Later On

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

Archive for March 16th, 2009

In torture lawsuits, Obama toes the Bush line

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

While Congress debates whether senior Bush administration officials should be called to account for the torture, humiliation and indefinite detention of prisoners taken during the “war on terror,” some of those prisoners aren’t waiting around for lawmakers to make up their minds. A growing number of private lawsuits brought by former detainees against former Bush officials are slowly making their way through the courts. And to the dismay of some of its strongest supporters, the Obama administration has, in every case so far, taken the side of the Bush administration, arguing that these cases should all be dismissed.

What’s more, Obama administration lawyers are not arguing for dismissal purely on procedural grounds. In most cases, they’re arguing that the courts should not second-guess the president’s authority in national security matters. They are also insisting that the right to not be tortured, to be treated humanely and to not be detained indefinitely without charge or trial were not clearly established back when government officials violated them. Therefore, under the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” those officials should not be held responsible now, the Justice Department claims.

That stance outrages many of the lawyers handling these cases. “Torture has always been illegal,” said Eric Lewis, a partner in the law firm Baach Robinson & Lewis, which is representing four British former Guantanamo detainees against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “Affirming qualified immunity for torture seems contrary to the traditions of the military which abjure torture and contrary to the doctrine of qualified immunity which says you are protected within a large discretionary area,” but not for acts that were clearly illegal. “It can’t be right that prior to Boumedienne” — the landmark Supreme Court case affirming Guantanamo prisoners’ rights to challenge their detention in U.S. courts — “anyone could have thought that torture was legal,” said Lewis.

Lewis is among a group of formidable opponents the administration faces in these cases, including some of the nation’s top lawyers and law schools making powerful legal arguments that former government officials are legally responsible for the torture, abuse and wrongful imprisonment that their policies directed.

In a federal court in San Francisco this month, for example, …

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 11:50 am

How to make green energy happen

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Fascinating article in Mother Jones, which begins:

This winter, as Congress was scrambling to pass the stimulus package, the bottom fell out of the renewable energy sector—the very industry that lawmakers have held out as our best hope of salvaging the economy. Trade groups like the American Wind Energy Association, which as recently as December was forecasting "another record-shattering year of growth," began predicting that new installations would plunge by 30 to 50 percent. Solar panel manufacturers that had been blazing a trail of growth announced a wave of layoffs. Some have since cut their workforces in half, as stock prices tumble and plans for new green energy projects stall.

But there is one place where capital is still flowing: Gainesville, Florida. Even as solar panels are stacking up in warehouses around the country, this city of 120,000 is gearing up for a solar power boom, fueled by homegrown businesses and scrappy investors who have descended on the community and are hiring local contractors to install photovoltaic panels on rooftops around town.

One of those investors is Tim Morgan, a tall fifty-something man with slicked-back hair and ostrich-skin boots who owns a chain of electrical contracting companies. His industry has been hit hard by the downturn, but he has a plan to salvage his business, which he explained over a drink at the Ballyhoo Grill, a gritty Gainesville bar with rusty license plates nailed to the wall and Jimmy Buffett blaring on the jukebox. Morgan intends to rent roof space from eighty Gainesville businesses and install twenty-five-kilowatt solar generating systems on each of them, for a total of two megawatts—a project that would nearly double Florida’s solar-generating capacity. He estimates the venture will cost between $16 million and $20 million and bring in $1.4 million a year. Already, he has lined up financing, found local contractors to do the installation, and staked claims to the rooftops of at least fifty businesses. "And we’re just one tiny player," he told me. "Look around. You can see how fast this thing is going to move."

Indeed, around Gainesville similar projects abound…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 11:48 am

Color vision: How our eyes reflect primate evolution

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Interesting article in Scientific American:

Key Concepts
  • The color vision of humans and some other primates differs from that of nonprimate mammals.
  • It is called trichromacy, because it depends on three types of light- activated pigments in the retina of the eye.
  • Analyses of the genes for those pigments give clues to how trichromacy evolved from the color vision of nonprimate mammals, which have only two kinds of photo pigments.
  • The authors created trichromatic mice by inserting a human pigment gene into the mouse genome. The experiment revealed unexpected plasticity in the mammalian brain.

To our eyes, the world is arrayed in a seemingly infinite splendor of hues, from the sunny orange of a marigold flower to the gunmetal gray of an automobile chassis, from the buoyant blue of a midwinter sky to the sparkling green of an emerald. It is remarkable, then, that for most human beings any color can be reproduced by mixing together just three fixed wavelengths of light at certain intensities. This property of human vision, called trichromacy, arises because the retina the layer of nerve cells in the eye that captures light and transmits visual information to the brain uses only three types of light-absorbing pigments for color vision. One consequence of trichromacy is that computer and television displays can mix red, green and blue pixels to generate what we perceive as a full spectrum of color.

Although trichromacy is common among primates, it is not universal in the animal kingdom…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 10:36 am

Bad news: Big Pharma has JAMA "enforcers"

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From Mind Hacks:

This is both odd and slightly disturbing. The Wall Street Journal reports that a medical researcher has been publicly insulted and allegedly threatened by the editors of the medical heavyweight Journal of the American Medical Association for calling out an antidepressant study for undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Jonathan Leo, a professor of neuroanatomy at Lincoln Memorial University, wrote a succinct and reasonably worded letter to the British Medical Journal noting that a study on the use of the antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro) in stroke had concluded that the drug was better than other treatments, when in fact the data supported no such claims.

He also noted that the authors had failed to disclose their ties to the drug makers Forest Laboratories.

For his trouble he was phoned by the JAMA editors who allegedly made some academic threats to him, his students, and his superiors.

The story was followed-up by the Wall Street Journal who contacted the editor-in-chief Catherine DeAngelis. Surprisingly, DeAngelis publicly insulted Leo and is quoted by the WSJ saying:

“This guy is a nobody and a nothing” she said of Leo. “He is trying to make a name for himself. Please call me about something important.” She added that Leo “should be spending time with his students instead of doing this.”

When asked if she called his superiors and what she said to them, DeAngelis said “it is none of your business.” She added that she did not threaten Leo or anyone at the school.

This would perhaps be less shocking had the authors of the study in question not publicly apologised for omitting conflicts of interest and confirmed that the drug was not a superior treatment in subsequent letters to JAMA.

Ironically, DeAngelis has a reputation for closely monitoring conflicts of interest and has made JAMA a leader in requiring such admissions from authors.

Furious Seasons has been keeping tabs on the situation and as usual had the scoop before the WSJ got involved.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 10:27 am

Posted in Business, Medical, Science

Pornography’s appeal to conservatives

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Nigel Barber has an interesting column, which begins:

As far as online adult entertainment is concerned, the Red states are also the red light states. Eight of the top ten pornography consuming states went for McCain in the presidential election (the two exceptions, Florida and Hawaii went democratic).

The biggest consumer of Internet pornography was Utah with 5.47 subscriptions per thousand home broadband users compared to Montana the lowest state with 1.92 subscribers per thousand (1). Study author, Benjamin Edelman of Harvard Business School focused on broadband users because pornography is a bandwidth hog. Edelman was also careful to rule out the age distribution of the population, income, education, population density, marriage rates and other characteristics that might make state comparisons unfair. Utah still wound up at the top of the heap.

Utah’s top ranking surprises many. One can think of many adjectives to describe the state: religious, conservative, family-oriented, outdoorsy, clean-living, but few would have guessed top-pornography-consuming. Many would find it easier to attribute such interests to western neighbor Nevada, a center for gambling and prostitution. Ironically, Nevada doesn’t even make it to the top ten.

States that banned gay marriage had 11 percent more porn subscribers. The level of agreement in a state with the statement that "Even today miracles are performed by the power of God" predicted higher pornography consumption. States claiming to have old-fashioned values about family and marriage purchased substantially more adult-content subscriptions.

In addition …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Tagged with ,

The appeal of Zen

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Susan Blackmore has done a lot of interesting work. Here she talks about Zen Buddhism:

I’ve been a scientist, struggling to understand the mysteries of consciousness, near-death experiences and altered states, most of my life. Alongside my science I have also explored many alternative world views from witchcraft to spiritualism and Theosophy to chakras, but in spite of their superficial appeal they all proved deeply unsatisfactory. They provided answers all right, but the answers were dogmatic and confusing; they didn’t fit with science, and neither did they lead to any new discoveries. Worst of all, their doctrines did not change in response to change, but remained rigidly dependent on ancient books or the claims of their proponents. That is, until I stumbled across Zen. I was encouraged to have "great doubt", told to "Investigate!", and taught how to do it.

Zen is a branch of Buddhism that began as "Chan" in seventh century China and later spread east to become known as Zen in Japan. Although based in the teachings and insights of the historical Buddha, Zen puts far less emphasis on theory and studying texts than do other branches of Buddhism, and far more on practising meditation to gain direct experience of one’s true nature. This may be why, from its appearance in the West in the late nineteenth century, Zen has appealed to academics, philosophers and other thinkers who enjoy its strange paradoxes and who don’t want to be involved in religious practices or dogmatic beliefs.

Like science, Zen demands that you ask questions, apply disciplined methods of inquiry, and overthrow any ideas that don’t fit with what you find out. Indeed Zen is just like science in being more a set of techniques than a body of dogma…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 10:16 am

To cure procrastination, forgive yourself

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Interesting column, which begins:

Some of our most recent research indicates that self-forgiveness plays a role in decreasing our procrastination. As the image says, "Forgiveness – we do it for ourselves to get well and move on." The interesting thing is that we may actually move on with the task we’ve been avoiding, like studying for that next exam!

I have written about this study previously after a conference presentation last spring.  The focus then was on gender differences we found in the data.

Since that time, we did a re-analysis of these data. This new approach statistically revealed an important role for negative emotions in the relation between self-forgiveness and future procrastination. Let me explain briefly.

We asked the question:
If we self-forgive after we procrastinate, do we procrastinate less the next time we face a similar task?…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Tagged with

Concept of "hypercosmic God" wins Templeton prize

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From the New Scientist:

Today the John Templeton Foundation announced the winner of the annual Templeton Prize of a colossal £1 million ($1.4 million), the largest annual prize in the world.

This year it goes to French physicist and philosopher of science Bernard d’Espagnat for his "studies into the concept of reality". D’Espagnat, 87, is a professor emeritus of theoretical physics at the University of Paris-Sud, and is known for his work on quantum mechanics. The award will be presented to him by the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace on 5 May.

D’Espagnat boasts an impressive scientific pedigree, having worked with Nobel laureates Louis de Broglie, Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr. De Broglie was his thesis advisor; he served as a research assistant to Fermi; and he worked at CERN when it was still in Copenhagen under the direction of Bohr. He also served as a visiting professor at the University of Texas, Austin, at the invitation of the legendary physicist John Wheeler. But what has he done that’s worth £1 million?

The thrust of d’Espagnat’s work was on experimental tests of Bell’s theorem. The theorem states that either quantum mechanics is a complete description of the world or that if there is some reality beneath quantum mechanics, it must be nonlocal – that is, things can influence one another instantaneously regardless of how much space stretches between them, violating Einstein’s insistence that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

But what d’Espagnat was really interested in was what all of this meant for discerning the true nature of ultimate reality. Unlike most of his contemporaries, d’Espagnat was one of the brave ones unafraid to tackle the thorny and profound philosophical questions posed by quantum physics.

Unlike classical physics, d’Espagnat explained, quantum mechanics cannot describe the world as it really is, it can merely make predictions for the outcomes of our observations. If we want to believe, as Einstein did, that there is a reality independent of our observations, then this reality can either be knowable, unknowable or veiled. D’Espagnat subscribes to the third view. Through science, he says, we can glimpse some basic structures of the reality beneath the veil, but much of it remains an infinite, eternal mystery…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 9:56 am

Americans losing faith

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Not just in religion, but also in the scientific community, medicine, the Supreme Court, Banks/Financial Institutions (right), major companies, etc.. Nate Silver has the story, from which this graph:


Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 9:43 am

Posted in Daily life

Mercury, a neurotoxin, in your food

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Interesting article, from which this is taken:

… Dr. Hightower is an expert in mercury poisoning and a known critic of the fishing industry. She is not happy with the National Fisheries Institute website which said canned tuna is "healthy" for pregnant women and they can safely eat 6-ounces or a little over a can a week.

She tells pregnant patients, "Why eat mercury at all when you don’t have to? Canned albacore tuna has an average of .35 parts per million and they say tuna is a low mercury fish."

It can be considered "low" if one compares it to the legal mercury limit of 1 part per million set by the Food and Drug Administration. But, the allowed level of mercury in the U.S. is double that of Canada (.5ppm), Europe (.5ppm), and Japan (.4ppm). So elsewhere, canned tuna would not be considered a "low" mercury fish.

The experiment illustrates that even at levels below the federal limit, mercury accumulates in the body reaching what Dr. Hightower and an independent lab flagged as "high" levels in a short period.

At the start of the experiment, Sue Kwon’s blood mercury level was low at 4 micrograms per liter. In 10 days, it went to 8.9 micrograms per liter. Then in 10 more days, it climbed to 17.2 micrograms per liter. By day 20, it had quadrupled. "Anytime in a woman’s body she reaches a 14 or 15 she stands a chance of knocking IQ points off her child’s brain," Hightower said…

Read the whole thing before you buy your next can of tuna.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 8:40 am

Horses domesticated 1000 years earlier than previously thought

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Interesting report in the LA Times:

The horse, its four slender legs accomplishing astonishing feats of strength and endurance, has provided humans with far more than transportation from point A to point B.

It has allowed us to travel long distances for trade, carry heavy loads, move our societies around more freely and, inevitably, conduct more efficient warfare. Arguably the most important domesticated animal, the horse also has provided humans with meat and milk.

Now we have a better idea of when this complex and vital human-horse relationship began.

New evidence, including more slender leg bones, bit-pitted teeth and mares milk residue in pottery, indicate that the horse was domesticated on the steppes of Central Asia at least 5,500 years ago, more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed and 2,000 years before it appeared in Europe.

“To me, the domestication of the horse was a seminal event in human history,” said archaeologist Sandra L. Olsen of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, a co-author of the paper appearing today in the journal Science. “All the major empire builders, like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, would have been nothing without horses.”

It was believed that the oldest evidence of domestication was found at the village of Dereivka in Ukraine, dating to about 2000 BC. But Olsen and some other researchers argued that domestication occurred much earlier among members of the Botai culture on the steppes of what is now northern Kazakhstan.

She and her colleagues found a variety of evidence suggesting domestication, including a horse corral, the use of horse manure in roofing materials and the widespread use of rawhide tools such as lassos, which are generally associated with horse-dependent cultures.

That evidence has been controversial, with critics suggesting that it may only represent exploitation of feral horses.

But the new finds “make it fairly unambiguous that this early Botai site had domestication,” said archaeologist Alan K. Outram of the University of Exeter in Britain, lead author of the paper. The fact that the Botai people were both milking and riding the horses, he said, indicates “a full pastoral economy, which suggests that there are even earlier domesticated horses to be found.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 8:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

AIG thumbs its nose at US taxpayers

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It seems determined to pay those bonuses (which presumably are not performance bonuses). Glenn Greenwald has an excellent takedown of AIG’s rationale, well worth reading. And the Center for American Progress emails:

One of the main reasons the federal government had to intervene and use billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up the nation’s financial institutions is that they were considered to be "too big to fail." In other words, these companies had become so massive that their collapse would send shockwaves throughout the U.S. and global economies. No company has come to symbolize this problem more than insurance giant AIG, in which taxpayers now have an 80 percent stake after the federal government committed $170 billion to rescue it from bankruptcy. "Given the systemic risk AIG continues to pose and the fragility of markets today, the potential cost to the economy and the taxpayer of government inaction would be extremely high," wrote the Treasury and Federal Reserve in a joint statement on March 2. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has explained, "AIG is in trouble because it wrote many credit default swaps, in effect guaranteeing others against losses it lacked the resources to cover. We, the taxpayers, are now covering those losses. … But this means that US taxpayers have now assumed the downside risks for all of AIG’s counterparties." AIG has proved to be in no rush to repay this favor, highlighting the risk in the government’s current strategy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 7:58 am

TOBS Lavender

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A shave stick is not really required for a Monday shave, of course. This morning I picked Taylor of Old Bond Street Lavender shave soap—partly because of its color—and the Duke shaving brush and got an excellent lather that softened my beard so that the Slant Bar just moved through the stubble effortlessly. The Paul Sebastian aftershave was applied to an extremely smooth visiage. And now for some coffee.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 7:33 am

Posted in Shaving


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