Sunday, May 19, 2013
A promising new medical device for detecting electromagnetic disturbances in the brain can rapidly screen patients for intracranial swelling or bleeding. The medical journal PLOS ONE depicts the helmet-like apparatus as a safe, portable, and relatively inexpensive tool to determine whether patients require further imaging with CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Credit for this invention goes to Boris Rubinsky, a professor in the department of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, and Cesar Gonzalez, a professor at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Escuela Superior de Medicina in Mexico, who have collaborated for several years.
The technology is known as “Volumetric Electromagnetic Phase Shift Spectroscopy” or “VEPS,” and the device is brilliantly simple. It is essentially two coils that are placed around the head; the “inductor coil” produces an electromagnetic field, which is detected by the second “sensor coil.” When the conductivity of the brain tissue is at a normal level, the device signals a healthy brain. When the conductivity of the tissue varies from the normal level, whether due to swelling (edema) or bleeding (hematoma), the device indicates the problem.
Among the values and potential values of this tool, ruling out pathology could greatly reduce unnecessary CT scans and thus reduce medical costs and radiation exposure. (The device itself emits negligible radiation.) In countries and regions with limited access to CT and MRI, improved triage and earlier diagnosis could save many lives.
An initial pilot study with the device was small, and larger samples are necessary to establish the full accuracy of the device. But the technology is already clearly promising.
Kudos to the researchers and businessmen responsible for conceiving and developing this remarkable technology.
- Herman Boerhaave: The Nearly Forgotten Father of Modern Medicine
- Scientists Advance 3D Printing Toward Fabrication of Living Tissues and Functional Organs
Posted in: Science and Technology
Friday, May 17, 2013
Should municipal and county government be permitted to own and operate local high-speed internet systems—Community Broadband Networks (CBNs)?
Timothy Karr of Freepress.net and Gerry Smith of Huffington Post (among other writers) argue that governments should be permiitted to own and opperate CBNs because this provides “competition” against big internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, and Verizon.
But such arguments ignore the crucial distinction between government and private institutions. Government has a legal monopoly on the use of physical force. Unlike private companies, government can use its taxing powers to prop up its “businesses” by subsidizing rates and capital costs—or use its regulatory powers to hamper “competing” private companies. Private companies are legally forbidden to use physical force against anyone. To suggest that competition is possible between two adversaries—one armed (the government) and one not (private companies)—is absurd.
Genuine competition is possible only between private entities operating on the free market principles of voluntary trade and equality before the law.
Government CBNs also pose a major threat to First Amendment rights. By owning networks, government has the power to control content. What does this mean for freedom of speech and of the press? (Recent events should cause extra alarm on this count.)
As for claims that government involvement is “needed” because some communities are “underserved”: The government is not justified in violating the rights of some in order to meet the alleged needs of others. If “need” means that people want the services, then their desires constitute some degree of incentive for existing private companies to offer the services or for new companies to capitalize on the opportunity. If the incentive is not enough, then it’s not enough. There is no right to broadband.
A government that “competes” with private business violates our rights to control our own wealth and to contract voluntarily with others. Thankfully, government-owned CBNs are now legally restricted or banned in twenty states. The rest of the states should follow suit. If we value our economic liberty and our right to speak freely, we must fight to keep government out of the broadband business.
- Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet
- Net Neutrality Means an Unfree, Slow, and ‘Stupid’ Internet
Posted in: Individual Rights and Law
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The Freedom from Religion Foundation recently threatened to sue public schools in the town of Muldrow, Oklahoma, if they refused to remove plaques inscribed with the Ten Commandments from classrooms.
Unfortunately, when Republican State Representative John Bennett weighed in on the controversy in his district, he upheld the popular yet false view that the Ten Commandments—and, more broadly, Biblical morality—are necessary in order to teach children the difference between right and wrong.
Although Representative Bennett conceded that “the superintendent and local school board has no choice but to remove the plaques if they want to avoid a lawsuit,” he also warned of ominous consequences: “A nation that refuses to allow educators to teach children right from wrong will become a corrupt nation, where sin prevails, evil abounds and everyone does as they please.”
Surely children need to be taught the difference between right and wrong, and schools necessarily play some part in this aspect of children’s education. But educators should not turn to the Ten Commandments or to any other religious scripture for this purpose. Students should learn that stealing, lying, committing murder and the like are wrong not because the Bible says so but because such actions are contrary to the requirements of successful living. Such lessons should be taught through the reading and discussion of literature, history, and science—not by posting contextless commandments on the wall.
As for having no other gods before the Judeo-Christian God, keeping the Sabbath holy, and the like, these ideas have no place in publicly funded schools. Of course, parents have a right to inflict such dogma on their own children (at least until the children reach adulthood), but they have no right to force religious dogma on other children or to have government force others to fund its dissemination.
Bennett should rest easy: Removing the Ten Commandments from the schools will in no way interfere with the ability of teachers to teach or students to learn rational moral lessons in school. It will only free them from some of the irrational ones.
- Teaching Values in the Classroom
- Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism
- Religion vs. Subjectivism: Why Neither Will Do
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
News that the Internal Revenue Service targeted Tea Party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny rightly has blown into a major scandal.
But the scandal points to a deeper question: Why are most Americans not outraged by the IRS’s daily violations of individual rights?
Consider the main abuses. The IRS serves as the collection agency for the government’s programs of unjust wealth confiscation: The agency forcibly collects some $2.7 trillion per year in taxes, transferring vast amounts of wealth from productive Americans to the unproductive. This clearly violates people’s rights to keep and use their wealth and property as they judge best.
Part and parcel of this coercion are the IRS’s demands that Americans turn over reams of personal information, ranging from details about their employment to their business expenses to their mortgage payments. And now, the IRS will enforce key provisions of ObamaCare, giving the agency access to details about our personal health as well.
Of course Americans should be outraged that the IRS has harassed select groups for ideological reasons. Americans should also be outraged by the IRS’s violations of virtually all Americans’ rights on a daily basis.
- The American Right, the Purpose of Government, and the Future of Liberty
- How Would Government Be Funded in a Free Society?
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Taxation
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Yesterday a Pennsylvania jury convicted Kermit Gosnell of first-degree murder for killing three babies, of involuntary manslaughter for contributing to the drug overdose of a pregnant woman, and of various other offenses.
According to the grand jury report of the case (as cited by the Atlantic), Gosnell “regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy—and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors.” According to the grand jury report, Gosnell’s gruesome rights violations were far worse and greater in number than those covered by the convictions. Readers who can stomach the grisly details may see the Atlantic’s article.
Unfortunately, though predictably, some opponents of abortion have cited the Gosnell case in their call to outlaw all abortion. Such activists pretend that there is no moral difference between infanticide and early-term abortion (and 88 percent of abortions occur in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, while 98.5 percent occur within the first twenty weeks). They also pretend that there is no relevant distinction between a fetus wholly contained within and dependent upon a woman’s body, and a born infant living independently of and separately from her body—that is, a newborn person.
A born infant is an actual person with rights, not merely a potential person. Gosnell ignored this critical distinction and intentionally killed born infants—which is why he richly deserved his murder convictions.
The government properly recognizes and protects the rights of born infants, just as it properly recognizes and protects the rights of pregnant women—including their right to seek an abortion. The principle of individual rights clearly illuminates this crucial line. People who are genuinely pro-life uphold this principle and recognize this bright line.
- The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties
- Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Abortion and Reproduction
Monday, May 13, 2013
On September 11, 2012—the anniversary of the Islamist assault on the World Trade Center and other American targets—Islamists assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, murdering four people, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The response of the Obama administration to this attack has been first to lie about the assault by pretending it was precipitated by an obscure video critical of Islam, second to lie about what the administration first claimed about the attack, and third to dismiss the well-justified concerns about the administration’s handling of security prior to the attack and about its reports following the attack.
Just this morning Obama referred to controversy over the attack as a “sideshow,” adding, “there’s no there there.”
But Stevens’s fate deserves more than to be treated as a “sideshow”—it deserves to be answered with real action to destroy those responsible for the atrocity. The true place where “there’s no there there” is Obama’s ability to tell the truth about what happened in Benghazi or to respond appropriately.
Americans should be outraged and should hold this administration’s feet to the fire until the truth comes out.
- Interview with Historian John David Lewis about U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East
- Islamists Celebrate 9/11 by Murdering More Americans; U.S. Embassy Demands “Respect” for Islam
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Foreign Policy and War
Saturday, May 11, 2013
The government taxes different corporations radically different amounts and in significantly different ways. A new study by the General Accountability Office (GAO) examined “special exemptions and exclusions, credits, deductions, deferrals, and preferential tax rates” regarding corporate taxes. Some 80 different corporate tax structures are designed to “support federal policy goals” relating to energy, technology, and housing to charity and credit unions. The GAO found that these exemptions, exclusions, and the like “resulted in the government forgoing corporate tax revenue totaling more than $181 billion.”
These many structures in corporate tax rates create a wide disparity in the percentage of taxes companies pay. Fortunately, the House Ways and Means Committee is considering ways to lower the corporate tax rate, which is currently 35 percent (the highest in the world), and to simplify corporate tax structures by eliminating some, perhaps even all, of the exemptions, exclusions, and other complexities. According to Reuters, Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, “said that all tax perks potentially were on the chopping block.”
In crafting the current reform, the committee would do well to remember the aftermath of the last major tax reform, in 1986, when Congress lowered rates and cut some “tax perks”—but not all of them, leaving the door open for the “tax perk” problem to continue and proliferate again. And, of course, that’s just what happened. “Since then,” notes Reuters, “the code has been larded up with special provisions.”
Taxation is a violation of rights and is entirely unnecessary, but as long as the government continues taxing corporations, the system should be as simple, impartial, and transparent as possible. Toward that end, and to pull the exemptions issue off the slippery slope it is currently on, Congress should eliminate all exemptions and the like; ban them on principle; sharply lower not only the corporate tax rate, but also the net tax take; and dramatically cut spending. This would be a step in the right direction.
- Robert G. Natelson on State-Driven Amendments to Restrain Federal Spending
- End Tax Favoritism for Wind Energy
Creative Commons Image: Michael Jolley
Posted in: Taxation
Friday, May 10, 2013
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks North Dakota’s 3.3 percent unemployment rate as the lowest in the country. Its cities of Bismark, Fargo, and Grand Forks rank first, second, and seventh on the list of U.S. cities with the lowest levels of unemployment.
The key driver of the relatively high employment in these regions is private investment in the exploration and production of oil and gas. There are currently 174 active drilling rigs in the North Dakota. How substantial is this? All of Europe has 133 rigs, and the entire resource-rich continent of Africa has 115.
While the bureaucracies of Europe and Africa discuss possible development, North Dakotans continue to expand their productive capacity.
What distinguishes North Dakota from all of the countries and regions on those continents? One key difference is that North Dakotans have developed their contract law governing private property and mineral rights into a relatively pro-business legal and regulatory framework that attracts investment. Convinced that investing will yield returns, explorers and producers have invested billions in the region, building infrastructure and attracting the service and support companies that provide the advanced technology necessary to produce oil.
In Europe, by contrast, there is no recognition of private mineral rights. Minerals are legally state owned; thus, there is no profit-seeking owner with the incentive to oversee the productive development of these resources—and, to use them in any way, developers must curry favor with politicians and bureaucrats rather than contract with private property owners.
Any state or region that wants to pull itself out of an economic rut would do well to emulate North Dakota’s (relative) recognition of property rights and its system of pro-business contract law. These are what unleashed reason and technology in the region’s oil industry and enabled the goods to flow.
- Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market
- Estimated Oil in the Bakken Region Doubles
Creative Commons Image: Lindsey Gee
Thursday, May 9, 2013
A recent post by Ari Armstrong about the wonders of 3D printing applied to the field of medicine concluded, “What’s next we can only imagine.” Now, just a few weeks later, we have an indication. Researchers are on course to print functional, customized human tissues and organs.
On May 3, researchers from the University of Wollongong (Australia) announced that they are likely only a few years away from printing custom body parts and about a decade away from printing organs. Gordon Wallace, director of the University of Wollongong’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science stated:
Within a few years, we believe it will be possible to manufacture living tissues like skin, cartilage, arteries and heart valves using cells and biomaterials. Using a patient’s own cells to create this tissue avoids issues of immune rejection. By 2025, it is feasible that we will be able to fabricate complete functional organs, tailored for an individual patient.
On another front, Organovo, a medical company specializing in 3D printing, has successfully printed liver tissue that reacts to certain treatments in the same way real liver tissue does. Researchers at Organovo believe such tissue can be used to test new drugs and thus reduce the time required for the drug testing process. And, although Organovo has made great strides in research and drug testing, its larger goal is to build human tissues for transplantation.
These recent announcements follow news from the University of Pennsylvania, where researchers developed a new way to build circulatory systems to feed lab-created tissues. Using RepRap, a relatively inexpensive 3D printer, these researchers created a sugar-based lattice mold. Once living cells grew around the mold, researchers dissolved the sugar and used the resulting network of vessels to infuse the tissue with nutritive fluid. This research could pave the way for providing blood flow to manufactured organs.
With the help of 3D printing technology, scientists, engineers, and businessmen are quickly advancing the field of medicine and options in transplants. Expect to see customized printed tissues and organs in the not-too-distant future—offering hope and life to those awaiting transplants.
Cheers to the men and women of science!
- Walt Disney’s EPCOT: The City of Tomorrow that Might Have Been
- The Burgeoning Micro-Production Revolution
Image: University of Wollongong
Posted in: Science and Technology
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Many widely used phrases and bromides—including “mother nature” and “living in harmony with nature”—imply that nature is a benevolent and loving place. Yet natural disasters, such as the recent California Springs fire, show that nature can be lethal and that we need the products of industrial civilization to protect ourselves from its dangers.
Tragically, this particular fire damaged fifteen homes and injured eight firefighters. Had area residents not been blessed with the fruits of industry the damage would have been far worse.
Imagine organizing and implementing an evacuation without televisions, Internet connections, telephones, radios. Imagine fleeing the area on foot with what you could carry in your hands, as “mother nature” intended, rather than by automobile with your precious possessions piled in the seats and trunk. Imagine seeing the fire approach a house made of “natural” logs and shingles rather than man-made fire-retardant siding and roofing. Imagine clearing away brush and grass by hand rather than by means of gasoline powered tools and tractors.
Untouched nature does not give us this technology; men and women who produce and run modern mass-production industrial facilities do.
“Nature” does not act like a loving mother. It acts like nature. At best, it leaves people naked, cold, hungry, and vulnerable; at worst it kills people with utter indifference.
Natural disasters, such as the California Springs fire, remind us that we should thank our real guardians: the men and women of industry and science.
- The British Industrial Revolution: A Tribute Freedom and Human Potential
- Does a Big Storm Require Big Government?
- HuffPo’s Sanghoee Uses Tragedy of Sandy to Smear Ayn Rand
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Science and Technology
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