hope you don't think less of me

Had to go to the doctor today, to get a 'new patient physical' for my new insurance coverage. I have to say, there's really no better way to start a Monday morning than having a stranger wearing rubber gloves grab your wibbly bits and tell you to turn your head and cough. At the very least, you can be pretty sure it's going to be uphill for the rest of the day...

Oh, I want one of these: "curb 'door-to-door disciples' in your neighborhood" with this sticker.

Steve's searing slams about recent political events here in America pretty much nail shut the coffin for anything I'd be saying, so I'll just save you the time, and point to him instead. I think Mike is probably going to be the anchor man for the other side, but he's rooting for somebody I'm not even considering, so it's harder for me to get into what he has to say.

I've been on a big Woody Guthrie jag since Mermaid Avenue came out, so this interview with Billy Bragg, discussing the history of the project, was a must read. The exhibit at the Smithsonian should be back open now; any DC area bloggers want to check it out this weekend?
(Copped from Looka.)

Congrats to Graham on the new digs.

Contrarian view of the 'golden rice' issue. While there's nothing I can really argue with in the broad issues raised, there are a couple nits I'll pick:

The fundamental problem with genetic engineering from the very beginning has been the absence of anything like an ecological approach. Genes are not the unilateral "controllers" of the cell's "mechanisms". Rather, genes enter into a vast and as yet scarcely monitored conversation with each other and with all the other parts of the cell. Who it is that speaks through the whole of this conversation -- what unity expresses itself through the entire organism -- is a question the genetic engineers have not yet even raised, let alone begun to answer.

This is simply not true -- while we haven't 'begun to answer' the question, it's certainly being raised -- that's the whole point of genomics and proteomics. Figuring out how genetic networks are perturbed by the introduction of new genes is a critical question, and lots of effort is going to devoted over the next decade or two figuring out what the rules are (or if there are generalizable rules at all).

But without an awareness of the organism as a whole, we can hardly guess the consequences of the most "innocent" genetic modification. The analogy with ecological studies is a close one. Change one element of the complex balance -- in an ecological setting or within an organism -- and you change everything.

Not quite true -- you don't actually change everything; you potentially change everything. This is actually worse, because the problem is that many or most of these potential changes are very small and not terribly important to the big picture -- but some of them are. Figuring out which is which, and how to fix them (or not introduce them in the first place) is the Big Question.

And then there are the other Big Questions: will the use of the 'golden rice' help more people than it hurts? Even if we're pretty sure that the long-term effects of the use will be negative, does that justify blocking this use altogether, thus (potentially) eliminating some short-term positive effects? Finally, does our (presumed) greater understanding of the technology and the consequences of using it give us any right to tell Asian people whether or not they should use it?

(I nicked the original link from Rebecca's Pocket, BTW.)

Here's a Scientific American article on a different type of gold: The Bioinformatics Gold Rush. I really like the closing quote:

Systematic improvements will help, but progress--and ultimately profit--still relies on the ingenuity of the end user, according to David J. Lipman, director of NCBI. "It's about brainware," he says, "not hardware or software."

A couple of meeting announcements for the bioinfo people in the crowd: RECOMB 2001 and Transcriptome 2000.

Jay 'Baylink' Ashworth sent along a link to his ePinion of Spider's latest, which I mentioned yesterday. His opinion is basically the same as mine, with the exception that I don't tear up at the end of To Sail Beyond the Sunset, but rather at the end of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Okay, so I said above that I was going to stay out of the politics thing, but I do want to note one interesting thing. Over at BadAssMofo.com (where, umm, I only go to read the articles. Really. Ahem.) Sharkey notes that Lieberman, Gore's new running mate, was the leading force behind some recent efforts to ban various video games, in the name of 'anti-violence'. I'm also sure I won't have to remind too many people of my generation that Tipper Gore, Al's wife, was one of the leaders of the PMRC effort of the 80's -- another attempt to get media banned in the name of 'decency'. Interesting coincidence, or sinister plot? Meanwhile, on the other side, we've got Bush, who apparently used to like to party a bit, and Cheney, who has an openly gay daughter who will be helping with her father's campaign. What the hell is going on here? I think that both parties, in their mad-cap rush to the so-called 'center' of American politics, have over-shot, and ended up in enemy territory. Got that? Black is white, bad is good, down is up, cats and dogs, living together...sorry, lost it there for a minute. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the coming election appears to have been scripted by Hunter S. Thompson, on one of his less together days, and more frighteningly, nobody seems to have noticed, or to care.

So, what am I going to do? Personally, I'm leaning pretty hard towards Jorn's advice. It'll make for a nice change from (a) holding my nose and voting Democrat or (b) voting for good ol' Hopeless Harry Brown.

Okay, that's it for politics for awhile -- pinky swear. See y'all tomorrow...