Friday, June 30, 2006

China aging

Back in the 80s the big worry was that Japan was going to buy up all of America. (They certainly seemed to be on pace to do so.) With their economic difficulties, we've moved onto other worries, like China. But will China's aging population demographic hobble their economy before it has ascended?

The world's most populous nation, which has built its economic strength on seemingly endless supplies of cheap labor, China may soon face manpower shortages. An aging population also poses difficult political issues for the Communist government, which first encouraged a population explosion in the 1950's and then reversed course and introduced the so-called one-child policy a few years after the death of Mao in 1976.

That measure has spared the country an estimated 390 million births but may ultimately prove to be another monumental demographic mistake. (NY Times)

"Family planning" a mistake? How can that be?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Adulterer in chief

It'll be interesting to see how the religious right votes in the 2008 presidential election if the Republican candidate is an known adulterer. All of the three current front-runners are.

three Republicans [have] topped several national, independent polls for the GOP's favorite 2008 nominee: Sen. John McCain (affair, divorce), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (affair, divorce, affair, divorce), and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (divorce, affair, nasty divorce). Together, they form the most maritally challenged crop of presidential hopefuls in American political history. (Washington Monthly)

It wasn't too long ago that Democrats were the ones arguing that a politician's private life shouldn't be a matter of public discussion. Either the religious right will change its tune (it does seem to be the picture of pragmatism these days when it comes to amassing political power) or it will not vote Republican.

Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokesperson for Dobson's Focus on the Family, recently made it clear that the adultery issue hasn't lost any of its toxicity among evangelicals. "If you have a politician, an elected official, and they can't be trusted in their own marriage, how can I trust them with the budget? How can I trust them with national security?"

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Smart is go

The Wall Street Journal thinks that DaimlerChrysler is going to announce this week that Smarts will be available for sale in the US in 2007.

It will be sold in major metropolitan centers on the East and West coasts where sales of small, imported cars are strongest.

No word on whether the diesel version, which is sold in Canada, will be available here. I want a subcompact diesel.

Update #1:

DaimlerChrysler, which shelved an earlier plan to bring its Smart minicar brand to the United States, plans to announce Wednesday that it will introduce the tiny two-seat vehicle to the American market early in 2008


DaimlerChrysler plans to aim the Smart at drivers in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities.


The DaimlerChrysler executive, however, did not disclose the car's fuel efficiency. On its Web site in Britain, a Smart coupe is listed as getting 46 miles a gallon in the city and 69 miles a gallon on the highway.

DaimlerChrysler offers a diesel engine in Europe, but it will offer only a gasoline engine in the United States. (NY Times)

Debilitating effects of a welfare society

I love it when I'm around the country club, and I hear people talking about the debilitating effects of a welfare society. At the same time, they leave their kids a lifetime and beyond of food stamps. Instead of having a welfare officer, they have a trust officer. And instead of food stamps, they have stocks and bonds.

Warren Buffett

Monday, June 26, 2006

Playing god

Last week British scientists announced a revolutionary screening process for inherited diseases in embryos. It will be quicker and more accurate than the existing method and it will detect thousands more genetic defects than previously possible.

About 200 heritable conditions can be detected by pre-implantation diagnosis in IVF treatment so that only healthy embryos are implanted in the mother or frozen; the new technique -- pre-implantation genetic haplotyping -- will be able to detect nearly 6,000 diseases and conditions. As one of the British pioneers said, this changes everything. One could almost call it godlike.

What it means is that thousands of parents who are at known risk of passing on terrible disabilities and diseases will now be able to have only healthy babies. (The Times)

Of course, this will be at the expense of throwing away many, many "defective" babies. Regular IVF already discards many embryos for the one that succeeds. Improved screening, for "nearly 6,000 diseases and conditions" -- it boggles the mind. How many babies will make the cut?

Now, let's trot out some worse-case scenarios that this innovation will avoid.

Those who don’t know about it can perhaps hardly imagine the drawn out suffering of Huntington’s disease or Duchenne muscular dystrophy or Prader-Willi syndrome or Fragile X, both for the people affected and for their families, until death puts an end to it.

So here are four conditions, let's say for the sake of argument, that should be avoided at all costs. What are the other 5996?

Nature is astonishingly cruel. Science, by contrast, has the power of mercy.


This is indeed playing God, as all the usual campaigners were quick to point out last week. But what on earth is wrong with humans playing God? I am all for it, especially as God doesn’t seem to be doing it.

Humans playing god would hold some appeal to me if (a) results were guaranteed, (b) mistakes would not occur and (c) moral compromises were not made. IVF in general does not meet my conditions and it appears that this new innovation only magnifies its deficiencies ten-fold.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Making executions painless

The NY Times has an article about the discussion around the current method of execution employed by most of the United States. It seems the current method of lethal injection may cause quite a bit of suffering when not administered correctly, yet it is quick and peaceful. The most straightforward way to do the job, on the other hand, would take longer and be less convenient and pleasant for observers.

Ah, the ethical dilemmas! Like that of doctors and nurses who refuse to take part in executions and leave the job to unqualified people that botch executions and cause the suffering. Hmm.

It'd be easier, less costly and more ethical to just do away with the death penalty. In our modern age of high-tech prisons it's unnecessary and I fail to see why we spend millions of dollars prosecuting death penalty cases so that victims can get some kind of supposed "closure". (It costs less to house a criminal for life.) How about exchanging some "closure" for some effort towards preventing future crime? I can think of a lot of better ways to spend the money.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dehumanizing life

[I was reminded of] of a powerful pro-life speaker and writer who, many years ago, helped me become a pro-lifer. He was a preacher, a black preacher. He said: "There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of a higher order than the right to life.

"That," he continued, "was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore out of your right to be concerned." This passionate reverend used to warn: "Don't let the pro-choicers convince you that a fetus isn't a human being. That's how the whites dehumanized us... The first step was to distort the image of us as human beings in order to justify what they wanted to do and not even feel they'd done anything wrong."

That preacher was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.


The last time I saw Mr. Jackson [...] I [told him] that I'd been quoting in articles and in talks with various groups from his compelling pro-life statements. I asked him if he'd had any second thoughts on his reversal of those views.

Usually quick to respond to any challenge that he is not consistent in his positions, Mr. Jackson paused, and seemed somewhat disquieted at my question. Then he said to me, "I'll get back to you on that." I still patiently await what he has to say.

Nat Hentoff

Monday, June 12, 2006

MPAA protecting children from religion

The MPAA has given a movie ("Facing the Giants") a "PG" rating because it is too religious.

The MPAA, noted [Kris Fuhr, vice president for marketing at Provident Films], tends to offer cryptic explanations for its ratings. In this case, she was told that it "decided that the movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions." (Terry Mattingly On Religion)

Are anti-religious films rated similarly because they might offend believers?

The road to hell

I saw a bumper sticker the other day proclaiming, "The road to hell is paved with Republicans". How nice, I thought, that this Democrat is willing to ascribe good intentions to Republicans where others are not. Or am I reading it wrong?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ultra-low sulfur diesel

Last Thursday, June 1, was the first step towards having cleaner diesel in the US. ULSD is now hitting the refineries and should be available to consumers in October. While current diesel engines will see a reduction in emissions (10%?), the real gain, a 90% reduction in emissions, will come when the next generation of diesel engines become available in the US.

It's about time that the US became serious about cleaner diesel. Why has it taken so long? The trucking industry. They wanted cheaper diesel. Well, I want a diesel that doesn't spew soot in the air and is a viable, more efficient alternative to gasoline. So there!

In the meantime, we may see less diesel cars available. VW is dropping its TDIs until 2008. And Chrysler has just announced that it is dropping the Jeep Liberty diesel. But expect to see a lot more diesel cars made available once our diesel matches Europe's. Car companies have known for a while how to make cleaner diesel engines, they've not been able to implement them in the US due to our dirty diesel.