Posted at 5:52 AM on December 4, 2007
by Bob Collins
Mary Lucia at the Current occasionally asks me deep-thinking questions like, "if there were a reliable test that could predict Alzheimer's, would you take it and would you want to know?"
Now, we all get to decide for real.
A company, 23 and Me, has just launched, giving anyone who wants to pay $999 for a "saliva collection kit," the opportunity to explore their future (and maybe understand their present a bit more).
The company analyzes the DNA, and then puts the results online for you to play with.
The 23andMe Odds Calculator allows customers to combine genetic information, age, and ethnicity to get an idea of which common health concerns are most likely to crop up. Right now it's limited to a little more than dozen: breast cancer, Crohn's Disease, MS, diabetes and -- I have no idea why this is significant -- earwax type.
The Gataca-like "what ifs" here are astounding to contemplate. What if it showed an inclination toward a particular affliction? How would it change your life? What if your online DNA fell into someone else's hands online -- a potential employer, for example. What if, in the future, Facebook, 23andMe, and online dating converged? What if 23andMe met Google?
Given that the idea has already led to a social phenomenon -- spit parties -- one wonders how seriously the questions are being considered.
Update 8:15 a.m. - In other DNA news, one of the scientists who decoded the human genome says they may be able to create an artificial life form next year. (Listen) Oh, and he'll save the planet, he says.
Posted at 8:10 AM on December 4, 2007
by Bob Collins
This just in: You can't sell pizzas with airplanes anymore.
The Schwan food company, owners of the Red Baron Pizza brand, has announced it's grounding the Red Baron Squadron, an airshow team that flew Stearman biplanes at airshows from coast to coast, but was based in Marshall.
"The retail grocery industry has experienced considerable change over the past few years. And, as a result, we have decided to refocus our Red Baron marketing program and to discontinue the Red Baron Squadron," Schwan boss Bill McCormack said.
"We’re the New York Yankees of the air show industry," the team's crew chief said.
Wondering if there's a post-Red Baron market out there for biplane pilots.
Posted at 12:25 PM on December 4, 2007
by Bob Collins
A federal appeals court ruling striking down an in-prison evangelical Christian program in Iowa, may not affect a program in Minnesota, even though it's run by the same organization.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that the program in Iowa violates the Constitution because it used state money, and because inmates who participated at the Newton facility had to accept a Christian-based program. (See court ruling)
That, the panel said, "advanced or endorsed religion." The suit was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In Iowa, 104 inmates took part in the InnerChange program sponsored by Prison Fellowship Ministries. The same organization runs a program at the Lino Lakes prison. As of last week, 180 prisoners participated, according to the group.
The program is also in use at the women's prison in Shakopee, where 22 women are involved.
"This gives us some additional guidance and clarity to meet the constitutional test," said Mark Early, the Prison Fellowship Ministries president.
Minnesota, up until last year, funded 20 percent of the program. It is now privately funded, according to Early. Listen to my interview with him (Real Audio).
All Things Considered host Tom Crann talked to Joan Fabian, Minnesota's corrections commissioner about the ruling.
Posted at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2007
by Bob Collins
Today, MPR's Marty Moylan previewed arguments in a case that will determine how much protection federally-approved medical devices (in this case, from Medtronic) should have from product-liability lawsuits.
We don't get to hear arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, which does not allow recording devices in the court. But the transcript of the hearing is now available here (pdf).
For court-watchers, oral arguments these days provide the possibility of a rare event: Justice Clarence Thomas asking a question. Alas, Thomas' record of not asking any questions in this term is intact.
On Monday, AT&T announced it would get out of the "shrinking payphone business" in 2008.
Shrinking? That's charitable.
Payphones, in an age of cellphones, are virtually non-existent. Its death is also a testament to the inability to revive a dying industry through government action. In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission deregulated payphone rates, hoping it would encourage a little action with more competition. That didn't work; an estimated 40 percent of remaining payphones were removed last year, and with them the opportunity for many of us to talk to strangers, just because we can.
I wanted to survey the use of payphones by Minnesotans today, to find out how often people who answer payphones, use payphones.
I needn't have bothered.
The Luverne Laundry, The Standard station in Monticello, Hoffman's Oak Lake Camp in Kerrick, the Choo Char Bar in Maple Plain, the Trucker's Inn in Faribault, Albatross in Mankato, Bemidji State College, Marion's Cafe in Parkers Prairie, Econowash in Moorhead and WalMart in Mankato came up as disconnected, mostly because payphones don't take incoming calls anymore.
Back in the day, it wasn't always so. A social phenomenon, calling payphones at random just to see who answered, depended on it. The Payphone Project, started by Mark Thomas of New York and inspired by a David Letterman bit, encouraged random contacts among strangers.
"It has been largely moot for some time," Thomas said Tuesday. "I've found that many payphones that do actually take incoming calls, ring so faintly that no one would ever hear it."
I talked to Mark on my dime. All of these are in RealAudio format.
Posted at 10:20 PM on December 4, 2007
by Bob Collins
When it comes to elections, Minnesota has always been considered a model state. Prepare for another glowing assessment, this time from a five-month study of five Midwestern states. The research, released today by the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State, finds Ohio to be the worst, and Minnesota to be the best.
But there are plenty of warning signs, the most significant of which is that "its elected secretary of state...behaved in an excessively partisan fashion." The report was referring to former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, although current office-holder Mark Richie is coming in for a share of the criticism from his opponents.
The report also says Minnesota's "underlying culture of cooperative decisionmaking and civic engagement may be waning, thus increasing the chances that the state's election processes may become a casualty -- or weapon -- of partisanship."
Though the authors give the state high marks for its election-day registration system, it cautions that a similar system in Ohio has not worked because of "a powerful, not to mention partisan, elected secretary of state at the helm of the electoral process," the New York Times reported.
Here's the Minnesota portion of the report (pdf).