Archive for February 28th, 2008
A freeware program, Zorro, which blocks out all the monitor except for the TV image.
Last April, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had acted unlawfully in “its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change,” and now must regulate carbon dioxide. Yet nearly a year later, the EPA has failed to act, as agency official Robert Meyers reported in a letter to environmental groups yesterday:
As a result, at this time, the agency does not have a specific timeline for responding to the remand. However, let me assure you that developing an overall strategy for addressing the serious challenge of global climate change is a priority for the agency, and we are taking very seriously our responsibility to develop an effective, comprehensive strategy.
Sierra Club attorney David Bookbinder said, “Unless EPA owns up to its obligations immediately, we will be forced to take the administration back to court.”
Under pressure from the chemical industry, the Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed an outspoken scientist who chaired a federal panel responsible for helping the agency determine the dangers of a flame retardant widely used in electronic equipment.
Toxicologist Deborah Rice was appointed chair of an EPA scientific panel reviewing the chemical a year ago. Federal records show she was removed from the panel in August after the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying group for chemical manufacturers, complained to a top-ranking EPA official that she was biased.
The chemical, a brominated compound known as deca, is used in high volumes worldwide, largely in the plastic housings of television sets.
Rice, an award-winning former EPA scientist who now works at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, has studied low doses of deca and reported neurological effects in lab animals. Last February, around the time the EPA panel was convened, Rice testified before the Maine Legislature in support of a state ban on the compound because scientific evidence shows it is toxic and accumulating in the environment and people.
Chemical industry lobbyists say Rice’s comments to the Legislature, as well as similar comments to the media, show that she is a biased advocate who has compromised the integrity of the EPA’s review of the flame retardant.
The EPA is in the process of deciding how much daily exposure to deca is safe — a controversial decision, expected next month, that could determine whether it can still be used in consumer products. The role of the expert panel was to review and comment on the scientific evidence.
EPA officials removed Rice because of what they called “the perception of a potential conflict of interest.” Under the agency’s handbook for advisory committees, scientific peer reviewers should not “have a conflict of interest” or “appear to lack impartiality.”
EPA officials were not available for comment Thursday.
Environmentalists accuse the EPA of a “dangerous double standard,” because under the Bush administration, many pro-industry experts have served on the agency’s scientific panels.
The US imprisons more people per capita than any nation on earth. I have had commenters who say that this is good. I don’t think it’s all that good. For one thing, it’s terribly expensive (costly government, something many on the right don’t like); for another, the great explosion of prisoners is because of nonviolent offenders of victimless crimes—e.g., possessing a small amount of marijuana. The problem is, many police departments and state police organizations are driven by measures, and the counts of arrests and convictions are much easier to track than, say, quality of life.
The picture becomes even more worrisome when you compare the US to other industrialized nations, which have much lower incarceration rates and much lower crime rates. You would think that the connection (lower incarceration rates and lower crime rates) is natural, but those who like to imprison people claim that you get a lower crime rate only if you have a high incarceration rate.
UPDATE: From the Washington Post:
With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second, noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.
While studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect is influenced by changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents, and the share of young people in the population.
In addition, when it comes to preventing repeat offenses by nonviolent criminals — who make up about half of the incarcerated population — alternative punishments such as community supervision and mandatory drug counseling that are far less expensive may prove just as or more effective than jail time.
Florida, which nearly doubled its prison population over the past 15 years, has experienced a smaller drop in crime than New York, which, after a brief increase, reduced its number of inmates to below the 1993 level.
“There is no question that putting violent and chronic offenders behind bars lowers the crime rate and provides punishment that is well deserved,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project and one of the study’s authors. “On the other hand, there are large numbers of people behind bars who could be supervised in the community safely and effectively at a much lower cost — while also paying taxes, paying restitution to their victims, and paying child support.”
At any rate, the NY Times notes:
For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report (PDF file).
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars but that one in 100 black women are.
The report’s methodology differed from that used by the Justice Department, which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population rather than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department’s methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.
From Froomkin’s column today:
Kevin G. Hall writes for McClatchy Newspapers: “When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, the Bush administration predicted that the war would be self-financing and that rebuilding the nation would cost less than $2 billion.
“Coming up on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, a Nobel laureate now estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing America more than $3 trillion.
“That estimate from Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz also serves as the title of his new book, ‘The Three Trillion Dollar War,’ which hits store shelves Friday.
“The book, co-authored with Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes, builds on previous research that was published in January 2006. The two argued then and now that the cost to America of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is wildly underestimated. . . .
“The White House doesn’t care for the estimates by Stiglitz, a former chief economist of the World Bank who’s now a professor at Columbia University.
“‘People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can’t even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9-11,’ said White House spokesman Tony Fratto, conceding that the costs of the war on terrorism are high while questioning the premise of Stiglitz’s research.
“‘It is also an investment in the future safety and security of Americans and our vital national interests. $3 trillion? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn’t his slide rule work that way?’”
Slide rule? Slide rule??! Slide rules haven’t been made for a generation—they dropped out of sight in the late ’70s with the advent and continuing improvement of the pocket electronic calculator. Where the hell has Tony Fratto been? College students today have never seen an actual slide rule, much less worked with one. Professional economists who are 35 and under have probably never seen nor used a slide rule. Jesus.
On the bright side, at least he didn’t say, “Or isn’t that in his book of logarithms?”
Very good article at Wired on the Netflix $1,000,000 contest to improve the rankings prediction. (“Based on your previous rankings, you’ll like these movies….”). The article begins:
At first, it seemed some geeked-out supercoder was going to make an easy million.
In October 2006, Netflix announced it would give a cool seven figures to whoever created a movie-recommending algorithm 10 percent better than its own. Within two weeks, the DVD rental company had received 169 submissions, including three that were slightly superior to Cinematch, Netflix’s recommendation software. After a month, more than a thousand programs had been entered, and the top scorers were almost halfway to the goal.
But what started out looking simple suddenly got hard. The rate of improvement began to slow. The same three or four teams clogged the top of the leaderboard, inching forward decimal by agonizing decimal. There was BellKor, a research group from AT&T. There was Dinosaur Planet, a team of Princeton alums. And there were others from the usual math powerhouses — like the University of Toronto. After a year, AT&T’s team was in first place, but its engine was only 8.43 percent better than Cinematch. Progress was almost imperceptible, and people began to say a 10 percent improvement might not be possible.
Then, in November 2007, a new entrant suddenly appeared in the top 10: a mystery competitor who went by the name “Just a guy in a garage.” His first entry was 7.15 percent better than Cinematch; BellKor had taken seven months to achieve the same score. On December 20, he passed the team from the University of Toronto. On January 9, with a score 8.00 percent higher than Cinematch, he passed Dinosaur Planet.
Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker has an excellent catch today. So about that immunity thing for telecom companies that complied President Bush’s warrantless surveillance programs? The thing that the White House is demanding Congress bless? It turns out the reason why the GOP is going to the mat on it is pretty simple: campaign cash.
That is money the GOP needs needs needs. In December, House GOP leader John Boehner said his party’s fundraising “sucks.” And that would be about when the party raised retroactive legal approval of the telecoms and the government’s flagrantly illegal behavior to the level of a first principle.
Only thing is, the telecoms just aren’t letting the GOP wet its beak! From a subscription-only Roll Call story that Paul excerpts:
It’s quite discouraging,” said one GOP leadership aide, referring to the disparity in giving from the telecommunications industry in light of the FISA debate, but also the broader lack of support for Republicans from the business community in general.
“These companies just won’t do anything,” the aide said. “Even when you have the Democrats working against their bottom line.
So it’s all about campaign contributions and not at all about national security. Good to know.
Wired has ten unseen Abu Ghraib photos. Don’t click on them if you’re not prepared to be punched in the stomach. I actually exclaimed when I saw the first one—Mike Lillis asked me if I was OK—so, really, think before you click. Extremely NSFW.
Two things we learn: One, the thumbs-up at beaten prisoners was not just Lynddie England. Pic #2 is another soldier giving the thumbs up over a dead man. Pick #7 is perhaps the most horrifying of all: it zooms out from the infamous wired-box prisoner to show a nearby Charles Graner inspecting his fingernails.
What’s worse is that those who formulated the policies and procedures that encouraged this and had responsibility and oversight for what happened walked free and most were not even brought to trial. War crimes seem to be okay if done by the US.
Good links from James Fallows:
My very good friend David Ignatius has a very good column in today’s WaPo, about a more realistic approach to the Global War on Terror. It is based on a new book by Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer (whom I also know and like), which argues that is long past time for the U.S. to take a less panicky, emotional, and fraidy-cat approach to the threat of terrorism — OK, fraidy-cat is my term, not his — and think more calmly about how to defend ourselves. As Ignatius puts it:
The heart of Sageman’s message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat — and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, that, as McCain’s Web site puts it, the United States is facing “a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists” spawned by al-Qaeda.
If by chance you would be interested in hearing Sageman (and many others) quoted at length to this same effect a year and a half ago, in, ummm, a lengthy cover story in the Atlantic Monthly, with our free archives now all you have to do is click!
Trust California to push the boundaries.
First there were marijuana vending machines.
Now there is a University offering a two day course that will prepare people for jobs in an apparently thriving medical marijuana industry.
This is not your ordinary everyday higher education classes. Here, lecturers stand at the front of the class and point out the finer details of the marijuana plant.
Students are taught the art of cultivating and cooking with cannabis. They study the various strains of marijuana and learn which strain works best for particular ailments. And they are instructed on the legalities of an ‘illegal’ business, at least in the eyes of the federal government.
Oaksterdam University is the brain child of Richard Lee, an activist and pot-dispensary owner, who wants to ““…try to professionalize the industry and have it taken seriously as a real industry, just like beer and distilling hard alcohol.”
And there are obviously a number of people out there who agree. So far 60 students have completed the course which is now booked out until the end of May.
I recently posted Robert Burns’s poem to a haggis, and it undoubtedly struck you that you haven’t seen many poems to shaving. Dan, on the Razor and Brush message board, posted this poem that he wrote for a class assignment:
Protest, speakout, rail!
Reject the cartridge! Poor quality blades, two dollars a piece.
Reject canned goo! Unnatural smells, numbing agents.
Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape.
A better shave with obsidian and fat.
Reject burning faces, rashes, and blood on the collar.
Reject the siren of marketing-
five is not better than four, better than three, better than two.
Countdown- five, four, three, two- one is the only one you need!
One blade, machined with care, shiny, (razor) sharp.
Treet, Tiger, Feather, Dura,
One fifty for ten, not ten for five.
Embrace the gestalt.
First, hot water.
Then, a brush, profuse with lather.
Rose, lavender, citrus. Menthol. Soft. Soapy. Hot.
Smooth! Upon your face, the brush and lather coaxing your beard to attention, The menthol a continuing cool upon your face, tickling your smell, making the cat sneeze.
Grab your shaving instrument rescued from the scrap heap of Aunt Polly’s Interesting Junk shop,
loaded with just ONE blade.
Blue Tip, SuperShave, Merkur, Weishi.
Glide. No pressure. No pain.
Like shaving a peach. Like shaving a balloon.
Shaving, not scraping. The sound of ice being scratched resonating along your jawline.
With the grain, against the grain.
Rinse blade. Lather. Repeat. The civilized man emerges.
A bracing splash of Floid, Porasso, Tabac, or Anherb.
No sissified, over-priced scent-of-the-month. Leave those to the metrosexuals.
Join the underground.
Transform the morning!
A nice Scottish breakfast like this one—not dainty, but filling.
Greg Palast sent an email about the current Exxon court case (case info here):
Nineteen goddamn years is enough. I’m sorry if you don’t like my language, but when I think about what they did to Paul Kompkoff, I’m in no mood to nicey-nice words.
Next month marks 19 years since the Exxon Valdez dumped its load of crude oil across the Prince William Sound, Alaska. A big gooey load of this crude spilled over the lands of the Chenega Natives. Paul Kompkoff was a seal-hunter for the village. That is, until Exxon’s ship killed the seal and poisoned the rest of Chenega’s food supply.
While cameras rolled, Exxon executives promised they’d compensate everyone. Today, before the US Supreme Court, the big oil company’s lawyers argued that they shouldn’t have to pay Paul or other fishermen the damages ordered by the courts.
They can’t pay Paul anyway. He’s dead.
That was part of Exxon’s plan. They told me that. In 1990 and 1991, I worked for the Chenega and Chugach Natives of Alaska on trying to get Exxon to pay up to save the remote villages of the Sound. Exxon’s response was, “We can hold out in court until you’re all dead.”
Nice guys. But, hell, they were right, weren’t they?
But Exxon didn’t do it alone. They had enablers. One was a failed oil driller named “Dubya.” Exxon was the largest contributor to George W. Bush’s political career after Enron. They were a team, Exxon and Enron. The Chairman of Enron, Ken Lay, prior to his felony convictions, funded a group called Texans for Law Suit Reform. The idea was to prevent Natives, consumers and defrauded stockholders from suing felonious corporations and their chiefs.
When George went to Washington, Enron and Exxon got their golden pass in the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts. Today, as the court heard Exxon’s latest stall, Roberts said, in defense of Exxon’s behavior in Alaska, “What more can a corporation do?”
The answer, Your Honor, is plenty.
For starters, Mr. Roberts, Exxon could have turned on the radar. What? On the night the Exxon Valdez smacked into Bligh Reef, the Raycas radar system was turned off. Exxon shipping honchos decided it was too expensive to maintain it and train their navigators to use it. So, the inexperienced third mate at the wheel was driving the supertanker by eyeball, Christopher Columbus style. I kid you not.
Here’s what else this poor ‘widdle corporation could do: stop lying.
On the night of March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez was not even supposed to leave harbor.
If a tanker busts open, that doesn’t have to mean a thousand miles of shoreline gets slimed – so long as oil-slick containment equipment is in place.
On the night of March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez was not supposed have left port. No tanker can unless a spill containment barge is operating nearby. That night, the barge was in dry-dock, locked under ice. Exxon kept that fact hidden, concealing the truth even after the tanker grounded. An Exxon official radioed the emergency crew, “Barge is on its way.”
Paul’s gone – buried with Exxon’s promises. But the oil’s still there. Go out to Chenega lands today. At Sleepy Bay, kick over some gravel and it will smell like a gas station.
What the heck does this have to do with John McCain? The Senator is what I’d call a ‘Tort Tart.’ Ken Lay’s “Law Suit Reform” posse was one of the fronts used by a gaggle of corporate lobbyists waging war on your day in court. Their rallying cry is ‘Tort Reform,’ by which they mean they want to take away the God-given right of any American, rich or poor, to sue the bastards who crush your child’s skull through product negligence, make your heart explode with a faulty medical device, siphon off your pension funds, or poison your food supply with spilled oil.
Now, all of the Democratic candidates have seen through this ‘tort reform’ con – and so did a Senator named McCain who, in 2001, for example, voted for the Patients Bill of Rights allowing claims against butchers with scalpels. Then something happened to Senator McCain: the guy who stuck his neck out for litigants got his head chopped off when he ran for President in the Republican Party in 2000 for what one lobbyists’ website called McCain’s, “his go-it-alone moralism.”
So the Senator did what I call, The McCain Hunch. Again and again he grabbed his ankles and apologized to the K Street lobbyists, reversing his positions on, well, you name it. For example, in 2001, he said of Bush’s tax cuts, “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans.” Now, in bad conscience, the Senator vows to make these tax cuts permanent.
On “Tort Reform,” the about-face was dizzying. McCain voted to undermine his own 2001 Patients Bill of Rights with votes in 2005 to limit suits to enforce it. He then added his name to a bill that would have thrown sealhunter Kompkoff’s suit out of federal court.
In 2003, McCain voted against Bush’s Energy Plan, an industry oil-gasm. But this week, following Exxon’s report that it sucked in $40.6 billion in earnings last year, the largest profit haul in planetary history, McCain failed to join Clinton, Obama, most Democrats and some Republicans on a bill to require a teeny sliver of industry profit go to alternative energy sources. On oil independence, McCain is AWOL, missing in action.
Well, Paul, at least you were spared this.
I remember when I was on the investigation in Alaska, fishermen, bankrupted, utterly ruined – Kompkoff’s co-plaintiffs in the suit before the court – floated their soon-to-be repossessed boats into the tanker lanes with banners reading, “EXXON SUXX.” To which they could now add, about a one-time stand-up Senator: “McCain duxx.”
The fragrance of most lavender shaving creams is, to me, a surprise—and not totally pleasant. Rather than a pleasant floral odor, the fragrance I encounter is almost medicinal—sharp and somewhat off-putting.
This morning I used Tryphon English Lavender shaving cream, and the fragrance was exactly what I had hoped: floral, rich, and pleasing. The lather was excellent as well. Giovanni wrote that he was trying for the fragrance of the best English shaving creams he remembered from when he was in London 25 years ago. This cream will be a favorite.
The lather I evoked with the aid of Simpsons Commodore X3. The razor was the Gillette Aristocrat with the Trig blade. Another smooth and easy shave, and for the Oil Pass I again used my own mix.
And the aftershave? Thayers Lavender Witch Hazel Toner.