The Samovar

Newsflash: meatsacks already being made
May 27, 2007, 2:44 pm
Filed under: Ethics, Food, Frivolity, Morality, Philosophy

In a previous entry I posed an ethical question for vegetarians – would it be OK to eat meat if you could grow it without an animal? Well it turns out that people are already doing this. In fact, this man is already doing it:


At the moment, it’s not that appetising, here is a frog steak they made:


It is also, rather expensive:

The only problem was that no one was interested in eating his fish nuggets, perhaps because his tiny goldfish filets matured in something called fetal calf serum.

Matheny estimates that a kilogram of laboratory meat would cost about half a million dollars if it were grown in calf serum.

In order to make faux meat a reality, then, one of the first tasks is to develop an inexpensive ersatz nutrient solution from plants or mushrooms. Maitake mushrooms, for example, have already proved to be a possible alternative.

It also turns out that vegetarians have already been discussing the issue (both in favour of the idea, and against it).

Some other interesting links:

  • From Innovation Watch
  • The Guardian got in on the act (incidentally, it’s a nice case of nominative determinism that the Guardian’s science correspondent is called Ian Sample)

More searches
May 25, 2007, 1:41 pm
Filed under: Search Terms

These just get madder and madder…

  • green asparagus extreme cooking  -oh my god! Extreme cooking! That is do damn cool.
  • bananas and nervous system – apparently if you eat too many bananas the build-up of potassium can be lethal (note: may be an urban myth), and potassium is an important chemical in the nervous system. No idea if these have anything to do with each other.
  • “eating alone” in “the fat duck” – don’t do it! Take a friend.
  • samovar brainwave decrappification – erm?
  • what are some shortcomings of capitalism – I could say a lot about this. Instead, I’ll just direct you to Znet.
  • human meat substitute – OK I wrote that entry as a joke people!

A week in searching
May 16, 2007, 2:30 am
Filed under: Frivolity, Search Terms

It’s been a good week, people have got to my blog by searching for:

  • “drinking gravy” – lots of advice here about that, highly recommended
  • What does our cake is dough mean? – something about a plan going wrong?
  • how does one spell 12th in Mathematics – twelfth, same as everywhere else. Odd though, I agree
  • pigeon war – it’s more of a cold war at the moment, but we’ve got the pelicans on our side
  • photo knife stomach – disturbing, I hope they didn’t find what they were looking for
  • bonobo nervous system – Ed? This one seems to be about you
  • how to improve the nervous system – optimistic, but I’m working on it
  • poems on discrimination based on religion – I have no idea

But best of all was:

  • is it ok to eat rat meat – I think probably yes if you feel like it, but please see the comments on the meat sack entry
Comments Off on A week in searching

John McDonnell
May 15, 2007, 3:55 am
Filed under: Business, Civil Liberties, Economics, Environment, Politics

A while ago I wrote an entry on this blog about whether or not the Labour party could get my vote, including some suggestions and ideas about how you might make them electable. Anyway, Labour MP John McDonnell is contesting the Labour party leadership against Gordon Brown, and it turns out that many of his policies (summarised in the list below, and see also this document, which I’ve not yet had time to read fully) are the same as mine.

  • The withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The end to privatisation of public services.
  • A Real Living Minimum Wage of at least £7 an hour.
  • A green energy policy based on renewable power sources.
  • An increase in the Basic State Pension from £84.25 to £114 a week.
  • Defence of comprehensive education and the abolition of student tuition fees.
  • The restoration of trade union rights and civil liberties.

I haven’t yet had time to read up fully on the guy, so this is mostly just speculation on my part. It seems to me though that the only reason not to support a campaign like this is that it is a return to the bad old days when Labour couldn’t get elected (indeed, Gordon Brown made exactly this point in a debate with McDonnell). But if this is so, why is it so? I think the answer is that it’s not ‘business friendly’ which I take to mean ideologically committed to corporate interests. Is it possible to have a party that proposes some of the items on this list without being considered unfriendly to business, or is a commitment to social justice considered too strong a signal of business unfriendliness (probably not inaccurately)?

A recommendation
May 14, 2007, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Civil Liberties, Economics, Politics, Risk, Security, Security Theater

For those of you who haven’t already found it, Bruce Schneier’s blog is a must-read for anyone who has an interest in privacy and security. He presents rigorously analysed, rational views in an extremely easy to read manner. As an example, one of his most useful concepts is “security theater” defined by wikipedia as “security countermeasures that provide the feeling of security while doing little or nothing actually to improve security”. It’s a description that perfectly encapsulates a lot of policy since the WTC attacks.

His latest article – Does secrecy help protect personal information? – is a good illustration:

Personal information protection is an economic problem, not a security problem. And the problem can be easily explained: The organizations we trust to protect our personal information do not suffer when information gets exposed. On the other hand, individuals who suffer when personal information is exposed don’t have the capability to protect that information.

Credit card companies make more money extending easy credit and making it trivial for customers to use their cards than they lose from fraud. They won’t improve their security as long as you (and not they) are the one who suffers from identity theft. It’s the same for banks and brokerages: As long as you’re the one who suffers when your account is hacked, they don’t have any incentive to fix the problem.

Image decrappification
May 13, 2007, 2:28 am
Filed under: WordPress

Some time ago I wrote about how custom image headers on WordPress were being saved at a very low quality. Well, it seems that at some point between then and now it’s been fixed. Now if you upload an image of exactly the correct number of pixels it won’t crappify it. For this theme, that’s 750×140 pixels. As you can see, I’m now seasonal…

Meat without the nervous system
May 10, 2007, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Ethics, Food, Morality, Philosophy

A thought strikes me – would it be OK to eat meat if it came from an ‘animal’ without a nervous system (central or otherwise)? This may seem a silly question to ask because all the animals whose meat we eat actually does have a nervous system, but what if our understanding of biochemistry were to improve to the point where we could – say – grow a steak without growing a cow? Or if we could knock out a combination of genes in an animal which produce its nervous system and get an animal to give birth to what is essentially just a meat sack? My feeling is that even a vegetarian would have to agree that the former is acceptable, although possibly not the latter.

The second question that follows on from this is: would it be OK to eat meat from an actual animal if it was possible to grow its meat without killing a whole animal? My feeling on this is that in this circumstance nobody could justify killing and eating animals.

So are we destined for a future of ethical meat eating?

Postscript: The other question this raises is: what about animals with a minimal nervous system like a snail say? How do vegetarians feel about eating these? A snail has about 20k neurons compared to about 100k for a fruit fly, 1m for a cockroach, 21m for a rat and 300bn for a human – according to this unsourced wikipedia entry. It seems to me that if you’re willing to swat a fly you should be willing to eat a snail.

Post-postscript: One other question raised is would it be ethical to eat human meat that had been grown in this way? Anyone for ethical cannibalism?