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Archive for July 2010

We might as well start stacking the chairs

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The party’s definitely over. From nature:

Nature 466, 591-596 (29 July 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature09268; Received 21 January 2010; Accepted 9 June 2010

Global phytoplankton decline over the past century

Daniel G. Boyce1, Marlon R. Lewis2 & Boris Worm1

  1. Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3H 4J1
  2. Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3H 4J1
Abstract

In the oceans, ubiquitous microscopic phototrophs (phytoplankton) account for approximately half the production of organic matter on Earth. Analyses of satellite-derived phytoplankton concentration (available since 1979) have suggested decadal-scale fluctuations linked to climate forcing, but the length of this record is insufficient to resolve longer-term trends. Here we combine available ocean transparency measurements and in situ chlorophyll observations to estimate the time dependence of phytoplankton biomass at local, regional and global scales since 1899. We observe declines in eight out of ten ocean regions, and estimate a global rate of decline of ~1% of the global median per year. Our analyses further reveal interannual to decadal phytoplankton fluctuations superimposed on long-term trends. These fluctuations are strongly correlated with basin-scale climate indices, whereas long-term declining trends are related to increasing sea surface temperatures. We conclude that global phytoplankton concentration has declined over the past century; this decline will need to be considered in future studies of marine ecosystems, geochemical cycling, ocean circulation and fisheries.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2010 at 12:14 pm

ADL decides bigotry okay if not directed at Jews

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The ADL is a big fat disappointment. A couple of stories: first, Steve Benen:

When I heard that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) had issued a statement on the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero in Manhattan, I was relieved. Finally, I thought, a sensible, credible voice committed to combating bigotry and prejudice could remind the right-wing about the importance of respect, freedom, and how there are no second-class faith traditions here in the United States.

And then I read the statement, and my relief disappeared.

The ADL’s statement started off really well. It reiterated its commitment to religious liberty, "categorically" rejected the "appeals to bigotry," and condemned those "whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry."

But then the ADL went badly off course.

"The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found."

What? That doesn’t make any sense. The right manufactures a controversy, motivated by nothing but bigotry, so the facility should be built elsewhere? Why, to reward the bigots? And how many blocks away would be necessary to satisfy these demands?

"Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right."

This is genuinely incoherent, and a statement I suspect the ADL will one day look back on with regret and embarrassment.

What the Anti-Defamation League is arguing is that the sensitivities of bigots are more important than the religious liberty of American Muslims. The ADL believes faith communities should be free to build buildings, unless it might bother those who hate those faith communities.

The ADL seems to acknowledge and fully appreciate the fact that opponents of the Cordoba House are motivated by bigotry, but inexplicably calls for the accommodation of that bigotry.

As Adam Serwer concluded:

Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this, the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a nonpartisan organization.

I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.

And here’s Alex Pareene in Salon:

The Anti-Defamation League has come out against the construction of an Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan, to be called the Cordoba House. The Cordoba House is also known as "The Ground Zero Mosque," an appellation bestowed on the project by the fear-mongering bigots who’ve made it the centerpiece of a campaign of anti-Muslim hysteria.

Opposition to the Cordoba House was limited, initially, to right-wing populist kooks like the editorial board of the New York Post, and their rage-columnist Andrew Peyser. Then it went national, as people who know damn well what they’re doing stoked ethnic resentments and encouraged plenty of otherwise decent people to give in to base fears of scary Arabs who want to kill you, all of you, because that is their nature.

The Anti-Defamation League, which exists, in theory, to combat anti-semitism, is now promoting Islamaphobia for no real reason other than, you know, lots of other people seem to dislike this mosque thing.

Here’s their shameful, mealy-mouthed statement. It begins with boilerplate about the importance of religious freedom:

We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy, and that freedom must include the right of all Americans – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths – to build community centers and houses of worship.

Unless some right-wing bigots stir up enough of a fuss.

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

Hah, I don’t think you guys know what "categorically reject" and "condemn" mean! For future reference: "condemn" does not mean "join."

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site. We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values. These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming. But regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one.

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.

So! They categorically reject bigotry, they recognize that freedom of worship is a cornerstone of American democracy, but these Muslims are probably connected to terrorists and while they have the right to build a house of worship anywhere they wish, they probably shouldn’t because it would make Newt Gingrich mad.

What a fucking joke.

(Even after a lengthy, well-funded and publicized campaign to promote Islamophobia and invent reasonable-sounding rationales for it, spearheaded by one New York’s major daily newspapers, only 36% of Manhattanites oppose construction of the "Ground Zero Mosque.")

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2010 at 10:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

One big GOP problem: Bad faith

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On the tax cuts, for example. Steve Benen:

President Obama hosted a meeting at the White House with the leadership of both parties, from both chambers, and the discussion reportedly turned to Bush’s tax cuts. GOP leaders want all the cuts to remain in place, no matter how many billions of dollars it adds to the deficit. The president wants to keep the cuts for everyone except the very wealthy.

By all accounts, the chat wasn’t especially constructive, but I was glad to see this exchange took place.

Mr. Obama, who did not join the Senate until 2005, reminded Mr. Boehner and the Senate Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, that the tax cuts’ architects purposely left the deficit problem to a future administration, according to aides from both parties.

"I wasn’t there," Mr. Boehner quickly countered. "I didn’t structure that deal."

The room briefly went quiet as participants seemed to ponder that statement from a legislator first elected in 1990. "How long have you been here?," a Democrat asked Mr. Boehner, and the others broke out in laughter.

They’re laughing at you, John, not with you.

It’s a telling anecdote. The White House vision is to largely follow the game plan crafted by Congressional Republicans less than a decade ago. It was the GOP’s idea — they passed tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy, and set the cuts to expire at the end of 2010. The point was to obscure the cuts’ cost, play a dangerous budget game, and make it so that the GOP wouldn’t have to pay for their own experiment. We saw the results, which can only fairly be described as "total failure."

Obama is prepared to do part of what Republicans included in their own plan — letting tax rates for those making more than $250,000 return to the same levels that existed when the economy was strong, as was outlined in the Republican plan of the Bush era. Reminded of whose idea this was in the first place, Boehner, in effect, argued that he has nothing to do with the plan he voted for, and which was crafted by his own caucus.

Indeed, Boehner was, at the time, responsible at the committee level for helping shape the tax-cut package, and was on hand at the White House for the bill-signing ceremony.

No wonder the room broke out in laughter.

As for the substance, Boehner told the president allowing the higher rates to return to pre-Bush levels would be bad for small businesses (small businesses that need some help, which Senate Republicans have blocked). As a policy matter, Boehner’s argument is patently ridiculous, but the fact that he’s pushing it in a private meeting confirms my suspicions — Boehner actually believes his own nonsense, and isn’t quite sharp enough to realize he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

In the meantime, Boehner is also urging Republicans to stop referring to the Bush tax cuts as the Bush tax cuts. GOP members are supposed to fight for the failed former president’s tax policy, but avoid using the failed former president’s name.

They really do think voters are fools.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2010 at 10:00 am

Stress and its costs—and how to fight it

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Jonah Lehrer has a long and interesting article on stress at Wired:

Baboons are nasty, brutish, and short. They have a long muzzle and sharp fangs designed to inflict deadly injury. Their bodies are covered in thick, olive-colored fur, except on their buttocks, which are hairless. The species is defined by its social habits: The primates live in troops, or groupings of several dozen individuals. These troops have a strict hierarchy, and each animal is assigned a specific rank. While female rank is hereditary — a daughter inherits her mother’s status — males compete for dominance. These fights can be bloody, but the stakes are immense: A higher rank means more sex. The losers, in contrast, face a bleak array of options — submission, exile, or death.

In 1978, Robert Sapolsky was a recent college graduate with a degree in biological anthropology and a job in Kenya. He had set off for a year of fieldwork by himself among baboons before he returned to the US for grad school and the drudgery of the lab. At the time, Sapolsky’s wilderness experience consisted of short backpacking trips in the Catskill Mountains; he had lit a campfire exactly once. Most of what he knew about African wildlife he’d learned from stuffed specimens at the Museum of Natural History. And yet here he was in Nairobi, speaking the wrong kind of Swahili and getting ripped off by everyone he met. Eventually he made his way to the bush, a sprawling savanna filled with zebras and wildebeests and elephants. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Sapolsky remembers. “There was an animal behind every tree. I was inside the diorama.”

Sapolsky slowly introduced himself to a troop of baboons, letting them adjust to his presence. After a few weeks, he began recognizing individual animals, giving them nicknames from the Old Testament. It was a way of rebelling against his childhood Hebrew-school teachers, who rejected the blasphemy of Darwinian evolution. “I couldn’t wait for the day that I could record in my notebook that Nebuchanezzar and Naomi were off screwing in the bushes,” Sapolsky wrote in A Primate’s Memoir. “It felt like a pleasing revenge.”

Before long, Sapolsky’s romantic vision of fieldwork collided with the dismal reality of living in the African bush. His feet itched from a fungal infection, his skin was covered in bug bites, the Masai stole his stuff, he had terrible diarrhea, and he was desperately lonely. Sapolsky’s subjects gave him no glimpse of good fellowship. They seemed to devote all of their leisure time — and baboon life is mostly leisure time — to mischief and malevolence. “One of the first things I discovered was that I didn’t like baboons very much,” he says. “They’re quite awful to one another, constantly scheming and backstabbing. They’re like chimps but without the self-control.”

While Sapolsky was disturbed by the behavior of the baboons — this was nature, red in tooth and claw — he realized that their cruelty presented an opportunity to investigate the biological effects of social upheaval. He noticed, for instance, that the males at the bottom of the hierarchy were thinner and more skittish. “They just didn’t look very healthy,” Sapolsky says. “That’s when I began thinking about how damn stressful it must be to have no status. You never know when you’re going to get beat up. You never get laid. You have to work a lot harder for food.”

So Sapolsky set out to test the hypothesis that the stress involved in being at the bottom of the baboon hierarchy led to health problems. At the time, stress was mostly ignored as a medical subject. It was seen as an unpleasant mental state with few long-term consequences. “A couple of studies had linked stress to ulcers, but that was about it,” he says. “It struck most doctors as extremely unlikely that your feelings could affect your health. Viruses, sure. Carcinogens, absolutely. But stress? No way.” Sapolsky, however, was determined to get some data. He wasn’t yet thinking lofty thoughts about human beings or public health. His transformation into one of the leading researchers on the science of stress would come later. Instead, he was busy learning how to shoot baboons with anesthetic darts and then, while they were plunged into sleep, quickly measure their immune system function and the levels of stress hormones and cholesterol in their blood.

In the decades since, Sapolsky’s speculation has become scientific fact. Chronic stress, it turns out, is an extremely dangerous condition…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2010 at 8:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Recognize this?

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2010 at 8:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

GOP unanimously blocks important legislation

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One commenter has somehow come to the conclusion that the GOP is not blocking legislation in the Senate. While it’s true that some legislation has passed, the GOP has not given up its fight to keep things stalled. Steve Benen:

It’s been pretty unpleasant watching the Senate lately.

  • The DISCLOSE Act came up, and every single Senate Republican joined together to block the bill from even getting a vote.
  • A package of incentives and tax breaks for small businesses looked to be in good shape, but every single Senate Republican joined together to knock that down, too.
  • Twenty obviously qualified judicial nominees were brought forward, and the GOP blocked votes on all of them.
  • Medical care for 9/11 victims came up, and Republicans prevented it from passing, too.

And these are just developments since Tuesday.

But early next week, the chamber will have another important opportunity to pass a critical piece of legislation. Annie Lowrey reported:

[Thursday night], Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attached an amendment with funding to preserve teachers’ jobs and to provide much-needed Medicaid funding to states to a Federal Aviation Administration bill. The amendment is fully paid-for, and the FAA bill is just a vehicle. Reid filed cloture, meaning the Senate will vote on the provisions on Monday.

The amendment includes $10 billion in funding for teachers’ jobs and $16.1 billion in funding for the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, or FMAP, program, which provides Medicaid funding to states. For offsets, it closes foreign tax credit loopholes to raise $9 billion; it also cuts $2 billion from Medicaid drug pricing, $8.4 billion in rescissions and $6.7 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

There were no further details released at the time. At first blush, cutting food stamps to pay for Medicaid — both problems aid the most economically distressed Americans — and teachers’ jobs seems like a hard compromise to swallow, though it is unclear when the cuts will take effect and what portions will be cut.

Paying for this through food stamp offsets is rough, but it may not quite as bad as it appears. A source close to the talks told me this afternoon that the $6.7 billion from SNAP won’t go into effect until 2014 and the money comes from an increase that came through the Recovery Act. For Democrats, it seems like a reasonable trade-off — they get to save a lot of jobs and bolster Medicaid in the short term, while having three years to replenish the extra funds for food stamps.

But what about for Republicans? What kind of resistance should Democrats expect when this comes up on Monday night?

I don’t doubt they’ll come up with something, but Republicans — especially Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine — really don’t have any excuses here. This bill will help states, save jobs, and improve the economy … without adding a penny to the deficit.

On Monday, Snowe and Collins specifically endorsed a Medicaid funding extension, but said they didn’t want to vote for a bill that wasn’t paid for. Well, this bill is paid for. Collins said the job-saving state aid should phase down over time. Well, to accommodate her concerns, this bill does exactly that.

So, Republican moderates, what’s it going to be? Are you willing to take "yes" for an answer?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2010 at 8:31 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

More Right-wing hatred of the poor: Phyllis Schlafly

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She’s a mean old woman. Charlie Eisenhood at ThinkProgress:

Over the past two months, many Republican pundits and members of Congress have been calling for the end of unemployment benefit extensions for the millions of Americans who can’t find work. Meanwhile, GOP Senators held the unemployment insurance (UI) extension bill hostage for weeks as 2.5 million Americans were left without the “desperately needed lifeline” of UI benefits. Even as five workers fight for every one job opening, Republicans are still calling the unemployed “spoiled” and suggesting that blocking benefits is fine because it only affects a “small amount of people.”

Last week at a fundraiser for Michigan GOP congressional candidate Rocky Raczowski, conservative pundit Phyllis Schlafly added her voice to the chorus crying out against government assistance for the poor or unemployed:

One of the things Obama’s been doing is deliberately trying to increase the percentage of our population that is dependent on government for your living. For example, do you know what was the second biggest demographic group that voted for Obama? Obviously the blacks were the biggest demographic, y’all know what was the second biggest? Unmarried women. 70% of unmarried women voted for Obama. And this is because when you kick your husband out, you’ve got to have Big Brother Government to be your provider. And they know that. They’ve admitted it. And they have all kinds of bills to continue to subsidize illegitimacy…

The Obama administration wants to continue to subsidize this group because they know they are Democratic votes.

Listen:

Schlafly’s argument is specious. She talks about “subsidizing illegitimacy,” but not all single women are mothers. Less than 20 percent are mothers to young children. The rest include millions of widows, millions of young never-married women, and plenty in between — some of whom have kids, but most of whom do not.

The fact that programs like UI and food stamps help unmarried women is only a byproduct of the system designed to help everyone in need – men and women alike. In fact, men are receiving more UI benefits than women – the unemployment rate for men is a full 2.2 points higher than it is for women.

That didn’t stop Schlafly from doubling down on her falsehoods in an interview with TPM yesterday. “All welfare goes to unmarried moms,” she claimed. “They are trying to line up their constituency for Obama and Democrats against Republican candidates.”

Of course, government assistance goes to both genders. But moreover, considering that 84 percent of custodial single parents are mothers and a quarter of American children are being raised by unmarried mothers, supporting single women is critical for supporting children. As the Center for American Progress’ Liz Weiss puts it, “When single mothers lose their home, suffer from hunger, or can’t find a job, their children also lose their home, go hungry, or suffer from greatly reduced household resources.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2010 at 8:27 am

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