Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Auto Added by WPeMatico

Chinese geneticist claims to have gene-edited babies

 

Amidst the usual moral posturing and condemnation, it appears that somewhere in China some scientist – who is a graduate of top US universities – engaged in “washing” the sperm of some HIV infected fathers in order to spare their children HIV infection. The Guardian reports, through a lot of huffing and puffing, the following:

The researcher, He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting so far. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have: an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV.

He said the parents involved declined to be identified or interviewed, and he would not say where they lived or where the work was done. There is no independent confirmation of He’s claim, and it has not been published in a journal, where it would be vetted by other experts.

He revealed it on Monday in Hong Kong to one of the organisers of an international conference on gene editing that is due to begin on Tuesday, and earlier in interviews with the Associated Press.

“I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” He said. “Society will decide what to do next” in terms of allowing or forbidding such science….

He Jiankui studied at Rice and Stanford universities in the US before returning to his homeland to open a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, where he also has two genetics companies.

He said he practised editing mice, monkey and human embryos in the lab for several years and has applied for patents on his methods. He said he chose embryo gene editing for HIV because these infections are a major problem in China. He sought to disable a gene called CCR5 that forms a protein doorway that allows HIV, the virus that causes Aids, to enter a cell.

All of the men in the project had HIV and all of the women did not, but the gene editing was not aimed at preventing the small risk of transmission, he said. The fathers had their infections deeply suppressed by standard HIV medicines and there are simple ways to keep them from infecting offspring that do not involve altering genes. Instead, the appeal was to offer couples affected by HIV a chance to have a child that might be protected from a similar fate.

He said the gene editing occurred during in vitro fertilisation. First, sperm was “washed” to separate it from semen, in which HIV can lurk. A single sperm was placed into a single egg to create an embryo. Then the gene-editing tool was added. When the embryos were three to five days old, a few cells were removed and checked for editing. Couples could choose whether to use edited or unedited embryos for pregnancy attempts. In all, 16 of 22 embryos were edited, and 11 embryos were used in six implant attempts before the twin pregnancy was achieved, He said.

Tests suggest that one twin had both copies of the intended gene altered and the other twin had just one altered, with no immediate evidence of harm to other genes, He said. People with one copy of the gene can still get HIV.

Musunuru said that even if editing worked perfectly, people without normal CCR5 genes faced higher risks of contracting certain other viruses, such as West Nile, and of dying from flu. Since there are many ways to prevent HIV infection and it is treatable if it occurs, those other medical risks are a concern.

Thus, sexual selection, and disease, which is the normal way humans and all sexual species have been gene-edited, body by body, phenotype by phenotype, for the last billions of years, that is okay. But getting into the molecular level  and splicing and cutting genes is bad. Go figure.

I can hear the Christians calling me a Dr. Mengele, that the genome is sacred, and I hear that that the bioethicists have “concerns”. [Can you imagine that some people are paid to be “bio-ethicists”?]

I can hear the sound of the Asians flocking to new technologies to make their babies smarter, healthier, more disease resistant, and stronger.

New forms of competition will come to the human species, and it will be genetic, though the practices associated with gene-editing will be tolerated or encouraged by certain races and cultures ahead of some others. Attitudes against gene editing will soon be seen as the equivalent of not allowing the pasteurization of milk. Nothing  can be done to oppose it, except voluntary non-participation. Those cultures or religions that do not participate will eventually be considered to be like those sects that do not allow blood transfusions.

We in the politically correct West will be talking about the non-existence or social construction of racial differences, which simultaneously exists and does not exist, depending on the argument being engaged in. Meanwhile, other cultures or races will be busily experimenting with genetic engineering.

The Liberals are having a bad month: blame ideology

 

 

On trade issues, the global free traders who constitute our federal Liberal government are supposed to be the masters. Instead, they have in the past several weeks encountered rebuffs.

  • China has handed us our hats and asked ‘what’s your hurry?’ The Chinese did not want to make our free trade deal contingent upon extending various labour rights, employment equity provisions, and other crunchy granola to the Chinese populace.
  • Canada has angered long time allies Japan and Australia by intransigent demands in the Trans- Pacific Partnership trade talks.
  • The US is proposing absurd demands of its own in the NAFTA re-negotiations.

I cite Andrew Coyne who, on trade matters, is  sane.

If there is a common thread, in particular, it seems to be the Liberals’ insistence that agreements on liberalized trade should also commit the signatories, disparate in outlook and development though they may be, to Liberal Party of Canada policies on labour, gender, indigenous rights and climate change.

It is not clear what business these have in a trade deal, or why the economic interests of this country should be hostage to the project of imposing “progressive” values on other countries that are not even universally shared in our own. Certainly our negotiating partners have a right to be wary, for fine-sounding principles have a way of being turned to protectionist ends: seemingly even-handed environmental policies, for example, that just happen to hit other countries’ industries harder than our own.

Terry Glavin is one of the few who can still rouse himself to fury at China’s “gangster state”, as he calls it:

In a recent analysis prepared for Global Affairs Canada, Ottawa’s Centre for the Study of Living Standards calculates that at least 150,000 Canadian jobs were lost to Chinese imports during the first decade of this century, and at least 100,000 of those jobs were in manufacturing….

The Communist Party elites have amassed fortunes to themselves equal to the Gross Domestic Product of Sweden. They have the money, the guns, the technology, the numbers, the UN votes, the lot. And now Beijing is openly and explicitly waging an ideological global war against democracy, the rule of law, free speech, the “rules based” global economic order, the whole schmeer. They’re quite candid about it, too.

So let’s see: the Liberals are cosying up to China, snubbing the Japanese-Australian Trans-Pacific Partnership, and getting nowhere with NAFTA (not entirely their fault). Also they are not getting pipelines built to export Albertan oil. Since Alberta is now paying for Confederation, but is in recession, and Ontario is heading into the toilet, long-term, with politicized energy pricing and grotesque levels of debt. Am I missing something?

The reason I do not comment much on politics in Canada is that there are only a few issues we have to get right.

  • Relationships with Quebec
  • Relationships with the United States
  • Management of our economy

Quebec is quiet, but holds up pipelines and continues to be subsidized excessively by English Canada, particularly by Alberta. It is better managed under Premier Couillard than at any time since the 1960s.

Relationships with the US are so-so, or only as good as Trump wants them to be.

Overspending continues in Ontario and Ottawa, and one of the few tasks of the federal government, to build piplines and unify the country, is left undone. Quebec, by contrast, is starting to be run effectively.

If I were the federal Liberals, I might begin to be concerned. This government may not be turned out in the next election, but I am beginning to think their re-election is not as secure as it seemed a year ago.

 

Empire of Dust

What the Chinese encounter as they try to develop the economic resources of the Congo is the same as what whites encounter when they try to do the same.

Trump, Syria and Korea

  1. Bomb a Syrian airfield on principle to express displeasure at the use of nerve agents in warfare.
  2. Make sure you are seen eating dinner with the Chinese Premier at the time, and not breaking a sweat.
  3. Obtain approval of most people left, right and centre for doing so, across several continents.
  4. Impress your allies and enemies that you will take military action for moral causes.
  5. Explain to your Chinese guest, its head of state, that unless the Chinese solve the Korean problem of the Kim regime, you (Trump) will.
  6. Move naval assets to Korean waters.
  7. Watch with satisfaction as 150,000 Chinese troops move towards the North Korean border.
  8. Make Kim Jong Eun nervous for his regime and his life.

Is there something about this you do not understand?

Trump was not trying to depose Assad. He is enforcing a norm of warfare: blast and fire, okay; starvation of citizens maybe, nerve agents no.

But he also adds much-needed credibility to the use of force by the United States in other circumstances.

I am sure there is some expression in some language or other about being seen to eat a dog in front of the other dogs, just to remind them who is atop the food chain.

In the meantime, Bill Maher, the politico comedian, is worried by the positive press obtained by Trump.

“The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as ‘presidential’ is concerning,” he wrote. “War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike.”

 I have bad news for you Bill. Public relations is the basis of popular support for wars. In a democracy, wars must be supported by large segments of the population. Support comes from people believing in the rightness of the cause.  Consider the fate of  Lyndon Johnson as support for the war in Vietnam declined.
More importantly, Trump’s action kills two birds with one stone. Review points 1 through 8 above.

 

 

The Accidental Superpower

I urge you to read Peter Zeihan’s “The Accidental Superpower: The next generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder”.

I will start with Zeihan’s method and professional bias, and then move to his observations.

Zeihan is an American geographer, who used to be a chief researcher at Stratfor, the geo-political analysis firm. The geographer’s deformation professionelle is that material factors of mountain range, rivers, plains, and harbours explain nearly everything about a how a society develops in the long term, and demography explains nearly everything else. Thus you can read books by Zeihan or  George Friedman ( The Next Decade, the Next 100 Years) and never read about culture or religion.

This leaves me somewhat at a loss to sympathize with  their world view. After all, speaking as a culturalist and a sky-hooker, this approach devalues what I think are the primary drivers of society. On the other hand, the emphasis on material factors which shape a culture, and the opportunities a culture is able to find for itself as a result,  is bracing.

Zeihan’s argument proceeds as follows.

  • America has been endowed with enormous natural advantages in terms of climate, available harbours, enormous riverine transport abilities, several thousand miles of isolation from potential enemies, huge areas contiguous to rivers that allow  easy agriculture, and as much energy as it needs.
  • The Bretton Woods agreements at the end of World War 2 said, in essence, that the US Navy would protect all maritime transport, thus obviating the need for nations to build navies to protect shipping, and opened the United States as a market to the signatories to the Agreements. At the end of WW2, the US was by far the most significant market. Thus countries were allowed to export their way out of the calamitous ruin of war. These agreements have been maintained by the US and its navy. Since 1945, says Zeihan, much of the world has been spared the need to fear their neighbours.
  • The stability of these arrangements has been threatened by the baby-bust that started around 1965. Industrialized countries are experiencing aging as never before. What hit Japan a decade ago will hit us all soon enough, with the significant exception of the United States. Consumer market expansion in Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Russia, Spain, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Norway, Denmark, Portugal and Finland will have ceased.
  • According to Zeihan, if these societies are no longer consuming en masse, “then much of what limited economic rationale exists for Bretton Woods disappears from the American point of view”.
  • Capital, which is now abundant and therefore cheap, will become much more scarce and expensive.
  • At the same time the United States is approaching energy self-sufficiency through the exploitation of shale oil technologies. This development will further insulate the United States from the world and increase its lack of interest in managing the world’s conflicts. Zeihan foresees that sooner or later, gradually or suddenly, the United States will shift into an isolationist political period. The relatively stable world created by the Bretton Woods framework will disappear and history will resume in its violent and chaotic ways.
  • China will fall apart. Conflicts will resume within Europe. The European Union will dissolve. Russia in in ireversible economic decline. Naval competition will resume. Wars, famines, pestilence, state failure: he predicts it all for the period 2015-2030. At the end of which, the United States will emerge more pre-eminent than ever.

You do not have to believe a word of it to benefit from Zeihan’s bracing and fact-based analysis.

I think Zeihan underestimates the interest that Americans have in a stable world order. I think he underestimates the connectedness of the US to the rest of the world, by any and all means: disease, drugs, the damage of wars, trade, ideologies, immigration, and sympathy for the afflicted.

Nevertheless, Zeihan’s emphasis on demographics and energy is productive. Demographics affords a powerful insight into the  near future. Enormous changes are being inflicted upon the world by changed reproductive patterns, by the decisions taken by billions of women not to have as many children. There is no population boom; that stopped around 1965, before most of the readers of this column were born, I venture to say. World population decline is the largest fact affecting the world in the 21st century. “Gaia’s Revenge” ought to be its title – but that would be my book, not Zeihan’s.

 

 

Japanese extremism

The Japanese, I have discovered, have only one standard, and that is – perfection. When, after WW2, they were told by American engineers that they could allow a 1% imperfection rate into the manufacture of screws, they looked at themselves and wondered how to engineer a 1% defect rate into what was already perfect.

The Tokyo String Quartet, Tokyo guitar quartet, Tokyo Bach choir: they all play their selected western classical music perfectly. Japanese cars – we all know how they set the standard for defect-free manufacturing.

And now comes news of the Japanese hoarder of pornography, who was buried under six tons of pornographic magazines. I understand. It was a particularly Japanese obsession, not in his taste, but in the devotion he showed to collecting everything.

I cite the infallible collector of the world’s oddities, the Daily Mail:

 

A lonely Japanese man who amassed more than six tons of porn died when a huge pile of magazines fell on top of him.

And even more tragically, the man’s body was only discovered six months later when the landlord entered the flat to find out why the rent had not been paid.

The man’s lowly death was revealed by a member of the cleaning team, who said his company had been hired to remove the magazines discreetly in a way that would not be noticed by neighbours and the man’s family to save them from the shame.

The kitchen of the Japanese man whose body was recovered from under a six-ton pile of porn
How Japanese can you get?
  • The landlord waited six months before acting (as to do otherwise might impugn the honour of the lessee)
  • The cleaning staff sought to spare the family and neighbours the shame of the discovery.

Japan is a pagan shame and honour society, in which Buddhism and Christianity are important but definitely not the mainstream. As I have remarked before, Shinto is a religion unbothered by any conception of the Deity. But shame and honour: these people understand those feelings to the core of their beings.

All this is carefully explained in Ruth Benedict’s Chrysanthemum and the Sword

As to the porn-stasher, consider him an example of the Japanese penchant for perfection, in this case, for collecting the complete works of Japanese pornographers.

Doraemon: It is big in Japan

I am taking a break this morning from massacres, deportations, Islam, Trump, mass firings, and US politics in favour of the world’s most important entertainer at the moment, Doraemon (below, left).

 

 

The Japanese capacity for cutesiness is unparalleled, and it leads to some quite bizarre forms of entertainment and pop culture. Doraemon is a robot cat from the future who has travelled back in time to help his Norman Normal human friend, Nobita Nobi. Starting as a manga cartoon in 1969, Doraemon has become huge in Japan, as well as in many Asian countries, not merely as children’s entertainment, but as a well recognized character.The Japanese treat Doraemon as real,  like Bugs Bunny, but as one who shows up at shopping centres and appears on TV to raise funds for disaster relief and children’s cancers.

Wikipedia relates:

Doraemon has become a prevalent part of popular culture in Japan. Newspapers also regularly make references to Doraemon and his pocket as something with the ability to satisfy all wishes. The series is frequently referenced in other series such as Gin Tama and Great Teacher Onizuka.[48][49]

Doraemon appears in appeals for charity. TV Asahi launched the Doraemon Fund charity fund to raise money for natural disasters.[50]

It is as if the adventures of both Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck  still occupied the entertainment pages. Homer Simpson would be the closest equivalent in terms of pop culture importance, but he is not cute, he is truly deplorable. Big Bird on Sesame Street comes close to Doraemon in recognizability and benign nature.

My step daughter was on an Antarctic cruise recently, and the ship was being used for filming part of the next Doraemon movie. The Doraemon puppet is about four feet wide and is animated by a tiny Japanese lady who steps inside the costume. However, when she does so, she is surrounded by a team of people holding up sheets to prevent anyone from filming the event, in the belief that if Doraemon were ever exposed as not being real, the magic of Doraemon would be lost. Holding sheets around the animator in high winds aboard the ship was a cause for some laughter.

The photos also illustrate what you can do with drones these days. The mountains in the background are at the southern tip of South America.

The film will be called “Kachi kochi”, which is the Japanese signifier for “brrrrrrrr”. The plot will be preposterous. It will be the biggest cartoon movie in the world, and we will probably never hear of it, but you, dear readers of Barrelstrength, heard about it here, in the obscure depths of the conservative blogosphere.

I spoke of Pokaemon to my stuffed bear, who insists he shall shortly be leaving for Japan in order to make his fortune in the children’s entertainment business.  Be careful with information about Doraemon if you have artificial and imaginary friends. They might get ideas  that they could be stars if only they could get out of your house and fly to Japan. I think my bear is right. He too could be Big in Japan. Any culture able to suspend disbelief like the Japanese would provide fertile ground for playfulness of this order.