Quick Roundup 335

Monday, June 09, 2008

Blogging Forecast: Highly Uncertain

I leave town tomorrow for a week and change to help my wife move to "that place back East", as Myrhaf would put it. Since her new position will probably make it hard for her to travel much for the next few years, we'll be visiting with some of our relatives along the way. I'll have my trusty Eee PC on hand, but whether I will be able to access the Internet with any degree of regularity is anyone's guess.

I had been hoping to at least put a few pre-scheduled posts into the publishing queue, but an opportunity to publish a paper with a collaborator may scupper that plan. I have already divided my time this weekend between computer repair and data analysis while also trying to pay some attention to my wife and help her attend to her moving preparations. And I may find myself having to work while on the road, but probably not that much.

I move to Boston once I find a job up there. Until then, I'll be wrapping up a project down here, job-hunting, and traveling to Boston every few weeks to visit my wife.

Defending against Shareholder Activism?

I recall hearing from somewhere in Objectivist circles recently about social activist "investors" -- left-wingers who have decided that the best way to advance their agendas is to transform corporations into ... tools ... for social change. (An op-ed from the Ayn Rand Institute in March alludes to something that would be a particularly effective means of achieving that end.) [Update: It was from Paul Hsieh that I recalled hearing about investor activism. Note that the theocrats are just as happy to play this game as their cousins on the altruist-collectivist left.]

An article from the Wall Street Journal describes an example of the trend in this way:

With their membership falling, union leaders are finding it harder to influence companies or politics from the factory floor. Their new approach is to use their control over large employee pension plans to insert themselves directly into the boardroom. The result is what one observer has termed "the new politics of capital," in which liberal activists attempt to turn entire corporations into lobbyists for their social and political goals, their campaigns all neatly disguised as "shareholder activism." [bold added]
From a reader email, I have learned that there is now a backlash, specifically in the form of an investor's fund that seeks to defend free enterprise. (The reader sent me a link to a YouTube audio of Steve Milloy from JunkScience.com speaking at an Exxon shareholder meeting.) From its information page and collection of news releases, it seems that much of its current efforts focus on getting corporations to stop suicidally supporting global warming legislation.

I do not know much about this fund. The fact that Steve Milloy is agnostic (at best) about evolution undermines his credibility to speak about science, and Milton Friedman, whom the fund quotes on its default page, was not a consistent defender of capitalism. Having said that, its site looks, at a minimum, to be a worthwhile resource for keeping tabs on "investor" activism.

Hugo Chavez to Rescind Spying Decree

Hugo Chavez, in the face of overwhelming opposition to a recent decree of his that would have required citizens to spy on one another -- and worried about losing another election -- has decided to rescind his unpopular decree:
"This law is shamelessly anti-constitutional," Fernandez said. "It violates the rights of defense, privacy, property and due process."

The law gave police the right to conduct searches without a court order, which she said "would have led us to a police state, I have no doubt." It also followed the Cuban model of appointing neighborhood leaders to whom citizens would be compelled to bring incriminating information about their neighbors, she said.


"But we can't be too confident about the president's promise to change it. The enabling law gives him the right to make laws without any public discussion or input from legal experts," Porras said. [bold added]
Another commentator gave what I think was an accurate description of what was behind Chavez's reversal: "Until November he will avoid anything that will produce a shock or which has the appearance of radicalism that could set people against him."

This is a blatant admission that he knows that his hold on power is weak, but then, I have noticed this before.

Play Games, Cure Diseases

From a professional newsletter, I have learned of an online game which may help scientists cure some diseases:
[K]nowing the structure of a protein is key to understanding how it works and to targeting it with drugs. A small proteins can consist of [a chain of] 100 amino acids, while some human proteins can be huge (1000 amino acids). The number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical because there are so many degrees of freedom. Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers. Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins. [bold added]
Don't be put off by the ribbon the site uses as an emblem. This is a very interesting idea.

-- CAV


: Added note with missing link.
6-10-08: Corrected a typo.

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