Later On

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Archive for May 24th, 2010

AP IMPACT: US drug war has met none of its goals

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Really, this article by Martha Mendoza for AP should be read in its entirety:

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

This week President Obama promised to "reduce drug use and the great damage it causes" with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

Kerlikowske, who coordinates all federal anti-drug policies, says it will take time for the spending to match the rhetoric.

"Nothing happens overnight," he said. "We’ve never worked the drug problem holistically. We’ll arrest the drug dealer, but we leave the addiction."

His predecessor, John P. Walters, takes issue with that.

Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs. Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says. Judging the drug war is complicated: Records indicate marijuana and prescription drug abuse are climbing, while cocaine use is way down. Seizures are up, but so is availability.

"To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided." …

Continue reading. The above is just the intro. From here, the article gets down to brass tacks.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 2:42 pm

ONDCP on the defensive as drug war exposed to mainstream media critique

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A really excellent, thoughtful, and long post at Transform, which begins:

After the publication of a blistering critique of the drug war from Martha Mendoza of Associated Press was published widely across the US, the US Drug Czar’s office – the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has responded on its blog, highlighting what they felt was left out of the piece. The Mendoza piece, titled ‘US drug war has met none of its goals’, did not mince its words:

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

The failure is then laid out in stark economic terms:

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:
  • $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.
  • $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America’s youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
  • $49 billion for law enforcement along America’s borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
  • $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
  • $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" — cost the United States $215 billion a year. Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it’s costing the public a fortune."

The Drug Czar’s Office is clearly feeling the heat from all sides – and is on the defensive. Earlier this month the progressive Dennis Kucinich , chair of the Committee of Oversight for ONDCP, called Ethan Nadelmann (director of Drug Policy Alliance),to the Committee. You can read his testimony here, summarising many of the growing public concerns.

The ONDCP response to the AP broadside is worthy of some close scrutiny so I have copied the blog post in full below and annotated it with my thoughts (in bold), with a few graphs thrown in to illustrate the points.

‘ONDCP Agrees: A Balanced Approach is Needed, But Mischaracterizing Our Progress Helps No One’

Last week, the Associated Press ran a story by reporter Martha Mendoza, whose headline read, "US War On Drugs Has Failed to Meet Any of Its Goals." Mendoza’s article was prominently labeled as an "AP Impact" story, a designation that Terry Hunt, APs chief Washington correspondent said is meant to signify "something that we think has a ‘wow’ factor."

This is what we in the UK call a ‘sly dig’; the inference is that the story has been ‘sexed up’.

Immediately after the story ran, a representative from ONDCP’s Office of Public Affairs responded to Ms. Menoza regarding the article. In part, we wrote to AP that we were let down by a focus that was so singular – especially since we believe there is good basis to describe President Obama’s new national strategy as new and balanced.

The use of the term ‘Immediately’ demonstrates just how threatening they find this sort of mainstream media critique, and how urgently they felt a response was required. Ethan Nadelmann writing on the Huffington Post has a rather different analysis of the suggestion the new strategy is ‘new and balanced’.

The budget piece is fair to focus on, but we told AP that we objected to the article’s mischaracterization of current policy. A fairer and more nuanced observation would have been: This does look/sound a lot different, but the budget scenario hasn’t changed overnight (it never does, in any realm of government) and it will take some time to test the Administration’s commitment to the new approach.

That is an interesting comment. We should certainly test the rhetoric in terms of significant resource reallocation. We genuinely look forward to that, but how long before it happens? We can only judge on actions, not aspirations.

We also mentioned to AP that there were significant things left out of the article which should have been discussed, namely that:

  • The emergence of prescription drug abuse has upended many traditional assumptions about drug abuse.

Has it? In what way? Because is doesn’t fit neatly in the punitive drug war paradigm?

  • The article did not address whether legalizing/decriminalizing drugs, posited in the story as a responsible alternative – works, or why, if it does, more countries haven’t taken this approach.

It is ironic for ONDCP to be calling for evidence of whether alternatives ‘work’, when they have systematically failed to comprehensively assess the efficacy of their own enforcement led policy.

See for example ‘What we don’t know keeps hurting us?’ a report produced by the National Academy of Science in 2001 that highlighted precisely this failing, in withering terms:

"It is unconscionable for this country to continue to carry out a public policy of this magnitude and cost without any way of knowing whether, and to what extent, it is having the desired result. Our committee strongly recommends that a substantial, new, and robust research effort be undertaken to examine the various aspects of drug control, so that decision-making on these issues can be better supported by more factual and realistic evidence."

Now, I’m well aware that this is ONDCP rhetoric but let’s, for a moment, treat it as if ONDCP is asking a genuine question. First, what is the evidence that decriminalisation works? Well, there’s plenty of evidence from the many countries/states that have decriminalised cannabis (including 13 US states), as well as many more that have decriminalised possession of all drugs, such as Portugal. Its imperfect data but not insubstantial. Have the ONDCP reviewed or published anything on it? No.

What about legalisation and regulation? Well, we have the legalisation and regulation of alcohol at the end of US alcohol Prohibition 1920-1933 as a useful touchstone here - the 75th anniversary of which was the subject of Congressional celebrations in 2008.

We have extensive experience with quasi-legal cannabis supply in the Netherlands, and indeed in the form of medical supply, in the US (full legalisation and regulation of cannabis being the subject of a Californian ballot this coming November).

We have decades of experience with prescription models for opiates and stimulants (including heroin and amphetamines) for dependent/problematic users. And in the wider public sphere, extensive experience in regulating and controlling a range of potentially risky products and activities. Its what Governments do, its one of their primary responsibilities, and they can be quite effective at it.

But Transform believes we still need more evidence to help the policy making process – we are moving into new territory after all – and that we should conduct Impact Assessments at all levels (local, national and international) to compare and contrast the various policy options; a full scale Drug War, Kerlikowski’s re-branded drug war-lite, the various options for decriminalisation, and options for regulated markets. We call on ONDCP and its committee of oversight to conduct just such an exercise in order to assess which is the most effective way forward.

  • Legalizing, taxing and regulating tobacco, alcohol, or prescription drugs has been unsuccessful in curbing the public health consequences of the increased use of those drugs.

The inference here is that decrim/legalisation would increase use and create a public health disaster. To really respond to this throw-away line requires a much more detailed analysis (there is some more discussion in Transform’s ‘Tools for the Debate’ p.47) but there are few points to highlight here. Firstly – it is fair to turn it around and ask whether prohibition has been effective at reducing use or creating its goal of a ‘drug free world’. The past five decades would suggest unambiguously not. Has the drug war improved public health?  …

Continue reading. It’s an important issue and a significant post.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 2:39 pm

World touristiness map

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Daily life

More on Kevin Costner’s device to remove oil from the sea

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Use hands, not tongs, when making salad

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I just tried this—and it works like a charm. Helen Rennie at Culinate:

“Drop those tongs!” cried the chef, as if I were holding a dangerous weapon. It was my first day working the line during my restaurant internship, and I had already managed to mess up.

I’d poured a few tablespoons of salad dressing into a bowl of mixed greens and started stirring the salad with tongs. I didn’t realize I was committing a crime against all salad-eating humanity.

The chef took the bowl from my hands, dumped the ruined salad, and declared, “Watch!” She piled a bunch of greens into the bowl, sprinkled them with a generous pinch of salt, and poured in a scant drizzle of vinaigrette. “Less dressing, more salt,” she said. Then she reached in with her hand and gently tossed the salad greens as if they were feathers.

When she was done, the greens had just a bare shimmer of dressing evenly distributed on every leaf. “Always taste,” she instructed, popping a leaf into my mouth. It was livelier and more flavorful than any salad I’d ever made at home. Since then, the tongs have never touched my salad.

Here are some tips for tossing together a better salad: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

BP is acting rationally (though not morally)

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John Cole at Balloon Juice:

This should surprise no one:

The effort to stanch the vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was mired by setbacks on Monday as state and federal officials feuded with BP over its failure to meet deadlines and its refusal to stop spraying a toxic dispersant.

The oil company had indicated that it could stem the flow of oil on Tuesday by trying a procedure known as a top kill, in which heavy fluid would be pumped into the well. But on Monday morning the company’s chief operating officer said the procedure would be delayed until Wednesday. At the same time, BP was locked in a tense standoff with the Environmental Protection Agency, which had ordered the company to stop using a toxic chemical dispersant called Corexit by Sunday.

But BP continued spraying the chemical on Monday, despite the E.P.A.’s demand that it use a less toxic dispersant to break up the oil. The company told the agency that no better alternative was available.

At a news conference Monday in Louisiana, state and federal officials continued to hammer BP over its response to the spill.

“BP in my mind no longer stands for British Petroleum — it stands for Beyond Patience,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “People have been waiting 34 days for British Petroleum to cap this well and stop the damage that’s happening across the Gulf of Mexico.”

“What we need to tell BP,” he added, “is excuses don’t count anymore. You caused this mess, now stop the damage and clean up the mess. It’s your responsibility.”

It’s a really tense stand-off. The EPA told them to stop, and BP told them to go piss up a rope. Sternly worded letters will follow.

BP is just acting rationally, if you ask me. They’ve looked at the landscape, realize that even if they get sued for a shitload,the courts will strike it down as unfair, and they know they have nothing to fear from the government because both parties are littered with politicians they’ve completely paid off, and they know damned well that one major party wants to get rid of the EPA and the blue dogs in the Democratic caucus would join them, so they have no reason whatsoever to listen to that agency. Basically, the rational decision for any corporation in this country is to do whatever the fuck you want, because there simply won’t be any consequences. They have a lot of shareholders who will look the other way, a country desperate for oil, politicians completely in their pocket, and they can afford better attorneys than the poor bastards who used to catch shrimp in the Gulf.

That is just how it is in an oligarchy. And I honestly don’t know what can be done about it.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:32 pm

Oil spill brings ‘death in the ocean from top to bottom’

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Frank Pope in the London Times:

It has been an hour since our sport-fishing boat started streaking through the freshly oil-soaked marshes of Pass a Loutre, but we’re still only halfway through the slick. Eighteen miles out and the stink of oil is everywhere. Rashes of red-brown sludge are smeared across vast swaths, between them a swell rendered faintly psychedelic with rainbow-coloured swirls.

Cutting the engines, we slide to a stop near Rig 313. We’re not supposed to be in the restricted zone, but other than the dispersant-spraying aircraft passing overhead there’s no one to see us. Despite the thick oil, we’ve seen only two clean-up boats out of the 1,150 that the response claims to have on site: one was broken down, the other was towing it.

Skimming and burning are the most visible elements of the clean-up operation, and that’s no accident. Over the past few days it’s become clear that far more oil is gushing from the seabed than BP had admitted. Oil has been prevented from reaching the surface by dispersants injected into the flow some 5,000ft below, but is spreading through the midwater in vast, dilute plumes.

Along with the marine toxicologist Susan Shaw, of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, I’ve come to peer into the hidden side of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Wreathed in neoprene and with Vaseline coating the exposed skin around our faces, we slip into the clear water in the lee of the boat. Beneath the mats of radioactive-looking, excrement-coloured sludge are smaller gobs of congealed oil. Taking a cautious, shallow breath through my snorkel I head downwards. Twelve metres under, the specks of sludge are smaller, but they are still everywhere.

Among the specks are those of a different hue. These are wisps of drifting plankton, the eggs and larvae of fish and the microscopic plants and animals that form the base of almost all marine food webs. Any plankton-eating fish would now have trouble distinguishing food from poison, let alone the larger filter-feeders.

Onshore, small landfalls of the same sludge have started to cause panic among locals as they coat the marshes. Here, just a few feet beneath the surface, a much bigger disaster is unfolding in slow motion.

“This is terrible, just terrible,” says Dr Shaw, back on the boat. “The situation in the water column is horrible all the way down. Combined with the dispersants, the toxic effects of the oil will be far worse for sea life. It’s death in the ocean from the top to the bottom.”

Dispersants can contain particular evils. Corexit 9527 — used extensively by BP despite it being toxic enough to be banned in British waters [and despite explicit and specific orders from the EPA to stop using it – LG] — contains 2-butoxyethanol, a compound that ruptures red blood cells in whatever eats it. Its replacement, COREXIT 9500, contains petroleum solvents and other components that can damage membranes, and cause chemical pneumonia if aspirated into the lungs following ingestion.

But what worries Dr Shaw most is …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:12 pm

Another unseen aspect of Israel

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Israel tried to see nuclear weapons to South Africa’s apartheid regime—why? Here’s the story by Chris McGreal in the Guardian:

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa‘s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of "ambiguity" in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a "responsible" power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted…

Continue reading.

Israel is denying everything, but they’re probably lying again—as they lied when they said they would stop building illegal settlements.

Frankly, I do not believe that Israel today is trustworthy, not to put too fine a point on it. Evidence to the contrary would be welcome.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:08 pm

Two great talks by Ken Robinson

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Via Open Culture:

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III

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Sounds like a fascinating book:

The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III: Multiple universes, mutual assured destruction, and the meltdown of a nuclear family by Peter Byrne

IN 1982, the physicist Hugh Everett III died, broken by depression and addiction. He left his papers in boxes, stacked in the basement of his family home in Virginia. Peter Byrne took on the task of opening the boxes and piecing together the story they contained. This labour of love has resulted in a book that is by turns fascinating, perplexing and harrowing.

Everett’s idea is now known as the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics. According to Everett, a new universe is created every time we measure the position of an atom, the spin of an electron, or the energy of a light photon. Though it sounds as outlandish today as it did on first publication, for many physicists this is now the interpretation of choice when confronted with the mysteries of the quantum world.

Byrne does an excellent job of explaining the theory, why it is necessary and the difficulties it solves (and doesn’t). But that is only half the story. The other half deals with the strange and troubled man behind the idea.

Everett’s story is one of thwarted ambition, blind – and misplaced – faith in the integrity of science, despair, genius, subterfuge, adultery and drunkenness. This is physics as morality tale, beautifully told in a clear, unfussy and deeply authoritative voice.

Byrne does not patronise his readers with superficial pen portraits of his characters. There are no deep brown eyes or square chins. We get to know the characters by what they say and what they do. And they say and do some truly remarkable things.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

BP continues efforts to hide as much as it can of the disaster

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BP is working continually and aggressively to minimize the impact of the oil spill disaster on their profits. The environment, BP seems to think, is on its own: profits direct their efforts.

This started immediately, with the oil platform workers in effect kidnapped and held incommunicado until they signed releases (report here). It continues with BP getting the police to block reporters from beaches on which the oil is starting to accumulate. More info in this report by Mac McClelland in Mother Jones:

Elmer’s Island, even after all the warnings, looks worse than I imagined. Pools of oil black and deep stretch down the beach; when cleanup workers drag their rakes along an already-cleaned patch of sand, more auburn crude oozes up. Beneath the surface lie slimy washed-up globules that, one worker says, are "so big you could park a car on them."

It’s Saturday, May 22nd, a month into the BP spill, and I’ve been trying to get to Elmer’s Island for the past two days. I’ve been stymied at every turn by Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies brought in to supplement the local police force of Grand Isle, a 300-year-old settlement here at the very southern tip of Louisiana. Just seven miles long and so narrow in some spots that you can see from the Gulf side to the inland side, Grand Isle is all new clapboard and vinyl-sided bungalows since Katrina, but still scrappy—population 1,500, octuple that in tourist season. It’s also home to the only route to Elmer’s, a barrier island to the west. I arrived on Thursday with my old University of New Orleans lit prof, John Hazlett; a tandem kayak is strapped to his Toyota Tacoma. At the turn to Elmer’s Island Road, a deputy flags us down. Can’t go to Elmer’s; he’s just "doing what they told me to do." We continue on to Grand Isle beach, where toddlers splash in the surf. Only after I’ve stepped in a blob of crude do I realize that the sheen on the waves and the blackness covering a little blue heron from the neck down is oil.

The next day, cops drive up and down Grand Isle beach explicitly telling tourists it is still open, just stay out of the water. There are pools of oil on the beach; dolphins crest just offshore. A fifty-something couple, Southern Louisianans, tell me this kind of thing happened all the time when they were kids; they swam in rubber suits when it got bad, and it was no big deal. They just hope this doesn’t mean we’ll stop drilling.

The blockade to Elmer’s is now four cop cars strong. As we pull up, deputies start bawling us out; all media need to go to the Grand Isle community center, where a "BP Information Center" sign now hangs out front. Grand Isle residents are not amused by the beach closing.Inside, a couple of Times-Picayune reporters circle BP representative Barbara Martin, who tells them that if they want passage to Elmer they have to get it from another BP rep, Irvin Lipp; Grand Isle beach is closed too, she adds. When we inform the Times-Pic reporters otherwise, she asks Dr. Hazlett if he’s a reporter; he says,  "No." She says, "Good." She doesn’t ask me. We tell her that deputies were just yelling at us, and she seems truly upset. For one, she’s married to a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy. For another, "We don’t need more of a black eye than we already have."

"But it wasn’t BP that was yelling at us, it was the sheriff’s office," we say.

"Yeah, I know, but we have…a very strong relationship."

"What do you mean? You have a lot of sway over the sheriff’s office?"

"Oh yeah."

"How much?"

"A lot."

When I tell Barbara I am a reporter, she stalks off and says she’s not talking to me, then comes back and hugs me and says she was just playing. I tell her I don’t understand why I can’t see Elmer’s Island unless I’m escorted by BP. She tells me BP’s in charge because "it’s BP’s oil." …

Continue reading.

Of course, BP owes extraction taxes on all the oil that comes out of the ground, whether they can sell it or not. And when damages are calculated, those damages are based in part on the amount of oil spilled. So BP is determined that no accurate measures of the amount of oil are made. They want to use their own (low-ball) estimates. Hell, if they could get away with it, they would claim that at most 100 barrels were spilled.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:51 pm

Could a Common Sunscreen Ingredient Speed Cancer Development?

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Kiera Butler at Mother Jones:

I could really use some better sunscreen. Red-headed, freckled, and ridiculously pale (think: a few shades lighter than your average slice of Wonder Bread), I burn at the slightest suggestion of a sunny day, even though I religiously slather on the SPF one-bazillion goop. Last year, I wrote a piece for Mother Jones about how sunscreen manufacturers’ claims (All day protection! Sweat proof! SPF through the roof!) rarely measure up to the products’ performance. So when I heard that the Environmental Working Group was releasing its 2010 list of best and worst sunscreens, I had hope: Would this be the year sunscreen manufacturers finally figured out how to save me from turning into a Twizzler after 10 minutes of yard work?

You’d think so, since according to the new report, 1 in 6 sunscreens is now labeled with an SPF of above 50, compared to 1 in 8 last year. Sounds like good news, since higher SPF means more protection, right? Not really, says EWG senior analyst Sean Gray. The difference between an SPF 50 product and and SPF 110 product is minuscule. Gray believes the sky-high SPF labels can actually be dangerous. "We have studies that show that people who use the higher SPF products don’t reapply it," says Gray. "So they end up with more UV exposure overall." (Mother Jones reported on this phenomenon back in the day.)

Another scary new finding: There is preliminary evidence from a recent FDA animal study that a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, present in about 40 percent of sunscreens, may accelerate the development of skin cancer…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:42 pm

Libertarian principles, economic regulation, and safety regulation

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Mark Kleinman has a good post:

In the Blogosphere, Rand Paul’s case of hoof-in-mouth disease has started what may become a serious discussion of libertarianism. Perhaps that discussion might even spread to the real world.

My view, and that of most liberals (e.g. Gabriel Winant, writing in Salon), is that libertarians have elevated some common-sense ideas (for example, that voluntary market transactions have some self-regulating properties not shared by political decision-making and public-sector implementation) into absolute dogmas with very little connection to consensus reality (for example, that taxation is no different in principle that physical violence or enslavement, and that any government that fails to fit their prejudices is therefore implicitly totalitarian). As a result, we have the political equivalent of philosophical solipsism: a position that can’t be refuted in its own terms and has a certain charm in dorm-room bull-sessions, but which can’t actually be believed by anyone intellectually and emotionally mature.

[And yes, I, too, know lots of sane people who call themselves "libertarian" - Eugene Volokh, for example - but their sanity consists precisely in their lack of dogmatic adherence to the libertarian catechism.]

Matt Welch, writing at Reason’s Hit and Run, thinks this is a canard: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:39 pm

Nonsense on Stilts: How to tell science from bunk

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Sounds like an intriguing book:

Nonsense on Stilts: How to tell science from bunk by Massimo Pigliucci

IN DECEMBER 2005, Judge John Jones III had a difficult decision to make. For 40 days he had listened to the testimonies of biologists, sociologists, philosophers and parents as they argued for and against the teaching of intelligent design in public schools in Dover, Pennsylvania.

It was obvious that the proponents of ID were trying to push a religious agenda into government-funded schools, violating the separation of church and state. Nonetheless, Judge Jones’s task was not simple. He had to rule on whether or not ID is science, and distinguishing science from pseudoscience is harder than it might seem.

Karl Popper famously took on this so-called "demarcation problem" in the 1930s, arguing that scientific hypotheses differ from pseudoscientific ones in that they can be falsified through experiment. Today, many scientists continue to see falsification as the hallmark of good science (physicist Leonard Susskind refers to them as the "Popperazzi"), despite the fact that philosophers have long since realised that science can’t be wrapped up quite so neatly.

Hypotheses do not exist in a vacuum – they come with all kinds of built-in assumptions about the world, scientific instruments and experimental set-ups. A negative result might falsify the hypothesis – or it might simply require a revision of an auxiliary assumption.

So how can we decide what counts as science? That is the central question of this brilliant book, which ought to be required reading for, well, everyone.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Books, Science

Dionne comments on Souder

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Souder is the latest family-values, abstinence-education-favoring Republican to be caught (as it were) with his pants down, involved in an affair with a woman who worked with him.

E.J. Dionne has a good column (!) on the situation, which concludes:

… But it is precisely because this story hits me personally that I want to shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough!

Enough with dividing the world between moral, family-loving Christians and supposedly permissive, corrupt, family-destroying secularists.

Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world. And enough with claiming that support for gay rights and gay marriage is synonymous with opposition to family values and sexual responsibility.

It’s not the self-righteousness of religious conservatives that bothers me most. We liberals can be pretty self-righteous, too. It’s the refusal to acknowledge that the pressures endangering the family do not come from some dark secular leftist conspiracy but from cultural and economic forces that affect us all. People are encouraged to put all sorts of things (career advancement, wealth, fame, the accumulation of things, various forms of self-indulgence) ahead of being good parents and spouses. Our workplaces are not as family-friendly as they could be.

Why does it even have to be said that a devotion to family has nothing to do with ideology? In my very liberal Maryland neighborhood — 80 percent of my precinct voted for Barack Obama — parents crowd school meetings, flock to their children’s sporting events, help them with homework and teach them right from wrong based on values that I doubt differ all that much from those prevailing in more conservative environs. And while a lot of my neighbors are active in their religious congregations, the secular parents take their family responsibilities as seriously as the believers do.

And those of us who are liberal would insist that our support for the rights of gays and lesbians grows from our sense of what family values demand. How can being pro-family possibly mean holding in contempt our homosexual relatives, neighbors and friends? How much sense does it make to preach fidelity and commitment and then deny marriage to those whose sexual orientation is different from our own? Rights for gays and lesbians don’t wreck heterosexual families. Heterosexuals are doing a fine job of this on their own.

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:22 pm

Who is running the Executive Branch?

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It doesn’t seem to be Obama. Take this headline, for example: Despite Obama’s Moratorium, Drilling Projects Move Ahead. Article begins:

In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked about the permits and waivers, officials at the Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service, which regulates drilling, pointed to public statements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, reiterating that the agency had no intention of stopping all new oil and gas production in the gulf.

Department of the Interior officials said in a statement that the moratorium was meant only to halt permits for the drilling of new wells. It was not meant to stop permits for new work on existing drilling projects like the Deepwater Horizon.

But critics say the moratorium has been violated or too narrowly defined to prevent another disaster.

With crude oil still pouring into the gulf and washing up on beaches and in wetlands, President Obama is sending Mr. Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano back to the region on Monday…

It sure sounds like Obama’s moratorium ("no more drilling for now" is what I heard—and I think that was the message conveyed) has had zero impact.

Obama also promised that the DEA would stop its raids regarding medical marijuana. But I just got this email:

A federally funded drug task force seized as evidence up to 200 petition signatures for marijuana legalization in Washington State in a series of early-morning raids this week.  Seizing the petition signatures is bad enough. What’s worse is what the task force did on its raids of a legal marijuana dispensary and its owner’s home.

Drug agents handcuffed a 14-year-old boy and pointed a gun at his head. Then they took $80 from a 9-year-old girl’s Minnie Mouse wallet that she earned for straight A’s on her report card.

Now the drug agents – funded by the US Department of Justice – say they can only find two pages of the petition. But they had time to make photocopies of the petition, keeping the names and addresses of residents who signed.

We started our own petition demanding the release of the seized signatures that we’ll deliver to the task force headquarters next week.

Sign our petition to demand the federally funded drug task force release all 200 petition signatures and destroy any other copies.

Ironically, it’s this kind of reckless waste of time and money that makes marijuana legalization a safer, smarter alternative than the failed war on drugs.

Sensible Washington is the group whose marijuana legalization petitions were seized by the federally funded agents. The group is well on its way to let Washington State residents vote on legalization on the November ballot, but this raid can put it in jeopardy.

The intended effect of this raid is to put a chill on other citizens from signing the petition, who will fear having their names and addresses exposed to a drug task force. It’s intimidation, pure and simple. And your tax dollars are paying for it.

That’s why it’s important we speak out about this gross violation of first amendment rights. We need to make sure that not only is every petition signature returned, but any other copies must be destroyed.

Demand the drug agents give back all of the seized petition signatures and destroy any copies they made. Sign our petition.

The only thing these petition signatures are evidence of is an exercise in democracy. Thanks for standing with us,

Obama seems to have difficulty exercising control. And what was done in Washington is much more totalitarian than I like to see in this country.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:15 pm

Chandler now in official release!

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You can download version 1.0.3 (Windows only, free) here. (Product tour here.)

Mitch Kapor made his fortune with Lotus 1-2-3, and went only to invent Lotus Agenda, an absolutely wonderful and ahead-of-its-time program that ran on DOS. It was an incredibly freeform text database application. It turned out to be a hard sell—it could be set up for a wide variety of apps, so that it didn’t fit any specific application. Users were limited only by their imaginations, which turned out to be the killer: most users’ imaginations were not all that strong. Agenda was dropped, but many still use it in a DOS window.

Kapor then took his fortune, started a non-profit, and began development of Chandler (named after his dog who was, I believe, named after Raymond Chandler). This was to be Agenda perfected, but it came out quite different: much more specifically designed for a calendar/to-do/project tracking application.

Still, very nice. And free. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Not so graceful, but still amazing

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Via mistermix at Balloon Juice:

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 12:02 pm

Extremely cool ad

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Via Andrew Sullivan. Fullscreen works best.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 11:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Peet’s bottled tea

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I just sent this email to Peet’s:

I was just at the grocery store (Nob Hill), which had a display stand of Peet’s tea. I was eager to buy a few bottles, but alas! the ingredients list is printed in a small font in black on a dark green background: totally unreadable.

I doubt that this was an accident—more likely you simply didn’t want the customers to be able to read the ingredients—but the effect was that I didn’t buy any.

Like many Americans, I am a type-2 diabetic, so I was interested in tea without sugar (and, in particular, without high-fructose corn syrup). If I can’t read the ingredients, I don’t buy.

Thought you should know, though I doubt it will affect your determination to keep secret the list of ingredients.

Thanks anyway.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 11:51 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food


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