Sunday, November 21, 2010

Which is less secure? A Windows PC bloated with spyware, or the human genome?
...all told, genetic parasites related to viruses account for more than 40 percent of all human DNA. Our body works hard to silence its viral stowaways by tying up those stretches of DNA in tight stacks of proteins, but sometimes they slip out... Sabunciyan has found that an unexpectedly large amount of the RNA produced in the brain—about 5 percent—comes from seemingly “junk” DNA, which includes endogenous retroviruses [ERVs].
Even the oldest legacy code in Windows ME is merely metaphorically from the time of the dinosaurs.
In the past few years, geneticists have pieced together an account of how Perron’s retrovirus entered our DNA. Sixty million years ago, a lemurlike animal—an early ancestor of humans and monkeys—contracted an infection. It may not have made the lemur ill, but the retrovirus spread into the animal’s testes (or perhaps its ovaries), and once there, it struck the jackpot: It slipped inside one of the rare germ line cells that produce sperm and eggs.
Humans display no symptoms of an ancient infection, except for...
...a rough account is emerging of how HERV-W could trigger diseases like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and MS. Although the body works hard to keep its ERVs under tight control, infections around the time of birth destabilize this tense standoff. Scribbled onto the marker board in Yolken’s office is a list of infections that are now known to awaken HERV-W—including herpes, toxoplasma, cytomegalovirus, and a dozen others. The HERV-W viruses that pour into the newborn’s blood and brain fluid during these infections contain proteins that may enrage the infant immune system. White blood cells vomit forth inflammatory molecules called cytokines, attracting more immune cells like riot police to a prison break. The scene turns toxic...

Whether people develop MS or schizophrenia may depend on how their immune system responds to HERV-W, [Perron] says. In MS the immune system directly attacks and kills brain cells, causing paralysis. In schizophrenia it may be that inflammation damages neurons indirectly by overstimulating them.

What is to be done?
Looking ahead, better prenatal care or vaccinations could prevent the first, early infections that put some people on a path to schizophrenia. For high-risk babies who do get sick, early treatment might prevent psychosis from developing two decades later.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How I won the NYT deficit game.

The NYT counts removing a tax deduction as a tax increase, but many tax deductions and credits (such as the mortgage interest deduction) act as subsidies; it is at least as legitimate to call an to such a subsidy a spending cut.

As far as tax code in general goes, I favour reducing marginal rates and eliminating most tax deductions and credits. Exceptions include the EITC and child tax credit. The three highest priorities for elimination are the employer-provided health insurance deduction, the state income tax deduction, and the mortgage interest deduction. I also reluctantly support broadening the tax base (VAT, carbon, etc). Such taxes will hurt the economy less than income taxes (per dollar of revenue raised). According to the NYT, my plan would produce a long term surplus that could be used to pay for reducing marginal rates even further.

In the future, most "career women" will freeze their eggs and delay children until their forties.
Sort-of-good news: even if you think Western Civ is doomed (I don't), you should expect the collapse to be very slow.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Interesting: daily life aboard the ISS.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

See Megan McArdle's helpful exposition of the deficition commission co-chairs' proposal.

Given so many negative reactions from Republicans and Democrats to this proposal, I can only increase my doubts that the federal government's long-term fiscal problems will be solved before bondholders lose confidence. Only an interest rate spike and the specter of imminent default will force the politicians to make the difficult, unpopular choices needed to match revenues and spending.

The least unlikely compromise I foresee is a sort of repeat of PPACA: some tax increases and some small immediate cuts, along with big promised future cuts in health care costs. When these future cost-cutting measure don't work out, another combination of tax increases and small immediate cuts will have to legislated. Repeat as needed. I think a fiscal crisis is more likely than Republicans going along with this, which in turn is more likely than Democrats and Republicans agreeing to unpopular, deep, non-health care spending cuts (even if they wait until after the unemployment rate is down to, say, 7.5%, which is probably more than two years away).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

It's an historic 65-seat swing, to be sure, but compared to 1800, this election was boring.