Archive for November 13th, 2006
We’ve heard a lot about the kind of oversight priorities that committee Chairmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Conyers (D-MI) will have on the House side. We’ve heard on the Senate side, for example, about the plans that Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has for oversight from the Intelligence Committee.
But has anyone heard anything from Joe Lieberman (“ID”-CT) about his oversight plans as chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee?
With a huge portfolio, Lieberman’s committee is positioned to investigate a vast swath of the federal government. But Lieberman’s plans remain remarkably vague. For instance, a UPI story today describes at length the oversight plans being made by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who will become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, but it devotes just one paragraph to Lieberman, confirming that he will serve as committee chairman.
So what does Joe have in store for the Bush Administration that so aggressively backed his re-election?
Arson investigators, often untrained h.s. graduates with no college degree or scientific training, rely on a handful of assumptions to judge the causes of fires. They can send people away for life—or to be executed—when they often don’t know what they’re talking about and are dead wrong. For example:
A tale of two fires
Fire science has come to the fore in the US in two cases championed by the legal group The Innocence Project. The cases involve two Texans, Cameron Willingham and Ernest Willis. Each was accused of arson murder — Willis for the deaths of two female acquaintances who died in a house fire in 1986, and Willingham for allegedly killing his three children, all under 3 years of age, in a fire at his home in 1991. Both men claimed to have woken to find the houses ablaze. Both were convicted and sentenced to death on the basis of expert testimony that the fires were started intentionally.
At Willingham’s trial, investigators told jurors of 20 arson indicators in the debris, and claimed Willingham had used accelerants to start three separate fires in the home. In 2004, however, a month before Willingham’s scheduled execution, the defence asked independent fire consultant Gerald Hurst to review the case. Hurst’s report disputed every bit of trial testimony and dismissed as invalid all the arson indicators cited by the investigators. The list included crazed glass and burn patterns on the floor. All have been found in accidental fires, and experiments have reproduced them. In short, Hurst found no evidence of anything but an accident. His appeals to the court fell on deaf ears, however, and Willingham was put to death.
By contrast, Willis was lucky. In 1996, new lawyers secured a hearing to determine whether he deserved a second trial. A judge ruled in 2004 that Willis either be released or retried. A new district attorney asked Hurst to review the case. Again, he found no evidence of arson. Only months after Willingham’s execution, Willis was exonerated and set free after 17 years on death row.
In January 2005, a panel of fire-science experts looked into these cases. Its report echoes Hurst’s conclusions: arson testimony used against each man was based on obsolete assumptions. It calls for the criminal justice system to require those who testify in arson cases to have backgrounds in fire science. In May this year the report was sent to the Texas Forensic Science Commission. There has been no response yet, but if Texas is shown to have wrongfully executed Willingham, the state’s lawyers will be the ones putting out fires.
Science has recently begun to systematically investigate what happens in fires: Read the rest of this entry »
Rats born to mothers who drank caffeinated beverages throughout their pregnancies had abnormal brain-cell function, researchers report.
Experts already recommend that pregnant women limit their caffeine to 300 milligrams per day—about the amount in three cups of coffee. Although this moderate consumption is considered safe, Deborah Soellner and Joseph Núñez of Michigan State University in East Lansing wondered whether it could still have significant effects on youngsters’ brains.
The researchers provided some pregnant rats with free access to caffeinated water. On average, the animals consumed 3 to 4 mg of caffeine daily, the equivalent of the recommended limit for pregnant women. Other pregnant rats received only plain water.
When the pups were born, the researchers took samples of cells from each baby’s hypothalamus. Soellner and Núñez tested the cells’ responses to various chemicals that brain cells use to communicate, such as the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate.
The scientists found that cells from the caffeine-exposed and caffeinefree pups behaved differently. The response in the caffeine-exposed pups was heightened for certain neurotransmitters but dampened for others. Since some of these signaling chemicals affect brain development, the researchers suggest that caffeine during pregnancy may affect children’s later brain function.
“Maybe human studies on caffeine consumption during pregnancy should be reevaluated,” Núñez says.
Pelosi’s backing Murtha, but he exudes the stench of corruption pretty heavily:
So House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has thrown her weight behind Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) to be the next House Majority Leader.
Few outside of Murtha’s district — or the corridors of Washington, D.C. — knew much of Murtha until his outspoken opposition to the Iraq War earlier this year made him a cause celebre among liberals. What else has he been up to this year? In an excellent but little-noticed piece last month, the New York Times brought us up to speed:
In the last year, Democratic and Republican floor watchers say, Mr. Murtha has helped Republicans round up enough Democratic votes to narrowly block a host of Democratic proposals: to investigate federal contracting fraud in Iraq, to reform lobbying laws, to increase financing for flood control, to add $150 million for veterans’ health care and job training, and to exempt middle-class families from the alternative minimum tax.
As Murtha put it, “deal making is what Congress is all about.” Yessir — blocking fraud investigations, stonewalling lobbying reform. That’s what Congress is all about, isn’t it?
UPDATE: Another view from Steve Gilliard. The problem will be if Murtha becomes Majority Leader and the scandal hanging over his head blows up in early October 2008.
Via AmericaBlog, from Editor & Publisher:
Her name doesn’t show on any official list of American military deaths in the Iraq war, by hostile or non-hostile fire, who died in that country or in hospitals in Europe or back home in the USA. But Iraq killed her just as certainly.
She is Jeanne “Linda” Michel, a Navy medic. She came home last month to her husband and three kids (ages 11, 5, and 4), delighted to be back in her suburban home of Clifton Park in upstate New York. Michel, 33, would be discharged from the Navy in a few weeks, finishing her five years of duty.
Two weeks after she got home, she shot and killed herself.
“She had come through a lot and she had always risen to challenges,” her husband, Frantz Michel, who has also served in Iraq, lamented last week. Now he asks why the Navy didn’t do more to help her.
Michel’s story has now been probed by reporter Kate Gurnett in today’s Albany Times-Union. It’s headlined, “A casualty far from the battlefield.”
And yet, in many ways, not far at all. Read the rest of this entry »
Kevin Kelly on Cool Tools has a list of places where you can make micro-loans on-line. As you probably know, I like Kiva.org, which (oddly) doesn’t appear in his list, though Kiva has cooperative relationships with some of the ones listed.
At any rate, think about making some micro-loans. It’s very satisfying.
Teachers who give tests on a daily or weekly basis—often at the expense of their popularity—can take solace in a new study out of Washington University in St. Louis. Researchers found that tests help students remember what they’ve been taught—including the material that doesn’t appear on the exam. The findings appear in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
The research team, led by psychology graduate student Jason Chan, designed three experiments to determine whether testing can enhance the long-term recall of studied material. In the first, 84 students, split into three groups, read an essay on the toucan bird. The first group took a short 22-question test on the information they’d just read but received no feedback on their performance. The second one reviewed 22 statements culled from the longer passage. The third group went home without being tested. The next day, all the students took a 44-question test—with the same 22 questions on the first day’s test and 22 additional ones. The researchers found that the first group did significantly better on the questions that only appeared on day two (performing at least 9 percent better than the other groups).
In a second experiment, 72 students studied two articles on different topics. Immediately after the students read the articles, they took a 12-question test on one of the pieces. The next day, the students took a 48-question test with the same 12 questions they saw the day before, 12 more from the same article and 24 from the other article. The students did significantly better on the second set of 12 questions of related material than they did on the 24 questions about the second article. In the third study, Chan manipulated the recall methods of students–asking them, during the first round of testing, either to think of all the information related to test questions or to home in solely on the answer. On the second test, the students who thought more broadly the day before performed much better on related questions.
The findings, Chan says, indicate that courses should proceed via “a study-test-study-test schedule” rather than studying, reviewing, and then being tested. “Restudying a subset of the learned material will not produce enhancement for the remaining material—presumably because restudying is a more passive learning process than is testing,” Chan explains. “Most people probably do not test themselves until they feel comfortable with the material, but that probably isn’t the optimal way to study. Frequent testing, not restudying, is the key to long-term retention.”
Read the rest of this entry »
Documented by Media Matters. Even when the Democrats win, the media do all they can to make it a GOP or conservative victory. E.g., Tim Russert’s Meet the Press had two Senators to discuss the war in Iraq: Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, both backers of the war. No true Democrats invivted. Russert said that Pelosi and Reid had been invited but had declined (not surprising: they have a lot to do). But, Tim, there are other Democrats.
Also, Newsweek sees the Democratic victory as an endorsement for—wait for it—George Herbert Walker Bush. Not sure how they managed to work that out. I naively thought a big Democratic victory was an endorsement of Democrats. Silly me.
Then you should mail your opt-out notice within 10 days. Sneaky, those credit card companies. This applies to Chase credit card holders who got the little “notice” letter.
Because those portables are dangerous! Link shows what happens if your portable battery goes bad, as in those recalled. In fact, a laptop at the 2006 Go Congress caught fire in this way. No one was hurt.
Increasing delays in air travel expected. Take the train.
Few things are certain in air travel today, but one comes close: If you’re on Delta Connection Flight 5283 from New York to Washington, you can expect to be late.
The flight had the nation’s worst on-time performance in September, arriving late 100 percent of the time at Reagan National Airport, according to a recent government report.
Its average delay: 1 hour and 19 minutes. Actual flying time: 53 minutes. Much of the delay is spent on the tarmac, waiting for other planes to take off at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Airline industry experts said the Delta Connection flight is an extreme example of the worsening delays infuriating air travelers these days. Through the first nine months of the year, 24 percent of flights were delayed or canceled, part of a steady increase since the comparable period in 2003, when 17.5 percent of flights were late or scratched, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which tracks airline performance.
“There were 20 planes ahead of us for takeoff,” said Scott Logsdon, 35, who on a recent night had already spent 12 hours on an international flight before hopping on the Delta Connection commuter jet. “I didn’t have anything to read, so I just looked out the window and watched plane after plane take off ahead of us. It was kind of frustrating.”
Many factors can delay a flight, particularly bad weather. But aviation consultants said broad industry trends were also behind the deteriorating performance, as passenger volume has increased but the number of flights has remained almost constant.
They blamed delays on the airlines trying to eke out profits by slashing jobs and reducing pay for mechanics and baggage handlers, who play crucial roles in getting planes out on time. Airlines also appear to be scheduling more flights during busy periods to better target business travelers who pay higher fares, which leads to gridlock on the runways and in the sky, industry experts said.
Read the rest of this entry »
Spiritual research indicates that 96% of the causes of addictions are due to ghosts (demons, devils, negative energies etc.) or departed ancestors. The seeds of addictions are introduced in the womb itself by ghosts. Due to the spiritual nature of the cause of addictions, only spiritual remedies can successfully alleviate addiction.
Oh, yes. Listen, I have to go do something else now….
Via Lifehacker, Corel Snapfire is a photo management/editing package, similar to Picasa but easier to use. Create albums, calendars, and the like from your photos. Free, Windows only. Snapfire Plus, which is not free, adds video editing and other stuff—a comparison chart is at the site.
Remember the white truffle post? He did a similar post on Blue Hill at Stone Barns and now reveals the software that made it possible: Comic Life 1.2. So with a bunch of your own digital photos you can create your own comic strip. Thanksgiving’s coming up. And Christmas. And Hanukkah. And Kwanzaa. Lots of photo possibilities.
Used the Plisson brush for the first time: very pleasant, and quite a different feel from the other brushes I have. It’s a bit stiffer and coarser—not so much as to be unpleasant, but a different feel on the face. OTOH, it’s definitely softer than, say, a boar bristle shaving brush.
I have a QED Unscented shaving stick I’ve been meaning to try, but decided to go with the Sandalwood. Worked up a fine lather on my beard, then used the Merkur Hefty Classic (“HD”) with a new Feather blade and got a quite smooth nick-free shave. Finished with a balm again, this time Baxter of California. Good, but not so nice as the Taylor Honey and Avocado and Wheatgerm Oils balm.
The new brush is a full success, thanks to The Wife and Alain, the last Master Barber in France (though some suspect that he’s perhaps only the last Master Barber in Paris).
The Wife no more than got off the plane than a cold she had picked up in Paris attacked with full force. She had a very uncomfortable week, and though we exercised all due care, I started showing some symptoms yesterday. I knew it was a cold and not la grippe because of this handy chart.
I started immediately with zinc lozenges (which can shorten a cold) and drinking lots of liquid and sleeping as much as I could. I’m still on the brink, but if I can maintain the regimen I think I’ll draw back into good health without feeling the full force of the ailment.
I’m glad it’s not influenza. I did get my flu shot, of course, but ever since reading The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by John M. Barry, I’ve had the greatest respect for influenza. The Great Pandemic of 1917-18 killed in six months more people than the Black Death killed in four years. Estimates of global mortality range from 50 to 100 million dead. The book is absolutely fascinating, and includes a potted history of medicine as the greatest medical minds of the day were called into service to fight the pandemic. There’s also a generous helping of bureaucratic stupidity, in local, state, and Federal government and in the military.