Archive for November, 2011

Immunological Horizons

Posted in Medicine, Science!, Things You Should Read with tags , , on November, 2011 by melendwyr

By now you’ve probably heard the news:  a team of researchers at MIT have developed a treatment which can target cells in which viruses are replicating and destroy them.  Which is pretty much the only way to deal with virus-infected cells, so it’s not as draconian a strategy as it sounds.

So far, it hasn’t been rigorously tested in human beings, and there are just tons of potential complications, obstacles to overcome, and hurdles to leap… but the potential is staggering.  This is the sort of thing which science fiction has only speculated about.  A few people have said this is like hearing about the initial research into penicillin.  They’re wrong.  This is way, way bigger.  Potentially.

There are some obvious possible drawbacks.  The therapy wouldn’t be all that useful for conditions in which the nervous system itself becomes infected, for example, not beyond perhaps the very earliest stages of infection.  And conditions in which immune cells are infected?  I don’t know that this would be useful for, say, HIV, once the infection is established.  The drug used has to diffuse throughout the body, which is going to require quite a dose, and I’m fairly sure it’s expensive.

But this could change the world substantially, in ways we can barely imagine.

It’s too soon to start breaking out the champagne and Nobel Prizes.  We should put a bottle on to chill, just in case.

Mythical Creatures

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November, 2011 by melendwyr

There was an actually noteworthy event today, if one of minor importance:  the feds test-ran a national emergency message system, one that simultaneously interrupted radio, broadcast television, and cable signals.

Problem is, I can’t figure out why we’d ever need to notify the entire nation of anything.  Emergencies only engage one locality at a time, and any hypothetical ones that affected more than one place would be so terrifying that paying attention to the feds would be the least of our concerns.  It’d not likely be very helpful, anyway.  So what is it actually for?

One theory about why people are so fascinated by conspiracy theories, perceiving hidden agency behind anything and everything, is that it’s comforting — the world at large is chaotic and uncontrolled, and we fear what we cannot anticipate.  Believing that a shadowy conspiracy – which nonetheless has well-defined properties, motivations, methods, and goals – is responsible for things makes us feel more secure than acknowledging that no one is in control.

With that in mind, I sometimes like to play a game in which I declare a given event to be the result of some conspiracy, and then make up stories about ‘who’ and ‘why’.  In this case, ‘who’ is defined – the federal authories – so the only degrees of freedom offered to our fancy consist of ‘why’.

Perhaps a secret terrorist cabal has come up with a true ‘basilisk’ image and is slowly setting the stage to drive most of the nation to madness and death, hmmm?

Do you have any suggestions?  Leave them in the comments.

The Freakout

Posted in Politics and Society on November, 2011 by melendwyr

It’s already tedious enough being surrounded by people who are all hyper-enthusiastic about something I consider absolutely without merit.  Football mania is a yearly tide of thistles against which I struggle, fighting to remain breathing above the flow, fearing I’ll be pulled down into the thorny sea and smothered.

Now it’s gotten worse.

The sexual abuse scandal involving a former assistant coach, the charity he founded for at-risk children, and the school administrators who didn’t report everything they knew to the police, has spilled over.  And now the local beloved football coach has retired, possibly to avoid being thrown out of his position by the board of directors.  Last I’d heard, the police were not considering him to be involved in the semi-coverup failure to report that resulted in charges being leveled against several of his underlings, but his tenure as coach might have been threatened anyway.

To give you an idea of how significant the locals consider this to be:  last night, somewhere around five hundred students (not hyperbole, that’s an actual estimate) were rioting around the coach’s residence after news of his imminent retirement broke.   Whether they were showing support or condemnation I don’t know, but  they so disrupted traffic patterns that my bus home from work was late and the police had to redirect traffic.  It’s all people are discussing this morning.  I can’t turn on a radio or a television without hearing something about the case.

And I don’t give a tinker’s dam about any of it.

It’s not a matter of the First Amendment, people…

Posted in Politics and Society with tags , on November, 2011 by melendwyr

I’ve been reading about the umpteen-ring circus that is the “Occupy [Location]” Movement, and generally I’ve been highly amused.  They’re like the Tea Party, as every media hack keeps repeating, but without the organization and coherence.  It’s pretty sad when the TP beats you on both of those qualities, too.

While I’d like to be sympathetic with their complaints, I find their analysis lacking.  There doesn’t seem to be any sense in which they blame the unholy alliance of Big Business and government, just BB.  There’s no criticism of members of the public who bought homes they couldn’t afford.  And much of their protests deal with the standard young-lefty complaints such as the lack of universal health care.

But what actually gets my goat is nonsense like the following (taken from the Miami Herald’s coverage):

“First Amendment rights, First Amendment rights,” one woman shouted as she was handcuffed and led away to nearby police vans.

Don’t these people know what the First Amendment actually guarantees?  For that matter, doesn’t it occur to any of them that monopolizing public spaces, in ways that permanently damage them, while soaking the surroundings in urine, isn’t all that great a way to make people sympathetic to their cause?  (The hygienic concerns surrounding the protests are quite real and increasingly serious, according to my sources.)  Not to mention better at not getting them arrested.  It’s just not that hard to craft a protest that doesn’t unfairly inconvenience people working at the target – those sorts of placard-holding and chanting are tolerated.  It’s not the speech that people are objecting to, it’s the blockading and gross discourtesy of the Occupy movement.

When I compare them to, say, the Civil Rights Movement of the US, I feel sick.