Later On

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

Archive for February 17th, 2008

Graphic and explicit photos of bear attack

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Brace yourself.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 11:09 am

Posted in Daily life

Gifted doggies

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Some doggies apparently have exceptional skills:

Megan, a border collie belonging to a colleague of Gerald Legge, was recently taken to the local vet because she was suffering from skin irritation, Legge tells us. To help calm her agitated response to the condition, the vet prescribed some Tavegil antihistamine tablets. The medicine came with the instructions: “Take two tablets as a single dose. Give in the evening. FOR ANIMAL USE ONLY. May cause drowsiness: if so do not operate machinery or drive. Avoid alcohol.”

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 11:01 am

Posted in Daily life

“Irreducible complexity” is reducible after all

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One of the arguments that proponents of Intelligent Design use is the “I can’t imagine” argument: they look at some structure and say, “I can’t imagine how that could have evolved.” Of course, they dress it up a bit, and talk about “irreducible complexity,” and how the particular structure must have always existed as it is today, because they can’t imagine how it would evolve piece by piece. One example: the bacterial flagellum:

Three years before his death in 1805, English philosopher William Paley proposed a now-famous thought experiment. Imagine discovering a watch on the heath: how would you explain its intricate arrangement of parts, its clear design for a purpose? Naturally, you’d conclude that it was built by a watchmaker, not blown together by chance. By analogy, Paley argued, the natural world is full of designed complexity which must therefore also have a creator: God.

Had Paley been in a position to know about it, he would no doubt have considered a remarkable little device called the bacterial flagellum to be an excellent example of designed complexity. With its intricate arrangement of interconnecting parts, the flagellum looks no less designed than a watch, and would surely have had Paley reaching for the existence of its “maker”.

Modern biology, of course, has no need for omniscient designers. Evolution – Richard Dawkins’s blind watchmaker – is all that is needed to explain the origin of complexity in nature. Even so, latter-day Paleys continue to search for evidence of design in the living world. The bacterial flagellum has become their cause célèbre – and a focal point in science’s ongoing struggle against unreason.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 10:58 am

Posted in Science

Musicians and “natural gifts”

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Wannabe musicians: keep practising. Yet more evidence has emerged that musicians are made through training, not born with the gift.

We already know there is something special about the way musicians’ brains react when they hear music. Now new scans have revealed that specific regions of the brain dedicated to musical syntax and timbre become even more animated than usual in musicians when they hear recordings of their own type of instrument.

Elizabeth Margulis at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and her colleagues noticed the distinctions when playing music to flautists and violinists: only when the musicians heard their own instrument did these areas show this boost in activity.

The team reckons the musicians’ intense training for specific instruments is responsible. If the brain’s response to the music were decided by genetics, they argue, brain scans would be similar in all musicians listening to music, regardless of the instruments played.

Margulis speculates that other differences previously observed between musicians and non-musicians may also be due to training alone (Human Brain Mapping, DOI: 10.1002/hbm.20503).

“The suggestion has been that musicians have a different brain, but it doesn’t seem they were born that way,” she says.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 10:50 am

Big Business and their PR firms

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As an example of Big Business and the distortion of facts:

A company with a controversial history of defending the image of potentially damaging chemicals has aroused the interest of a US congressional committee.

The House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce is investigating the safety of bisphenol A. Because of its chemical similarity to the hormone oestrogen, bisphenol A has been linked with gender-bending and carcinogenic effects in humans and wildlife.

The committee is in the process of contacting the Weinberg Group to establish whether or not it has been asked to defend bisphenol A.

Based in Washington DC, Weinberg has previously helped defend the image of chemicals such as Agent Orange, which was used as a herbicide and defoliant in the Vietnam war.

In a letter dated 5 February, the congressional committee asked the group for copies of any emails, publications and records relating to work on bisphenol A. It contacted Weinberg after reading a risk assessment of bisphenol A by an academic who consults for the group. Weinberg declined to comment on the matter when contacted by New Scientist.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 10:47 am

Big Business and its “science”

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When Big Business quotes science to further its profit line, one must be wary. Not only is there an obvious conflict of interest, but Big Business has a bad history:

It is well known that when the dangers of smoking became increasingly obvious in the 1950s, tobacco companies funded scientific research aimed at downplaying the risks. [Cf. what oil and coal companies are doing today with respect to global warming. – LG] Now, a little-known strand of that campaign, aimed at giving an intellectual gloss to pro-smoking arguments, has been detailed for the first time.

In an attempt to win hearts and minds, the tobacco companies bankrolled a network of economists, philosophers and sociologists. Documents newly scrutinised by academics reveal that members of the network generated extensive media coverage and numerous academic articles – with almost no mention that the work had been paid for by cigarette manufacturers.

“The industry realised it had to affect public opinion,” says Anne Landman, an independent tobacco policy expert based in Colorado, who carried out the research with colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco.

Landman and her colleagues found details of the scheme in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, a collection of 8 million industry documents made public and assembled during court cases against tobacco companies. Although some individuals in the network have already been been linked to the tobacco industry, including the psychologist Hans Eysenck and the philosopher Roger Scruton, the UCSF study is the first to catalogue the full scale of the effort (Social Science & Medicine, DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.11.007).

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 10:45 am

Drivers licenses for illegal immigrants

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I favor, and here’s Bruce Schneier:

Many people say that allowing illegal aliens to obtain state driver’s licenses helps them and encourages them to remain illegally in this country. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox late last year issued an opinion that licenses could be issued only to legal state residents, calling it “one more tool in our initiative to bolster Michigan’s border and document security.”

In reality, we are a much more secure nation if we do issue driver’s licenses and/or state IDs to every resident who applies, regardless of immigration status. Issuing them doesn’t make us any less secure, and refusing puts us at risk.

The state driver’s license databases are the only comprehensive databases of U.S. residents. They’re more complete, and contain more information – including photographs and, in some cases, fingerprints – than the IRS database, the Social Security database, or state birth certificate databases. As such, they are an invaluable police tool – for investigating crimes, tracking down suspects, and proving guilt.

Removing the 8 million-15 million illegal immigrants from these databases would only make law enforcement harder. Of course, the unlicensed won’t pack up and leave. They will drive without licenses, increasing insurance premiums for everyone. They will use fake IDs, buy real IDs from crooked DMV employees – as several of the 9/11 terrorists did – forge “breeder documents” to get real IDs (another 9/11 terrorist trick), or resort to identity theft. These millions of people will continue to live and work in this country, invisible to any government database and therefore the police.

Assuming that denying licenses to illegals will make them leave is head-in-the-sand thinking.

Of course, even an attempt to deny licenses to illegal immigrants puts DMV clerks in the impossible position of verifying immigration status. This is expensive and time-consuming; furthermore, it won’t work. The law is complicated, and it can take hours to verify someone’s status only to get it wrong. Paperwork can be easy to forge, far easier than driver’s licenses, meaning many illegal immigrants will get these licenses that now “prove” immigrant status.

Even more legal immigrants will be mistakenly denied licenses, resulting in lawsuits and additional government expense.

Some states have considered a tiered license system, one that explicitly lists immigration status on the licenses. Of course, this won’t work either. Illegal immigrants are far more likely to take their chances being caught than admit their immigration status to the DMV.

We are all safer if everyone in society trusts and respects law enforcement. A society where illegal immigrants are afraid to talk to police because of fear of deportation is a society where fewer people come forward to report crimes, aid police investigations, and testify as witnesses.

And finally, denying driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants will not protect us from terrorism. Contrary to popular belief, a driver’s license is not required to board a plane. You can use any government-issued photo ID, including a foreign passport. And if you’re willing to undergo secondary screening, you can board a plane without an ID at all. This is probably how anybody on the “no fly” list gets around these days.

A 2003 American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators report concludes: “Digital images from driver’s licenses have significantly aided law enforcement agencies charged with homeland security. The 19 (9/11) terrorists obtained driver licenses from several states, and federal authorities relied heavily on these images for the identification of the individuals responsible.”

Whether it’s the DHS trying to protect the nation from terrorism, or local, state and national law enforcement trying to protect the nation from crime, we are all safer if we encourage every adult in America to get a driver’s license.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 10:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Our uneasy friends the Saudis

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As the Bush administration prepares to sell Saudi Arabia $123 million in smart bomb weaponry, London’s Guardian newspaper has a story this morning that should stop the deal cold.

It seems that about a year ago, as British investigators were pursuing allegations that the country’s largest weapons manufacturer, BAE, had paid enormous bribes to Saudi royals to seal arms deals, Prince Bandar, head of the Saudi national security council, grew impatient. Flying to London in December 2006, the Guardian reports, Bandar told investigators that the royal family would no longer cooperate in the West’s war on terror unless the inquiries ceased. The result of that non-cooperation, Bandar threatened, would be “another 7/7,” a reference to the bus and subway bombs that ravaged London on July 7, 2005.

The Guardian’s David Leigh and Rob Evans write:

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

And these are the wonderful allies we want to load up with weapons in the name of fighting terrorism and confronting Iran? More than 100 lawmakers fought to kill the sale, but their window of opportunity closed yesterday. Still, today’s news should raise eyebrows, even from a president who’s practically part of the royal family. I mean, with friends like these, who needs Ahmadinejad?

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 10:26 am

CDC an enabler

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You’ll recall the recent post in which CDC (finally) blew the whistle on FEMA’s dangerous trailers. Well, it took long enough:

The Centers for Disease Control officially confirmed that formaldehyde in 144,000 FEMA issued trailers causes serious respiratory problems and is a likely carcinogen.

It should be noted that CDC’s official mea culpa comes a mere two years after the Sierra Club found the same about the toxic trailers and 18 months after OSHA issued a report even more dire than the Sierra Club’s.

Lawmakers and Gulf Coasts residents have, quite understandably, given FEMA a lot of grief for issuing 144,000 unsafe trailers. Yesterday House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to FEMA head David Paulison saying the agency still hasn’t explained the process that went into approving the trailers.

But the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is not a brake on a bumbling FEMA but a willing accomplice. CDC leadership ignored internal experts who said the trailer contained dangerous levels of exposure to formaldehyde.

Only yesterday did FEMA and CDC publicly come to terms with the situation. “We will not ever use trailers again,” Paulison said.

But 38,000 families are still using the unsafe trailers. The key decisions now are whether to force these people from the trailers (particularly if they rest on private property) and if the government should foot the victim’s medical bills. Maybe the agencies now feel pressure to act with an urgency that defies their track record.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 10:24 am

Posted in Daily life

Tuna calculator

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So how much canned tuna is it safe for you to eat (or to feed your kids)? Here’s a calculator.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2008 at 10:21 am

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