Archive for November 21st, 2009
This interview in New Scientist is quite interesting. It begins:
Under the name Belle de Jour, Brooke Magnanti wrote about her experiences as a prostitute for a London escort agency, and her blog became a bestselling book, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, and a television series.
She has a master’s degree in genetic epidemiology and a PhD from the University of Sheffield’s department of forensic pathology.
She currently works at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health and told her agent: “if New Scientist asks for an interview, I’ll do it”. We did ask…
The US has become quite hostile to foreign visitors—not in person-to-person interactions, but in the bureaucratic travel procedures that the US, enormously fearful, has put in place after 9/11. The climate is such that foreign students are not so enthusiastic about studying in the US, which is our loss. Moreover, state budget cutbacks are hurting education, which always seems high on the list of things to cut. Moreover, though scientists are clearly essential for continuing technological development, the US as a whole is anti-science (cf. evolution, climate change).
The lab equipment is still being installed in the new life sciences school at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. But the hallways are already lined with posters heralding an early achievement: the hiring of Chinese faculty from Stanford, Harvard, and other elite institutions overseas. The mission, says Dean Shi Yigong, a former Princeton professor who is a pioneer in the study of cell death, is to build a world-class research center to "solve the basic mysteries of biology."
Shi is one of the biggest catches in a mounting campaign to lure China’s brightest minds back home. Last year, Beijing launched the Thousand Talents Program, offering top scientists grants of 1 million yuan (about $146,000), fat salaries, and generous lab funding.
The goal is to address the biggest roadblock to China’s aspirations of becoming an innovation powerhouse: an acute shortage of seasoned research scientists. Accomplished physicists, biologists, and mathematicians—who might produce technological breakthroughs and build key research programs—have long balked at low pay and a university system marred by corruption, cronyism, and lax standards. But now, China’s economic boom and surging government investment in research are making mainland university posts more attractive. A decade ago, only 1 in 100 leading Chinese scientists in the U.S. would have considered returning, says Rao Yi, a former Northwestern neuroscience professor who is dean of Peking University’s life sciences school. Today, he says, half would. "Now, there is a chance of recruiting the rising stars of Harvard," says Rao.
Higher pay helps, but returnees say the main allure is the chance to build a science program from the ground up. While U.S. labs are struggling for funds, China is expanding. Shi says he earns less in China than at Princeton, where he ran a structural biology lab and helped found a drug-discovery company. But at Tsinghua, he helped design a life sciences program with 1,500 students. So far, Shi has hired 22 scientists from the U.S. to set up labs and has made offers to an additional 15…
Check out www.373feed.com — "373" is a common telephone exchange in Monterey (mine, in fact), and the restaurants listed are from Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Salinas. Ordering dinner in from a Monterey restaurant like Fandango’s will be very nice some evening.
Techie types grow to admire efficiency: accomplishing the most with the least effort. Sometimes, however, it is better to sacrifice efficiency in order to increase enjoyment. Take, for example, a fine restaurant meal from the time The Wife and I were in Paris. We certainly could have wolfed down the food faster and gotten in and out in record time, but that was (of course) not the point: efficiency be damned, we wanted to enjoy ourselves.
The idea came to me while walking in my MBT shoes, which require more muscular effort (to maintain balance and stride) than regular shoes but which also make the walk actually enjoyable. And I thought of two other areas where we sacrifice efficiency to enjoyment: shaving and sex. (Imagine the guy who crows with triumph when he achieves a 30-second sex act and his determination to break 15 seconds. Wouldn’t you say he’s missed the point?)
Yesterday it was raining, and I’m not yet enjoying my walks to the extent that I’m walking in the rain. OTOH, I was very glad to get out for a walk today—same distance as last time, a little over 36 minutes.
I was pleased to see that the peony just outside my door is vigorously budding.
Here’s a view of part of my apartment building’s courtyard.
The human capacity for self-delusion never ceases to amaze me, so it shouldn’t surprise me that so many Republicans seem to genuinely believe that they are the party of fiscal responsibility. Perhaps at one time they were, but those days are long gone.
This fact became blindingly obvious to me six years ago this month when a Republican president and a Republican Congress enacted the Medicare drug benefit, which former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker has called "the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s."
Recall the situation in 2003. The Bush administration was already projecting the largest deficit in American history–$475 billion in fiscal year 2004, according to the July 2003 mid-session budget review. But a big election was coming up that Bush and his party were desperately fearful of losing. So they decided to win it by buying the votes of America’s seniors by giving them an expensive new program to pay for their prescription drugs.
Recall, too, that Medicare was already broke in every meaningful sense of the term. According to the 2003 Medicare trustees report, spending for Medicare was projected to rise much more rapidly than the payroll tax as the baby boomers retired. Consequently, the rational thing for Congress to do would have been to find ways of cutting its costs. Instead, Republicans voted to vastly increase them–and the federal deficit–by $395 billion between 2004 and 2013.
However, the Bush administration knew this figure was not accurate because Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, had concluded, well before passage, that the more likely cost would be $534 billion. Tom Scully, a Republican political appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services, threatened to fire him if he dared to make that information public before the vote. (See this report by the HHS inspector general and this article by Foster.)
It’s important to remember that the congressional budget resolution capped the projected cost of the drug benefit at $400 billion over 10 years. If there had been an official estimate from Medicare’s chief actuary putting the cost at well more than that, then the legislation could have been killed by a single member in either the House or Senate by raising a point of order. Then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., later said he regretted not doing so.
Even with a deceptively low estimate of the drug benefit’s cost, there were still a few Republicans in the House of Representatives who wouldn’t roll over and play dead just to buy re-election. Consequently, when the legislation came up for its final vote on Nov. 22, 2003, it was failing by 216 to 218 when the standard 15-minute time allowed for voting came to an end.
What followed was one of the most extraordinary events in Congressional history…
Obama is doing some good things, but some bad things as well, including… well, just read this article in TIME by Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf. A few passages:
Interviews with two dozen current and former officials show that Obama’s public decision to reverse himself and fight the release of the photographs signaled a behind-the-scenes turning point in his young presidency. Beginning in the first two weeks of May, Obama took harder lines on government secrecy, on the fate of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and on the prosecution of terrorists worldwide. The President was moving away from some promises he had made during the campaign and toward more moderate positions, some favored by George W. Bush. At the same time, he quietly shifted responsibility for the legal framework for counterterrorism from Craig to political advisers overseen by Emanuel, who was more inclined to strike a balance between left and right…
Craig won early victories for the liberal agenda. Against resistance from the intelligence agencies, he drafted a series of Executive Orders that ended the CIA’s "enhanced interrogation" of suspected terrorists, suspended extrajudicial powers for holding and trying detainees and set a one-year deadline to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Obama signed the orders two days into his Administration. Craig was delivering much of the change Obama had promised during the campaign…
On March 15, Craig informed Obama that, faced with a court deadline, the Justice Department planned to make public these so-called torture memos in three days. As with the abuse photos, the issue tested Obama’s commitment to openness… [which, it turns out, was no commitment at all, just a campaign lie. – LG]
Obama quietly killed the Gitmo plan in the second week of May; Craig never got a chance to argue the case to the President. "It was a political decision, to put it bluntly," says an aide…
Obama needed to regain control quickly, and he started by jettisoning liberal positions he had been prepared to accept — and had even okayed — just weeks earlier. First to go was the release of the pictures of detainee abuse. Days later, Obama sided against Craig again, ending the suspension of Bush’s extrajudicial military commissions. The following week, Obama pre-empted an ongoing debate among his national-security team and embraced one of the most controversial of Bush’s positions: the holding of detainees without charges or trial, something he had promised during the campaign to reject…
Read the whole article.To me, it sure sounds like political cowardice and shallow commitment to principles.
I suspect that, were they to stick to the truth, they would be rejected by the public. But once they start down the path of lying, they get swept up in it and do it more and more and more until you cannot trust a word that comes from their mouths. Steve Benen at Political Animal:
The Senate’s health care reform plan is not without flaw. Indeed, the subsidy rates for low-income families remain a major point of concern.
But true to form, Republicans don’t want to talk about the legislation’s actual shortcomings; they prefer to make stuff up. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), for example, released an item yesterday insisting that the Senate plan "requires a monthly abortion fee."
Just like the original 2,032-page, government-run health care plan from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) massive, 2,074-page bill would levy a new "abortion premium" fee on Americans in the government-run plan. [...]
What is even more alarming is that a monthly abortion premium will be charged of all enrollees in the government-run health plan.
Offering another helpful case study in how the Right Wing Machine works, Boehner’s blisteringly stupid claim was quickly picked up and trumpeted by Drudge and Limbaugh. No doubt, many rank-and-file conservatives now think it’s true.
The claim might be alarming, if it weren’t so ridiculous. As Jeremy Schulman explained, "’Monthly abortion fee’ implies there is some sort of extra charge assessed to consumers in order to pay for abortions. But this isn’t the case. Rather, the bill sets up requirements by which insurance plans segregate their funds so that federal dollars don’t pay for abortion coverage…. If you choose to purchase a plan that covers abortion, it’s completely expected that a portion of your premium pays for abortion coverage. Saying that this creates some sort of additional ‘abortion fee’ is like saying that there’s a ‘monthly heart attack fee’ because the plan covers heart attacks."
Jodi Jacobson went line by line, picking apart Boehner’s vile attack.
The DNC, which jumped all over this, added in a statement, "With such clear evidence to the contrary, we’d like to believe that this is the last time we’ll hear this scare-tactic from Boehner and the Party of No… but since all Republicans have to offer are more lies, we’re not counting on it."
To borrow a phrase, "I have given up hope for a loyal opposition. I’d settle for a sane one."
Very interesting posts on James Fallows blog on how the American press misunderstood and misrepresented what happened on Obama’s trip. The press, always looking for a simple-minded narrative, decided to look at it as a campaign trip—plus the press really doesn’t understand foreign affairs. There are two posts:
I have what I think is some interesting new info coming on this front over the weekend; stay tuned, starting Saturday afternoon. For the moment, two more installments in my argument, previously here and here, that Barack Obama’s recent swing through Asia was a relative success, and certainly nothing like the disaster that most U.S. coverage implied.
Installment one: me talking with Bob Garfield of NPR’s On The Media just now, about why American fantasies of an omnipotent, rising China may have distorted American press reaction to what Obama said and did.
Installment two: the before-and-after analyses from a private client newsletter by Damien Ma, Divya Reddy, and Nicholas Consonery of the Eurasia Group, reinforcing the idea that what actually happened on the trip was almost exactly what informed observers expected to happen, and not some humiliating disappointment.
November 11, just before the trip:
This one is worth reading just for the Alice-through-the-looking-glass effect. It begins:
Lithuania is currently embroiled in a bizarre and deeply confusing political controversy which reveals what happens when a country becomes gripped by extremist ideologies. Evidence has emerged that Lithuanian intelligence agencies allowed secret CIA prisons to be maintained in their country during the Bush era. Just because such prisons would be "illegal" under the so-called "law" of Lithuania and various international conventions to which that nation is a signatory, irresponsible leaders of that country are demanding "investigations" and even possibly legal consequences if it turns out crimes were committed. What kind of a backwards, primitive country would do something like this?
[I]ncreasingly, after years of issuing denials, Lithuania’s leaders are no longer ruling out the possibility that the CIA operated a secret prison in this northern European country of 3.5 million people, and that its government will have to deal with the fallout.
Last month, newly elected President Dalia Grybauskaite said she had "indirect suspicions" that the CIA reports might be true, and urged Parliament to investigate more thoroughly.
What sort of a newly elected President would get into office and then start demanding that actions From the Past — rather than the Future — be investigated, just because they might be "criminal"? This deeply irresponsible Lithuanian leader apparently doesn’t care about inflaming partisan divisions, and worse, appears blind to the dangers of criminalizing policy disputes. Even more outrageously, Lithuania faces one of the steepest recessions in all of Europe; obviously, this is a time, more than ever, that Lithuanians should be Looking to the Future, Not the Past. Instead, they’re wallowing in deeply inflammatory, partisan and extremist rhetoric like this:
Valdas Adamkus, who was president when the CIA prison was reportedly in operation, from 2004 until 2005, said he had no personal knowledge of the covert program. But he raised the possibility that Lithuanian security officials could face prosecution if the reports are confirmed.
"If this actually did occur, and it is grounded with proof, we have to apologize to the international community that something like this went down in Lithuania," he told the Baltic News Service. "And those who did it," he added, "in my eyes are criminals" . . . .
Dainius Zalimas, a legal adviser to the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, said the existence of a covert prison would violate both Lithuanian statutes and international human rights conventions that the government signed. If firm evidence is gathered by the Parliament, he said, prosecutors would be obliged to open a case and could target both Lithuanian and U.S. officials.
"From a legal point of view, it would mean that Lithuania, along with the United States, was contributing to quite serious violations of human rights," said Zalimas. . . .
"Criminals"? "Prosecutions"? "Obliged to open a case"? "Violations of human rights"? Just because they maintained a few secret prisons in violation of domestic and international law? What kind of crazy, purist, Far Leftist utopians are running that place? They need a heavy dose of pragmatism so they can understand all the reasons why so-called "crimes" like this can be overlooked — just blissfully forgotten like a bad dream. Even worse, with intemperate and shrill language of the type they’re throwing around, it’s seems clear that the Lithuanian press is sorely in need of some David Broders, Fred Hiatts, and David Ignatiuses to explain to them that subjecting law-breaking political officials to "investigations" and "prosecutions" is quite disruptive and unpleasant when those crimes involve matters other than consensual sex between adults.
Even more alarming, this "rule of law" and "human rights" fetish seems to be spreading: …
Because the stimulus bill was too small (centrist "Democrats" cut out 1,000,000 jobs to reduce the cost, so a million more people became jobless), many people are hurting as we head into winter. I want to bring two charities to your attention:
At the sites you can find donation sites in your locale. This is a worthwhile effort, and I’m cleaning out my closet today.
When the glaciers go, the fight for fresh water will begin in earnest: glaciers act as fresh-water reservoirs, and without them, the water simply runs off the mountains. Take a look at this photo, running your mouse back and forth across it, to see the contrast between 1921 and today.
The beginning of the post at the link:
Global warming is melting 18,000 Himalayan glaciers — the largest concentration of glaciers outside the great polar ice sheets. If the present melt rate continues, many of these glaciers will be gone by the middle of this century, disrupting the perennial water supply to hundreds of millions of people.
To explore this growing collection of glacier images from the “roof of the world” — including a must-see video made by mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears, Founder and Project Leader of Glacier Research Imaging Project (GRIP) — go to the Asia Society’s “On Thinner Ice” website.
For some of the underlying science, see my November 2008 post, Another climate impact comes faster than predicted: Himalayan glaciers “decapitated.” It discussed an important paper by leading international cryosphere scientists, including American’s own Lonnie Thompson, “Mass loss on Himalayan glacier endangers water resources,” which concluded ominously:
If Naimona’nyi is characteristic of other glaciers in the region, alpine glacier meltwater surpluses are likely to shrink much faster than currently predicted with substantial consequences for approximately half a billion people…
I can tell the Koh-I-Noor boar brush is going to be a favorite. It’s still breaking in, but it’s going to be at least as good as the Omega Pro 48, and the handle (of solid aluminum) is much nicer than the Omega 48 handle. (Omega does have some nice handles, but the 48′s is just molded plastic.) It worked up an excellent lather from De Vergulde Hand shaving soap (thanks, Jack), though I did have to revisit the soap for the third pass.
The Progress did a fine job—I believe it has an Astra Keramik blade, previously used—and three passes produced a smooth and happy face, which I then splashed with Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet aftershave.