Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for January, 2009

Great news on the stem cell front

Posted by sanityinjection on January 30, 2009

Scientists have been able to use stem cells to halt and even reverse neurological damage in patients with multiple sclerosis in recent clinical trials.

In patients with MS, the white blood cells go rogue and start attacking the nervous system. The usual treatment is immunosuppressant drugs, but this usually only works if the disease is discovered in its early stages. There is no known cure for MS.

The new therapy involves removing all of the defective white blood cells and using stem cells to regenerate healthy ones. The best part is that the stem cells do not come from embryos but from the patient’s own bone marrow. And the improvement that results from the treatment isn’t just a technical one:

Cognitive functions and quality of life were improved, and the treatment had a low level of toxicity compared to other drug therapies.

Since MS affects millions of people worldwide, this has the potential to be one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of our lifetime. And it proves once again the enormous potential of adult stem cells.

Posted in Domestic News | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

How environmental regulations can hurt the economy

Posted by sanityinjection on January 30, 2009

Great item in the Pasadena Star-News about the impact of a new environmental regulation set to take effect in California in April. The purpose of the regulation is to cut down on gasoline vapor emissions, certainly a worthy goal. Gasoline pumps all over America already have equipment installed to reduce vapor emissions. California is now taking that process a step further by requiring all gas stations in the state to install a new generation of vapor recovery equipment.

So what’s the problem? The equipment is expensive, and the state is not chipping in anything to pay for it. Which means gas station owners will be forced to pay for it themselves, to the tune of some $35,000 in capital outlay. As a result, about 2.5% of gas stations in California are expected to go out of business rather than comply with the new regs.

You might argue that this is a necessary price to pay for cleaner air. But consider: In California at present, 2,322 tons of gasoline vapor emissions are produced each day. Once these new regulations are in effect and all gas stations have the new equipment, that number will be reduced by a total of – 7 tons. Do the math – that is a reduction of 0.3%! Even if the state of California were willing (or able) to pay for all or part of the cost, that seems like a negligible benefit for the money.

This is a perfect example of how the devil of environmental regulations is often in the details. When you say, “These regulations will make our air cleaner,” it sure sounds like a good idea – who doesn’t want cleaner air. But when you say, “These regulations will make our air only a tiny bit cleaner while driving family-owned gas stations out of business”, suddenly it doesn’t look like such a good idea anymore.

The state of California claims that gas station owners should be able to cover the cost of the new equipment by raising the price of their gas 68 cents per gallon – more for lower-volume sellers. Right, and how is the mom-and-pop operation that raises their prices going to compete with the wholly-owned Mobil or Shell station that can absorb the cost and not pass it on to consumers? Who’s going to pay the extra cost when they can just go to the gas station around the corner?

Again, reducing gasoline vapors is a good thing – they are a major contributor to smog, and we can all agree that smog is bad. But what we see here is a regulation being passed by people who aren’t looking at the whole picture, and believe that any means are justified in achieving the goal of a cleaner environment.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Stimulus, Part II: The Case for Doing Nothing

Posted by sanityinjection on January 28, 2009 explores the minority view among a number of economists and libertarians that the best thing to do to help the economy is neither massive government spending or tax breaks, but simply to do nothing. The argument is that while the recession will be painful, it will force needed corrections in the economy that will lay the groundwork for a recovery. In other words, the danger of a stimulus package isn’t just that it might not work, but that it might work, resulting in a recession that is less deep and less painful but lasts longer.

As the article itself acknowledges, this approach isn’t likely to be politically feasible. Politicians have to look like they’re doing something. Also, it’s undeniable that in a recession the poor bear the brunt of the suffering even though they have contributed little to the problem. (Some low-income families may have overextended themselves with loans and buying on credit, but many have not, and could still lose their jobs.) Doing nothing means failing to address that inequity.

Nevertheless, it’s important to understand the argument being made here. The “Do-Nothing” crowd should not be dismissed as irrational government-haters.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

What is in the proposed federal stimulus bill?

Posted by sanityinjection on January 28, 2009

The Wall Street Journal has a great piece up summarizing the various pieces of the proposed stimulus bill that is currently before the House:

What is great about this article is that it explains the various pieces in simple terms and how much each will cost. Thus, readers can decide for themselves which pieces they are comfortable with.

My judgment is that more than half of the spending in this $825 billion package is either wasteful or has nothing to do with stimulating the economy. Thus I agree with House Minority Leader John Boehner’s call for House Republicans to oppose the bill in its current form. I am not suggesting that the government should do nothing, but I am suggesting that doing the wrong thing could be even worse. House leaders from both parties should work with the Administration to slim down this package until it can be supported by a bipartisan majority. That’s how the legislative process is supposed to work.

Meanwhile, Dan Gerstein has another good piece up at Forbes explaining how President Obama fits into all this. Gerstein explains that while Obama isn’t necessarily supportive of  many of the spending items in the bill, he’s not eager to pick another fight with his fellow Democrats in the House after successfully getting Speaker Pelosi to back down and remove the family planning piece. Rather, Obama will let the House Dems push through their bill on a party-line vote and concentrate on improving the bill in the Senate:

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Obamawatch: Interview with Arab TV

Posted by sanityinjection on January 27, 2009

President Obama gave the first formal TV interview of his Presidency to the Arab satellite TV network al-Arabiya. In the interview, Obama told Muslims that “Americans are not your enemy” and called for a new relationship “based on mutual respect and mutual interest.”

Oh, good. Now that we got that cleared up, let’s cure cancer.

I don’t have a problem with Obama doing this interview. It makes for good PR. I just hope he’s not naive enough to believe his own rhetoric – that the Arab world is going to come around just because we talk nice.

The truth is that a significant segment of the Arab world not only hates America – they enjoy hating America. It’s a nice escape from the frustrations of their daily lives. It feels good to blame the Americans for everything. And the Arab governments which claim to be our friends quietly encourage their people to continue blaming us and hating us because it distracts them from blaming and hating their governments.

The US and Arab countries do not have “mutual respect and mutual interest.” They think we’re corrupt, immoral, and arrogant. We think they’re backward, cruel and intolerant. (Here’s a secret: They’re right about us and we’re right about them.) That’s not a good basis for a productive relationship.

In fact, the only reason we ever developed a relationship with the Arab world is that we wanted their oil and they wanted protection. That is the true basis for our interactions. In the 21st century, however, there are other countries who can and will develop and buy Arab oil, just as we are confronting the need for alternative fuel sources. So the motivation on each side to continue the relationship is waning.

Now granted, Obama can’t come out and say any of this stuff in an interview. I’m just hoping that, behind closed doors, he knows it.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Iran punishes soccer players for playing soccer

Posted by sanityinjection on January 26, 2009

The new conventional wisdom here in our kinder, gentler, Obamiffier America is that if we just treat Iran like any other normal country, they’ll behave more like any other country.

With this in mind, consider the following. The managers and coaches of the men’s and women’s teams of a soccer club in Iran have been suspended and fined for the crime of allowing the men’s and women’s teams to – gasp! play a soccer match against each other!

This heinous and vile crime of course immediately led to a huge sex orgy between the players followed by the triumph of Satan on earth.

No, just kidding. The men’s team won 7-0.  No sex, kissing or batting of eyelashes was reported. It was, however, the first sporting event between men and women in Iran’s history.

In Iran, it is illegal for members of one gender to even watch the other gender playing soccer. This policy is so stupid and has so little to do with Islam or Iranian culture that even President Ahmadinejad, a hard-line conservative, recommended that it be changed.  Of course, it’s the guys in the turbans that really run Iran, so Ahmadinejad was ignored.

I recall playing soccer as a youth on mixed teams of girls and boys. I think the soccer field was probably the one place in my life where I spent the least time thinking about girls as amorous objects, because I was too busy viewing them as soccer players – sweating and often dirty ones at that.  At most, I might have noticed a cute ponytail here or there. Which wouldn’t be a problem in Iran because the female players keep their hair covered when they play, in keeping with the Islamic tradition of their country.

If the Iranian mullahs honestly think that men and women are going to be tempted to fornicate if you allow them to coexist – even as opponents – on a soccer field for a limited length of time, they really need to pull their collective thumbs out of their collective asses and try to rediscover how ordinary people behave. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so afraid of their own people.

But I’m sure if we just start being nice to them, they’ll turn into enlightened, peaceful neighbors and stop supporting Islamic terrorists. Right?

This is what we’re up against. You can’t reason with crazy.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

European hypocrisy on Guantanamo knows no bounds

Posted by sanityinjection on January 26, 2009

I am sure my readers will recall the drumbeat of voices from our “friends” in Europe urging the US to close our prison complex at Guantanamo Bay. A truly enlightened society, they explained to us, would treat terrorists more humanely. Besides, they reminded us, we probably scooped up some innocent people by mistake who now can’t exonerate themselves because they don’t have access to the US judicial system.

President Bush’s standard answer to our European betters was to point to the giant smoking hole that now sits where the World Trade Center used to be and imply wordlessly that if terrorists had reduced the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben to ashes, there would almost certainly be grim interrogations quietly going on at Diego Garcia and Reunion. (OK, that’s poetic license. I’m sure Dubya doesn’t actually know where Reunion is.)

But now, since last week, we live in a kinder, gentler, Obamiffier America. The new President’s first act was to order that Guantanamo be closed within 1 year’s time, delighting our European allies. And, to be fair, Gitmo has become such a lightning rod for criticism, that he’s probably right to do so.

Of course, closing Gitmo creates a new problem: What do we do with the detainees? Our civilian jails are not secure enough, and our other military prisons not spacious enough to hold them. One solution is to repatriate them to the countries they came from. But some of those countries have pretty sorry human rights records themselves, and the detainees from those countries can legitimately claim that they could face real abuse if we send ’em back.

So the US said to our European “friends”: OK, if you think we are abusing our detainees, why don’t *you* take them in as refugees? At least the ones from 7 countries that can’t be repatriated.

Do you want to guess how Europe reacted? That’s right. They paid lip service to the idea, waited until Obama actually signed the order to close Gitmo, then started saying things like:

“Yes, of course this is risky. So we have to think about each case, and not to accept anything or anyone easily. It will be a long process. [France will take detainees] under extreme, precise conditions only. Legally this is difficult. Each of the 27 nations, they have different positions and different legal frameworks to accept or to refuse such people.” – Bernard Kouchner, French Foreign Minister

“Nobody is hot about it, that’s perfectly true.” – Czech Foreign Minister

Basically, what the European countries are now saying is that they will only take detainees that aren’t terrorists:

Oh good, yeah, ’cause we got so many of those. Thanks a heap. If they weren’t terrorists, we wouldn’t still be keeping them at Guantanamo! See how that works now?

It remains the sad truth that Europe’s habitual nature is to prefer sniping at US solutions to problems over contributing to better solutions. We’re not perfect over here in America, God knows, but at least we don’t stick our heads in the sand and hope that problems will resolve themselves if we just ignore them hard enough.Well, OK, when we listen to what our European friends say, we do. You want to know what happens when the US doesn’t “act unilaterally” and relies on European diplomacy to solve problems? Rwanda. Darfur. Somalia. Congo. Not a track record to be proud of.

I hope that Secretary of State Clinton is having the phrase “Put up or shut up” translated into French.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

For God’s sake, you can’t “catch” fat!

Posted by sanityinjection on January 26, 2009

File under: Idiot Science.

Some researchers have actually discovered a virus that they think may be linked to obesity. Test have shown that the virus can lodge in fat cells and start replicating, producing more fat cells.  Other studies suggest that three times as many obese people have contracted this virus during their lifetime compared to normal people. (Never mind whether obese people are three times as likely to have caught any virus generally, that is a question for Smart Science. This is Idiot Science, where we confuse correlation with causality.)

Of course, the biggest problem is not with the scientists, but with those who will use this as more fuel for the idea that obesity is a disease. For the vast majority of people (not counting those with glandular or hormonal conditions), obesity is not a disease. It’s caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but chiefly by DIET AND LACK OF EXERCISE. Duh.

Even if you caught a virus that was making more fat cells in your body, if you were burning enough calories, you still wouldn’t get fat. Duh. So what’s the best way to fight obesity? Eat healthy, smaller portions and exercise more. This is not rocket science. Duh.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am about 10-20 pounds overweight. While not clinically obese, I am under no illusions as to the cause of my condition. It is not caused by a virus. It is not caused by me living too close to power lines or wind turbines. It is not caused by MTBE in my water. It happened because I stopped getting enough exercise. Duh.

I am not suggesting that it is easy to lose weight. I am saying that it is simple to lose weight. Those two words don’t mean the same thing. Same goes for smoking. Not easy to quit at all, but very simple to quit. Just stop putting lit cigarettes in your mouth. Duh.

Meanwhile, people are dying of Ebola and other horrific diseases with no cure, and we’re spending money studying obesity?

Posted in Current Events | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Coach fired for winning??

Posted by sanityinjection on January 26, 2009

You must have heard about this one by now.  The girls’ basketball coach of a private Christian high school was fired after his team beat a rival school by the score of 100-0.

 More specifically, after school officials at Covenant School apologized for drubbing their helpless victims that badly, coach Micah Grimes was fired for publicly saying he didn’t think he or his team had done anything wrong.

Think about this for a second. Shouldn’t the coach of the *losing* team be the one getting sacked? I mean, if you score *zero* points in a basketball game, it’s not just because the other team is amazingly good. It’s because you suck. You could put me and my friends on the court against the Boston Celtics and I bet we’d manage to score at least one basket in the course of a full game.

Sure, there is an argument that once you are up by 50 points, you should try not to run up the score. I don’t know whether Grimes put his “scrubs” in at that point or not. But even if he didn’t, that’s hardly a firing offense.

You can also argue that Grimes was fired for insubordination – publicly contradicting his employers. But I would argue that Grimes was sticking up for his players. They should not be made to feel by their school authorities that they did something shameful in playing a good hard clean game of basketball. On the contrary, they probably did their opponents a favor by revealing the depths to which their basketball program has sunk. Maybe they can make changes now and become a better team, or move to a league where they can be more competitive.

Something tells me Micah Grimes is not going to be on the unemployment line for very long. People who do their jobs too well usually aren’t.

Posted in Current Events, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Keeping Israel in perspective

Posted by sanityinjection on January 21, 2009

With the Gaza violence finally coming to an end, at least for the time being, Israel’s public image is not in great shape. Even those who understand Israel’s need to defend themselves against Hamas rocket attacks cannot help but be dismayed by the level of devastation in Gaza, much of it suffered by ordinary Palestinians who may or may not have anything to do with Hamas.

You can bet that we will be hearing with renewed fervor the drumbeat of those who call Israel a racist state that persecutes Arabs and violates their human rights. With this in mind, I offer for consideration the recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court allowing Arab parties to stand in Israel’s upcoming elections.

The Israeli election authority had moved to ban Israeli Arab parties from taking part in the elections. These are Arab politicians who live in and are citizens of Israel proper, not the West Bank or Gaza. The Israeli parliament has long had a handful of Arab legislators.

The reason for the ban was that the Arab parties, which openly sympathize with the Palestinians, had supported terrorism by traveling to Arab nations such as Lebanon and meeting with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The ban was only on the parties themselves, and not on any individual politicians. However, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the ban by a unanimous vote.

What is the significance of this? Just that if you are an Arab living in Israel, while you may face social discrimination from the Jewish majority, your freedom of speech and due process rights are protected under Israeli law. You have the right to vote and to run for office.

In the vast majority of Arab countries, on the other hand, even Arabs do not enjoy these rights. In no country do they enjoy all of them. And God help you if you’re a non-Arab, or a non-Muslim in say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

In short, if we are going to talk about human rights in the Middle East, Israel is not immune from criticism, but it is hardly the place any rational person would single out as their primary target. Israel treats even its minorities better than Arab countries treat their own people.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »