Whale oil was “indispensable”, too…


Whale oil lampsG.Paul Burnett/NY Times

Is the oil business the new whaling business? And, if so, is that a good sign or a troubling one?

Bear with us. Whaling, after all, was one of the world’s first great multinational businesses, a global enterprise of audacious reach and import. From the 1700s through the mid-1800s, oil extracted from the blubber of whales and boiled in giant pots gave light to America and much of the Western world. The United States whaling fleet peaked in 1846 with 735 ships out of 900 in the world. Whaling was the fifth-largest industry in the United States; in 1853 alone, 8,000 whales were slaughtered for whale oil shipped to light lamps around the world, plus sundry other parts used in hoop skirts, perfume, lubricants and candles.

❝ But, in fact, whaling was already just about done, said Eric Jay Dolin, who wrote some of the text for the exhibit and is the author of “Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America.” Whales near North America were becoming scarce, and the birth of the American petroleum industry in 1859 in Titusville, Pa., allowed kerosene to supplant whale oil before the electric light replaced both of them and oil found other uses.

❝ Eric Jay Dolin…the author of “Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America.”…(says) the message for today was that one era’s irreplaceable energy source could be the next one’s relic. Like whaling, he said, big oil is ripe to be replaced by something newer, cleaner, more appropriate for its moment.

“What you think you can’t live with today, tomorrow can become just a memory,” he said. “That’s what happened with whale oil, and eventually it’s going to happen to oil, but you don’t just turn off one switch and flip on a new one. It’s the product of a long, wrenching process that I hope leads us to a more sustainable path than the one we’re on now.”

RTFA to view a more complete picture of the parallels. The article was published in 2008, BTW.

Lab-grown brain bits offer medical opportunity — and ethical dilemmas for folks who watch old movies

❝ Xuyu Qian yanked open an incubator door at the University of Pennsylvania to reveal rows of cylindrical tubes swirling, like shaken-up snow globes, with a strange and exotic flurry. The pale, peppercorn-sized spheres were lab-grown globules of human brain tissue, or, as Qian occasionally refers to them, “minibrains.”

“Minibrain” is a controversial nickname, loathed by some scientists who fear it conjures alarmist images of fully functioning brains trapped in vats, while the reality today is balls of cells that can’t think or feel…

❝ …As the technology, which scientists refer to in journal articles as “cerebral organoids,” improves, the more the “minibrain” title fits…“People are more worried about if they reach a certain level — if it’s really like a human brain. We’re not there; we’re very far from there,” said Hongjun Song, who leads the laboratory at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, where Qian works. “But the question people ask is, ‘Do they have consciousness?’ The biggest problem I have so far is I think, as a field, we don’t know…”

RTFA. Don’t worry about full-time ethicists. That job title is always ready to take on any topic regardless of knowledge – or ignorance.

My experience with scientists as a profession assures me of relevant and timely reflection. If not overdone conservatism. But, as someone who reads science as the predominant endeavor in building a better life for all – it’s always worth adding useful philosophy to material achievements.

Do We Need Kids’ Shows About War?

❝ For family entertainment, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is remarkably complex. The animated Disney show is about military strategy, chain-of-command, civil-military relations, diplomacy and statecraft.

More importantly, it’s about wartime ethics.

❝ What constitutes acceptable losses in battle? Would you torture a prisoner if you thought it would help save your friends? Should you obey the orders of a commander you believe to be reckless and unethical? And how do you even define victory?

I’ve talked to friends who were slightly taken aback by the frankness with which the show depicts violence and death. Kids watch this show. And it’s a good thing they do.

❝ 2018 will be the first year that Americans born after 9/11 will be able to join the U.S. military. It’s far past time that Americans began having some frank conversations with their children about America’s wars. A show like The Clone Wars can help.

Lots of worthwhile conversation can flow from this article. Or not.

Through my decades of political activism, one form or another, I’ve had to realize time and again it’s better to move discussion, facts and feelings out into the open. That presumes an open and free society where you needn’t worry about recrimination. I’m not certain where that might be. Having lived through McCarthyism and COINTELPRO it certainly isn’t the GOUSA. But, you try, anyway.

Pentagon’s “Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure”

❝ …the military maintains a database of the federal government’s worst ethics violators. Unlike many government documents, the encyclopedia is clear, easy to read … and actually quite funny. Many of the stories are as amusing as they are aggravating.

It might be the most light-hearted official report anyone’s ever written about criminals…

❝ The Army pays its soldiers a monthly housing allowance. Married soldiers get more cash than singles do.

To game the system, one sergeant convinced his girlfriend to pretend to be his wife. He even forged a marriage license to substantiate the union. He took taxpayers for almost $30,000 in healthcare and housing.

“The relationship must have gone sour, though,” the report reads. “She ended up turning him in to military investigators. After such a betrayal, one can only assume he will now be filing for a fake divorce.”

I’ve known a few military lifers who figured all of this out. Track down old episodes of “Sergeant Bilko” for an education. My best representative example – though not alone – was a master sergeant who told me his biggest fear was of accidentally being promoted. His rank was ideal for all the hustles he ever imagined. Promotion would cost him money.

His wife didn’t do badly either. During the post WW2 occupation, she followed hubby to Japan and took a job in a military support office. Every morning, she brought a dozen eggs fresh from the PX to work and left them in the bottom drawer of her desk. Every night, she’d open the drawer and the eggs were gone. Replaced by a single pearl. When they left Japan for assignment elsewhere, she simply wore the newly-strung pearls through customs. Five strands.

In the not-too-distant future, we won’t need sex to reproduce — Get ready!

I’ll give you the beginning of this article – and the end. You really need to read the whole critter to justify pondering the concept.

❝ For 100 million years, all our ancestors reproduced basically the same way. A male reproductive organ deposited sperm into a female reproduction organ, where it could fertilize eggs — leading to baby ancestral tetrapods, mammals, primates, and eventually humans. The past 60 years have seen this begin to change, first with clinically available artificial insemination and then with in vitro fertilization (IVF)…

❝ In the United States today, these two techniques lead to about 100,000 births each year, roughly 2.5 percent of the 4 million children born annually. Within the next few decades, that percentage will skyrocket. Developments in bioscience, galloping forward in most cases for reasons having nothing to with reproduction, will combine to make IVF cheaper and much easier.

These new techniques will allow safe and easy embryo selection – but they will also open doors to genetically edited babies, “their own” genetic babies for same-sex couples, babies with a single genetic parent, and maybe babies from artificial wombs.

❝ Starting in the next few decades, these new methods of reproduction will give people new choices. They will also raise a host of vexing legal and ethical questions, questions we need to start discussing.

Deal with genetic selection of embryos, designer babies, create 100 embryos to choose the best and scrap or recycle the rest, unibabies from a uniparent [not a clone]…you get the idea.

Henry Greely is a professor of law and of genetics. He concludes…

We need to start thinking about these questions. The future is coming. It may not be exactly the future I foresee, but, like it or not, it will certainly feature far more choices, for families and for societies, about making babies.

You now know more about that future than 99.9 percent of humanity. Learn more, pay attention to the relevant news, and talk with your family and friends. The more we consider, debate, and plan for plausible futures, the more likely we are not to create any kind of perfect future, but, at least, to avoid some catastrophes. And that is not a bad goal.

A Pharma payment a day keeps your doctor’s finances OK

Few days went by last year when New Hampshire nephrologist Ana Stankovic didn’t receive a payment from a drug company.

All told, 29 different pharmaceutical companies paid her $594,363 in 2014, mostly for promotional speaking and consulting, but also for travel expenses and meals, according to data released…detailing payments by drug and device companies to U.S. doctors and teaching hospitals.

Search for your own doctor on ProPublica’s updated Dollars for Docs database.

Stankovic’s earnings were certainly high, ranking her about 250th among 606,000 doctors who received payments nationwide last year. What was more remarkable, though, was that she received payments on 242 different days — nearly every workday of last year.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Stankovic declined to comment.

That doctors receive big money from the pharmaceutical industry is no surprise. The new data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that such interactions are widespread, with not only doctors, but thousands of dentists, optometrists, podiatrists and chiropractors receiving at least one industry payment from August 2013 to December 2014.

What is being seen for the first time now is how ingrained pharmaceutical companies and their sales reps are in the lives of those who write prescriptions for their products. A ProPublica analysis found that 768 doctors received payments on more than half of the days in 2014. More than 14,600 doctors received payments on at least 100 days in 2014…

The doctor with the second-highest number of interactions with drug and device reps, John Fritz, of Jersey City, N.J., logged payments on 256 days last year. His payments totaled $232,003. Fritz was indicted in June for referring patients to a medical imaging company from 2006 to 2013 in exchange for about $500,000 in kickbacks. He was charged with fraud and bribery, according to a release from the state attorney general’s office. A woman who answered the phone at his office on Tuesday said he declined to comment.

Dr. Aaron Kesselheim said that to have such extensive contact with industry reps can indicate that doctors are getting their information about the drugs they prescribe from the companies that make them, and not from impartial sources. “There’s good evidence that that affects prescribing practices and physician behavior.”…

All told, 1,617 companies reported 15.7 million payments valued at $9.9 billion. Nearly all of those payments — 14.9 million — were classified as “general payments,” covering promotional speaking, consulting, meals, travel and royalties. They totaled $3.5 billion over the 17-month period.

There were far fewer research payments, 826,000, but they were valued at $4.8 billion. The remaining payments related to ownership or investment interests that doctors had in companies. Research and ownership payments are currently not shown in Dollars for Docs.

Keep on rocking in the Free World. And while you’re at it – keep your eyes and ears open for greater understanding of the depth of resistance, core motives for opposition, to affordable healthcare for Americans.

Follow the money.

Climate change, responsible investing and divestment

Around the world, institutional investors – including pension funds, insurance companies, philanthropic endowments, and universities – are grappling with the question of whether to divest from oil, gas, and coal companies. The reason, of course, is climate change: unless fossil-fuel consumption is cut sharply – and phased out entirely by around 2070, in favor of zero-carbon energy such as solar power – the world will suffer unacceptable risks from human-induced global warming. How should responsible investors behave in the face of these unprecedented risks?

Divestment is indeed one answer, for several reasons. One is simple self-interest: the fossil-fuel industry will be a bad investment in a world that is shifting decisively to renewables. (Though there will be exceptions; for example, fossil-fuel development in the poorest countries will continue even after cutbacks are demanded in the rich countries, in order to advance poverty reduction.)

Moreover, divestment would help accelerate that shift, by starving the industry of investment capital – or at least raising the cost of capital to firms that are carrying out irresponsible oil, gas, and coal exploration and development, despite the urgent need to cut back. Though no single institutional investor can make a significant difference, hundreds of large investors holding trillions of dollars of assets certainly can.

Indeed, divestment by leading investors sends a powerful message to the world that climate change is far too dangerous to accept further delays in the transition to a low-carbon future. Divestment is not the only way to send such a message, but it is a potentially powerful one.

Finally, investors may divest for moral reasons. Many investors do not want to be associated with an industry responsible for potential global calamity, and especially with companies that throw their money and influence against meaningful action to combat climate change. For similar reasons, many investors do not want handgun manufacturers or tobacco companies in their portfolios…

Of course, the need for climate action does not stop with investors; sustainable consumption and production practices by businesses and individuals must be part of the solution as well. The transition to a safe, low-carbon future requires all parts of society to act responsibly and with foresight. As leaders in education, research, and problem solving, universities have a unique responsibility and opportunity to lead, including as responsible and ethical investors.

RTFA for alternatives suitable to the somewhat-ethically-challenged. Plus – a historical comparison to a blast from the past from the tobacco industry. An example of profits and dividends from an investment with no socially-redeeming value whatsoever.

ComputerCOP: lousy “Internet Safety Software” coppers are giving to families

For years, local law enforcement agencies around the country have told parents that installing ComputerCOP software is the “first step” in protecting their children online…

As official as it looks, ComputerCOP is actually just spyware, generally bought in bulk from a New York company that appears to do nothing but market this software to local government agencies.

The way ComputerCOP works is neither safe nor secure. It isn’t particularly effective either, except for generating positive PR for the law enforcement agencies distributing it. As security software goes, we observed a product with a keystroke-capturing function, also called a “keylogger,” that could place a family’s personal information at extreme risk by transmitting what a user types over the Internet to third-party servers without encryption. That means many versions of ComputerCOP leave children (and their parents, guests, friends, and anyone using the affected computer) exposed to the same predators, identity thieves, and bullies that police claim the software protects against.

Furthermore, by providing a free keylogging program—especially one that operates without even the most basic security safeguards—law enforcement agencies are passing around what amounts to a spying tool that could easily be abused by people who want to snoop on spouses, roommates, or co-workers.

Producers of many versions of this crap software include bald-faced lies about capabilities, safety and legality as FAQs. Often, of course, coppers distributing this crap are disingenuous enough to think they’re providing a real public service.

They ain’t.

This is a long well-researched article about law enforcement being hustled, mostly by outsiders. Misconceptions and incompetence about what is legal and ethical also play a role within policing agencies. RTFA and, perhaps, consider checking out the local heat and updating them – if they’ve been suckered.

Thanks, Mike

Louisiana republican sets new speed record for getting caught in sleazy behavior


McAllister and some of the folks who worked to get him elected

The married U.S. congressman embroiled in controversy over kissing a woman on his Louisiana office staff may request a federal investigation into the leak of the security camera video showing the incident, his spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Republican Representative Vance McAllister, who took office last November in a special election that he won partly by promoting his Christian values, apologized on Monday after a Louisiana newspaper posted a surveillance video showing him in a passionate embrace with office scheduler Melissa Peacock, who is also married. The scandal erupted when the security video from his Monroe, Louisiana, district office was posted on the website of a local weekly newspaper, the Ouachita Citizen.

Peacock resigned from McAllister’s office on Monday, the congressman’s communications director, Jennifer Dunagin, said.

If you believe.

But McAllister considers the leak to be a serious breach in office security and may send a letter to House Speaker requesting an official investigation into the matter by the FBI, Dunagin said…

The Ouachita Citizen, which boasts a paid weekly circulation of just 5,200 copies, said it had obtained the video from an “anonymous source.” The grainy low-light footage was captured by a handheld camera pointed at a computer monitor showing multiple security camera images throughout the small office building…

The Monroe, Louisiana News-Star…quoted McAllister’s chief of staff, Adam Terry, as saying that a staffer had denied providing the video to the newspaper…

On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he was glad McAllister had apologized for the incident, but declined to say whether McAllister should resign when asked by reporters…

Peacock and her husband, Heath Peacock, have longstanding ties to McAllister, each contributing $5,200 to his election campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission disclosure forms. Heath Peacock and McAllister had previously worked together at Mustang Engineering, an oil and gas pipeline and services company.

CNN quoted Heath Peacock on Tuesday as saying that he was “devastated” by the incident and blamed McAllister for ruining his marriage.

“He has wrecked my life,” Peacock told CNN. “We’re headed for divorce.”

Eric Cantor burbled a few remarks about the high standards in our Congress. I’m not certain if he’s talking about public record-keeping or what. He certainly can’t be talking about ethics or dedication to service for Americans.

Regular readers recall my dicho about “Republicans would have invented hypocrisy if Christians hadn’t beaten them to it”. Congressman McAllister gets an extra pat on the behind for catching both sides of the ethic.