Later On

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

Archive for July 28th, 2010

Ocean life starting to vanish

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When the foundational layer of organisms—phytoplankton—begin to vanish, the ripple effect up the food chain is unavoidable. We may end up killing all ocean life, just by ourselves (through over-fishing, dumping toxins, heating the oceans through global warming). Aren’t we great?! And stupid?! Jef Akst posts at TheScientist.com:

Phytoplankton, which are responsible for half of the world’s primary production and are the basis of all marine ecosystems, have been declining for more than 100 years, perhaps the result of rising sea temperatures, according to a study published in this week’s Nature– a cause for concern about the health of the Earth’s oceans.

"It is troubling," said marine scientist David Siegel of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the research. With data dating back to the late 1800s, "this paper finds a long-term trend that’s huge," he said. "The phytoplankton community has undoubtedly been changing."

Phytoplankton productivity lies at the base of the marine food web, supporting all ocean life and contributing to global geochemical processes, including the carbon cycle. Through photosynthetic activities, phytoplankton reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. Satellite data from the last few decades has suggested that phytoplankton might be on the decline.

To determine whether these apparent declines are indicative of a longer-term trend, marine biologist Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Canada and his colleagues turned to data from a variety of sources, including direct measurements of chlorophyll levels, a pigment found in all phytoplankton, and Secchi disk data. Secchi disks are a simple yet fundamental tool in oceanography, and are used to measure water transparency, which can serve as a proxy for phytoplankton abundance.

Compiling and standardizing these data, dating back to 1899, the researchers found a consistent and significant decline in phytoplankton in eight of the world’s 10 oceans — an estimated 1 percent per year globally. The decline was strongly correlated with the rising surface sea temperatures.

"One percent per year is a huge number," said Siegel, who wrote an accompanying News and Views article.

The impacts of such a decline are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2010 at 11:52 am

Posted in Environment, Science

Greek-style meatballs for the grill

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These sound great. The ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef, 80% lean
  • 4 slices of white bread
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For serving

Type of fire: direct

Grill heat: medium-high

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2010 at 11:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Jim Gourley on spelunking through PTSD

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Interesting report posted by Tom Ricks:

I’m going to say quite a few things that I can’t immediately qualify, because the views build on each other. I wish I could give you a clear line of reasoning, but if I could then PTSD wouldn’t be a problem. So I’m going to do this the only way I know how — create the ball of twine and then unravel it. Bear with me.

I am an expert on PTSD. So is every other Soldier/Sailor/Marine/Airman (avoiding diatribes against the all-inclusive "warrior" here) who has felt and/or suffered (because feeling and suffering are distinct from each other) from PTSD. I know we are all experts because no one else does, or can, understand the condition without having gone through it. Army psychologists and counselors who have not felt it or suffered from it only scratch the surface of the problem.

PTSD is very difficult to deal with for two reasons. One reason is the misconception that it is a psychological condition. It’s not. It’s a spiritual condition. Yes, I know that you cannot anatomically identify the human spirit or sedate it with valium and that, for all its complexities and mysteries, we find the brain much easier to "treat", but I’m telling you right now that trying to understand PTSD under a psychological paradigm is like trying to conduct an ACL surgery at an auto-body shop. I’ve met David Grossman, and even he speaks about it in metaphysical terms on a frequent basis. If you don’t believe me, I’ll go dig up the quotes from all the shrinks-in-chief that declare the cause for spikes in suicides in 2008 and 2009 and 2010 was "due to the weather." I give all due respect to the shrinks and counselors. They’re doing their best. But with all due respect, their best is nothing but best guesses. Because this isn’t scientific. It’s spiritual.

The second reason it’s difficult is that, even when we acknowledge the spiritual nature of this condition, we are woefully inept at dealing with it. Blake Hall hits on all the things we do wrong — ridicule, ostracize, and ignore those with the disease. Treat the guy like a leper.

You want to know why we do that? Because deep down underneath all that type-A, testosterone-driven, state-of-the-badass-art Spartan warrior bravado that we exude, we are scared to f—ing death that we’ll catch it. PTSD in the Army is like cooties in a third-grade classroom.

If we want to treat PTSD, we’ve got to do exactly what Blake did. We’ve got to learn how to hug lepers. We’ve got to get past the condition and see the man or woman we’ve always known. We’ve got to embrace them and hold them tight, tell them that we’re here and we’re not leaving them. And we’ve got to mean it. We have to be there. At the office, on the steps of their house, on a swollen riverbank out back of a Chili’s on a Saturday night, on the floor of a living room where there used to be furniture at 2 o’clock in the morning. These people don’t need us 24/7, but when they do, we’ve got to answer the call. And we’ve got to be the kind of leaders and peers that instill enough confidence in them that they’ll pick up the phone and call us.

Hotlines and VA administrations can’t help. They weren’t there in the s–t with you when it was all going down. They don’t know. They didn’t see. And they don’t really care. Yes, I know that many of these people really DO care, but I only know that now. When you have PTSD, you DON’T know that. You certainly won’t believe it. Let me back up.

Here’s what PTSD is like, and why people kill themselves over it. Think of life like a cave…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2010 at 11:43 am

Unconscious behavioral changes from birth-control chemicals

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Interesting report by Brandon Keim at Wired:

The powerful hormones in birth-control drugs change how lemurs smell, radically altering the subtle chemical cues that guide their attraction and communication.

Research on a 2-foot-tall primate shouldn’t be extrapolated directly to humans, but the findings resonate with studies in people, which have come largely from behavioral observations and are just beginning to quantify the chemistry.

“I’m not telling people not to take birth control. But what we found in lemurs needs to be studied in humans,” said Christine Drea, a Duke University reproductive biologist.

Hormone contraceptives work by tricking bodies into thinking they’re pregnant, thus preventing the release of eggs. However, these hormones are powerful. Possible side effects include sexual and romantic dysfunction. And researchers studying the broader effects of contraceptives have noticed an apparent interference with women’s taste in men.

When asked to rate the attractiveness of male odors, women are generally more attracted to men whose scents signify an immune system quite different from their own. Such a preference ostensibly leads to children with the most versatile disease defenses possible. That preference seems lessened when women take hormone contraceptives, possibly because women’s noses can’t properly calibrate if their own scent has been changed.

Men’s responses may also be scrambled. In one infamous study, men gave more money to strippers when they approached ovulation, and very little money if they were on the pill.

Such studies are compelling, but ambiguous. Does preference for certain immune-system profiles, as identified from sweat-soaked T-shirts, translate to real-world behavior? The results appear mixed. Do men really smell something, or did women dance differently? It’s hard to tell. And mate choice is just one of the animal kingdom’s many roles for scent…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2010 at 10:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Israel takes strong stand, razing a settlement with bulldozers

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Except this was not one of Israel’s illegal settlements; instead, it was a small group of Bedouin Arabs trying to rebuild their village in the desert. Edmund Sanders reports for the LA Times:

For the sixth time in a decade, farmer Ismail Mohamed Salem watched Israeli bulldozers raze his home in this disputed Bedouin village.
Hours later, he sat next to the rubble and vowed to rebuild — yet again.

"This is my land," said Salem, 70, as his grandchildren lay sleeping on straw mats next to the demolished structure, now a 20-foot pile of twisted aluminum, broken concrete and splintered wood. "Why should I leave?"

Salem’s home was among 45 demolished early Tuesday as part of a long-running dispute between Arab tribes in the Negev desert and the Israeli government.

Bedouin residents, who are Muslim, say they were forced off their land nearly six decades ago and are pushed out again whenever they return. Israeli officials say the property was taken over by the state in the early 1950s because it was abandoned and has been slated by the Jewish National Fund for a massive national park.

Destruction of Arakib village — the largest such razing in years — left many of the 300 Arab-Israeli citizens homeless in 100-degree temperatures and raised fears that Israel is resuming a crackdown on what it calls "unauthorized" Bedouin shantytowns that dot southern Israel.

The long-running Bedouin saga is often overshadowed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

These tribes once wandered modern-day Jordan, Israel and Egypt in search of pastures for their animals. But the nomadic way of life began coming to a halt for most after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, when national borders were formed. Most fled to Jordan and Egypt after Israel’s war for independence in 1948, leaving about 10,000 Bedouins in Israel.

As usual here, the dispute today is over land ownership. Bedouin families around Arakib say they own about 4,600 acres of the desert, insisting that they paid taxes during the Ottoman period and British Empire. Gravestones in the cemetery show some families have inhabited the area for at least 140 years.

In 1951, Bedouin leaders say, they were forced by Israel’s military into settlements along the West Bank border.

"They told us we could come back in six months," said Nori Uqbi, a community activist who is suing the government to regain control of what he says is his family’s land. "But it was all a lie."

Instead, he said, the villagers were never allowed to return and have been prevented from cultivating the land…

Continue reading.

I don’t understand Israel’s animosity toward the Bedouins, who (so far as I know) are uninvolved in terrorism. Does Israel simply hate all Arabs, regardless of what they have done?

I believe that it’s hard to deny that Israel has become a racist society—and a very bad one at that.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2010 at 10:50 am

BP’s Secret Ticket Request Line

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Business loves to buy off the government—it’s what they do. Josh Harkinson reports at Mother Jones:

For more than a decade, BP has operated a hush-hush phone line that California lawmakers can call to request box seats to NBA games and concerts at the Sacramento stadium named after its West Coast subsidiary.

In the past five years, BP has given state officials more than 1,200 complimentary tickets to the Arco Arena, hosting them in its corporate suite to see Sacramento Kings games, World Extreme Cagefighting matches, and Britney Spears and Lil Wayne concerts. Getting the tickets is as easy as calling the BP ticket request line, an exclusive, unpublished phone number that appears to exist for the sole purpose of granting freebies to lawmakers, regulators, and their staffs.

"You make a request, leave it on the voicemail, and at some date the tickets either magically appear or they don’t," says a legislative consultant who gave me the ticket line’s number and spoke on condition of anonymity. "They don’t talk to you; you just see ‘em or you don’t." The ticket line’s message was taken down sometime in the past week, shortly after I began my reporting. You can still listen to the original recording below.

BP has given away roughly $300,000 worth of tickets over the past 10 years, handing them out to everyone from lowly assembly clerks to top lawmakers. In March 2002, when the Sacramento Kings were locked in a playoff battle with the Los Angeles Lakers, 9 state senators and 12 state assembly members, including the speaker, pumped BP for the coveted seats. While serving as assembly speaker in 2006, Los Angeles Democrat Fabian Núñez and his family watched the Kings beat the Chicago Bulls on BP’s dime. During Democrat Karen Bass’ tenure as speaker between 2008 and 2010, 13 members of her staff tapped BP for tickets to see Disney on Ice, Tina Turner, and Madea’s Big Happy Family. Núñez and Bass did not accept requests for interviews.

The only official I contacted who would speak on the record about the ticket line was Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, a Republican from the Central Valley, who confirms that he asked for four passes to see Britney Spears last April. Her music is "tough to listen to," he concedes, but the show "was all about the kids, man. It was for my daughters." Berryhill says that he didn’t realize that his secretary had gotten the tickets from BP. Even so, Berryhill’s chief of staff, Evan Oneto, said his boss wouldn’t rule out taking tickets from the company in the future. Whether BP’s money is spent on free concert tickets or cleaning up the Gulf, he says, "is BP’s decision to make, not Bill’s." …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2010 at 10:44 am

Arlington Cemetery budget chief blew whistle in 2003

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At this point, I think some should go to prison. Mark Benjamin in Salon:

The former budget officer at Arlington National Cemetery warned the Army, the Defense Department’s inspector general, the Office of Special Counsel and the Office of Management and Budget about problems at the center of the scandal now unfolding at the cemetery. His concerns were mostly ignored and, at least in one case, smacked down by an Army official with oversight of Arlington.

The former budget officer, Rory Smith, tried repeatedly to blow the whistle on the cemetery’s budget irregularities, as top officials began to squander millions in taxpayer dollars, ostensibly to computerize burial records and prevent the interment mistakes documented by Salon over the last year. As a result of his attempts to communicate his concerns to Army higher-ups, Smith was reprimanded and suspended for insubordination. A 20-year cemetery staffer, Smith later joined a long roster of cemetery workers who quit in disgust or were fired after reporting problems to cemetery and Army officials.

Smith’s account is the most damning evidence to date showing that Army officials were repeatedly warned about budgetary, management and record-keeping problems at the cemetery. The Army, which oversees Arlington, has said it was kept in the dark about the problems there. Army Secretary John McHugh told the House Armed Services Committee recently that the cemetery was "somewhat of a satellite sitting off by itself."

A Senate subcommittee is investigating Arlington and has requested that several of the major players in Smith’s story, revealed for the first time in this article, testify at a hearing set for July 29.

The budgetary high jinks and the burial scandal at Arlington are closely intertwined. If properly executed, the cemetery’s computerization effort would have eliminated the messy paperwork that is still used today to document the identities of deceased service members and their grave locations. The project was supposed to replace that flurry of paper with digital records and the capability to track grave locations precisely with the aid of satellites. That capability has been common at other cemeteries of similar size for years. Top cemetery officials funneled somewhere between $5 million and $20 million to a small group of contractors over the past decade to do the work, but got little or nothing in return.

As the budget officer at Arlington for two decades, Smith was the point man between the cemetery and the two government offices that oversee Arlington’s budget: the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. Smith also worked closely with the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that fund the cemetery.

In the spring of 2003, the cemetery had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants just to study possible modernization plans without actually doing any modernization work, a situation Smith found troubling but possibly justified. At that point, cemetery superintendent Jack Metzler and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham, were revving up to put the spending into high gear…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2010 at 10:39 am

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