.

Speaking of government: After studying real hard for a really, really long time, the federal government announced it knows exactly how people can lose weight!! Are you ready for it? You better grab some sunglasses, because this is one blinding insight! And the answer is....

[insert drum roll here]

eat less and get off your fat butt.

Wow. My life just changed. I think I felt the earth move. Or maybe that was the Quarter Pounder I had for lunch hitting my colon.

A good article in Reason magazine on the relationship between neoconservatives and evolution. Certainly worth a read. The conclusion Bailey reaches is disturbing. Some of the money quotes:
Thus, to preserve society, wise people must publicly support the traditions and myths that sustain the political order and that encourage ordinary people to obey the laws and live justly. People will do so only if they believe that moral rules are divinely decreed or were set up by men who were inspired by the Divine.


Thus, following the lead of Strauss and Kristol, those who support the attacks on evolutionary biology may be reasonably suspected of practicing a high-minded hypocrisy. They want to bolster popular morality and preserve social order. Attacking Darwin helps to sustain what Plato regarded as a "Noble Lie"-- in this case preserving the faith of the common people in Genesis, and thus the social order.


Kristol asserted in a 1949 essay that in order to prevent the social disarray that would occur if ordinary people lost their religious faith, "it would indeed become the duty of the wise publicly to defend and support religion."

As I said: disturbing if true. Mainly because it will ultimately fail and "religion" will be declared a fraud.

And one more: reading exercises your mind. Another blinding insight. Which is precisely why public schools refuse to teach and encourage children to read. It makes it harder to shove contradictory PC crap down their throats.

And I think that should be enough for a while.
Just a quick update and I have to get to bed. It is 1 am on Friday, which means my alarm goes off in 5 hours. I'm not sure why I'm even trying to post here. I'm sleepwalking (sleeptyping?) as it is. Anyway, I didn't get a post up yesterday, so today I'll say:

Happy Birthday Debbie!!!

I also note that Friday the Thirteenth was on a Thursday this month.

And with that, I'm off to bed.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Another hectic weekend. Friday was dinner and a short game of Settlers at our Pastor's house and then off to bed. I had hoped to wake up early Saturday so I could plow the church before praise team practice, but that didn't work out too well. So I had praise team practice, then plowing most of the parking lot while working around cars. Debbie met me in the parking lot and I dropped the plow off the truck (gotta love the Fisher Minute Mount II) and we went to Traverse City for lunch and running around for food and building supplies. I finished plowing the church and we went home. I dumped Debbie off at the house and started plowing our road while she made dinner. Nestina came home (perfect timing) just as dinner was ready. That was pretty much the day.

Sunday was the normal routine other than we had Pastor and Kim over for left-overs from the leaders meeting on Thursday. As usual, we made way too much food, so we figured a family with three kids should make a good size dent in the pile. They did. Nestina invited a friend over making a total of nine for dinner. It was pretty fun. I hadn't realized that the Pastor and his family had not seen our house since we had moved in, so they got the deluxe tour (includes free appetizers). They left around 3pm so their youngest could get a nap before evening service. I had hoped for the same, but it wasn't to be. Nestina had driven into town to drop her friend off at work. She called us on her cell phone to inform us that her car was smoking, the power steering had gone out, and the alternator light was on. I jumped into work cloths and flew into town. A tow truck had pulled her car into a parking lot. I figured it could stay there as well as anywhere else, so I dropped off her friend at work and we headed back home just in time for me to change cloths again and drive back into church. I never got my nap at home, so I took one in the evening service. After church, we just crashed until bedtime.

Monday, I drove Nestina into school, dropped the keys off at the garage, and headed for work. The garage called around 2pm to tell me the alternator was toast. It had overheated bad enough to melt things, then seized up. I feel like I'm building a new car one piece at a time. I sure hope we have run out of parts that can die for at least a little while. But at least Nestina will have wheels again tomorrow. Anyway, all three of us were running in separate directions and didn't all land at home until almost 9pm. I decided to make a late night of it and try to find the top of my desk. I haven't seen it in nearly two months. I will likely approach it like an archeological dig, going layer by layer.

Some food for thought:

I have always argued that affirmative action was a bad deal for anyone who played along. It increases failure rates by putting unqualified people into circumstances that they cannot handle. The failures reinforce the stereotypes. It also lowers everyone else's assumptions as to a person's ability when they are a member of one of the recipient groups (blacks, latinos, women). Everyone has labeled someone as an "affirmative action hire." Depending on the circumstances, that exact phrase cannot be uttered out loud, but everyone thinks it. Well, after 20 years or so, someone important agrees:
"Blacks are the victims of law school programs of affirmative action, not the beneficiaries." According to Stuart Taylor, Jr.'s summary of Sander's research, preferences do such a thorough job of placing black students in law schools where they are unlikely to succeed, that abolishing affirmative action in admissions would decrease the number of blacks admitted to law schools—but increase the number who graduate and pass the bar exam.
Nothing like stating the obvious.

This stands alone, without any comment from me needed.

And another example from the Mother Country that the demise of a culture does not have to come to pass through outside aggression. England seems to be doing a swimming job of destroying themselves. I'm sure we will repeat history and do likewise in due time. This is just stupidity on stilts, but one must not say that in polite company. Good thing this blog contains nothing of the kind.

Anyway, I have real work to get done, as much as I would like to keep messing around here.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The discussion about the possible causes of homosexuality continues here. It is all worth thinking about, even if it isn't all that PC. That in itself is probably reason enough to think about it.

Small group at youth group last night. People were out of town, at games, with family, etc. Still, it was a good time.

Today we finally got some snow. I had wondered if the white stuff was ever coming back. We only got three or four inches, but downstate got hit pretty hard. In any case, I should be plowing, but we had a meeting with the youth leaders here tonight, and I am taking the truck in to get a U-joint replaced tomorrow. I guess I will plow tomorrow evening. I need to get to Home Depot for some supplies. We need to try for at least a temporary occupancy permit by the end of January. Everyone is on our case to finish the house. I'm not sure why; it is complete enough to live in as it is, so why do I have the county code office and my insurance office on my case? Our house insurance doubled because the house is vacant. It was vacant last year and the year before and there was no problem, but all of a sudden because it is vacant this year, it's this huge deal. Not that it has ever been truly vacant; we have used it since it was dried in and have lived in it full time for the last year. I'm about to tell them all to go screw themselves.

In any case, just another exciting day at the Frost household.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Yesterday turned out mostly as expected: work, a bunch of stops on the way home, dinner, homework, bed. I know everyone is thrilled to read about my exciting day.

So instead, I have some reading assignments for everyone:

I often criticize our foreign policy, but I will never be critical of our generosity to the misfortune of others. I can think of no example of a natural disaster when the United States failed to contribute more to relief and rebuilding than all other nations combined. The current relief effort after the tsunami is no different. And, playing its part perfectly, the completely inept UN is critisizing the US and Australia for doing too much too fast, thus robbing the UN of the opportunity to take credit for our work while contributing nothing. The inside story is here.

This is a very long piece on why the Democrats don't seem to be able to win elections. I know I said no more election stuff, but again, if I were a Democrat, I would be demanding answers from my leadership.

Homosexuality seems to be the fascination du jour among evangelicals. I have never understood why this one topic dominates religious discussions other than the political bona fides (in evangelical circles, at any rate) that can be had by self-identifying as an extreme homophobe. I am not questioning whether or not homosexuality is sin; I firmly believe it is. However, I don't see it as "worse" of a sin than any of the other sins frequently listed by Paul in the New Testament. Where is the righteous indignation against gossip and divisiveness? Both of these are arguably far more damaging to the church (and the Church) than the presence of even an openly homosexual individual. An attitude, by the way, which puts me at odds with 99.999% of evangelicals, including my own church.

This topic has been much on my mind lately for the simple reason that there seems to be a growing (or maybe it is just my awareness that is growing) confusion about sexual orientation and sexual roles among the high school teens I deal with. I understand that there always has been and always will be a certain amount of exploration and curiosity among young people, and that the current climate of acceptance results in more open expression of that. Maybe that is all I am seeing; verbalization and even acting out of what, when I was in high school, took place only in people's minds or under extreme secrecy. Or maybe not. Maybe this is something we need to look at more closely.

So why am I bringing this up now? It seems that I am not the only one kicking this topic around in my head:

First, Jerry Pournelle shares a conversation he had with Greg Cochran. Mr. Cochran attributes many things that are commonly blamed on genetics, to pathogens. While he is outside of the mainstream, he has made a compelling case for many "genetic" diseases. In any case, here is the conversation:

The following is the result of a discussion in another forum, and was written by Greg Cochran in response to discussions over the past couple of weeks. After a fairly long discussion of competing theories on the causes of homosexuality, I said:

There is another problem: is it possible that there are at least two kinds of homosexual men, and possibly more? What is the evidence for assuming that all such people have equivalent motives for their -- I hesitate to say aberrant, but no better word comes to mind at the moment -- behavior? Clearly there is circumstantial homosexuality, as encountered in prisons, and I am told of cases where men become queens and exhibit quite feminine characteristics, but on release, go back to heterosexual ways; indeed, didn't Kinsey write about such? Now that is obviously quite different from the men who have never found women attractive and have always been drawn to other men, and probably different again from the hedonistic bi-sexuals who seem to go both ways and enjoy it, and I know of at least two such people.

Perhaps in the search for the causes of homosexuality we pursue what doesn't exist, because there is no single "homosexuality" at all, but several syndromes which produce similar results -- after all, there would be cultural molding wouldn't there? Certainly in New York in the 50's there was a gay culture, easily identified, and which demanded conformity. I saw it at work from my position in off-Broadway theater.

Cochran's hypothesis comes simply from statistical fact: homosexuality is such a heavy genetic burden that it ought to be bred out of the race rather quickly, and remain quite rare. Instead there seems to be a rather small but steady percentage, not Kinsey's 10% but not vanishingly small either. Infection as a cause doesn't seem unreasonable; surely no more unreasonable than postulating genetic tendencies.

My guess is that before we can learn more about this subject we have to take the trouble to define what we are studying, and examine whether or not a homosexual is a homosexual is a homosexual. I'd guess there is more than one variety and there may be more than one "cause".

Greg Cochran responded:

Sure, post away, and of course put my name on it. I'll bet you that most homosexuality has a single cause: why suppose otherwise until we find evidence for it? I can think of none. I will also bet there are rare cases of it being caused by a mutation, just a one in three hundred cases of narcolepsy are caused by a mutation. I wouldn't be surprised if someone someday managed to stumble onto a toxin that causes homosexuality, just as that China White heroin derivative caused Parkinsonianism.

A pathogen cause is much more likely than a genetic one, because natural selection tends to make silly genes like that rare. it does not necessarily tend to make us immune to a pathogen, because the pathogen is furiously evolving counters to our new defenses.

Gregory Cochran

I point out that my "multiple varieties" hypothesis is not inconsistent with Greg's "most homosexuality has a single cause;" my caution was more directed toward designing experiments that will be not be spoiled by a few cases outside the hypothesis of the experiment. His original comment follows:

Subject: Sheep

Right now I lean against the idea that the hypothetical bug causing homosexuality is primarily transmitted by homosexuals: it need not be a persistent infection either. Look, this is medicine, not physics: we need to look at examples at least as much as consider first principles. First principles (neodarwinism) tell us that homosexuality is not a variant behavioral strategy like hawks and doves, not a choice, unlikely to be primarily genetic. It is unlikely to be caused by new environmental insults, since it's been around a long time- although I've wondered if a fair amount of lesbianism might have such a cause: looks as if it may. Ok; this says that some bug is most likely the key cause: but that hardly tells us everything. It doesn't tell us which bug it is or how it operates. The problem is, there are _many_ ways in which a pathogen can cause trouble, and there are a number of classes of pathogens, some poorly understood

My guess is that something has happened to the hypothalamus, specifically damage to one of the hypothalamic nuclei: probably some particular subpopulation of neurons that manufacture a neurotransmitter important in male sexual behavior. The example that inspires this hypothesis is narcolepsy: we now know that narcolepsy is caused by a deficiency of a neurotransmitter called orexin or hypocretin, one manufactured in a particular hypothalamic nucleus. We know that mutations can cause hypocretin deficiency, but such mutations only account for a tiny fraction of human narcolepsy (last I heard, only one individual out of hundreds of narcolepts tested). This is what you should expect: bad mutations are generally rare, and by rare I mean a lot rarer than narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a reasonable model because it affects a particular behavior/brain system and leaves everything else intact. Look, one of the important factors to consider in trying to understand human homosexuality is that it affects a very limited set of behaviors. It changes sexual orientation, seems to change speech and interest patterns, causes some increase in what I call neuroticism for lack of a better word: but it doesn't reduce IQ at all, doesn't cause psychosis, doesn't make anyone twitch or drool. If the cause is indeed some kind of insult to the brain the consequences could certainly be a lot worse. So we're talking a very _specific_ and limited insult - and narcolepsy is like that.

We know that there is a super-strong association between a certain HLA type (carried by about a quarter of the population) and narcolepsy: 99% of narcoleptics have this HLA type. We know that identical twins of narcolepts are far more likely to have narcolepsy than the general population - yet at the same time, most MZ twins are discordant for narcolepsy. Just as they are for homosexuality. In both cases, there needs to be some environmental cause.

Now there is some reason to suspect that there is something funny going on with a particular hypothalamic nucleus (INAH3, if memory serves) in homosexual men. It looks to be smaller than in heterosexual men . The right way to investigate this is not old-fashioned dissection. If you knew the neurotransmitter you were looking for, you could look to see if the neurons making it are still there. They have done this in autopsy studies of narcolepsy and those specialized neurons are just ... gone. Nobody knows why. There were only 30,000 or so of them, but if you lose them, you can't stay awake. There's no sign of scar tissue or gliosis.

The suspicion is that this is an autoimmune disease, triggered by something or other. Could be. The something or other might well be a pathogen. It could also be a neurotropic infection that > happens to devastate this particular neuronal subpopulation. We know of things like this. Parkinson's is also caused by decimation of a particular neuronal subpopulation. As far as we know, no matter what kills those dopaminergic neurons, the result is Parkinson's. A virus can do it: happened with the big epidemic of Von Economo's encephalitis back in the 1920s: caused a lot of cases. Mutations can cause Parkinson's, but they are rare. Certain toxins hit dopaminergic neurons: a bunch of junkies in SF managed to get Parkinson's disease\ from a synthetic heroin derivative.

Problems in identification:

Homosexuality could be a rare result of a common infection. That is true of many diseases: true for polio, for rheumatic heart fever, for Burkitt's lymphoma, for nasopharyngeal carcinoma in south China. Probably true for MS and lupus, true for many cases of lymphoma, true for Kaposis's sarcoma, true for cervical cancer. You can end up with a situation in which 90% of the population has had a particular bug, while 100% of those with syndrome X have: the link isn't particularly obvious. It was that way for helicobacter pylori: in much of the world, everyone ends up infected, while only ~10% develop ulcers and ~1% stomach cancer. Yet H. pylori is the key: hard to see.

Even worse ( i.e. harder to figure out) are hit-and-run diseases: those in which the causal pathogen does not persist (or at least we can't detect it) . True for rheumatic heart fever, true for Type-I diabetes. True for a number of viral agents which cause obesity in experimental animals: something has happened to the hypothalamus, it only happens in those animals that have been deliberately infected, but there is no histological sign of it upon autopsy.

We know that cows that have certain papillomaviruses and eat lots of bracken fern often develop stomach cancer: both factors are necessary. Yet often these cancers do not carry integrated papillomavirus: probably they do at first, later become mutated enough to have uncontrolled growth without viral oncogenes, then clones that lose the viral antigens evade immune surveillance and grow big. Hard to figure out a similar case in humans, eh?

Shoot, there is a respectable notion that bacterial vaginosis is actually a weird venereal disease: phages (viruses that attack bacteria) that kill the normal vaginal flora are being venereally transmitted, allowing bad bacterial overgrowth.

It gets worse. Experimental mice often suffer from a chronic lung problem: the suspect was a mycoplasma, but it was really hard to make the case. Finally (decades later) they raised mice germ- free and exposed them to various candidate pathogens. It turns out that the mycoplasma was the cause all right: but it look half a mouse lifetime to manifest, some mouse strains were far more vulnerable than others, and microenviromental differences were important. If you were slow to change the bedding, urine released ammonia and exacerbated the lung problems. That's how complicated things can get.

And yet worse: there pathogens we have trouble detecting and cultivating.. GC mentions the first archaeal pathogen: I've been predicting that such must exist, but there must be more Every few years we find a new virus. You even have to consider the possibility of cell- line infections, as in canine venereal sarcoma.

And I'm not even considering ( not here, anyway) the possibility of host manipulation. So, how do we look for the bug?

First, do the obvious: look, with the standard tools, for some known pathogen that exists in essentially all homosexual men. That's fraught with problems, they have a tendency to have higher rates of just about every venereal disease and some diseases that wouldn't normally be considered venereal (like giardiasis) - potentially confusing. But sure, do the obvious first, and do it with style. You might use representational difference analysis (RDA) to look for DNA that exists in the homosexual twin of a discordant MZ pair.

But probably you want to look at sheep. You can do anything to sheep: dissect them, expose them to candidate pathogens. Clone a homosexual ram and see if the clone is homosexual: I'll that it usually is not. Look at their brains: we know that there are differences in the amygdala, but we'd do better by looking for differences in neurotransmitter expression, using a gene-expression chip. Use RDA. Look for funny 16s rRNA. See if it's catching, in sheep. And so on.

Gregory Cochran

All of which is long and technical in places, but anyone that didn't sleep through high school biology ought to get both the gist of what Mr. Cochran is saying and why current politics will destroy anyone that attempts to investigate the matter.

Elsewhere, the AnalPhilosopher asks:

Is Homosexuality a Misfortune?

Suppose, as seems reasonable, that sexuality is unchosen. Some people are born homosexual; some are not. (The vast majority - 97% or more - are not.) Should we say that those who are born homosexual are unfortunate, just as those who are born with diseases of various sorts are unfortunate? One way to come at this is to ask yourself, if you're a parent, whether you're indifferent about your children's sexuality. Does it matter to you that your children are heterosexual? (I assume that, more than anything else, parents want their children to be happy.) Please note: I'm not asking whether you'll love your homosexual children any less than your heterosexual children. I'm asking whether, other things being equal, you prefer that your children be heterosexual.

Someone might say, "Yes, I prefer that my children be heterosexual, but only because homosexuality is looked upon with disfavor in society; if this were not the case, I'd be indifferent." Really? Seriously? To probe your intuitions, imagine your ideal society, one in which sexuality has the status of eye color. People notice eye color from time to time, but it has no moral salience. We don't discriminate against the green-eyed, for example. Are you saying that you're indifferent about the sexuality of your children in this ideal society - that, quite literally, you'd be willing to flip a coin to determine your children's sexuality? Are you saying that your children's sexuality matters to you no more than your children's eye color?

If thought experiments such as this lead you to conclude that you prefer your children to be heterosexual even where there is no discrimination against homosexuals, why do you prefer it? This may be difficult to answer, since it calls for an unusual degree of introspection. Could it be that this preference is a manifestation of a belief on your part that homosexuality is a misfortune, the proper response to which is pity? By the way, misfortune, like fortune, comes in degrees. Saying that homosexuality is a misfortune isn't to say that it's a grave misfortune, much less that it's the worst thing that could happen to a person. But it is to say that those who exhibit homosexuality, even if closeted, are afflicted.
Which is another question that cannot even be asked in certain circles without being shredded.

And finally, the writer of A Stitch in Haste blogs here about the case of a high school senior being expelled from a Christian school for running a blog discussing homosexuality. The site is explicitly not a gay dating service. It is a discussion board like millions of others. The school may have been clearly within their legal rights to do what they did, but again, my question to the school administration is "When was the last time a student was expelled for gossiping? Or creating divisions in the Church?" I went to high school, and I currently work with high school students. I can state without any hesitation that these two activities consume nearly every waking hour of the average high school student.

OK. I'm out of words.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Belated Happy New Year to all three of my readers...

The weekend was crazy, which was expected. Friday, Debbie worked while Nestina and I ran into Kalkaska to pick up our backup generator and some odd bits at the hardware, and stop at the bank. I conned Nestina into helping me drag the generator into the enclosure down at the cabin. I need a longer ground wire before I can use it. I didn't have time to do that this weekend, but it will be easy enough if I can find five minutes. I feel better having two generators in good shape for the first time in a long time. Now we can start working on some upgrades to the cabin to make it rentable.

I messed around the house the rest of the day and Nestina headed into town to meet with one of her friends. Debbie came home around 5pm and I quit puttering around and got ready for the New Years Eve party at the church. There was a pretty good group there, but things broke up early (before midnight!!) so Debbie and myself went to one of the teen's home in town to watch the ball drop. After that, we dropped a couple of the teens at their home and the rest came home with us for the night. We got some sleep (a pleasant surprise), and spent most of Saturday just being lazy.

We had gotten word Saturday that Debbie's great-uncle had died, so after Sunday morning service, we grabbed lunch at Avery's in Mancelona, then drove to the funeral home in Gaylord. Nestina and her boyfriend went with us, so she got to meet Debbie's mom and about half of Debbie's mom's siblings. We only stayed an hour or so then headed back to the Big K for evening service, then home to try to get ready to go back to the daily grind of work and school.

The weather up here has been completely whacked. Most of the snow is gone after two days in the 40's and 50's. We even saw the sun! Saturday night we had an ice storm so the Sunday morning drive to church was interesting. Attendance was way down, although as usual, the people with the furthest to drive were there. It was above freezing all day, so by evening service all was well.

Today looks to be just work and homework. I have to really start cranking on my classes so I can get them done. I'm tired of having stuff hanging over my head.

This was posted on Jerry Pournelle's site on Friday:

Banning Guns Isn't Enough for the Brits
By Nicki Fellenzer

It appears the Brits have climbed the Cliffs of Insanity and taken a collective nosedive into the River of Outright Absurdity. My friend, author Michael Z. Williamson, and I used to laugh about Britain, their unreasonable ban on armed self defense and their hysterical attempts to further correct the problems caused by said ban by implementing yet more stringent and bizarre restraints on people's rights. Mike was born in the UK. I used to kid him about the future of Great Britain. I used to tell him that soon, sharp implements will be banned, and people will be forced to purchase pre-cut food rather than risk the chance of some unstable chef losing control and hacking some unsuspecting Brits to pieces with a knife. These were jokes. I didn't really think it would ever happen.

I was wrong.

The UK's home secretary David Blunkett has announced a slew of measures that are meant to address the rising knife violence in not-so-Great Britain. Yeah - right on the heels of their wildly "successful" gun ban (pay no attention to the fact that there's a gun crime happening every hour in the UK), Mr. Blunkett has announced that shops will be banned from selling knives to people under 18 years of age, and that he would like to see a stiff, five-year jail sentence on any poor bloke caught in possession of a knife. God forbid a 16 year old decides he wants to cook sliced turkey for dinner! He'll be out of luck in Blunkett's Britain. Sorry, chum. You're going to have to rip the meat into chunks with your hands.

Why is this happening? Well you see, guns are, for the most part, banned. And even though gun crime in Britain has risen dramatically since the 1997 ban on self defense, so have other types of violent crimes, including knifings. As a matter of fact, a spate of recent stabbings has prompted the families of the victims to demand justice in the form of stiffer penalties for mere possession of these horrid sharp objects. Because believe it or not, knives are so prevalent in Merrie Olde England, that every two weeks, "someone loses their life as a result of being stabbed."

Apparently it's not enough that victims are prohibited from defending themselves, get punished for mere ownership of a firearm or a similar method of defense, such as a stun gun. Now, they won't even be able to purchase a kitchen implement of their choice without some emotionalist hack screeching that they're a danger to society and must be imprisoned for wanting to hack apart a side of beef for dinner.

What is going on over there?

Well, crime is out of control, and the government - instead of using logic and common sense to deal with criminals - is bowing to the reactionary histrionics of emotionally overwrought victims' families and attempting to ban the offending object rather than address the source of the problem - the criminals. But if you're thinking that their extremist reaction to crime comes from genuine goodness and authentic attempts to lower crime in Britain, you might want to think again.

In a recent report, England's top lawyer - Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith - was quoted as saying that criminals' rights need to be protected as well as victims. (emphasis added) Apparently, the esteemed legislator believes that everyone has the right to live their lives free of violence - even those who make violence their life's choice! Who cares if victims of criminals spend time in jail for daring to protect their homes and their families! Apparently in Goldsmith's eyes, the lives of those who choose to violently victimize others, to stab, shoot, rape and assault them, are worth just as much as the victims. Therefore, it's apparently advisable, in Goldsmith's eyes, for a woman to simply spread her legs and wait for her rapist to finish rather than fight back, because - God forbid! - her attacker's right to rape and sodomize her in a safe environment could be compromised!

No, it's not fallible, human overreaction that is causing the Brits to attempt to control and outright ban every implement that may be used to cause harm. I'm convinced that their society has become so impossibly savage, that they can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong, justice and injustice, victim and criminal. Their warped sense of socialism tells them that we're all the same - that our lives are all equal - regardless of the choices we make or the lives we lead. That's why in their twisted world, it's important to protect the rights of violent thugs and disarm the righteous victims. That's why they think so little of life, liberty and property - because those concepts can only truly exist in a just society - a justice that the UK has lost.

They are beyond help. We can no longer ask the question, "How can we help them? How can we make them see?" The question we should be asking ourselves is, "How can we ensure that we do not become like them?" My answer is this: only by safeguarding the sacred concepts of life, liberty and property can we ensure that our sense of justice never becomes skewed by the savages in three-piece suits and jack boots who claim authority over us. Only by never giving up an iota - by fighting until our knuckles are bloodied - by never allowing ourselves or our leaders to forget those sacred principles, can we hope to preserve them. Only by fighting against the incremental destruction of our basic rights, can we hope to avoid becoming another Britain.

Because once a society forgets justice.

As soon as government leaders mar the line between right and wrong.

The path will be clear for them to enslave the sheep who have allowed them to do so.
I knew the Brits had a long history of banning the private ownership of guns, but this is just plain nuts. I was told in grade school that if you wanted to see where the United States would be in five to seven years, just look at Britain. That hasn't always held true. Despite several attempts by a small group of anti-gun activists here in the US, we still have nothing like the restrictions on private ownership of firearms that exist in England. However, it has held true more often than not with the social trends. If that continues, there will come a time here that defense of firearm ownership will become politically impossible.

And that should be enough.