Later On

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

Archive for January 4th, 2009

More on the “clean coal” ash disaster

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Kirk Murphy continues to dog the story at Firedoglake. His most recent post begins:

Today the EPA announced arsenic levels downstream from the TVA’s toxic coal ash disaster exceed permitted levels by over a hundred fold.  Actually, by 149 times permitted levels.

Arsenic levels more than 100 times the acceptable amount have been found in a river near a massive coal ash spill in East Tennessee, federal environmental officials say.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released data Friday showing total arsenic levels in one sample were 149 times the maximum acceptable level.

The water sample from the Emory River near the spill site also showed a total concentration of lead five times above normal and slightly elevated total levels of beryllium, cadmium and chromium.

Meanwhile, samples taken near the Kingston water treatment plant – which is upstream from the spill site – were found to be within the federal limits, except for thallium, which was found at levels three times the maximum limit, according to the EPA data.

Under the Rethugs, the EPA’s political “leaders” have shown we can’t ever trust them to tell the truth, much less protect us.  Here are three sets of questions:

(1) Given that heavy metals can often be measured in under 24 hours, how many days has EPA known of arsenic concentrations 149 times permitted levels, lead levels five times above permitted levels, and elevated levels of the very toxic metals beryllium, chromium, and cadnium? When did EPA first have this data?  If there was a delay in release, why?   Did EPA share this data with TVA before notifying the public?  Are Bushie political appointees once again preventing EPA staff from timely release of critical information to the public?

(2) Given that lead (and very likely arsenic) are neurotoxic at any concentration, and heavy metals in sediment “bioaccumulate” in the microbes and invertebrates living within and in the sediment, how many decades (or centuries) must elapse before fish and shellfish in the poisoned waterways may be safely consumed? How can EPA possibly hope to decontaminate the billion gallons of toxic coal waste which will spread heavy metals across land and water as the ash dries up and blows about?

(3) Does what passes for the EPA…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 2:49 pm

What’s happening in Gaza

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Thanks to Jack in Amsterdam for pointing out Juan Cole’s excellent post explaining the situation and providing useful background information. Juan Cole, unlike TV pundits, actually knows what he’s talking about. His post begins:

With regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, we have entered the age of micro-wars.

The first wars that Israel fought with its Arab neighbors were conventional struggles in which infantry, artillery, armor and air forces played central roles.

Israel’s enemies had few effective tools in the 1950s and 1960s. Abdel Nasser encouraged Palestinian resistance from Gaza in 1955, but it was more harassment than a serious military operation. The Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian conventional armies were what Israel’s leaders worried about. Jordan was no match for the Israelis and it had a history of secret agreements with the Zionist leaders, so its military was only a threat when, as in 1967, other Arab leaders convinced the Jordanian leadership to join in a collective effort.

Israel’s policies were not merely defensive, contrary to the propaganda one constantly hears from New York. Moshe Sharrett’s diaries demonstrate conclusively the expansionist character of the regime. Israel’s leaders badly wanted the Sinai Peninsula and therefore a commanding position over the trade of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal in the 1950s and 1960s. There was also some petroleum there. Israel used superiority in armor and air power in 1956 to take the Sinai, in conjunction with an orchestrated Anglo-French attack on Egypt’s position in the Suez Canal (which Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized that summer). President Dwight D. Eisenhower, afraid that vestiges of Old World colonial thinking would push the Arabs into the arms of the Soviets, made Israel relinquish its prize. But hawks in Israel took the Sinai from Egypt again in the 1967 war, in which Israel again demonstrated that armor plus air superiority always defeats armor that lacks air cover (Israel managed to destroy the Egyptian air force early in the war).

Egypt could not accept loss of its sovereign territory. As the largest Arab state, with a third of the Arab population, and a developing economic, technological and military capability, Egypt could not be dismissed. Its leader from 1970, Anwar El Sadat, found a way of striking back. Egypt launched the 1973 war as a surprise attack, and used sophisticated underwater sand-moving equipment to get across the canal and penetrate into the Sinai. By this time Egypt had Soviet SA-6 surface-to-air missiles that served as anti-aircraft batteries and was careful to keep its tanks under their umbrella. Had Egypt had a better air force, Egyptian armor could have rolled right into Israel proper in October of 1973. The Israeli cabinet is said to have feared it was the fall of the Third Kingdom. But even in the absence of a proper air force, the Soviet SAMs were a game-changer. I would argue that they were the difference between the crushing defeat of Egypt in 1967 and the draw-to-slight victory Cairo won in 1973.

The writing was on the wall…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Interesting article on Gaza

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The article’s blurb:

After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, the author reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.

You can read the article here. It’s from the April 2008 issue of Vanity Fair.

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 12:16 pm


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Thanks to Dinah:

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 10:44 am

Posted in Daily life

Tom Geoghegan for Congress

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Which Side Are You On? was a book that struck a chord with me. It’s funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, plus one learns a lot from it. It’s a book I highly recommend—and now, via the following post by James Fallows, I see that its author is running for Congress:

Two years ago, I said I was making an exception to the “no active involvement in politics” stance I had maintained through my previous decades of journalistic life. (After leaving a one-time stint in politics in the Jimmy Carter years.) That exception was to support my friend Jim Webb’s then-improbable run for the U.S. Senate from Virginia.

Here is exception number two: Tom Geoghegan for Congress. He will be running in the special election for the seat Rahm Emanuel is vacating to become White House chief of staff. This seat, representing the 5th District in Illinois, has a colorful lineage, to put it mildly. Emanuel’s predecessor was Gov-for-the-moment Rod Blagojevich. Earlier, for 36 years, the 5th was Dan Rostenkowski’s base, before his unfortunate indictment and imprisonment on fraud charges. Tom would continue the tradition of having a difficult-to-spell last name. It’s Irish and is pronounced Gay-gan.

The basic background on Tom Geoghegan is here, written by his Chicago friend Rick Perlstein. Having been a friend of Geoghegan’s for most of my life, I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about his deciding to run.

To the extent Tom is known publicly, it’s mainly because of his books, like Which Side Are You On?, The Secret Lives of Citizens, and In America’s Courts. These really are masterful and original pieces of thinking and writing, which most writers would be content with as their entire contribution to the human endeavor during the period Tom has turned them out. Which Side, which was published in 1991, begins this way:

‘Organized labor.’ Say those words, and your heart sinks. I am a labor lawyer, and my heart sinks. Dumb, stupid organized labor: this is my cause.

The remarkable thing is that in Geoghegan’s case writing has been a sideline. Day by day for several decades he has been a lawyer in a small Chicago law firm representing steel workers, truckers, nurses, and others employees whose travails are the reality covered by abstractions like “the polarization of America” and “the disappearing middle class.” Geoghegan’s skill as a writer and an intellectual are assets but in themselves might not recommend him for a Congressional job. His consistent and canny record of organizing, representing, and defending people who are the natural Democratic (and American) base is the relevant point.

The people of Chicago would have to look elsewhere for Blago-style ethics entertainment. Tom Geoghegan is honest and almost ascetic. Because it’s an important part of his makeup, I mention too that he is a serious, Jesuit-trained Catholic.

Not living in the 5th district, I can’t vote for Tom Geoghegan. But I can give him money, and just did, via his online donation site here. The campaign’s mail address is Geoghegan for Congress; PO Box 1145 Chicago IL 60690. Email is GeoghanForCongress @

The race will be wide open, and I have no idea now what Tom’s chances might be. It’s a winner-take-all, no-runoff contest. But the Congress would be better is Tom Geoghegan were part of it. Check out his record and see what you think.

I made a contribution to his campaign, and I hope that you will, too. And I hope you’ll read at least one of his books.

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 10:31 am

Franken ahead by 225

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Norm Coleman has said that he would concede, given the situation:

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 9:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Election

Orwell, on target

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Via Glenn Greenwald’s column today, a commenter, Hume’s Ghost, writes:

Acts which, when ordered by Liberians, are “criminal torture” meriting life imprisonment magically become, when ordered by Americans, mere “aggressive interrogation techniques.”

“Another thing that that inquiry, if it ever takes place, will have to deal with is the magical properties of names. Nearly all human beings feel that a thing becomes different if you call it by a different name.” – George Orwell

And, of course,

“All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side … The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” – George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 8:13 am

Meditation and science

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Very interesting post at Mind Hacks:

SharpBrains has an interesting interview with neuroscientist Andrew Newberg who discusses his ongoing research into the brain science of meditation.

As we reported last year, research into meditation is really gathering pace and is suggesting that the practice has some immediate and remarkable benefits for our cognitive abilities that are clearly reflected in changes in brain function.

Most of the lab work has focused on how meditation enhances attention while most of the clinical research work on meditation has focused on its ability to prevent relapse in severe depression.

However, Newberg mentions some ongoing work where they’re attempting to apply some of the lab work to boosting cognitive function in people who presumably have dementia or age-related cognitive difficulties:

Scientists are researching, for example, what elements of meditation may help manage stress and improve memory. How breathing and meditation techniques can contribute to health and wellness. For example, my lab is now conducting a study where 15 older adults with memory problems are practicing Kirtan Kriya meditation during 8 weeks, and we have found very promising preliminary outcomes in terms of the impact on brain function. This work is being funded by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, but we have submitted a grant request to the National Institute of Health as well.

Also, I just that Time magazine had a special issue on the practice and science of meditation in 2003 which is fully available online, including a funky, if not slightly over-simplified, guide to the neuroanatomy of meditation.

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 8:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Alan Sokal’s Beyond the Hoax

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I greatly enjoyed Alan  Sokal’s hoax (described below) at the time, and now he has a follow-up book. The review, by Michael Bérubé, begins:

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal played an elaborate trick on some unsuspecting humanists and social scientists — namely, the editors of the leftist journal Social Text — by submitting an essay filled with at least six kinds of nonsense. The editors didn’t catch (or were willing to countenance) the nonsense and published the essay. In response, humanists and social scientists embarrassed (or outraged) by Sokal’s hoax lashed out, sometimes in ways that made them look even worse than the editors; and Sokal found himself hailed by legions of fans and supporters who credited him with finally exposing the vacuity of (a) cultural studies, (b) literary theory, (c) postmodernism, (d) obscurantist jargon, (e) science studies, (f) people who write about disciplines they don’t know much about, and (g) all of the above. Over the past 12 years, accordingly, I’ve met a number of colleagues who spit and curse at the very sound of Sokal’s name — and a much larger number of colleagues, journalists and general readers who credit Sokal with having proved once and for all that everything humanists have done since 1970 has been bunk.

Since then, Sokal has teamed up with Jean Bricmont and taken aim at epistemological relativism in the philosophy of science. Sokal and Bricmont note, for example (in an essay reprinted — with revisions and updates — as chapter seven of Sokal’s new book, Beyond the Hoax), that major figures in science studies are given to making such assertions as “the validity of theoretical propositions in the sciences is in no way affected by factual evidence” (Kenneth J. Gergen) and “there is no sense attached to the idea that some standards or beliefs are really rational as distinct from merely locally accepted as such” (Barry Barnes and David Bloor, founders of the “strong programme” or “Edinburgh school” in science studies). “All this,” remark Sokal and Bricmont, “indicates the existence of a radically relativist academic Zeitgeist, which is weird.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2009 at 7:59 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

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