January 14, 2013

Inside Ottawa: NDP edition

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 17:12

I found this rather amusing:

QotD: Political perception

Filed under: Humour, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:15

The way President Barack Obama’s acolytes are calling for bold action in his second term, you’d think he had been some kind of prudent Calvin Coolidge in his first.

Tim Cavanaugh, “Beware Obama’s Big Ideas: The president and his fans say the best is yet to come. That can’t be good.”, Reason, 2013-01-14

The increasing precision of DNA editing

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:56

Matt Ridley looks at the vastly improved editing tools becoming available for DNA manipulation:

Little wonder that precision genetic engineering has taken a while to arrive. In truth, it has been moving steadily toward greater precision for 10,000 years. Early farmers in what’s now Turkey introduced a mutation to wheat plants in the “Q gene” on chromosome 5A, which made the seed-head less brittle and the seed husks easier to harvest efficiently.

They did so unknowingly, of course, by selecting from among random mutations.

Fifty years ago, scientists used a nuclear reactor to fire gamma rays at barley seeds, scrambling some of their genes. The result was “Golden Promise,” a high-yielding, low-sodium barley variety popular with (ironically) organic farmers and brewers. Again, the gene editing was random, the selection afterward nonrandom.

Twenty years ago, scientists inserted specific sequences for four enzymes into rice plants so that they would synthesize vitamin A and relieve a deadly vitamin deficiency-the result being “golden rice.” This time the researchers knew exactly what letters they were putting in but had no idea where they would end up.

Insufficient bribes and transport aircraft

Filed under: Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:35

Strategy Page on the sad-but-predictable situation in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan recently announced that it would cancel the contract to buy and use 20 C-27A transports. The official reason was the inability of the Italian maintenance firm to keep the aircraft operational. The unofficial reason is the unwillingness of the Italians to pay as much in bribes as the Afghan commanders were demanding. Over half a billion dollars was being spent on buying and operating these aircraft and all the money was coming from the United States. Afghan government and air force officials were determined to grab as much of that cash as possible. That meant there was not enough money for the spare parts and tools needed to keep the C-27As flying. The Afghans can be self-destructive in so many ways, and letting these transports get away because not enough could be stolen from the contracts was another example of this.

More self-destructive behavior is expected. The Western donor nations are getting fed up with the increasingly aggressive Afghan corruption. Last year, as the Afghans asked for more military aid, the donor nations instead cut contributions. The Afghans were told that the aid would be reduced from $11 billion a year to $4.1 billion a year between 2012 and 2017. That would only change if, by some miracle, the Afghans managed to get their thieving ways under control. Currently, the Afghans will go to great lengths to get around donor auditors and anti-corruption measures. The C-27A was a case of everyone just giving up. Expect to see more cases like this.

The Muslim worldview and the theory of evolution

Filed under: Education, History, Religion, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:28

Ghaffar Hussain reminds us that historically Muslim societies were much more open to scientific thought than they are now:

So why didn’t these ideas take off and integrate into the fabric of mainstream Muslim thought and society? There are a number of reasons.

Firstly, Muslim empires in the past believed in centralising knowledge rather than disseminating it en masse. Centres of learning, such as Baghdad and Cordoba, had their houses of knowledge in which scientists would work, preserving and developing on, primarily, Hellenistic knowledge. There was no printing press, and even when it did arrive it was rejected, thus such knowledge was largely reserved for an elite audience. When centres of learning were conquered and destroyed, as Baghdad was in 1256 by the Mongols, most of the knowledge was lost too.

Secondly, the religious authorities of the time were largely opposed to ideas being put forward by scientists and other rationalist thinkers such as Ibn Rushd, and before him, Ibn Sina. They felt threatened by non-theological attempts to ascertain truths and Muslim leaders often sided with the religious authorities for political reasons.

Thirdly, literalist and dogmatic strands of Islamic theology have been aggressively promoted all around the Muslim world over the past few decades or ever since huge oil deposits were discovered in the Arabian Gulf. The Saudi state, in an attempt at cultural imperialism, has done its best to mainstream Wahabi thinking in Muslim communities everywhere. The result: a retardation and stagnation of thinking in parts of the world that were already very stagnant.

In the re-enacting world, don’t be a “Walt” or a “Farb”

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:15

Dick Delingpole tells us more about the less-welcome members of the re-enacting hobby:

Re-enactors have a term of abuse, “Farb”, thought to have originated in the States, which is used to describe someone whose authenticity standards leave much to be desired. There is also a term of abuse directed at re-enactors from outside the hobby, notably from the Armed Forces: “Walt”. It means “fantasist” or “wannabe”, and derives from James Thurber’s fictional literary fantasist, Walter Mitty. It is not used affectionately, and implies ineptitude with delusions of grandeur. Just google “walt” and “re-enactor” and you’ll get the idea.

Despite my deep and abiding affection for our Armed Forces, I think there’s a bit of misunderstanding here.

In 12 years, the only re-enactors I’ve met who think that they’re soldiers are the ones who actually are. And there are many of them: regulars and TA, retired, current and soon-to-be-joining. While ex-soldiers are attracted to the cameraderie associated with re-enactment, many are pursuing an interest in the history of their own regiments which doesn’t confine them to an armchair.

[. . .]

Early period re-enactors (anything pre WWII, but the earlier the better) attract relatively light amounts of abuse from the Armed Forces. One fellow Napoleonic re-enactor who is a serving Major in the Rifles, describes the kind of Walt most likely to get a soldier’s back up. They are overweight middle-aged blokes who can’t march or hold a gun correctly, but who have the kit, uniform and insignia of the current SAS or other specialist elite unit. Here I feel the insult is possibly justified. Why, asks the squaddy, don’t these people just join the army? And why must they represent elite forces whose serving members have sweated blood to be part of?

H/T to Elizabeth for the link.

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