Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Honey, You're the Bomb!

This just is too hilarious:

Jun 8, 2007 9:03 pm US/Pacific

Pentagon Confirms It Sought To Build A 'Gay Bomb'

Hank Plante

(CBS 5) BERKELEY A Berkeley watchdog organization that tracks military spending said it uncovered a strange U.S. military proposal to create a hormone bomb that could purportedly turn enemy soldiers into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex than fighting.

Pentagon officials on Friday confirmed to CBS 5 that military leaders had considered, and then subsquently rejected, building the so-called "Gay Bomb."

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Edward Hammond, of Berkeley's Sunshine Project, had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.

As part of a military effort to develop non-lethal weapons, the proposal suggested, "One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior."

The documents show the Air Force lab asked for $7.5 million to develop such a chemical weapon.

"The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soldiers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistably attractive to one another," Hammond said after reviewing the documents.

"The notion was that a chemical that would probably be pleasant in the human body in low quantities could be identified, and by virtue of either breathing or having their skin exposed to this chemical, the notion was that soliders would become gay," explained Hammond.

The Pentagon told CBS 5 that the proposal was made by the Air Force in 1994.

"The Department of Defense is committed to identifying, researching and developing non-lethal weapons that will support our men and women in uniform," said a DOD spokesperson, who indicated that the "gay bomb" idea was quickly dismissed.

However, Hammond said the government records he obtained suggest the military gave the plan much stronger consideration than it has acknowledged.

"The truth of the matter is it would have never come to my attention if it was dismissed at the time it was proposed," he said. "In fact, the Pentagon has used it repeatedly and subsequently in an effort to promote non-lethal weapons, and in fact they submitted it to the highest scientific review body in the country for them to consider."

Military officials insisted Friday to CBS 5 that they are not currently working on any such idea and that the past plan was abandoned.

Gay community leaders in California said Friday that they found the notion of a "gay bomb" both offensive and almost laughable at the same time.

"Throughout history we have had so many brave men and women who are gay and lesbian serving the military with distinction," said Geoff Kors of Equality California. "So, it's just offensive that they think by turning people gay that the other military would be incapable of doing their job. And its absurd because there's so much medical data that shows that sexual orientation is immutable and cannot be changed."


From the NYT:

June 12, 2007
The DNA Age
As Breeders Test DNA, Dogs Become Guinea Pigs

FORT MOTT STATE PARK, N.J. — When mutant, muscle-bound puppies started showing up in litters of champion racing whippets, the breeders of the normally sleek dogs invited scientists to take DNA samples at race meets here and across the country. They hoped to find a genetic cause for the condition and a way to purge it from the breed.

It worked. “Bully whippets,” as the heavyset dogs are known, turn out to have a genetic mutation that enhances muscle development. And breeders may not want to eliminate the “bully” gene after all. The scientists found that the same mutation that pumps up some whippets makes others among the fastest dogs on the track.

With a DNA screening test on the way, “We’re going to keep the speed and lose the bullies,” Helena James, a whippet breeder in Vancouver, British Columbia, said.

Free of most of the ethical concerns — and practical difficulties — associated with the practice of eugenics in humans, dog breeders are seizing on new genetic research to exert dominion over the canine gene pool. Companies with names like Vetgen and Healthgene have begun offering dozens of DNA tests to tailor the way dogs look, improve their health and, perhaps soon, enhance their athletic performance.

But as dog breeders apply scientific precision to their age-old art, they find that the quest for genetic perfection comes with unforeseen consequences. And with DNA tests on their way for humans, the lessons of intervening in the nature of dogs may ultimately bear as much on us as on our best friends.

“We’re on the verge of a real radical shift in the way we apply genetics in our society,” said Mark Neff, associate director of the veterinary genetics laboratory at the University of California, Davis. “It’s better to be first confronted with some of these issues when they concern our pets than when they concern us.”

Some Labrador breeders are using DNA tests for coat color to guarantee exotic silver-coated retrievers. Mastiff breeders test for shaggy fur to avoid “fluffies,” the long-haired whelps occasionally born to short-haired parents.

Next up, geneticists say, could be tests for big dogs, small dogs, curly-tailed dogs, dogs with the keenest senses of smell and dogs that cock their heads endearingly when they look at you.

Scientists who recently completed the first map of a dog genome (of a boxer named Tasha) are now soliciting samples from dog owners across the world to uncover the genetic basis for a slew of other traits.

Some discoveries grow out of government-financed research aimed at improving human health. Others are paid for by breed clubs carrying out their mission to better their breeds. By screening their dogs’ DNA for desirable and undesirable traits that might appear in their offspring, breeders can make more informed decisions about which dogs to — or not to — mate.

But because genes are often tied to multiple traits, scientists warn, deliberate selection of certain ones can backfire. The gene responsible for those silver-coated Labradors, for example, is tied to skin problems.

With the genetic curtain lifted, breeders also take on a heavier burden for the consequences of their choices. Whippet breeders who continue to mate fast dogs with one another, for instance, now do so knowing they may have to destroy the unwelcome bullies such pairings often produce.

Moreover, the prospect of races being won by dogs intentionally bred to have a genetic advantage may bring new attention to the way that genes contribute to canine — and human — achievement, even when the genetic deck is not stacked. Inborn abilities once attributed to something rather mystical seem to lose a certain standing when connected to specific genes.

A mutation similar to the one that makes some whippets faster also exists in humans: a sliver of genetic code that regulates muscle development, is missing.

“It would be extremely interesting to do tests on the track finalists at the Olympics,” said Elaine Ostrander, the scientist at the National Institutes of Health who discovered that the fastest whippets had a single defective copy of the myostatin gene, while “bullies” had two.

“But we wouldn’t know what to do with the information,” Ms. Ostrander said. “Are we going to segregate the athletes who have the mutation to run separately?” For the moment, it is whippet owners who find themselves on the edge of that particular bioethical frontier.

It was not exactly news to breeders that speed is an inherited trait: whippets were developed in the late 1800s specifically for racing. But knowing that one of her dogs was sired by a carrier of the gene, said Jen Jensen, a whippet owner in Fair Oaks, Calif., makes its championships seem “less earned.” Ms. Jensen’s suggestion that a DNA test be required for all dogs and that the fastest ones without the mutation be judged and raced separately, however, has not gone over well.

At a recent race here in southern New Jersey, some whippet owners wanted the mutation eliminated altogether, even if that meant fewer fast dogs. But as the dogs pounded after a lure at 35 miles per hour, several owners allowed that they would prefer a whippet with the gene for speed.

“It’s more fun having fast dogs than slow dogs,” said Libby Kirchner, of Glassboro, N.J.

The headaches are enough to make some breeders long for the time when decisions about breeding were dominated by intuition and pedigree charts. Selecting a mate, they say, was meant to involve mystery — in any species.

“It makes it so there’s no creative expression,” said Cheryl Shomo, of Chesapeake, Va. “Now everyone’s just going to do the obvious thing.”

Even so, many veteran breeders welcome the transparency the tests confer. Because while like tends to beget like, it doesn’t always work that way.

Mary-Jo Winters, a poodle breeder, uses a DNA coat-color test to ensure there are no genes for brown fur lurking beneath her black-and-cream-colored dogs.

“I don’t want brown,” said Ms. Winters. “It’s not my thing.”

Judy Pritchard, a Doberman breeder in Toledo, Wash., screens dogs she is considering breeding for a gene responsible for von Willibrand disease, a bleeding disease like hemophilia that also affects humans.

DNA tests, Ms. Pritchard said, “are the greatest tools that have been offered to dog breeders since the beginning of dogs. You need to use them to improve the breed.”

Many breeders hope this new effort to corral nature will weed out the numerous recessive diseases that plague purebred dogs after generations of human-imposed inbreeding. But some question the wisdom of escalating intervention. Mark Derr, an author who has written about the history of dog breeding, urges everyone to reconsider the goal of genetic purity.

“I always use dogs as the example of why we don’t want to be mucking around with our own genome,” Mr. Derr said. “These people are trying to use DNA tests to solve problems of their own making.”

Still, some proponents of using the DNA palette are proposing to go even further. Dr. Neff, the University of California researcher, has proposed screening successive generations of dogs with DNA tests and breeding only those with genes for traits like stamina and scent detection to create a new breed of dogs to patrol subways and airports. , It could be done within a few years, he said, instead of the centuries it took shepherds to breed the sheepdogs that patrol their flocks.

Even those who want to exert more direct control over dog DNA, however, agree that no genetic test can predict the intangible qualities that make a dog great.

If a dog does not have the spirit to run a race, it is not going to win, said Betsy Browder, a whippet owner in College Station, Tex.

“ ‘Keenness’ is what we call it,” she said. “Just like you can have a human athlete who’s really lazy, and all the genes in the world aren’t going to help.”

Thursday, June 07, 2007

FDA says gay men still can’t donate blood

FDA wants to prevent HIV spread; Red Cross, others say it’s ‘unwarranted’

The Associated Press

Updated: 4:38 p.m. ET May 23, 2007

WASHINGTON - Gay men remain banned for life from donating blood, the
government said Wednesday, leaving in place — for now — a 1983
prohibition meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions.

The Food and Drug Administration reiterated its long-standing policy on
its Web site Wednesday, more than a year after the Red Cross and two
other blood groups criticized the policy as “medically and scientifically

“I am disappointed, I must confess,” said Dr. Celso Bianco, executive
vice president of America’s Blood Centers, whose members provide nearly
half the nation’s blood supply.

Before giving blood, all men are asked if they have had sex, even once,
with another man since 1977. Those who say they have are permanently
banned from donating. The FDA said those men are at increased risk of
infection by HIV that can be transmitted to others by blood transfusion.

New, improved HIV tests
In March 2006, the Red Cross, the international blood association AABB
and America’s Blood Centers proposed replacing the lifetime ban with a
one-year deferral following male-to-male sexual contact. New and improved
tests, which can detect HIV-positive donors within just 10 to 21 days of
infection, make the lifetime ban unnecessary, the blood groups told the

In a document posted Wednesday, the FDA said it would change its policy
if given data that show doing so wouldn’t pose a “significant and
preventable” risk to blood recipients.

“It is a way of saying, ‘Whatever was presented to us was not sufficient
to make us change our minds,”’ Bianco said.

The FDA said HIV tests currently in use are highly accurate, but still
cannot detect the virus 100 percent of the time. The estimated HIV risk
from a unit of blood is currently about one per 2 million in the United
States, according to the agency.

Critics of the exclusionary policy said it bars potential healthy donors,
despite the increasing need for donated blood, and discriminates against
gays. The FDA recognized the policy defers many healthy donors but
rejected the suggestion it’s discriminatory.

Anyone who’s used intravenous drugs or been paid for sex also is
permanently barred from donating blood.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not
be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

UCSD controversy/TA dismissal

Dear Friends,

Last Wednesday 300+ students in the Dimensions of Culture Program (DOC) at UCSD's Thurgood Marshall College walked out in protest of the wrongful dismissal of two long-time DOC teaching assistants, Benjamin Balthaser and Scott Boehm. Students associated with the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition organized a march and a demonstration outside the Chancellor's Office, which was successful in drawing the Chancellor and other administrators outside to discuss the on-going controversy, including the university's unwillingness to grant student representation on the committee recently established to review academic programs at TMC, including DOC.

(FYI: DOC is an undergraduate writing program that has traditionally provided a systematic critique of structural inequality in U.S. society, paying particular attention to the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality, while emphasizing social justice. In recent years, the program has drifted away from its original mission, and professors, lecturers and teaching assistants who have protested have been pushed out of the program.)

Here is a link to the video footage of the march and demonstration:

On the video you will notice that the Vice-Chancellor of Undergraduate Education Mark Appelbaum clearly states that Balthaser and Boehm were not rehired for next year not because of their political activities, implying that this decision was based upon their teaching performance. This is in sharp contradiction to what Balthaser and Boehm were told during their "interviews" with DOC Director Abe Shragge, who made it absolutely clear that his decision had nothing to do with their teaching performance—which was exemplary, and included teaching awards. This also contradicts what UCSD Human Resources stated during the first meeting between UCSD and the United Auto Workers, who filed a grievance with the university over the ousting of the two TAs. In that meeting, which took place two days after the student walkout, UCSD Human Resources stated that the teaching practices of Balthaser and Boehm were not the reason for their dismissal, but that it was their public critique of the DOC program that resulted in their ousting.

Also on the video you will see Chancellor Marye Anne Fox pledge to look into the matter and to make sure a just outcome in the case is reached. Yet, as of today—two months since the news first broke—the university has failed to right the wrong done to these two TAs. If free speech and academic freedom mean anything at UCSD this decision must be reversed. If the Chancellor really cares about justice, if she really cares about the concerns of students, if she really cares about campus equity and critical multicultural education, if she really cares about the quality of undergraduate education she should intervene to stop this on-going injustice and show that she means what she says.

We are running out of time, the academic year is almost over. PLEASE DO ONE LAST THING to help the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition's campaign before the quarter is over. After you watch the video footage, cut and paste the following message and send it to the Chancellor ASAP (please cc the LZC at

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox
(858) 534-3135

Dear Chancellor Fox,

I have witnessed your pledge to look into the non-re-hiring of Benjamin Balthaser and Scott Boehm as teaching assistants in the Dimensions of Culture Program for the upcoming academic year. I have heard you vow to ensure a just outcome is reached in their case. Because UCSD Human Resources stated during their first grievance hearing that their dismissal from DOC has nothing to do with their job performance, but for their public critique of changes to the DOC program—which is exactly what DOC Director Abraham Shragge told Balthaser and Boehm during their "interviews" for re-hire—I call on you to reverse the decision to dismiss them from DOC on the basis of 1st amendment free speech rights, the AAUP-recognized academic freedom of graduate student teachers, and most of all, because UCSD should be a educational site
of critical inquiry and debate, not a place where drawing attention to a problem—which TMC Provost Havis himself has recognized by establishing a committee to review DOC—results in disciplinary actions. I believe UCSD should be a university that values critical thinking, principled dissent, and passion for providing the best education possible to students. Most of all, I believe UCSD should be a university that respects all of its workers, and I ask you to intervene on the behalf of Balthaser and Boehm immediately to prove that UCSD is such an institution, and that UCSD's "Principles of Community" are upheld, rather than exposed as empty rhetoric. You have the power to rescue UCSD's reputation, which has been degraded because of this situation. I strongly urge you to do so immediately.