Archive for October 20th, 2008
Here’s a useful list (with links) of some important OpenOffice extensions. I wonder whether my OpenOffice readers have these.
In my view, prisons should function as rehabilitation to the extent possible, trying many things that might turn people from crime. Some criminals are incorrigible, I know, but I suspect that number is lower than the current recidivism rate would lead one to believe. The fact is that prisons by and large do not seriously attempt rehabilitation. Here’s a good story:
Nalini Nadkarni of Evergreen State College currently advises a team of researchers who sport shaved heads, tattooed biceps and prison-issued garb rather than the lab coats and khakis typically worn by researchers. Why is Nadkarni’s team composed of such apparently iconoclastic researchers? Because all of her researchers are inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, a medium security prison in Littlerock, Washington. With partial funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Nadkarni has guided her unlikely but productive team of researchers since 2004, as they conduct experiments to identify the best ways to cultivate slow-growing mosses. Nadkarni’s so-called Moss-in-Prisons project is designed to help ecologists replace large quantities of ecologically important mosses that are regularly illegally stripped from Pacific Northwest forests by horticulturalists.
Why did Nadkarni recruit inmates into her research team? “Because,” she explains, “I need help from people who have long periods of time available to observe and measure the growing mosses; access to extensive space to lay out flats of plants; and fresh minds to put forward innovative solutions.”
In addition to managing the Moss-in-Prisons research at Cedar Creek, Nadkarni helps the facility’s inmates run various projects that promote sustainable living–including an organic garden that produces 15,000 pounds of fresh vegetables every summer, a bee-keeping operation and a composting operation that processes one ton of food per month.
One member of Nadkarni’s research team, who was released from Cedar Creek, enrolled in a Ph.D. program in microbiology at the University of Nevada and presented his Cedar Creek research at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in August 2008.
Nadkarni started the Moss-in-Prisons project with a type of NSF award that is specially designed to help scientists reach out to public audiences. More recently, she has received additional funding from the Washington State Department of Corrections.
In addition, Nadkarni has creatively stretched project resources by recruiting other NSF-funded researchers to contribute to a popular lecture series that she started at Cedar Creek. By giving such lectures, these scientists fulfill requirements for conducting public outreach that accompany NSF awards.
Source: National Science Foundation
The federal government has decided to add bisphenol A to the country’s list of toxic substances, a move that is likely to renew attention on the widespread use of the controversial chemical in almost all food cans sold in Canada.
The toxic determination, issued in today’s Canada Gazette, makes Canada the first country to classify as risky bisphenol A, the chemical building block for polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins.
The government took the action based on worries that infants up to the age of 18 months might be inadvertently getting too much of the chemical, which mimics the hormone estrogen, from baby formula cans and plastic baby bottles, as well concerns that fish and other wildlife could be harmed from environmental exposure. …
Read this post on the Watchdog Blog. It begins:
Yesterday, the Washington Post noticed a disturbing trend that we have been following for a long time – the corporatization of scientific research ostensibly conducted by unbiased and trustworthy sources like, in this case, the Food and Drug Administration. Science has been twisted to serve corporate ends for decades – see the tobacco industry’s “studies” showing that smoking is not dangerous. Most of the time, these justifications for unhealthy or dangerous products are given precisely the credibility they deserve – none. Perhaps realizing this, the new trend is to funnel money behind the scenes to get disreputable science published by reputable sources.
The FDA’s tarnished report on bisphenol A (BPA) is only the most recent incident of corporatized science. In this case, the FDA subcommittee reporting that an “adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels of exposure from food contact uses” was chaired by Martin Philbert, acting director of the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center. The problem is, the Risk Science Center recently received a $5 million grant from Charles Gelman, founder of Gelman Instrument Company (now Pall Life Sciences) and firm believer that BPA is “risk free.”
Gelman, whose company was once labeled the second worst polluter in Michigan by the state’s Department of Natural Resources, may not have bad intentions. And indeed, the Risk Science Center expects a permanent director to replace Philbert by the time Gelman’s grant kicks in next year. But the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Gelman and Philbert “talk often,” and the Washington Post reports that Philbert failed to put Gelman’s donation on his financial disclosure form. It all adds up to a relationship that’s too close for comfort. As the New York Times says, “Consumers need to know that any decision on BPA is completely unbiased – and that the FDA is, too.”
Despite the dangers of a potential toxin being present in hundreds of thousands of containers (including countless baby bottles), the past few months have brought far worse consequences because of the corporatization of science. Three other recent examples of the manipulation of clinical studies by pharmaceutical companies have made press.
A swill bucket of racism, mainly. But read this entire post and watch the video.
Go read the background and see the photos at The Wednesday Chef. Here’s the recipe from that post:
Peppers for Cold Meats (Piments pour viandes froides)
Makes 4 cups
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
1 pound red sweet peppers, washed, cored, seeds removed, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spices (allspice, nutmeg)
1 lb ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (I drained a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and used 3/4 of them)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1. Put the oil in a saucepan. Chop the onion very fine, add to the pan and fry over low heat until softened. Add the peppers, salt, ginger and mixed spices, and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, raisins and sugar. Add the vinegar; cook over very lot heat, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook with the lid off for 5 to 10 more minutes.
$5 off on any purchase of $25 or more. You will need this coupon. Offer expires 22 October.
When I was working, I almost always wrapped up a project with a “lessons learned” document. The project could be developing a product, attending a convention, making a presentation, planning and running a conference—whatever the effort was, a review at the end and a collection of “lessons learned” from everyone involved was an invaluable asset the next time a similar effort was mounted.
The FAA does the same thing. From the link:
Lessons Learned From Transport Airplane Accidents
International commercial air travel has reached levels of safety and convenience which would have been unimaginable just a generation ago. Although almost always extremely tragic events, the lessons from accidents have played an important role in the process to continue improving this safety.
This Lessons Learned From Aviation Accidents library represents some of the most major accidents and their related lessons. The U. S. Federal Aviation Administration, with support from many others, plan to continue adding to this material on an annual basis. The objective is to populate the material with many more of the most historically significant, policy shaping accidents, in order that the lessons that can be learned from their review may be available to all users of the library.
Arrangement of the library
Three different “perspectives” are used to arrange the accidents in this library and illustrate the complex interrelationship of accident causes. Each accident also contains at least one high level lesson related to a threat element, and at least one lesson related to a theme element. View each of these perspectives and their related elements by clicking in the areas below.
Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse.
In the cross hairs of the campaign carried out by DCI of Washington were Republican senators and a regulatory overhaul bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. DCI’s chief executive is Doug Goodyear, whom John McCain’s campaign later hired to manage the GOP convention in September.
Freddie Mac’s payments to DCI began shortly after the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee sent Hagel’s bill to the then GOP-run Senate on July 28, 2005. All GOP members of the committee supported it; all Democrats opposed it.
In the midst of DCI’s yearlong effort, Hagel and 25 other Republican senators pleaded unsuccessfully with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to allow a vote.
“If effective regulatory reform legislation … is not enacted this year, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system and the economy as a whole,” the senators wrote in a letter that proved prescient.
Unknown to the senators, DCI was undermining support for the bill in a campaign targeting 17 Republican senators in 13 states, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. The states and the senators targeted changed over time, but always stayed on the Republican side. …
Sen. Christopher Dodd sounded like Dr. Seuss without the depth last week. “It is what it is,” declared Dodd, mistaking Hartford for Whoville, when he told The Courant’s Rick Green that he had no plans to release documents from his $800,000 in sweetheart mortgages from subprime titan Countrywide Financial.
“There is nothing to the story and I’m just not going to keep on repeating it,” pronounced Dodd, as he morphed into Yertle the Turtle. “‘You hush up your mouth!’ howled the mighty King Yertle. ‘You’ve no right to talk to the world’s highest turtle.’”
Dodd will serve the state green eggs and ham before he’ll honor his pledges to release the documents from deals that will save him tens of thousands of dollars over the terms of the loans. Nonsensical answers, however, won’t smother persistent, serious questions about Dodd’s abuse of his office.
Dodd has answered almost no questions about the details of his 2003 mortgages. The senator cast an unflattering light on himself when he couldn’t settle on a credible response in June to the simple question of whether he knew he was getting special mortgage deals as a “Friend of Angelo.” That’s the privileged category of borrowers that Countrywide co-founder Angelo Mozilo made sure received cut-rate loans with hefty traditional fees waived.
Dodd went from it’s outrageous to think he would profit from his office, to he didn’t know he got valuable special deals, to he thought everyone who refinanced with Countrywide got that kind of treatment. Those dizzying contradictions on the easy questions must have left Dodd cowering as he contemplated explaining documents that would show he knew what Countrywide was doing for him — each answer putting the lie to his past protestations.
That Countrywide employed lobbyists to influence Dodd and his colleagues while the lender lavished benefits on the senator may ensnare him in an ominous encounter with the Senate’s ethics committee. It would be harder for that body to whitewash a violation if the insidious mortgage details are known to a suspicious public.
The customs and expectations of Washington continue to bewilder us. …
A molecule called interleukin-6 has opened new doors for the creation of new drugs against obesity and diabetes. These are the conclusions of an international project which has had the participation of researchers from Vitagenes, a company which forms part of the Campus program promoted by the University of Granada (UGR) and situated in the Technological Park of Health Sciences (PTS).
Vitagenes has collaborated in this project through its technical director, doctor José Luis Mesa, who has been one of the main authors of the study together with distinguished scientists of the University of Melbourne and the Baker Heart Research Institute (Australia). The most relevant results of the project, such as a potential treatment to prevent diabetes and obesity, have been published in the international scientific Journal of Endocrinology.
An (un)known molecule
The main discovery has been the change of the paradigm of a molecule called interleukin-6 in the prevention of obesity and diabetes. Up to now, scientific evidence suggested that interleukin-6, chronically high in obese persons and diabetics, could be harmful for obesity and diabetes; however, this study proves exactly the opposite. “No study had tried to inject interleukin-6 directly to analyse if this molecule was really harmful or, to the contrary, could help to prevent obesity and diabetes” José Luis Mesa points out. He explains that “our hypothesis was that interleukin-6 was naturally high in diabetic and obese persons precisely to combat such diseases. In order to prove it, we injected human recombinant interleukin-6 daily for two weeks and analysed its behaviour and its effects on the metabolism”.
Mark Febbraio, scientific director in the Baker Heart Research Institute and a member of the Advisory Scientific Committee of Vitagenes, points out that “we obtained surprising results. The exogenous administration of interleukin-6 improved insulin sensitivity and the absorption of glucose, essential for diabetics”. In addition, according to Mesa, “interleukin-6 also increased the expression of important genes related to fats metabolism, such as PPAR and UCP2. This suggests that interleukin-6 could be involved in the metabolic control of body weight”.
However, Vitagenes has also reported that this is a preliminary study carried out in animal models, and we need new studies in humans to establish definite conclusions, “although everything seems to indicate that the application in humans would be possible in the medium term. This could substantially improve the state of people with diabetes and obesity”, points out Mesa.
Source: Universidad de Granada
Performance bonuses for people who spectacularly failed in their jobs. It’s a strange world. Here’s the story:
Financial workers at Wall Street’s top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year – despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.
Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are in line to pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted criticism. The government’s cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay would be curbed.
Pay plans for bankers have been disclosed in recent corporate statements. Pressure on the US firms to review preparations for annual bonuses increased yesterday when Germany’s Deutsche Bank said many of its leading traders would join Josef Ackermann, its chief executive, in waiving millions of euros in annual payouts.
The sums that continue to be spent by Wall Street firms on payroll, payoffs and, most controversially, bonuses appear to bear no relation to the losses incurred by investors in the banks. Shares in Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have declined by more than 45% since the start of the year. Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have fallen by more than 60%. JP MorganChase fell 6.4% and Lehman Brothers has collapsed.
At one point last week the Morgan Stanley $10.7bn pay pot for the year to date was greater than the entire stock market value of the business. In effect, staff, on receiving their remuneration, could club together and buy the bank.
In the first nine months of the year Citigroup, which employs thousands of staff in the UK, accrued $25.9bn for salaries and bonuses, an increase on the previous year of 4%. Earlier this week the bank accepted a $25bn investment by the US government as part of its bail-out plan.
At Goldman Sachs the figure was $11.4bn, Morgan Stanley $10.73bn, JP Morgan $6.53bn and Merrill Lynch $11.7bn. At Merrill, which was on the point of going bust last month before being taken over by Bank of America, the total accrued in the last quarter grew 76% to $3.49bn. At Morgan Stanley, the amount put aside for staff compensation also grew in the last quarter to the end of August by 3% to $3.7bn.
Days before it collapsed into bankruptcy protection a month ago Lehman Brothers revealed $6.12bn of staff pay plans in its corporate filings. These payouts, the bank insisted, were justified despite net revenue collapsing from $14.9bn to a net outgoing of $64m.
Although science seems to lead at best to a series of false descriptioons with ever-decreasing differences between successive descriptions, science is the best way so far found to know the truth of the universe in which we live, the truth unmasked by human projections, desires, myths, and misunderstandings. Science is the best way to know the real world, as mathematics is best way to know the abstract world—and, like science, math has its own internal problems about how much it can know.
The discovery/invention of science seems obvious. The human mind has many mechanism—little subroutines—whose purpose is to recognize patterns: visual patterns, auditory patterns, tactile patterns, olfactory patterns, and patterns existing in space or time. You can’t turn off the routines: they’re automatic. I recall a friend who was making a coffee table. He had a large collection of black tiles and a small collection of light blue tiles. He was going for a random scattering of blue tiles in a field of black—and it was extremely difficult. He would place the tiles, and suddenly see the blue tiles as suggesting the shape of a bear. He would rearrange them, look at the result, and suddenly see another pattern. “Random” is hard because the mind seeks patterns—hence the pleasures at looking at clouds and seeing what they resemble.
So as any human becomes aware of some part of the world—say, the lights in the sky—and becomes interested and observes, the human will find patterns. First, probably the constellations, then the movements and repetitions from season to season. Some may be true patterns external to the human (the sky changing over seasons, some may be projections from the human (constellation groupings and names—some constellations include stars whose closeness and association is illusory, due simply to the view from this solar system.
So the human becomes self-educated by observations over time: becoming more and more aware of nuance, of subtle differences and similarities, of possible categories of knowledge.
As the observations are passed along, later observers learn more quickly what to watch for. Later observers refine, correct, and extend the patterns found: planets become separated from stars, angular speeds of planets are measured, explanations are advanced to account for the appearances, and the explanations are tested and improved.
This process results in a growing body of knowledge, and eventually the process itself is observed, studied, and improved: science. Science consists of theoretical knowledge (a structure of explanations) subjected to empirical verification: the best way so far to know the universe.
Monday morning, so two choices are easy: use a shave stick, and use a Slant Bar. I picked the QED Bergamot shave stick, which, with the Simpsons Persian Jar 2 Super, produced an extremely good lather. I do think my lather skills with QED soaps have improved simply by using exclusively QED for the past several days.
The Slant Bar was the new one, with the white narrow handle. It did a terrific job, and in keeping with the citrus theme, picked Geo. F. Trumper Extract of West Indian Limes aftershave. Extremely nice.