Later On

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

Archive for January 10th, 2008

Women of child-bearing age: take your folic acid

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Important:

The CDC today urged all women — and particularly young women — to make sure they get enough folic acid.

“All women, especially younger women ages 18-24 years, need to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily through supplements, fortified foods, or both in addition to a folate-rich diet to prevent serious birth defects” called neural tube defects, which affect the brain and spinal cord, states a CDC news release.

That recommendation goes for any woman of childbearing age, even if she’s not trying to conceive, since many pregnancies aren’t planned.

Among U.S. women of childbearing age, only 40% take a daily supplement containing folic acid. That percentage is even smaller — 30% — among women aged 18-24, who account for nearly a third of all U.S. births, according to the CDC.

Among all age groups, young women were the least aware about folic acid consumption.

The CDC got that information from a 2007 survey of some 2,000 U.S. women aged 18-45. The survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization for the March of Dimes, appears in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report; it has a margin of error of two or three percentage points.

Folic acid is found in many vitamin and mineral supplements. It’s also been added to most enriched breads, flours, and other grain products for the last 10 years. Neural tube defects dropped 26% in the U.S. between 1995-1996 (before folic acid fortification) and 1999-2000 (after folic acid fortification).

Folate, a B-vitamin that’s the natural form of folic acid, is found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach and turnip greens, as well as in black-eyed peas and beef liver. [Wheat germ has lots of folic acid. – LG]

The March of Dimes is teaming up with the Grain Foods Foundation to create a seal that says “Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy” for products enriched with folic acid.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 6:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

One reason I never read Maureen Dowd

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The main reason is that the columns I’ve read have been vacuous. But this too:

My boy Greg Sargent catches Maureen Dowd in — why mince words? — a lie. Dowd datelined yesterday’s column Derry, N.H. But at the time, it turns out, she was in Jerusalem, covering the president’s trip. Apparently, she was following her paper’s lead. Greg confirmed that the paper allows such dateline manipulation as long as someone contributed on-the-ground reporting to a piece. In this case, that someone is Dowd’s assistant, who is uncredited in the column. The Times says that’s OK.

But it isn’t. In the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, Rick Bragg, resigned after it turned out he relied heavily on an uncredited stringer for a series with an Apalachicola, Florida dateline. That was the honorable thing to do when faced with such a misrepresentation. But Dowd’s is worse. At least Bragg, in the words of the paper, “indeed visited Apalachicola briefly” for “his” piece. Dowd was half a world away from events she claimed to witness firsthand.

How can it be that four and a half years after Blair/Bragg, the NYT still lets its writers play fast and loose with datelines? Datelines aren’t frivolous things. They exist — and writers covet them — because they bequeath an implicit authority to journalists. That authority is based on the simple concept of due diligence. Readers trust an on-the-ground report far more than they trust a 7,000-mile-distant vantage. That’s why high-budget glossy magazines spend thousands of dollars to shuttle high-profile reporters around, say, the Middle East, even when they’re working on thinkpieces that don’t require exotic stamps on passports. Somehow, the NYT believes that casual manipulation of readers’ trust is acceptable. It raises questions about what other toe-touching is going on at the paper. And we wonder why people don’t trust our profession.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Media, NY Times

Maybe the press is waking up??

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Maybe:

Credit where credit’s due: The Politico‘s top two editors have published a lengthy and comprehensive piece cataloging the multiple failures that have been marring the nation’s political coverage — and they didn’t spare themselves, either.

The hook for the piece — written by Politico editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei — was Hillary’s victory in New Hampshire, which came after the electorate had been buffeted for days by a hurricane of punditry and reporting predicting political doom for Hillary. They wrote:

New Hampshire sealed it. The winner was Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the loser — not just of Tuesday’s primary but of the 2008 campaign cycle so far — was us.”Us” is the community of reporters, pundits and prognosticators who so confidently — and so rashly — stake our reputations on the illusion that we understand politics and have special insight that allows us to predict the behavior of voters.

If journalists were candidates, there would be insurmountable pressure for us to leave the race. If the court of public opinion were a real court, the best a defense lawyer could do is plea bargain out of a charge that reporters are frauds in exchange for a signed confession that reporters are fools.

The piece ticks off a litany of journalistic failures: Addiction to horse race coverage; slavish adherence to arbitrarily created narratives; a willingness to let coverage be tainted by the preference for certain outcomes; an eagerness to be led around on a leash by Drudge; etc., etc. It concludes: “There is generally one good answer to excesses and hype in political journalism: Respect the voters. That means waiting to find out what they really think.”

Now, some readers will find this or that to quibble with in The Politico piece or say that the editors weren’t hard enough on their own publication. And my bet is some people will be looking even harder at The Politico going forward to see if it honors its own prescriptions in the observance — or in the breach.

Either way, the piece strikes me as a well-intentioned start at identifying some of our profession’s less-than-admirable tendencies. And I’m glad Politico published it.

But here’s the thing. In the end, such public mea culpas are only worth the pixels they’re published with. (How’s that phrase for a sign of the times?) The best mea culpa of all is one that’s comprised of, you know, not doing this sort of stuff anymore. A spoken mea culpa without action can end up being worse than nothing at all. It lets folks tell themselves that by owning up to screw-ups, they’ve done necessary due diligence — even if they haven’t done squat to change things.

Anyway, for anyone (ourselves at TPM included) who feels like taking a stab at what one might call a silent mea culpa — one comprised of action, not talk — the Politico piece offers a blueprint on where to start.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Media

Progress in the city of DC—at last!

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DPA email:

President Bush signed an omnibus spending bill last month that includes a provision that lifts a nine-year ban that has prohibited the nation’s capital from spending its own (non-federal) money on syringe exchange programs. Elimination of this ban clears the way for the Government of the District of Columbia to proceed with plans to infuse $1 million into local syringe exchange efforts.

This is the first time in nearly a decade that a syringe exchange program in the District of Columbia will receive public funds to carry out vital efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs. Lifting the local funding ban could not have come at a more critical time. A DC government authored report released in late November determined that Washington, DC has the highest HIV/AIDS rate of all cities in the nation. Moreover, nearly 21% of all cases of HIV transmission in the District are due to injection drug use.

“This is a huge step in helping to reduce HIV and AIDS in Washington, DC,” said Naomi Long, director of the Washington Metro office for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We are pleased that Congress decided to stop playing politics with the lives of intravenous drug users in D.C. at a time when the District is suffering from an HIV/AIDS crisis.”

The local funding ban on syringe exchange in Washington, DC was originally imposed in 1998 by the Republican-led Congress. This ban was maintained in annual appropriations to DC until Democrats regained control of Congress this year. Efforts to repeal the local funding ban gained traction this summer when Congressman Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the Financial Services Subcommittee, and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton spearheaded the effort to lift the ban, and ultimately dropped it from annual appropriations for the District. Subsequently, the House rejected an attempt by Congressman Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) in June to reinstitute a modified ban that would have had a chilling effect on the existing needle exchange program in DC. The revised policy for DC survived further scrutiny in the Senate, and was then included in the year-end omnibus spending package, which was signed by President Bush today.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Medical

Fighting propaganda from the Drug Czar

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Drug Policy Alliance:

Last year, activists met the Office of National Drug Control Policy with sharp questions and literature at every stop on the Drug Czar’s tour to promote potentially harmful random student drug testing. Just last month, following education efforts by the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey, a New Jersey school district recommended against moving forward with a random student drug testing proposal. Our public education efforts about the dangers of random student drug testing are working.

But the ONDCP persists in pursuing its failed strategy.  Despite such strong opposition, the Drug Czar’s staff are intensifying their efforts to convince local educators to start drug testing students–randomly and without cause. This winter, the ONDCP is hosting five student drug testing summits over the next two months — more than double the number they held in the same time frame last year.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 5:34 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Drug Policy Alliance’s 2008 state plans

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Lots to do:

DPA’s work for reform at the state level makes an immediate difference in people’s lives, helping to support the broader vision of a wholesale end to the war on drugs. In 2007, our work brought syringe availability to New Jersey and Los Angeles, passed a medical marijuana law in New Mexico, and protected treatment-instead-of-incarceration in California.

With many state legislatures going into session in January, DPA’s 2008 state work is kicking into high gear. Prominent themes for this year across several of the states we work in include medical marijuana, overdose prevention, effective treatment and sentencing reform.

The passage of medical marijuana legislation in New Mexico last year has helped to create momentum for other states in 2008. We will be educating legislators and advocating for medical marijuana access this year in Alabama, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Pan-fried, poached, and marinated duck breast

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I just made this recipe, hoping it will help my shoulder. Even if it doesn’t, it sounds very tasty, doesn’t it? It’s unusual in that the meat is marinated after cooking, instead of before.

UPDATE: OMG, it’s good. And very easy to make. I had to get the two duck breasts frozen, which was not a problem. And the taste is divine. Eat cold: on salad, on noodles, or what have you…

UPDATE: I think next time I will use these proportions for the marinade:

1 cup red wine
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
3 Tbsp cognac

I think the soy sauce dominated a little too much with the original proportions.

BTW, I have said (as a rule) never to use cooking wine, which is god-awful: just use some of the dinner wine. But that was before I knew about Mirin, a Japanese cooking wine:

A golden color, mildly sweet liquid seasoning used to balance the salty flavors of soy sauce or miso in Japanese and other Asian cuisine. The highest quality mirin, referred to as ‘Ajino-haha’ in Japan. Made only with rice, rice koji (Aspergillus oryzae), water, and sea salt. Naturally and traditionally fermented in cedar kegs.

EDEN Mirin is made by first washing and steaming rice for several hours. After cooling it is mixed with a bit of rice koji (Aspergillus oryzae) called seed koji. The rice mixture is placed in a temperature and moisture controlled koji room for three days where it is stirred daily to ensure proper growth of the koji enzymes. The rice koji is then placed in cedar kegs and mixed with more steamed rice and water. This rice mixture is called ‘moromi,’ or rice wine mash, that is allowed to ferment for two months. At this time sea salt is added, as well as more steamed rice, koji and water. It is allowed to ferment for another three months. The sea salt naturally reduces the alcohol content of the mirin to 6.7 percent, thus allowing the mirin to be classified as a seasoning rather than an alcoholic beverage. After fermentation is complete, the mixture is pressed through cotton sacks and filtered to remove rice residue. It is heated to 85°C. for 3 to 4 seconds. Mirin’s remaining alcohol content quickly evaporates when cooked with food or may be removed by heating it to the boiling point, and allowed to cool before adding to uncooked foods.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

Back from doctor

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Right shoulder pain is due to a torn or inflamed ligament, most likely. First step will be some physical therapy—or, this being the US, the first step will be to call the health insurance company and make sure the physical therapist is in network, that the therapy will be covered as medically necessary, and what deductible might be involved. If therapist is not in network, I will need to get a list of local therapists who are in network and get back to the doctor to see which of those might work. My doctor did give me a box of samples of a natural anti-inflammatory as well.

UPDATE: Someone asked about the medicine: It’s Limbrel (flavocoxid 500 mg), which he said to take right after breakfast and right after dinner—i.e., on a full stomach. One capsule morning, one capsule evening. The sample he gave me is a little box of 20 capsules, individually wrapped.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Big Pharma goes bizarre with “enemies list”

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ThinkProgress:
Enemies

Washington DC Councilmember David Catania has been pushing a bill to require the licensing of pharmaceutical representatives and to prohibit them from providing knowingly false information to doctors. Many pharmaceutical sales reps try to “influence doctors’ prescribing decisions in ways that have little to do with the best interest of the patient” by resorting to “questionable methods, including providing gifts and meals to doctors” in order to promote their drugs.

Advocates of the pharmaceutical industry responded by launching an anonymous blog site devoted to defending the industry’s practices. The site — BigPharmaRealPeople — “grabbed attention with an enemies list” which included Catania, whom it called “public enemy #1.”

The site’s editors had refused to disclose their names and instead adopted the identities from characters in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. Recently, a poster named “John Galt” revealed himself to be Scott McTavish, a sales rep, sales manager and director for three Big Pharma Companies over the past 30 years. Blogging over at Pharmalot, Ed Silverman challenges the front group to disclose its sponsorship and backing:

One other thing, Scott. Since you chose not to answer any of our messages directly, we are still curious to know more about your background and those of your ’staff.’ We would also like to know what, if any, sponsorship or backing you may have. If you really do enjoy an open debate about all the facts, more disclosure would be helpful – unless your site is merely an example of astroturfing dressed up as a social networking experiment.

The avowed mission of the Big Pharma front group’s website is to “remind the American public who is actually on their side” and to “fight ridiculous government rules and regulation that hamper Big Pharma.” The site’s authors write:

The purpose of BigPharmaRealPeople.org is the following: … To point out that corporations are not faceless, evil giants that take advantage of the individual.

The Washington City Paper responds, “Have to say, guys — this anonymous Web site isn’t doing much to combat that whole ‘faceless’ thing.” And the site isn’t having much success thus far. Catania’s bill passed the D.C. City Council on Tuesday.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 10:55 am

Posted in Business, Government

Zoot – very cool (and praise for Mac)

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James Fallows:

The message below is from my “friend” — never met him, but corresponded for years — Kenneth Rhee of Northern Kentucky University. We made contact long ago via a support forum for the nonpareil info-handling program Zoot*. Zoot is Windows-only, so Rhee, like me, has done his main work on PCs.

Recently he made The Change — after wrestling with a new ThinkPad that came with Windows Vista pre-installed. This week Rhee submitted the following report on the the Zoot forum, plus some passages from a followup email to me:

I switched over to the Mac last year after getting a bit frustrated with Vista (I still run Vista in my Thinkpad on a rare occasion if I want to get “frustrated”—little joke here but it seems to happen every time I use it these days).

My experience goes something like this. I wanted to use a few Mac programs and bought a MacBook thinking that I’ll probably use it 10-15% of my time. After a month, I noticed that I was using my Mac 85-90% of the time, and having more fun using it rather than getting more frustrated fixing things or waiting for things to happen. So, I switched over completely and bought a new MacBook Pro with Leopard to replace my Thinkpad and haven’t looked back.

I also run Fusion with Windows XP in my Mac on those occasions I need 100% compatibility. The irony is Windows XP in my MacBook Pro (2.2G) with 1 G of RAM starts/shuts down and runs much faster than my Thinkpad (2.3G) with 2G of RAM with Vista. In fact, my initial MacBook (2.16G with 2G of RAM) runs circles around my Thinkpad, it’s not even funny.

Perhaps if I had gotten my Thinkpad with XP, I might not have completely switched over, but I guess it was a lucky break for me that I didn’t.

…Just the other day I had my MacBook Pro packed for a trip, and I had to do something quick at the last minute before we departed, and I turned on my hibernated (not sleep mode) Thinkpad check on one email quickly.

Believe or not it took the Vista laptop 5 minutes to wake up and restore for me to get the work. My MacBook Pro boots cold much faster than this! In the meantime, my wife was waiting for me to come down from my study and getting anxious

I don’t want to tip my hand about what future installments of this series might disclose, but: I too have a new ThinkPad with Vista installed. I too find that it takes between three and five-plus minutes for that computer to become usable when coming out of hibernation. And I too have noticed that the new Intel-based Macs can be made to run the Windows programs I really care about, like Zoot. Hmmmmm. Stay tuned.

* I could hardly live without Zoot, but it’s an acquired taste. A new version is now near the end of its beta cycle. I recommend it, as I have for more than a decade, but if you try the free download, be prepared to spend a little time getting to know the program.

I trust James Fallows’s software recommendations completely, so I have just completed the free Zoot download and installation.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 10:47 am

An action galaxy

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All galaxies are in action, but this one really shows it.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 10:13 am

Posted in Science

Alzheimer’s advance

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Good news:

An extraordinary new scientific study, which for the first time documents marked improvement in Alzheimer’s disease within minutes of administration of a therapeutic molecule, has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.

This new study highlights the importance of certain soluble proteins, called cytokines, in Alzheimer’s disease. The study focuses on one of these cytokines, tumor necrosis factor-alpha(TNF), a critical component of the brain’s immune system. Normally, TNF finely regulates the transmission of neural impulses in the brain. The authors hypothesized that elevated levels of TNF in Alzheimer’s disease interfere with this regulation. To reduce elevated TNF, the authors gave patients an injection of an anti-TNF therapeutic called etanercept. Excess TNF-alpha has been documented in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with Alzheimer’s.

The new study documents a dramatic and unprecedented therapeutic effect in an Alzheimer’s patient: improvement within minutes following delivery of perispinal etanercept, which is etanercept given by injection in the spine. Etanercept (trade name Enbrel) binds and inactivates excess TNF. Etanercept is FDA approved to treat a number of immune-mediated disorders and is used off label in the study.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 9:46 am

Posted in Medical

Electric motors for autos improve

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Good news for those who like all-electric vehicles:

Ask Iver Anderson at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory about consumer interest in and desire for “ultragreen” electric-drive vehicles, and he’ll reply without a moment’s hesitation that the trend is unstoppable and growing fast.

The Ames Lab senior metallurgist and Iowa State University adjunct professor of materials science and engineering is playing a major role in advancing electric drive motor technology to meet the enormous swell in consumer demand expected over the next five years. He and his Ames Lab colleagues, Bill McCallum and Matthew Kramer, have designed a high-performance permanent magnet alloy that operates with good magnetic strength at 200 degrees Celsius, or 392 degrees Fahrenheit, to help make electric drive motors more efficient and cost-effective. The work is part of the DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Program to develop more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly highway transportation technologies that will enable America to use less petroleum.

Anderson explained that future ultragreen vehicles include fully electric cars, fuel-cell automobiles and plug-in hybrids. “They all have electric drive motors, so that’s a common theme,” he said. “It’s important that those motors be made economically with an operating envelope that fits how they will be driven. The automotive companies in this country have set out a series of parameters that they would like electric motors to meet.”

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 9:44 am

America’s most wired cities

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From Forbes:

For the second year in a row, Atlanta tops Forbes.com’s survey of America’s most wired cities in the U.S.

To spare you the suspense, the top five:
1) Atlanta
2) Seattle
3) Raleigh
4) San Francisco
5) (Tie) Baltimore, Orlando

A variety of factors boost the Big Peach’s techno quotient. As the communications hub for the Southeast, Atlanta boasts regional headquarters for AT&T and Verizon and a bustling community of Internet-related start-ups. It’s also home to BellSouth and EarthLink —a major promoter of citywide wireless networks until recent months–as well as cable giant Cox Communications. And it got an early jump on cutting-edge technology after spending millions to wire its downtown area for the 1996 Olympics.

Still, its leading status mystifies some. “It’s a dynamic area with a lot of young people, but exactly why it’s No. 1 is a mystery to me,” notes telecom analyst Jeff Kagan, who coincidentally is a long-time resident of Atlanta.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 9:41 am

Canada protects privacy best of all nations

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Interesting. (Full report here.)

Individual privacy is best protected in Canada but under threat in the United States and the European Union as governments introduce sweeping surveillance and information-gathering measures in the name of security and border control, an international rights group said in a report released Saturday.

Canada, Greece and Romania had the best privacy records of 47 countries surveyed by London-based watchdog Privacy International. Malaysia, Russia and China were ranked worst.

Both Britain and the United States fell into the lowest-performing group of “endemic surveillance societies.”

“The general trend is that privacy is being extinguished in country after country,” said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. “Even those countries where we expected ongoing strong privacy protection, like Germany and Canada, are sinking into the mire.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 9:11 am

Computer scientists? or software engineers?

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An intriguing post:

Good computer science graduates do not make good software developers. Really, I mean it. But for the polar opposite reason that these two New York University computer science professors think.

When I was in high school my physics teacher once told us, All physics experiments work. They just may not work the way you want them to.”

This encapsulates neatly what software development is all about. On one hand, it is science. It is deterministic. Each programming language statement performs exactly as stated (baring bugs in the compiler, or the SDK, or the OS). On the other hand, software development is closer to engineering where years of experience allows a software developer to spot patterns in the model and apply them to build a system.

Unfortunately, just as in physics, computer science courses do not prepare students for what comes after graduation. Skills that are considered crucial in almost all commercial software projects are either not taught in college or are only touched upon. This disparity between the skills graduates possess and what the industry is looking for means it generally takes one to two years of working in real life project for a graduate to become fully trained.For example, here is Stanford University Computer Science course schedule for 2007 & 2008 (spring, summer, autumn, and winter). There are plenty of computer science courses such as Object-Oriented Programming (in C++), plenty of advanced topics such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and algorithm design. But there is only one course that teaches software engineering, and one on C# and .Net Framework.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 9:04 am

The Surge: one year later

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From the Center for American Progress:

In an address to the nation one year ago today, President Bush outlined a “new strategy” for Iraq that would entail an increase in U.S. security operations with the goal of giving the Iraqi government “the breathing space it needs” to “make reconciliation possible.” Though violence in Iraq diminished in the tail end of 2007, the year since Bush’s announcement of his escalation strategy has been the deadliest of the war for the U.S. military. Unfortunately, the hard fought gains of American troops have not been sufficiently accompanied by “progress on any of the key political benchmarks so critical to bringing Iraq together and producing lasting stability.” In October, the Government Accountability Office assessed that of the eight political benchmarks set forth by Bush and Congress, the Iraqi government had only “met one legislative benchmark and partially met another.” In his speech, Bush warned that “America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks.” But now that the goals have been largely unmet, the administration is downplaying their importance. In December, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “I no longer think of them so much as benchmarks as the pieces that they are now presenting as what they need to do over the next year.” Earlier this week, however, Bush claimed that “the Iraqis are beginning to see political progress that is matching the dramatic security gains for the past year.” But if anything, “the political situation has gotten worse.”

KEY MEASURES NOT MET: Last year, Bush promised that “Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.” This has not happened. Instead, “the oil bill has not even had a first reading in parliament, a year after it was drafted.” Bush also declared that “the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.” Neither of these goals have been met either. Though the de-Baathification law “came up for discussion,” it “was met with angry protests from Shiite lawmakers.” Last month, the head of the parliament’s constitutional review committee requested a three-month delay for revising the document — “the fourth time the target date for revision of the document, approved in a referendum in 2005, has been deferred.” The delay of the constitutional revision has hindered progress on other issues. Bush also said that Iraqis would “hold provincial elections” last year, but they have not come to pass. “New provincial elections have been postponed pending agreement on a law setting out the relationship between national and regional governments.” Currently, there are “no provincial elections in sight.”

‘BITTERLY DIVIDED’ SECTARIAN LINES: In the effort to decrease violence in Iraq, a key U.S. tactic has been to “to empower and arm Sunni Arab tribes and factions, provided they pledge to resist outside militants like al-Qaeda.” Though this strategy — which was precipitated by the decision of Sunni tribes to turn against al Qaeda — has been effective in the short-term, “this approach threatens to further split Iraq and exacerbate sectarian tensions” in the long run. The new Sunni leaders whom the United States is empowering “are decidedly against Iraq’s U.S.-backed, Shiite-led government, which is wary of the Awakening movement’s growing influence, viewing it as a potential threat when U.S. troops withdraw.” “When the U.S. military suggested that the Shiite-led Iraqi government incorporate the Sunni fighters — many of them veterans of anti-U.S. combat — into their own security forces, the Iraqis balked.” Even U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker admits that tensions between Sunnis and Shiites have hardened on the national level, saying recently that “nothing good is coming down the line.” The Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis and Peter Juul write today that “Iraq at the start of 2008 is even more bitterly divided along ethnic and sectarian lines than it was at the start of 2007, increasing the possibility that the recent declines in violence may be a temporary lull.”

HAWKS DECLARES ‘VICTORY’: Despite the fact that political reconciliation has not occurred and even Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, cautions that “security gains are fragile and still reversible,” the right wing is already beginning to declare victory. In November, after a trip to Iraq, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) began declaring that “we’ve succeeded militarily.” His traveling companion, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) agreed, bellowing that “we are winning” because “we have made progress” in “one of the most remarkable turnarounds in modern military history.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning, the two senators continue their pronouncements of success, declaring that “the surge worked” and “we have at last begun to see the contours” of “victory.” Conservative pundits have been even more explicit in their declarations of victory. In December, right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt wrote that “victory is a wonderful thing, and [U.S. soldiers] have brought Iraq and its allies victory.” Heritage Foundation fellow Tony Blankley wrote in November that we are on the doorstep of “a genuine, old-fashioned victory in the Iraq War.”

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 8:32 am

Vast clouds of antimatter

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When I first read this, my automatic interpretation of “binary stars” was “stars consisting solely of zeroes and ones.”

Four years of observations from the European Space Agency’s Integral (INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory) satellite may have cleared up one of the most vexing mysteries in our Milky Way: the origin of a giant cloud of antimatter surrounding the galactic center.

As reported by an international team in the January 10 issue of Nature, Integral found that the cloud extends farther on the western side of the galactic center than it does on the eastern side. This imbalance matches the distribution of a population of binary star systems that contain black holes or neutron stars, strongly suggesting that these binaries are churning out at least half of the antimatter, and perhaps all of it.

“The reported Integral detection of an asymmetry represents a significant step forward toward a solution of one of the major outstanding problems in high-energy astrophysics. I think I can hear a collective sigh of relief emanating from the community,” says Marvin Leventhal, a University of Maryland professor emeritus and a pioneer in this field.

The cloud itself is roughly 10,000 light-years across, and generates the energy of about 10,000 Suns. The cloud shines brightly in gamma rays due to a reaction governed by Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2. Negatively charged subatomic particles known as electrons collide with their antimatter counterparts, positively charged positrons. When electrons and positrons meet, they can annihilate one another and convert all of their mass into gamma rays with energies of 511,000 electron-volts (511 keV).

The antimatter cloud was discovered in the 1970s by gamma-ray detectors flown on balloons. Scientists have proposed a wide range of explanations for the origin of the antimatter, which is exceedingly rare in the cosmos. For years, many theories centered around radioactive elements produced in supernovae, prodigious stellar explosions. Others suggested that the positrons come from neutron stars, novae, or colliding stellar winds.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 8:16 am

Posted in Science

Lifehacker’s list of underhyped Web apps

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Some good ones included. Go see.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 8:13 am

Posted in Software

Blackwater: irresponsible, unaccountable

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Yet another incident to add to the Blackwater log of misbehavior. Immunity seems to be the thing these days.

The helicopter was hovering over a Baghdad checkpoint into the Green Zone, one typically crowded with cars, Iraqi civilians and United States military personnel.

Suddenly, on that May day in 2005, the copter dropped CS gas, a riot-control substance the American military in Iraq can use only under the strictest conditions and with the approval of top military commanders. An armored vehicle on the ground also released the gas, temporarily blinding drivers, passers-by and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint.

“This was decidedly uncool and very, very dangerous,” Capt. Kincy Clark of the Army, the senior officer at the scene, wrote later that day. “It’s not a good thing to cause soldiers who are standing guard against car bombs, snipers and suicide bombers to cover their faces, choke, cough and otherwise degrade our awareness.”

Both the helicopter and the vehicle involved in the incident at the Assassins’ Gate checkpoint were not from the United States military, but were part of a convoy operated by Blackwater Worldwide, the private security contractor that is under scrutiny for its role in a series of violent episodes in Iraq, including a September shooting in downtown Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 8:12 am

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