Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Last Call For Still Putin Us On

International prosecutors have laid out the case this week that the missile that shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 two years ago over Ukraine was indeed a Russian weapon system launched by pro-Putin rebels in the area.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a missile fired from a launcher brought into Ukraine from Russia and located in a village held by pro-Russian rebels, international prosecutors said on Wednesday. 
The findings counter Moscow's suggestion that the passenger plane, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July 2014, was brought down by Ukraine's military rather than the separatists. All 298 people on board, most of them Dutch, were killed. 
The conclusions were based on thousands of wiretaps, photographs, witness statements and forensic tests during more than two years of inquiries into an incident which led to a sharp rise in tensions between Russia and the West. 
Among the key findings were: the plane was hit by a Russian-made Buk-9M38 missile; the missile was fired from the rebel-held village of Pervomaysk in eastern Ukraine; and the launcher was transported into Ukraine from Russia. 
"This Buk trailer came from the territory of the Russian Federation, and after the launch it was returned again to the territory of the Russian Federation," said Wilbert Paulissen, chief investigator with the Dutch national police. 
The Ukrainian government said the findings pointed to Russia's "direct involvement". Russia - which has always denied Moscow or pro-Russian rebels were responsible - rejected the prosecutors' conclusions, saying they were not supported by technical evidence and the inquiry was biased.

Except they are completely supported by the evidence.  Oops.

Look, Putin got caught here and Russia is scrambling to fix it, period.  Not doing such a great job of it either.

Sure hope the next president can deal with him.

The Kids Are Not Alright, Con't

Millennials aren't planning to show up at the polls in November, and that's a big, big problem.  Gallup checks the intent of the body politic:

Democrats and independents who lean Democratic currently report giving the same level of thought to the election as they did in September 2012 (70%), whereas thought given is down slightly among Republicans and independents who lean Republican, from 81% to 75%. At the same time, intent to vote is down by a similar proportion among both party groups.

Still, by 76% to 65%, Republicans remain more likely than Democrats to say they will definitely vote -- a gap that is similar to 2012, but higher than in previous elections. Further, the 65% of Democrats saying they will definitely vote is well below their average for the prior four presidential elections (77%), whereas the 76% of Republicans saying they will definitely vote is only a bit lower than their prior average (81%).

That's not a good thing.  Here's where it gets worse:

Percentage Saying They Will Definitely Vote ("10"), by Age
Polls conducted in September of each year


U.S. adults7478807569
18 to 346067745847
35 to 547781817972


We have a new 47% problem this election.  A quarter of  under 35 voters who definitely planned to vote in September 2008 now don't give a damn anymore.  In 2008, I was one of them, out in the cold at an Obama rally in Cincy, heading back to vote for him in Kentucky in November of that year.

Now?  Those college kids at that rally eight years ago are more jaded than I'll ever be, it seems.

A Story About A Boy

Medical technology, particularly genetic technology, has come a long way in my lifetime.  I remember in high school doing a paper on the then young Human Genome Project, and now a quarter-century after that milestone was launched we have the first instance of a child born using a new technique allowing two parents with a third providing mitochondrial DNA.

The controversial technique, which allows parents with rare genetic mutations to have healthy babies, has only been legally approved in the UK. But the birth of the child, whose Jordanian parents were treated by a US-based team in Mexico, should fast-forward progress around the world, say embryologists.

The boy’s mother carries genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that affects the developing nervous system. Genes for the disease reside in DNA in the mitochondria, which provide energy for our cells and carry just 37 genes that are passed down to us from our mothers. This is separate from the majority of our DNA, which is housed in each cell’s nucleus.

Around a quarter of her mitochondria have the disease-causing mutation. While she is healthy, Leigh syndrome was responsible for the deaths of her first two children. The couple sought out the help of John Zhang and his team at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City.

Zhang has been working on a way to avoid mitochondrial disease using a so-called “three-parent” technique. In theory, there are a few ways of doing this. The method approved in the UK is called pronuclear transfer and involves fertilising both the mother’s egg and a donor egg with the father’s sperm. Before the fertilised eggs start dividing into early-stage embryos, each nucleus is removed. The nucleus from the donor’s fertilised egg is discarded and replaced by that from the mother’s fertilised egg.

But this technique wasn’t appropriate for the couple – as Muslims, they were opposed to the destruction of two embryos. So Zhang took a different approach, called spindle nuclear transfer. He removed the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg – with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor – was then fertilised with the father’s sperm.

Zhang’s team used this approach to create five embryos, only one of which developed normally. This embryo was implanted in the mother and the child was born nine months later. “It’s exciting news,” says Bert Smeets at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The team will describe the findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City in October.

Neither method has been approved in the US, so Zhang went to Mexico instead, where he says “there are no rules”. He is adamant that he made the right choice. “To save lives is the ethical thing to do,” he says.

The team seems to have taken an ethical approach with their technique, says Sian Harding, who reviewed the ethics of the UK procedure. The team avoided destroying embryos, and used a male embryo, so that the resulting child wouldn’t pass on any inherited mitochondrial DNA. “It’s as good as or better than what we’ll do in the UK,” says Harding.

It's that last couple paragraphs that should remind us all that science always tends to be ahead of legislation. Ethical questions aside, we need a group of educated lawmakers in a representative democracy system in order to make determinations on subjects such as this, and our current Congress isn't anywhere close to meeting that criteria, not when one party, which currently controls Capitol Hill, is happy to flaunt how anti-science it is at every turn.

We need better lawmakers.  Of course, that goes without saying.


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