Building a Better Human

Well it seems like it’s finally happened:

A Chinese scientist who claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies said at a conference on Wednesday that his actions were safe and ethical, and he asserted that he was proud of what he had done. But many other scientists seemed highly skeptical, with a conference organizer calling his actions irresponsible.

“For this specific case, I feel proud, actually,” the scientist, He Jiankui, said at an international conference on genome editing in Hong Kong.

Indeed, the only thing Dr. He apologized for was that news had “leaked unexpectedly” that he had used the gene-editing technique Crispr to alter embryos and then implanted them in the womb of a woman who gave birth to twin girls this month.

Or maybe it didn’t happen.  How many times have we fallen for cloned baby hoaxes?  On the other hand, even if this isn’t the real thing, it’s bound to happen eventually, and it’s bound to happen in China.

The West, in spite of our massive intellectual capital in genetics, is unlikely to ever do more than play catch up to the East which doesn’t have the western hang up of “but Hitler,” to stifle every development in genetics applied to humans (and to stifle about every policy argument).  On the other hand, the West has a lot of other hang ups that will make further practical scientific advancement impossible.  We can build great rockets, but while we’re arguing over fitting 52 different bathrooms on it to handle the multiple genders, the Chinese will simply colonize the solar system with just two bathrooms.

So China it is. In this case, the Chinese team disabled the CCR5 gene, to confer resistance to HIV, Smallpox, and Cholera. It’s a naturally occurring mutation that appears in some Northern European populations, and recreating it in the embryos of families where the fathers are infected with HIV (as this study claims) seems like a win/win.

So if these trials, and by trials I mean the two baby girls, are a success, what other CRISPR additions could be added?

How about a healthy copy of BRCA1?  A mutation of that gene leads to ovarian cancer in families, and the chance to eliminate it would allow many people to live without a heavy predisposition to cancer hanging over their heads.

A mutation of GLP1R protects against Type II diabetes.

The MSTN R allele confers greater muscle mass and is found among high performance athletes.

A gene carried by a Papua New Guinean tribe that confers resistance to dementia.

The Bajau people of Southeast Asia have a variation of PDE10A, which gives them spleens twice the “normal” size.  Why does that matter?  The Bajau can hold their breaths for up to 13 minutes at depths of up to 200 feet.

Actually I could go on and on listing the many local adaptations that have appeared in populations around the world: Lactose tolerance is probably the best known, but there are others such as high altitude adaptations, and malaria resistance.  All of those genetic adaptions could be up for grabs and available to anyone willing to travel to the East for a clinic that preforms such genomic surgery.  It’s sure quicker than the old fashioned natural selection way.

Of course, the real prize would be multiple gene qualities like high IQ.  The ability to add a few IQ points to embryos will give whatever countries allow it a significant boost; one that would be nearly impossible to catch up to.

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“Screw the Optics:” Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Shooting

Last Saturday, watching the breaking news of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, I reached a point where I just had to cut it off, it was dragging on me, and with the “breaking news” essentially over, I decided I could wait for the details, without being under the cloud that the news brought with it.  Getting the details later hardly helped.  The shooter, Robert Bowers, 46, was simply a hate filled nut.  But then again, it wasn’t that simple at all, since his level of hate seems to be off the charts.  Posting on social media before the shooting, he wrote, “Screw the optics, I’m going in.”  Then apparently he did just that, seemingly getting up from the computer, grabbing his guns, and shooting up Saturday morning services, shouting, “All Jews must die!”

Eleven dead, six wounded.

I’ve written about the inanity of anti-Semitism before, again noting that of all of the various hates, bigotries, and prejudices of mankind, anti-Semitism seems to be the most obsessive.  Maybe that’s why I find it so difficult to understand.  Having few obsessions myself, it’s hard to put myself in the place of someone who can literally think of just one thing, all day, every day, and apply that obsession to every single situation.

Given the various websites and forums that I visit, I decided to visit one that I knew had its fair share of anti-Semites to gauge the reaction to the shooting.  What was I expecting?  Not what I got.  On one site (I won’t identify it) there is a regularly anti-Semitic poster who’s every post was, no matter the topic, was something-something Jews.  Given that, I had long ago learned to skip his posts because of his single minded obsession.  But this time…

Well he didn’t disappoint. His reaction (and I’m paraphrasing here) was, maybe this will wake up the normies as to why Jews are being targeted.  Maybe there’s a good reason…

That is so over the topic Bonkers that it might well put him in Bowers territory.  The idea that the shooting might be a good opening conversation starter for why Jews should be shot is in a territory of hatred all its own, and seems to be the exclusive domain of the anti-Semite.  Sure, there are plenty of people who hate other groups of people.  That fuels half the wars in undeveloped world, but even the Hutus had reasons (to them) to genocide the Tutsi; or the Serbs and the Croatians.  Maybe not good reasons and certainly not reasons that could justify what they did, but there were at least a track record of grievances.

What grievance did Bowers have against Jews?  I suspect we’ll learn a lot about his motivations in the coming weeks.  Clearly he has a story to tell, but I suspect that in the end, we’ll still not understand a thing as to what drove him to mass murder.

In human experience, anti-Semitism seems to be its own thing.  There isn’t a human bigotry, prejudice, or hatred that comes close.  It’s a bizarre mind virus having to do with a specific group of people.  And I suspect I’ll never have an understanding of it.

 

Amazon Prime Video-Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

When I heard that Amazon was coming out with a Jack Ryan series, I was a bit surprised, because I figured that was a character, and a universe, that had run its course.  Don’t get me wrong, I had been a Tom Clancy reader since the 1980’s, and had watched most of the film iterations of Jack Ryan.  But that was a character created in the Cold War and the world now is so different from the one where a young Jack Ryan was on the chase for the Soviet submarine Red October.

But…after seeing a devastating review in Vanity Fair:

How could I say no? So I decided to give the show a chance.

Color me pleasantly surprised.

First off, John Krasinski really pulls it off as Ryan.  I’ve heard some people argue that they just can’t get past his goofy Jim from The Office persona.  However having already seen him take on a tough guy roll in 13 Hours I had no problem suspending my disbelief. In fact, if anything it helps the role of someone who is primarily an academic but is reluctantly thrust into the action role.  Of course, an academic being thrust in action roles does strain the bounds of credulity. That was one of the weaker parts of the show in my opinion, Ryan’s boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce) does have an operator background, yet constantly drags Ryan into dangerous situations, totally out of his skillset.

The other notable on the show is Ali Suliman as the terrorist mastermind, Mousa Bin Suleiman.  As noted in another review of the show, this actor really sells it as a complicated villain.  He could have simply played this as a simple, evil, religious fanatic, but he has a backstory that gives his actions, if not exactly justification, at least reasonable within his mindset, and it shows.  If anything, he has the most difficult role in the series and manages to pull it off beautifully.

One thing I noticed in the pacing of the show, in deference to it appearing on a streaming service, is each episode ends leaving you wanting more.  And although I’m just not a binger, we did end up watching the last three episodes back to back.  I didn’t want to stop.  So yeah, I have to give the show a big thumbs up.

And as for the Vanity Fair reviewer?  She was totally wrong.  This wasn’t any sort of jingoistic right wing Fox News anything.  You would be hard pressed to find any sort of political bias in this show, unless you regard Islamic terrorism as a fiction created by right wing Republican Presidents.  In any case, this show has already been renewed for season 2, so the reviewer (and me) will get a second chance to reconsider when the show’s focus swings around to…Russia!

A Quick Fix to the Senate Health Bill

I had hoped that the Senate, toiling away in secrecy, would toss out the crap sandwich of the House bill and replace it with something shiny and new that I could really get behind.

No such luck.  The “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017” is mostly the same crap sandwich, with some of the crust trimmed off.  As I wrote about the House bill last month, this bill, or something like it, would wreck healthcare and ensure Democratic ascendency, in the same way that Obamacare strip mined the Democratic majority in the House and Senate.

It’s not quite a total loss.  It did move in the right direction to fix some of the problems I had pointed out in the House bill, such as restoring tax credits based on income rather than age (I never got an explanation for that).  But of course it fell far short of providing reasonable tax credits.

As for pre-existing conditions, the main issue that tortured the public discussion of the House bill, the Senate appears to have just given up and is keeping the Obamacare requirement.  So after all the trouble, when it comes to pre-existing conditions, it’s Obamacare after all.

Although there’s no CBO score on the bill yet, it will probably come out similarly to the House Bill since it keeps much of the same structure for slowing Medicaid Expansion and although I’ve already criticized the way the CBO score was arrived at, it won’t matter in terms of a Democratic talking point; 26 million will lose their healthcare.  You’ll hear it all over cable news until the vote, then in campaign ads for the 2018 election.

How to solve this issue?  Here is the difference between politicians and regular people; I can conceive of a fairly simple answer that would never occur to a professional, and it’s not one I’ve yet heard either in public policy articles or blathering about on cable news.

Consider: There are about 14 and a half million people covered under the Medicaid expansion from Obamacare.  You can criticize Medicaid all you want in terms of studies on health outcomes or availability of providers, but if you’re on it, it’s free (to you).  There are no premiums, deductibles, or copays.  So even if you provide market alternatives to that, none of them are going to be as cheap to the patient as free Medicaid is.  People being kicked off Medicaid will generate stories for years for the Democrats.  There will be no end to the number of hard luck stories (and the children! Think of the children!).  That will fill nightly news and newspaper stories for years to come.

So just let those people keep Medicaid.

That’s it.  No complicated policy issue or complicated public/private program.  Just allow the people who are currently covered by the Medicaid expansion, as long as they meet their income eligibility, keep their Medicaid healthcare.  It’s not a new entitlement since it won’t be open to any new applicants; it will just cover those who currently have it.  Eventually those numbers will shrink, either by people improving their lot and exceeding the income eligibility, or worst case, aging into Medicare.

Will it cost money?  Yes, but frankly, the Republicans seem to be under some sort of delusion that they can turn health care into a tax cutting bill.  I don’t see how that’s realistic.  At some point they are going to have to realize that the bill is going to have to be revenue neutral.

More importantly, this buys time to fix what’s ailing in the individual insurance market.  Obamacare has wrecked and nearly destroyed the individual insurance market and I don’t think that’s going to be fixed on the day of a bill signing.  This will probably take years, so the fewer people in that market, to buy time and give reforms time to work, the better

The Supreme Court Goes Totally, Fabulously, Gay

The gay community has once again shown that it’s magnanimous in victory.

Yes, #LoveWins. Tolerance is Beautiful isn’t it?

And yes, I called it, here and here.  I just didn’t make a bet on this particular court decision like I did for Burwell, but I knew it was inevitable.

How the Court got here is ultimately not that important.  In a 5 to 4 decision in the case, Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court determined that the 14th Amendment had always intended for gay marriage to be legal, and darn it, somehow we just missed the real intent of the drafters until now.

So like the Obamacare decision before it, the job of the Supreme Court is to pick a policy it likes, and then just come up with a justification for it afterwards.  Law, precedence, and of course the constitution are ultimately just props to justify doing what you want to do anyway.

So the court has no made up new law out of whole cloth, and we’ve no choice but to go along.  But does it even matter?

Gay Marriage only matters in the sense that the idea of it highlights how much of a joke the institution of marriage has become. Gays are getting the “right” to marry at a time when straights are abandoning the institution.

During the fifties and sixties when states were switching to no fault divorce, blue hairs, church ladies and the like decried no fault divorce claiming that it would weaken the institution of marriage. The kool kids shot back, “Hey, it doesn’t affect your marriage…chill (or however it was said in the late 50’s lingo).” But the blue hairs were right. It did weaken marriage. It’s the same thing with gay marriage. No, my personal marriage is not threatened by gay marriage, but the institution of marriage, already severely weakened, will weaken even further.

Nowadays people seem to have no conception of a societal institution, only how it affects the individual. Few gays will actually marry under this law (that was never the point anyway), but marriage gets weaker.

So what next?  On to alter marriage further.  Next up:  polygamy.  In a few years, I’m sure I’ll be reading with amusement how the Supreme Court determined that the Constitution always intended for polygamy to be legal.

 

 

How Much Is Media Bias Worth?

Although the media consensus was that Obama won the 2nd debate “on points”, and the polling on who won seems to bear that out (Gallup Obama win 51%, Romney win 38%), he hasn’t had the big bounce back in the polls that one would expect.  With the extra help he had from the moderator from DNC, err… I mean, CNN, Candy Crowley, you would expect a rebound to bring the polls back to something similar to what they were before Romney’s big first debate win.  But it hasn’t happened.

HEMPSTEAD, NY - OCTOBER 16:  U.S. President Ba...

HEMPSTEAD, NY – OCTOBER 16: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) listens and moderator Candy Crowley (C) plots to help President Obama (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Why not?

In the days prior to the first debate, Gallup showed Obama at 50% and Romney at 45%, a five point advantage.  In the days after the first debate, the race had shifted substantially to dead even; Obama and Romney both at 47%.    After the second debate; the one that Obama won?  The Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll for Saturday the 20th shows Romney 49% and Obama 48%.  In other words, Obama didn’t benefit from his win.

There have been a couple of theories as to why Romney was able to make up such ground on the strength of one debate performance.  One is that Romney just looked more Alpha next to Obama on stage, helping Romney close the gender gapamong women voters.  Another is that this was the first opportunity much of the country has had to see Romney, and surprisingly, they liked what they saw.  Considering that Romney has been the prospective nominee for most of the year, how is it that just now, the American people are getting their first unfiltered look at the Presidential nominee mere weeks before the actual election?  Particularly with the amount of media attention shown on this race?

As I predicted back in February, this was going to be a campaign between the Republicans against the Democrats and the mainstream media working together.  That is a tough combination to beat, but from the moderating in the Republican Primaries to the moderating in the second debate, the MSM has abused the position of power they hold in our society to take sides in this political contest.  It’s hard to draw another conclusion when during the 2nd debate President Obama made reference to the moderator about a transcript of a speech he had made that the moderator just happened to have with her at the moderator podium. How would he know she had a copy with her?  And why, of all the data and information that she would have, would it include that particular speech?  Curious indeed.

Romney’s coverage in the media has consisted of Democratic attacks and then pundits sitting around and discussing those attack ads.  That was the bulk of the political coverage over the past few months.  With that sort of coverage model, how is the public ever going to be able to draw informed conclusions on the candidates?  So when the public actually got to see Mitt Romney for the first time, in a 90 minute unfiltered debate, he didn’t appear at all to be the image that had been carefully crafted of him by the media.  He didn’t seem to be a racist, sexist, homophobe, or a cross between Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, and Mr. Potter from, It’s a Wonderful Life.  Instead they saw a serious competent businessman, not a murderer or tax evader.

That wide divergence of perception explains the polls.  Even if Obama has another win “on points” in the 3rd debate on Monday, I don’t see the race changing based on the debate.  The perception of Romney has already changed.

So to my original question, how much is media bias worth?  Since Romney was 5 points down before the first debate and the race is neck and neck now, that’s your answer.

Five percentage points.

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