Friday, December 15, 2006
"Viewed from the point of history several decades out," Michael
Griffin told the NY Times last week, "the retreat from the Moon
to low Earth orbit will be seen to be a mistake." A year ago he
told USA Today that the shuttle and the ISS were both mistakes
(WN 30 Sep 05) . So what are
we doing about it? At $2 billion a pop, we're launching the
shuttles as often as we can to finish the ISS so we can drop it
in the ocean, or foist it off on some fool. Then we can get on
with making really dumb mistakes like a manned lunar base. For
what? Using fragile humans in space is hopelessly old-fashioned.
Alas, WN makes mistakes too. Last week we said "dark side" of
the moon, when we meant "far side." We got a lot of mail. It
was a goof, but we were talking about radio telescopes. In terms
of anthropogenic radio waves, the far side is the dark side.
Grand jury subpoenas are usually issued to gather evidence, but
federal prosecutors want to use the subpoena to hide evidence.
The subpoena calls on the ACLU to turn over all copies of a
classified document leaked by an unnamed source. If successful
it would be a new tool to squelch leaks. We need a few leaks.
Conscientious government employees willing to risk their careers
by leaking classified documents are the only check on government
excesses carried out behind a screen of national security. The
Pentagon Papers in 1971 and the Nuclear Posture Review in 2002
were both hidden from the public using the ruse of national-
security (WN 15 Mar 02).
Homo sapiens has been around for maybe 170,000 years. We live in
a world that little resembles the Pleistocene wilderness in which
our species first appeared. But must we make do with the same
old genes? There seems to be hope. A team led by Sarah Tiskoff
at the University of Maryland found four distinct mutations that
confer adult lactose tolerance in different populations. These
mutations appeared as recently as 3,000 years ago, and spread
rapidly because of the reproductive advantage lactose tolerance
confers. It seems to be just a matter of time before everyone in
the world can tolerate lactose. Well, it's a start. The world
is dangerously short of tolerance.
The response of the Bush Administration to 9/11 included Project
BioShield at $5.6 billion. Nearly $1B went to VaxGen to produce
75 million doses of anthrax vaccine by 2006, even though VaxGen
had just failed to produce an AIDS vaccine for which it got
millions from NIH. VaxGen now says maybe 2009. On Monday, HHS
decides whether to terminate VacGen or give them an infusion of
cash. I would bet on the cash.