Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 11th, 2008

The bigger picture

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The rape-kit story in a nutshell

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Ezra Klein:

Like Atrios, I’d stayed away from the rape kits story because some of the details seemed shaky and it was explosive enough to ignore until it firmed up. Now it has. Eight years ago, the Alaskan Legislature had to pass a bill that banned towns from charging rape victims for the kits used to prove the crime and capture the perpetrator. These kits cost between $300 and $1,200 a piece, and are an essential portion of the investigation. There was only one town in the state doing this: Wasilla, where Sarah Palin was mayor. This was the same town that received tens of millions of dollars in pork, and had the money to hire a high-priced lobbying firm to bring in yet more. Shame Ted Stevens couldn’t appropriate some money so rape victims weren’t hit with a $1,000 bill.

Important fact from the news story:

In 2000, there were 497 rapes reported in Alaska, FBI statistics show. That’s a rate of 79.3 per 100,000 residents, the highest in the nation.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

20 questions for Palin

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From Forbes magazine:

  1. In a broad and long-term sense, would you have responded differently to the attacks of 9/11?
  2. Is Iraq a democracy?
  3. What’s the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?
  4. What is your preferred plan for peace between Israel and Palestine? A two state solution? What about Jerusalem?
  5. How do you feel about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent visit to Syria? Do you believe the United States should negotiate with leaders like President Bashar al-Assad?
  6. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s population lives in China and India. Who are those countries’ leaders?
  7. Do you support the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, which would lift restrictions on sales of nuclear technology and fuel to India, a country which hasn’t signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty?
  8. Other than more drilling, what steps do you suggest the U.S. take in order to move toward energy independence? Do you believe more investment is needed in alternative energy research? If so, how would you recommend this funding be allocated?
  9. How would you balance concerns over human rights and freedom in China with the United States’ growing economic interdependence with that country?
  10. What’s more important: securing Russia’s cooperation on nuclear proliferation and Iran, or supporting Georgia’s NATO bid? If Vladimir Putin called you on the phone and said, “It’s one or the other,” what would you tell him?
  11. Critique the foreign policy of the last administration. Name its single greatest success, and its most critical failure.
  12. What do you think will be the most defining foreign-policy issue in the next five years?
  13. What role should the United States play in the global effort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS? Should it support contraception, or abstinence only?
  14. You’ve said that the federal government spends too much money. What, in your view, is the appropriate level of spending as a percentage of GDP?
  15. You’re an advocate of reducing environmental restrictions on drilling. How much oil needs to be found in the United States before the country achieves energy independence?
  16. What are your picks for the three most enlightening books written on foreign policy in the last five years?
  17. Who among the world’s leaders can be listed as the top three friends of the United States and why?
  18. In your opinion, which U.S. president was the most successful world leader and why?
  19. Which U.S. political thinkers, writers, and politicians would you enlist to advise you on matters of foreign policy and why?
  20. Who is the first world leader you’d like to meet with and why?

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 2:23 pm

Posted in GOP

Hope on the “no-fly” list

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Maybe there’s hope.  Anita Ramasastry explains:

For some airline passengers, the no-fly list has been a continuous nightmare. Being on the list can mean being detained at airports and subjected to extensive questioning and searches. Meanwhile, getting off the list has often proved difficult or impossible.

Initially, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which administers the list, had no procedures in place for those who asserted they were wrongly listed. Over time, the TSA has offered varying processes that travelers have found confusing, opaque, and cumbersome. Moreover, it has been unclear where passengers whom the TSA turns down can go for help.

Fortunately, relief may finally be in sight – thanks to a lawsuit brought by a former Stanford graduate student from Malaysia, Rahinah Ibrahim. Ibrahim sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the TSA in federal court after she was told she was on the list, handcuffed, and detained by California law enforcement.

Recently, Ibrahim gained a victory in the suit: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled, 2-1, that a traveler can ask a federal trial court to decide whether her name should be included on the list and whether being listed violates her civil or constitutional rights.

In this column, I’ll explain why I believe this ruling was correct, and why it will have a lasting impact on the rights of travelers who seek redress, hoping to clear their names for good. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 2:22 pm

Bob Barr on prohibition

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He has some good points:

As both a U.S. Attorney and Member of Congress, I defended drug prohibition. But it has become increasingly clear to me, after much study, that our current strategy has not worked and will not work. The other candidates for president prefer not to address this issue, but ignoring the failure of existing policy exhibits both a poverty of thought and an absence of political courage. The federal government must turn the decision on drug policy back to the states and the citizens themselves.

My change in perspective might shock some people, but leadership requires a willingness to assess evidence and recognize when a strategy is not working. We are paying far too high a price for today’s failed policy to continue it simply because it has always been done that way.

It is obvious that, like Prohibition’s effort to eradicate alcohol usage, drug prohibition has not succeeded. Despite enormous law enforcement efforts — including the dedicated service of many thousands of professional men and women — the government has not halted drug use. Indeed, the problem is worse today than in 1972, when Richard Nixon first coined the phrase “War on Drugs.”

Whether we like it or not, tens of millions of Americans have used and will continue to use drugs. Yet in 2005 we spent more than $12 billion on federal drug enforcement efforts. Another $30 billion went to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders.

These people must live forever with the scarlet letter P for prison. Only luck saved even presidents and candidates for president from bearing the same mark, which would have disqualified them from not only high political office, but also many more commonplace jobs.

The federal drug laws affect even those who have never smoked (or inhaled!) a marijuana cigarette. One of the lessons I learned while serving in Congress is how power tends to concentrate in Washington, and how that concentration of power begets more power and threatens individual liberty. The ever-expanding drug war is a perfect illustration of this principle.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 2:19 pm

Reports from the police state

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Andrew Sullivan:

Stunning pictures of protesters at the RNC. More here. Money quote from a photographer:

By the time I realized I was at the center of the conflict it was too late. The bombs and tear gas were exploding all around me and cops were screaming at everyone to go south toward the bridge. I yelled to one cop “I’m media! Where do I go?!” but he pointed his rubber bullet gun at me and yelled “Go to the fucking bridge!” It was utter chaos. The police were throwing gas and bombs in between the bridge and people being told to go to the bridge. Poor aim? Amid the mayhem I managed to click away a few frames, but I couldn’t help but notice what was going on. They had surrounded the area and were corralling what seemed like 300 people, including a large number of media and legal observers, onto the bridge for a mass arrest.

If you aren’t creeped out by what has been going on these past two weeks in America, you are not paying attention.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

Tagged with

“If we fight fires, the terrorists will have won”

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Schneier on Security:

This really pegs the stupid meter:

He explains all the district’s hydrants, including those in Alexander Ranch, have had their water turned off since just after 9/11 — something a trade association spokesman tells us is common practice for rural systems.”These hydrants need to be cut off in a way to prevent vandalism or any kind of terrorist activity, including something in the water lines,” Hodges said.

But Hodges says fire departments know, or should have known, the water valves can be turned back on with a tool.

One, fires are much more common than terrorism — keeping fire hydrants on makes much more sense than turning them off. Two, what sort of terrorism is possible using working fire hydrants? Three, if the water valves can be “turned back on with a tool,” how does turning them off prevent fire-hydrant-related terrorism?

More and more, it seems as if public officials in this country have simply gone insane.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Tagged with

What’s up with Troopergate

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Steve Benen has a good summary of what’s going on.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 2:13 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

Congress moving fast

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Matthew Blake writes in the Washington Independent:

Yesterday the Interior Dept. inspector general unveiled three lurid reports of sexual misconduct, drug dealing and partying with oil executives at Interior’s Mineral Management Services.

Today the House oversight committee said there will be a hearing next Wednesday to scrutinize MMS and their oil and natural gas drilling program.

The investigation seems to merit congressional follow-up. Particularly since the Justice Dept. has said, without explanation, that it won’t prosecute two officials that may have committed multiple felonies– Lucy Q. Denett, the former associate director of MMS; and Gregory W. Smith, the former director of the oil and gas program. [emphasis added, just to show more about Mukasey, the wretch. - LG]

So what is the brewing scandal about? It seems to be a blanket indictment of the MMS royalty-in-kind program, in which natural gas and oil companies lease federal land and then give the government usually 1/6 of what gas and oil they extract.

MMS has 50 employees and, according to the IG report, 19 took gifts from oil and gas executives with “prodigious frequency.” Employees went to parties with oil and gas executives that featured cocaine and marijuana. Two female employees had sexual relationships with industry contacts.

But where the federal investigation really gets interesting are specific allegations against the former top officials Denett and Smith. Denett reportedly went out of her way to arrange MMS consulting contracts for two former colleagues. One, Jimmy W. Mayberry, has pled guilty to a felony conflict-of-interest charge related to his MMS consulting work.

An entire IG report, meanwhile, is devoted to Smith, the former royalty-in-kind director. Smith used his position to get an outside consulting job while he was stiill working at Interior; took gifts from oil and gas officials; had sex with two subordinates, and purchased cocaine several times from his secretary and her boyfriend.

Reaction to the scandal has so far focused largely on how it might effect Congress’s offshore drilling debate. After all, MMS is in charge of the Florida coast, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other resource-rich, federally owned land.

But these are no ordinary accusations of government mismanagement. Congressional investigators will surely focus on the broader issue of oil drilling. Will they also find out why Denett, Smith and several of their former colleagues aren’t being prosecuted?

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 2:11 pm

Bleeding gums lead to heart disease

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Beware:

Bad teeth, bleeding gums and poor dental hygiene can end up causing heart disease, scientists heard today (Thursday 11 September 2008) at the Society for General Microbiology’s Autumn meeting being held this week at Trinity College, Dublin. People with poor dental hygiene and those who don’t brush their teeth regularly end up with bleeding gums, which provide an entry to the bloodstream for up to 700 different types of bacteria found in our mouths. This increases the risk of having a heart attack, according to microbiologists from the University of Bristol and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

“The mouth is probably the dirtiest place in the human body,” said Dr Steve Kerrigan from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland. “If you have an open blood vessel from bleeding gums, bacteria will gain entry to your bloodstream. When bacteria get into the bloodstream they encounter tiny fragments called platelets that clot blood when you get a cut. By sticking to the platelets bacteria cause them to clot inside the blood vessel, partially blocking it. This prevents the blood flow back to the heart and we run the risk of suffering a heart attack.”

The only treatment for this type of disease is aggressive antibiotic therapy, but with the increasing problem of multiple drug resistant bacteria, this option is becoming short lived.

“Cardiovascular disease is currently the biggest killer in the western world. Oral bacteria such as Streptococcus gordonii and Streptococcus sanguinis are common infecting agents, and we now recognise that bacterial infections are an independent risk factor for heart diseases,” said Professor Howard Jenkinson from the University of Bristol. “In other words it doesn’t matter how fit, slim or healthy you are, you’re adding to your chances of getting heart disease by having bad teeth.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 1:37 pm

The future after unsustainability collapses

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The problem with an unsustainable lifestyle is, of course, that it cannot be sustained. And as we see the direction the planet is going, in terms of climate change, oil exhaustion, water scarcity, and so on, one wonders what the future will be like. The Archdruid Report has an interesting piece on that, which begins:

I’ve suggested several times in these essays that the broad shape of the most likely future facing industrial society, at the end of the age of cheap abundant energy, can be sorted out very roughly into three phases: the age of scarcity industrialism, the age of salvage societies, and – if we are lucky – the ecotechnic age, when new societies based on sustainable high technology will rise on the ruins of our own unsustainable time. For a variety of reasons, any typology of this sort is easy to misunderstand, and it seems worthwhile just now to clarify what I intend to say, and what I don’t, in proposing this model of the future.

The most important point that needs making, it seems to me, is that these three phases are to some extent ideal types, and the forms they take on the ground of actual history will be far more complex, messy, and idiosyncratic than the simple outline suggests. This isn’t simply a result of the fact that none of these phases have arrived yet. The same thing can be said, after all, of the use of economic phases to talk about history that’s already happened.

When a historian suggests that England embraced a mercantilist economic system in the sixteenth century, for instance, she does not mean that the English economy shifted gears all at once on January 1, 1501. Nor does she mean that the English economy in that century lacked important features of the older feudal-agrarian economy or foreshadowings of the capitalist economy that replaced mercantilism later on, nor that the English mercantilist economy was identical to all others. Rather, she means that the traits implied by the term “mercantilism” – an export-based economy geared toward generating a favorable balance of trade with competing nations, foreign policy initiatives pursuing overseas colonies and the expansion of naval power and a merchant marine, and the like – provide a workable sketch of the shape toward which the English economy moved over the course of the century in question.

The same rule applies to the phases I’ve outlined here. The transition from today’s industrialism of abundance to the scarcity industrialism of the near future, for example, will likely be just as slow and ragged a process as the rise of mercantilism. Some nations …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Daily life

More on sex and drugs in the Bush Administration

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Just read it. Incredible. A snippet:

One of Smith’s subordinates also revealed that in late 2004, Smith repeatedly called her looking for cocaine — even though she had already given some to him earlier in the day. Eventually, he showed up to her house where he “obtained crystal methamphetamine” and the two “engaged in oral sex.”

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 1:23 pm

The McCain campaign will do anything

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My God, they even rewrite FactCheck.org’s findings—and FactCheck.org doesn’t like it:

Summary

A McCain-Palin ad has FactCheck.org calling Obama’s attacks on Palin “absolutely false” and “misleading.” That’s what we said, but it wasn’t about Obama.

Our article criticized anonymous e-mail falsehoods and bogus claims about Palin posted around the Internet. We have no evidence that any of the claims we found to be false came from the Obama campaign.

The McCain-Palin ad also twists a quote from a Wall Street Journal columnist. He said the Obama camp had sent a team to Alaska to “dig into her record and background.” The ad quotes the WSJ as saying the team was sent to “dig dirt.”

Update, Sept. 10: Furthermore, the Obama campaign insists that no researchers have been sent to Alaska and that the Journal owes them a correction.

Analysis

We don’t object to people reprinting our articles. In fact, our copyright policy encourages it. But we’ve also asked that “the editorial integrity of the article be preserved” and told those who use our items that “you should not edit the original in such a way as to alter the message.”

With its latest ad, released Sept. 10, the McCain-Palin campaign has altered our message in a fashion we consider less than honest. The ad strives to convey the message that FactCheck.org said “completely false” attacks on Gov. Sarah Palin had come from Sen. Barack Obama. We said no such thing. We have yet to dispute any claim from the Obama campaign about Palin.

They call the ad “Fact Check.” It says “the attacks on Gov. Palin have been called ‘completely false’ … ‘misleading.’ ” On screen is a still photo of a grim-faced Obama. Our words are accurately quoted, but they had nothing to do with Obama.

Our article, posted two days earlier, debunked a number of false or misleading claims that have circulated in chain e-mails and Internet postings regarding Palin. There is no evidence that the Obama campaign is behind any of the wild accusations that we critiqued. There is no more basis for attributing these viral attacks to the Obama campaign than there is for blaming the McCain campaign for chain e-mail attacks falsely claiming that Obama is a Muslim, or a “racist,” or that he is proposing to tax water. The anti-Palin messages, like the anti-Obama messages, have every appearance of being home-grown.

Digging for “Dirt”

The ad also quotes the Wall Street Journal as saying that the Obama campaign “air-dropped a mini-army of 30 lawyers, investigators and opposition researchers to dig dirt on Governor Palin.” That’s also a distortion. The Wall Street Journal opinion article did not say that the Obama team was there to “dig dirt.” It said they were there do “dig into her record and background.” Maybe the McCain-Palin campaign knows something we don’t about what’s in Palin’s record and background.

The full quote, from an item by conservative columnist John Fund, dated Sept. 9:

WSJ’s John Fund, Sept. 9: Democrats have airdropped a mini-army of 30 lawyers, investigators and opposition researchers into Anchorage, the state capital Juneau and Mrs. Palin’s hometown of Wasilla to dig into her record and background. My sources report the first wave arrived in Anchorage less than 24 hours after John McCain selected her on August 29.

Fund said the opposition researchers were mainly interested in a controversy surrounding Palin’s firing of her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan. Monegan has claimed he was dismissed because he wouldn’t fire a state trooper who was in a divorce battle with Palin’s sister; the Alaska Legislature is investigating whether Palin acted properly. Fund also stated that the Palin family has accused the trooper of “using a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson, drinking in his patrol car and illegally shooting a moose.”

Now, that’s “dirt.”

Update, Sept. 10: After this article was posted, the Obama campaign contacted us to say that John Fund’s article is wrong.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor, Sept. 10: John Fund’s claim that we “air-dropped” 30 lawyers into Alaska is false. No one from the Obama campaign or the DNC has been sent to Alaska. We’ve asked Mr. Fund for a correction.

Footnote: At least one Obama spokesman has repeated an allegation that we debunked in our story, that Palin was a supporter of Pat Buchanan. However, the Obama campaign was not the originator of the claim.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 1:21 pm

Posted in GOP

GOP: “Lost your home? Then you can’t vote.”

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Outrageous—but typical. The GOP will do anything to keep voters from the polls, if the voters are elderly or poor or students or minorities. Eartha Jane Melzer writes in the Michigan Messenger:

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed.

State election rules allow parties to assign “election challengers” to polls to monitor the election. In addition to observing the poll workers, these volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter provided they “have a good reason to believe” that the person is not eligible to vote. One allowable reason is that the person is not a “true resident of the city or township.”

The Michigan Republicans’ planned use of foreclosure lists is apparently an attempt to challenge ineligible voters as not being “true residents.”

One expert questioned the legality of the tactic.

“You can’t challenge people without a factual basis for doing so,” said J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.-based public-interest law firm. “I don’t think a foreclosure notice is sufficient basis for a challenge, because people often remain in their homes after foreclosure begins and sometimes are able to negotiate and refinance.”

As for the practice of challenging the right to vote of foreclosed property owners, Hebert called it, “mean-spirited.”

GOP ties to state’s largest foreclosure law firm

The Macomb GOP’s plans are another indication of how John McCain’s campaign stands to benefit from the burgeoning number of foreclosures in the state. McCain’s regional headquarters are housed in the office building of foreclosure specialists Trott & Trott. The firm’s founder, David A. Trott, has raised between $100,000 and $250,000 for the Republican nominee.

The Macomb County party’s plans to challenge voters who have defaulted on their house payments is likely to disproportionately affect African-Americans who are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. More than 60 percent of all sub-prime loans — the most likely kind of loan to go into default — were made to African-Americans in Michigan, according to a report issued last year by the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

Challenges to would-be voters

Statewide, the Republican Party is gearing up for a comprehensive voter challenge campaign, according to Denise Graves, party chair for Republicans in Genessee County, which encompasses Flint. The party is creating a spreadsheet of election challenger volunteers and expects to coordinate a training with the regional McCain campaign, Graves said in an interview with Michigan Messenger.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

US troops’ anger on Iraq duty

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The BBC interviews soldiers in Iraq. Rater R for language. About 17 minutes long.

more about "US troops’ anger on Iraq duty", posted with vodpod

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Daily life

Important question on Cindy McCain and her theft

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As you probably already know, Cindy McCain was addicted to prescription drugs (Vicatem and/or Percocet, 30-50 pills a day) and stole drugs from her charity to support her habit. Now a whistleblower has come forward to fill out the details in this picture, and what he has to say is surprising. The post begins:

A whistleblower is coming forth against John and Cindy McCain, and the picture he is painting is not a pretty one.  You’ve probably heard about Cindy McCain stealing prescription drugs from her charity in the 1990s.  Today, Tom Gosinski, her former employee and a close friend of the McCain’s, came out on the record about the entire sordid episode.  And it appears that McCain used his Senate staff and resources to cover up Cindy’s drug use, and potentially to prevent the Drug Enforcement Agency from investigating his wife’s theft of illegal prescription drugs.  John McCain certainly used his political connections to begin a campaign of intimidation against Gosinski, because at the time – this was after the Keating 5 scandal – another major scandal would have derailed his career.  Gosinski stayed quiet out of fear until today; a recent fight with cancer has strengthened his resolve.  As he told me today, if he can beat cancer, he can go on the record regarding how the McCain’s do business.

There’s more (and also video) at the link, so keep reading. And note this post which asks why the Washington Post apparently pulled a story on the same thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Drug laws, GOP, Government

Question to consider

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As the McCain campaign embraces ever more obvious lies and pandering, even his most stalwart allies are starting to recoil. Take, for example, this pathetic 43-second defense of McCain:

My question: If John McCain cannot run his own election campaign effectively, how can we expect him to run the country?

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 12:59 pm

Posted in GOP

Asleep at the switch

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Excellent post at The Reality-Based Community by Jonathan Zasloff:

So it turns out that there is a “culture of ethical failure” in the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service. The Inspector General’s reports “portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch.” It’s all there: sex, drugs, cash–just the sort of thing that makes a good scandal.

Wow–just the sort of thing that would have called for vigorous Senate oversight during this time. If, say, the chair of one of the committees with jurisdiction over all this didn’t uncover it, then you might say that such a person would be unfit for national office. You certainly wouldn’t call him a candidate for change. If he was also getting millions from energy companies, you might suspect that any claim to be a change candidate might stink like fish in a newspaper–or even look like lipstick on a pig.

And who was the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee during most of this time, which has jurisdiction over (among other things) pipelines, interstate commerce, and coastal zone management?

You peeked, didn’t you?

PS Commerce obviously isn’t the only committee with jurisdiction, but the MMS sells oil and gas on the open market. That’s an interstate commerce issue if there ever was one. And last I checked, oil goes through pipelines.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 12:55 pm

Posted in GOP

A careful reading of The Big Lebowski

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Check it out. The Coen Brothers films, IMO, deserve careful readings. I have detailed theories about several of them—Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, among others. The Coen Brothers make films to study.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Movies

DNA matches hit the birthday problem

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You know the birthday problem: if you have 31 people in a room, what are the odds that two have the same birthday (month and day, not year)? Well, it’s more than 50-50. In fact, it’s 50-50 at around 26 or 27 people. (The trick is that you don’t specify a birthday, but look for any match.) So it is with DNA matching, as Steven Levitt explains:

Jason Felch and Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times recently wrote a fascinating piece about a controversy that has arisen regarding the use of DNA in identifying criminal suspects. The article starts like this:

State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona’s DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles.

The men matched at 9 of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people.

The [Federal Bureau of Investigation] estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white.

In the years after her 2001 discovery, Troyer found dozens of similar matches — each seeming to defy impossible odds.

As word spread, these findings by a little-known lab worker raised questions about the accuracy of the F.B.I.’s DNA statistics and ignited a legal fight over whether the nation’s genetic databases ought to be opened to wider scrutiny.

Later, a systematic search of the 65,000 felons in the Arizona database revealed that there were 122 pairs that matched at 9 of 13 loci. Twenty pairs matched at 10 loci.

When I heard about this, I wondered if the F.B.I. is totally off its rocker when it comes to the probabilities it gives about DNA matches. Is it possible that the F.B.I. is right about the statistics it cites, and that there could be 122 nine-out-of-13 matches in Arizona’s database?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer turns out to be yes. Let’s say that the chance of any two individuals matching at any one locus is 7.5 percent. In reality, the frequency of a match varies from locus to locus, but I think 7.5 percent is pretty reasonable. For instance, with a 7.5 percent chance of matching at each locus, the chance that any 2 random people would match at all 13 loci is about 1 in 400 trillion. If you choose exactly 9 loci for 2 random people, the chance that they will match all 9 is 1 in 13 billion. Those are the sorts of numbers the F.B.I. tosses around, I think.

So under these same assumptions, how many pairs would we expect to find matching on at least 9 of 13 loci in the Arizona database? Remarkably, about 100. If you start with 65,000 people and do a pairwise match of all of them, you are actually making over 2 billion separate comparisons (65,000 * 64,999/2). And if you aren’t just looking for a match on 9 specific loci, but rather on any 9 of 13 loci, then for each of those pairs of people there are over 700 different combinations that are being searched.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2008 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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