Saturday, March 20, 2004

Norwegian Socialists Help Defeat BioLuddite Law

Last year the UK's Human Embryology and Fertilisation Agency (HFEA) ruled that a family could not use preimplantation genetic testing to make sure that their next child would be able to donate stem cells from his/her umbilical cord for a sick older sibling. So the family came to the US and had the procedure done. These "savior baby" cases are considered by the bioLudds to be the first step to "designer babies." So it is wonderful news from Reuters that the opposition Socialist Left Party in Norway is leading a successful campaign to relax rules against savior baby testing there, in order to save the life of a Turkish immigrant boy no less, Mehmet Yildiz.
The plan would allow screening of his mother's fertilized eggs, despite laws backed by the government meant to avert tinkering with genes...

Mehmet's parents say they want to conceive a healthy baby partly so that its bone marrow can be transplanted to Mehmet. They say such a transplant offers the best chance of curing him. He suffers from thalassemia major, a condition that disrupts production of blood cells and kills if unchecked.

But scientists will first have to screen his mother's fertilized eggs and destroy those that carry faulty genes so that a new baby does not also inherit the disorder.

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik expressed disappointment at the opposition Socialist Left Party's reversal over the case. The Socialists agreed to join other parties to form a majority in parliament to grant legal exemptions in cases like Mehmet's...

The Socialists said they would allow exemptions from the law in special cases, overseen by an ethical advisory panel.

Bondevik is a priest in Norway's Lutheran state church. His Christian People's Party strongly opposes what many in the party fear will let scientists play God by creating babies to be spare parts for sick siblings.

"The core of this case is how far we're willing to accept a screening of unborn life in the form of fertilized eggs based on their genetic makeup," Health Minister Dagfinn Hoybraaten said, adding that he feared it might pave the way to human cloning.

Mehmet has won huge sympathy among Norwegians. TV2 recently showed him telling a nurse how he hated hospitals as she prepared him for a blood transfusion.
BioLuddite blather melts in the face of real people needing real help.

Why Public Policy Wonks Need to Wake Up and Smell the Singularity

New York Times
Trustees for Medicare and Social Security will report next week that the two entitlement programs will eventually need more than twice as much money as previously estimated, experts who helped prepare the calculations say. The new Medicare program for prescription drugs could in itself cost up to $7 trillion over the next 75 years, they said. The annual reports on Social Security and Medicare will include new estimates showing that the total gap between the cost of promised benefits and the revenues to pay for them is close to $50 trillion, the experts said. By contrast, the Bush administration estimated last year that the long-term gap was $18 trillion over the next 75 years.
Estimates like these aren't worth the paper they are printed on. How could these guys possibly write this with a straight face. Nothing about their estimates, from life expectancy, medical technology, the cost of health care, the retirement age - nothing will be the same in ten years, much less 75. When in the last five hundred years did it make any sense to project the costs of a public policy for 75 years into the future? Britain 1491? Russia 1900? Beijing 1800? I don't expect these wonks to buy transhumanism, but would they please pull their heads out of their alimentary canals.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Occult Commies Embrace Transhumanist Socialism

The NEW AEON SOCIALIST JOURNAL has links to three of Robin Green's thinkpieces about transhumanist socialism. The NASJ hopes to become
a nucleus for Social Activists who are oriented to a completely new Socialist Perspective and to a revolutionary philosophy incorporating Historical Materialism as it pertains to biological reality, and what we term a "Gnostic Humanist" approach as it pertains to underlying spiritual/psychological dimensions of reality. This unified theory (Pan-Psychic Materialism or Trans-Physics) vitalizes the Old Aeon, mechanistic interpretation of reality--and places the more liberating aspects of “metaphysics” in a proactive, collective context.
The journal is a part of which is
dedicated to a presentation of Modern Gnosticism, “the cyclical inner revelation of Unified Awareness through human understanding,” and its relevance to the International Social Revolution confronting Global State Capitalism. Based on ancient spiritual traditions enlightened with a Historical Materialist perspective, Gnostics & The Social Revolution advocates a cultural fusion of psychic integration & multi-dimensional philosophy.
The California-based gnostic Trotskyists (one person?) have vowed never to support Democrats and have endorsed the Socialist Equality Party's presidential slate.

World Opinion to USA: Like You, Lose the Jerk

The Bushies are livid that Kerry supposedly said other world leaders were rooting for him to kick Bush's behind. The Bushies insist that our tough stance for Haliburton...I mean...truth and freedom is winning world opinion to our side. Well, the Gadflyer pulls some facts from a recent Pew Survey of world opinion:
The poll surveyed citizens of nine countries: four in Europe (Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia), four Muslim nations (Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan), and the United States. Not surprisingly, the United States of America is not well liked. Among the countries surveyed, only Great Britain shows a majority having a favorable view of the U.S. And that figure is only 58%, down from 70% a year ago. At the other end of the scale, only 5% of Jordanians have a favorable view of the United States but 55% have a favorable view of Osama bin Laden. In Pakistan - our stalwart ally and nuclear wholesaler to the world - 21% have a favorable view of the U.S. but 65% have a favorable view of bin Laden. Sheesh.
The rest of the results are no more encouraging for the Bush administration. In none of the countries, even Britain, is there majority support for the Iraq war (and opposition in most of the countries runs into the 80s). Majorities in most countries think the war has hurt, not helped, the war on terrorism, and (again with the exception of the British) majorities in all the countries say the Iraq war has given them less confidence that the U.S. actually wants to promote democracy. And strong majorities in six of the nine countries said American and British leaders 'lied to provide a reason for invading Iraq' when they claimed there were weapons of mass destruction there.

(But, at least in Europe) the resentment of America doesn't necessarily translate into hatred of Americans. Healthy majorities in Britain, Germany, and Russia have favorable views of the American people, although opinions have slipped in the land of freedom fries, freedom toast, and freedom kissing: only 53% of French people now have a favorable view of Americans, down from 71% two years ago.
Of course, the bloated Repuglican leader of the US House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is doing his best to convince the average European that the average American is a flaming a-hole by calling the Spanish ceviche-eating surrender monkeys for throwing out a government that lied to them about who was responsible for the train bombings. If the Repugs get to openly call for the victory of conservatives in other countries, why the hell shouldn't leaders of other countries be honest that they think Bush is a moron and his administration a disaster for the world?

IEEE USA position statement on offshore outsourcing IEEE USA position statement on offshore outsourcing Offshore outsourcing

From a recent official IEEE USA position statement on offshore outsourcing: "Offshoring - the transfer of high wage U.S. jobs to lower cost overseas locations - is enabled by improved communications technologies and driven by the desire of corporations to establish a business presence in potentially lucrative foreign markets as well as to take advantage of the lower costs of production and skilled labor in those markets. The offshoring of high wage jobs from the United States to lower cost overseas locations is currently contributing to unprecedented levels of unemployment among American electrical, electronics and computer engineers. Offshoring also poses a very serious, long term challenge to the nation's leadership in technology and innovation, its economic prosperity, and its military and homeland security. Prudent steps must be taken to ensure that offshoring, if it does occur, is implemented in ways that will benefit the United States and all its citizens, including high tech workers".
IEEE-USA issues recommendations that make a lot of sense, such as helping displaced workers, and recommendations that make a lot of sense to the USA, such as increased protectionism and measures to increase competitiveness. Offshore outsourcing is not only an American problem: European Union countries will face this problem, harder to solve since protectionism is not an option, with the accession of 10 new countries with skilled workers and lower wages on May 1.
From the point of view of someone who wishes to see himself as a citizen of the world, offshore outsourcing is more a solution than a problem: jobs and know-how migrate where they are needed more. With offshore outsourcing, globalization contributes to healing the world's most pressing and dangerous problem: the fact that a small part of the world is rich and the rest is very poor.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Rawls, The Veil of Ignorance, and Basic Income

Over at the inestimable Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse describes a game he sets for his students to try and get them to think about Rawl's second principle of justice in concrete terms. (An excellent example of creative pedagogy in a topic that can often be presented quite dully and abstractly, in my view.)

What particularly made me sit up in this piece was that in the comments section, Brighouse writes that "Sufficiency is by far the most popular response, and interpretation of it tends to be plausible and generous".

Anecdotal though it may be, this evidence suggests that philosophy students at UWM, at least (and possibly elsewhere - I don't know where else Prof. Brighouse has taught), tend to settle upon the principle of sufficiency - in other words, the principle of a Basic Income, more or less - if discussing the question of political justice, framed in terms of a Rawlsian "veil of ignorance".

I think it's important to note that deliberative democracy looks much more like the game described above than the model of opinion polls, in which random people who may wish to just get it over with quickly are asked quick-fire questions framed in a particular way[*], with no room for discussion. So people might come to one knee-jerk conclusion in a poll, but another after some deliberation. And framing of the question can be all-important.

[*] It's notable that polls run for right-wing newspapers tend to generate more right-tilted results than those run for centre-left newspapers.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Globalization (Appropriately defined) Correlated with Life Expectancy, Women's Quality of Life, Secularization

Each year since 2001 Foreign Policy has developed a globalization index ranking all countries in the world on
  • Economic Integration: trade, foreign direct investment, portfolio capital flows, and investment income

  • Technological Connectivity: Internet users, Internet hosts, and secure servers

  • Personal Contact: international travel and tourism, international telephone traffic, and remittances and personal transfers (including worker remittances, compensation to employees, and other person-to-person and nongovernmental transfers)

  • Political Engagement: memberships in international organizations, personnel and financial contributions to U.N. Security Council missions, international treaties ratified, and governmental transfers

The most globalized societies on this index in 2003 are, in order:

Most Globalized

High, Almost Tied, Globalization
United States
New Zealand

Those wacky social democrats in Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Canada...don't they know they are supposed to eating the U.S.'s dust?

The piece also compares their globalization metric to life expectancy, women's quality of life and secularism. All three are correlated, although they duck and point out all the odd outliers in the globalization-secularization relationship.

Zapatero on embryonic stem cell research

Translated from El Mundo, February 13, 2004: Socialist Party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero stated today that beginning March 14, 2004, [note: Zapatero was elected on March 14 as the next Spanish Prime Minister] "Spain will be again on the leading edge" and warned that he "will not tolerate that anyone impose their beliefs to push back our country", in relation to the embryonic stem cell research results published yesterday on Science. [from CNN, February 12, 2004: South Korean researchers reported Thursday they have created human embryos through cloning and extracted embryonic stem cells, the universal cells that scientists expect will result in breakthroughs in medical research...].
Answering the government's criticism of the cloning of 30 human embryos persormed by a team of South Korean scientists, Rodriguez Zapatero stated that "the Right have turned their back to people and to scientific progress".

Century City - Maybe not 2030, but a reasonable 2010

The show was typical TV fare, and certainly not up to my usual qualitative demands (West Wing, Sopranos, Gilmore Girls, 24, Six Feet Under, Angel, etc.). But the handling of issues of concern to us was reasonable sensible. It has a very attractive, smart genetically enhanced woman attorney who is a little ambivalent about being different (and faintly echoes Kass re: "What if my happiness is just from a gene tweak", to which her boss replies "Just shut up and be glad you're happy"), but even she finds self-affirmation through assuring a clone that the two of them are just like everybody else.

The "saviour child" case was resolved a lot better in 2030 than it was last year by the UK HFEA - the guy gets to make a clone of himself/his clone-son to solve the kid's liver problem, and he faces no federal criminal penalty despite committing at least two federal crimes (cloning and smuggling). In fact the show implies that the anti-cloning law would be politically unsustainable if the details of the case were made public. It powerfully makes the point that it is absurd to oppose the use of embryonic cloning for spare parts (specifically, cloning body systems with the head genetically "pinched off", an unfortunate yuck factor phrase) to save lives in a society that permits abortion. Even the guy's desire to clone himself was portrayed reasonably sympathetically. And I loved the "grandparents" comment when they find out that the embryo is not only cloned from their grandson, but that their grandson was cloned from their son - "Apparently we had triplets".

The case of the anti-aging treatments for the geriatric singers was a little more bioLuddite - mention of increased cancer risks from telomerase treatments, strong distaste expressed for those who want to look young when they are old, and one guy parties like a youth but then has a stroke. But the guys looked so good that I bet most of the audience would have taken the treatments.

Next week is about whether a baseball player with a bionic eye has an unfair advantage akin to steroids, which is a fun question.

I give the show two or three weeks, which is just about as long as I can force myself to watch it.

Spain's Zapatero, a man of peace for a wounded country

From the New Zealand Herald, on the new Spanish PM: Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero brought the Socialists from the political wilderness to a spectacular polls victory on Sunday and will now need his cool head and calm temper to unite Spain after its worst bomb attack. Rodriguez Zapatero, who until Thursday's bombing was considered an outsider for Spain's top job, had angered many in his own party with his lack of aggression in the months after he took the leadership in 2000 following a heavy electoral defeat. But his tendency to compromise may prove a valuable asset as he looks to form a government with left-wing allies or regional parties.
Zapatero has stuck to a policy of "calm change" instead of rupture with old school socialism. Unlike many of his fiery countrymen, Zapatero is famed for his coolness and colleagues say they have never seen him angry.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Tech Firms Suck Up to the Repuglicans

Bolstered by money from luminaries such as Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, tech has poured 55% of its $8.2 million in contributions into Republican coffers. That's up from 47% in 2000, says the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan watchdog group. Among top givers, only doctors and other health professionals shifted more to the GOP....

Republicans are viewed as more pro-business on topics of special interest to the tech industry. Companies moving software development jobs overseas worry politicians will clamp down, says Rick White, CEO of TechNet, an advocacy group for Microsoft and other tech giants. John Kerry, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, has slammed "Benedict Arnold" firms for offshoring jobs.

A sales tax on Internet access, being debated in Congress, might crimp sales at firms such as eBay if it depressed Net traffic. The Bush administration opposes such taxes. EBay's political action committee has given 64% to the GOP this year, up from 56% in 2000.
So much for corporate libertarianism: hate queers, hate science, biggest deficits since Reagan, want a fascist police state? No problem so long as we don't get taxed or regulated.

Socialists discuss access to genetech in EU

New genetic applications and access to healthcare

A conference organised by the European Commission, the Socialist Mutual Health Fund of Belgium (UNMS) and the International Association of Mutual Health Funds (AIM)

WHEN? 24 & 25 March 2004

WHO? PHILIPPE BUSQUIN, Commissioner for Research, European Commission

In collaboration with Professor Dusan KEBER, Slovenian Minister for health

In collaboration with Eryl McNALLY, Member of the European Parliament (EP) and Vice President of the European Parliament's Scientific and Technological Options Assessment (STOA)

In collaboration with Rudy DEMOTTE, Belgian Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health

WHERE? Centre Albert Borschette, room 0/A, Rue Froissart, 36, Brussels

Discoveries in genetics open up new possibilities for the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases. Such prospects bring about many new challenges: How will such tests and treatments be funded? How can affordable access to healthcare be assured for individuals or groups with genetic predispositions towards particular diseases?


Barbara Rhode
Head of the Unit "Ethics and Science”, Research DG, European Commission
Tel: +32.2.295 98 88

Media Contact

Marie Claire Musin
Director of Information and Communication Unit, Socialist Mutual Health Fund of Belgium
Tel: +32 2 515 05 78, Fax: +32 2 515 05 06

British Horticulturalist Pings Greens

Simon Thornton-Wood, head of science at the Royal Horticultural Society, told Reuters that
genetic modification could offer a solution to the steady rise in temperatures...While it would be preferable to actually change practices like high-volume carbon dioxide release that have led to climate change, most of what is predicted is already in the pipeline and therefore unstoppable. Genetic modification could help mitigate some of the worst effects.
Meanwhile Monsanto, DuPont and Ceres Inc. have formed a consortium to speed up sequencing of the corn genome which they promise will help design more resilient, pest-resilient and drought-resistant crops, i.e. the kind we will need in a climate-whacked world.