Later On

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

Archive for January 27th, 2009

Bok choy report

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I made this recipe for lunch, with these changes:

Added a little soy sauce and a little mirin to the chicken stock.

I put the garlic in the chicken stock, along with some thinly sliced pork, and cooked that until the pork seemed close to done. Then I added the stems and did the rest as described, except that when I added the dressing to the dish, I also added some cooked rice I had on hand.

With the added pork and rice, this dish becomes a meal in itself.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 2:13 pm

Natural selection not the only driver of evolution

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Interesting:

Why have some of our genes evolved rapidly? It is widely believed that Darwinian natural selection is responsible, but research led by a group at Uppsala University, suggests that a separate neutral (nonadaptive) process has made a significant contribution to human evolution. Their results have been published today in the journal PLoS Biology. The researchers identified fast evolving human genes by comparing our genome with those of other primates. However, surprisingly, the patterns of molecular evolution in many of the genes they found did not contain signals of natural selection. Instead, their evidence suggests that a separate process known as BGC (biased gene conversion) has speeded up the rate of evolution in certain genes. This process increases the rate at which certain mutations spread through a population, regardless of whether they are beneficial or harmful.

"The research not only increases our understanding of human evolution, but also suggests that many techniques used by evolutionary biologists to detect selection may be flawed" says Matthew Webster

BGC is thought to be strongest in regions of high recombination, and can cause harmful mutations can spread through populations. The results lead to the provocative hypothesis that, rather than being the result of Darwinian selection for new adaptations, many of the genetic changes leading to human-specific characters may be the result of the fixation of harmful mutations. This contrasts the traditional Darwinistic view that they are the result of natural selection in favour of adaptive mutations.

Source: Uppsala University

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27 January 2009 at 12:18 pm

How does the brain judge crimes?

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In the Scientific American:

Imagine you are serving on a jury: the defendant is charged with murder, but he also suffers from a brain tumor that causes erratic behavior. Is he to be held responsible for the crime? Now imagine you are the judge: What should the defendant’s sentence be? Does the tumor count as a mitigating circumstance?
The assignment of responsibility and the choice of an appropriate punishment lie at the heart of our justice system. At the same time, these are cognitive processes like many others—reasoning, remembering, decision-making—and as such must originate in the brain. These two facts lead to the intriguing question: How does the brain enable judges, juries, and you and me to perform these tasks? What are the neural mechanisms that let you decide whether someone is guilty or innocent?

A recent study published in the December 2008 issue of the journal Neuron, by Joshua Buckholtz and his colleagues at Vanderbilt University tackles exactly this question. Until recently, such topics would have been out of the reach of cognitive neuroscience for lack of methods; today, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allows researchers to watch the brain “in action” as normal human participants make decisions about responsibility and punishment. In the new study, Buckholtz and colleagues asked participants to read vignettes describing hypothetical crimes that a fictitious agent, “John,” commits against another person. The stories were divided into three conditions: in the first, the “responsibility” (R) condition, the perpetrator was fully responsible for the negative consequences of his action against the victim; for instance, John might have intentionally pushed his fiancée’s lover off a cliff. In the “diminished responsibility” (DR) condition, mitigating circumstances were present that reduced John’s responsibility; imagine that John committed the same crime, but suffered from a brain tumor.

And finally, the “no crime” (NC) condition consisted of stories that did not describe crimes. The participants had to make judgments regarding the degree of punishment that John should receive, on a scale from one to nine.

The authors then analyzed the brain activation linked to these judgments…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Climate change already has a firm grip

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Bad news, I fear:

Even if by some miracle the nations of the world could bring carbon dioxide levels back to those of the pre-industrial era, it would still take 1,000 years or longer for the climate changes already triggered to be reversed, scientists said Monday.

The gas already here and the heat that has been absorbed by the ocean will exert their effects for centuries, according to an analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Over the long haul, the warming will melt the polar icecaps more than had previously been estimated, raising ocean levels substantially, the report said.

And changes in rainfall patterns will bring droughts to the American Southwest, southern Europe, northern Africa and western Australia comparable to those that caused the 1930s Dust Bowl in the U.S.

"People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide, the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 years," lead author Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a telephone news conference. "That’s not true."

The changes will persist until at least the year 3000, said Solomon, who conducted the study with colleagues in Switzerland and France.

Scientists familiar with the report said it emphasized the need for immediate action to control emissions…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 12:14 pm

Where did “complex” come from? (as in “inferiority complex”)

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Very interesting post at Mind Hacks:

The term ‘complex’ used to refer to a mental illness or psychological hang-up has become so common as to have entered everyday language (e.g. ‘he has an inferiority complex’) but I only just recently found out about the origin of the concept.

The following is from the epic and endlessly fascinating book The Discovery of the Unconscious by Henri Ellenberger, where he discusses the use of the ‘word association test’ in early 1900s psychiatry.

The story takes us through some of the most important figures in the history of 19th and 20th century mind science. From p691:

The test consisted of enunciating to a subject a succession of carefully chosen words; to each of them the subject had to respond with the first word that occurred to him; the reaction time was exactly measured…

It was invented by Galton, who showed how it could be used to explore the hidden recesses of the mind. It was taken over and perfected by Wundt, who attempted to experimentally establish the laws of the association of ideas.

Then Aschaffenberg and Kraepelin introduced the distinction of inner and outer associations; the former are associations according to meaning, the latter according to forms of speech and sound; they could also be called semantic and verbal associations.

Kraepelin showed that fatigue caused a gradual shift toward a greater proportion of verbal associations. Similar effects were observed in fever and alcoholic intoxication. The same authors compared the results of the word association test in various mental conditions.

Then a new path was opened by Ziehen who found that the reaction time was was longer when the stimulus word was to something unpleasant to the subject. Sometimes, by picking out several delayed responses, one could relate them to a common underlying representation that Ziehen called gefühlsbetonter Vorstellungskomplex (emotionally charged complex of representations), or simply a complex.

Carl Jung later used the test extensively as a more rigorous alternative to Freudian free association and found some interesting results.

In women, erotic complexes were in the foreground with complexes related to the family and dwelling, pregnancy, children and marital situation; in older women he detected complexes showing regrets about former lovers. In men, complexes of ambition, money and striving to succeed came before erotic complexes.

The description comes from a chapter about Carl Jung, who was originally a psychoanalyst but broke away from Freud’s system and developed his own.

Freud’s theories, with only a few exceptions, just seem to get loopier the more you read them. Jung is interesting because on the surface his ideas seem quite barmy but are often remarkably sensible when you understand them in more detail.

Despite his interest in everything from ghosts to UFOs, he always maintained these were essentially psychological phenomena that reflected important aspects of our collective culture and subconscious mind.

For example, I always thought his concept of the ‘collective unconscious’ was supposed to be some sort of semi-mystical psychic connection, but in fact, he was just describing much of what is now a premise of evolutionary psychology.

Namely, that by nature of being human, we may share some inherited psychological structures, common symbols or ideas – such as what ‘motherhood’ entails – that can be seen in both common behaviours and in myths and stories throughout history.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Medical, Mental Health

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How would the Romans have handled the financial crisis?

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Tom Ricks has an interesting post:

The latest round of massive corporate layoffs reminds of the financial crisis the Roman Empire suffered in 33 A.D.

It all began when Emperor Tiberius enforced a ceiling on interest rates, which caused a severe credit crunch, Tacitus relates in The Annals (book VI, 16-17). "Hence followed a scarcity of money, a great shock being given to all credit, the current coin too." This was of course followed by deflation of the sort we are seeing now in housing — "a fall of prices, and the deeper a man was in debt, the more reluctantly did he part with his property, and many were utterly ruined." This is what business nowadays terms "distressed sales."

The Roman equivalent of the Fed then pumped tons of money into the financial system, and also cut interest rates to zero, which is about where we are now in our own mess. As Tacitus puts it:

The destruction of private wealth precipitated the fall of rank and reputation, till at last the emperor interposed his aid by distributing throughout the banks a hundred million sesterces, and allowing freedom to borrow without interest for three years, provided the borrower gave security to the State in land to double the amount. Credit was thus restored, and gradually private lenders were found."

Tiberius also raised funds by accusing Sextus Marius, the richest man in Spain, of incest — almost certainly a trumped-up charge — and then having him thrown headlong from the Tarpeian Rock (see below), a cliff at the edge of Rome’s Capitoline Hill. "Tiberius kept his gold mines for himself," Tacitus notes. It makes me think that Wall Street is getting off easy.

Should Barnabas Francus hold the next hearing of his House banking committee atop this cliff?

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

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Guantánamo Detainee Who Survived Torture

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Read the supporting documentation at Boing Boing.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Guantánamo Detainee Who Survived Torture“, posted with vodpod

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27 January 2009 at 11:59 am

Posted in Bush Administration, Daily life

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Some conservatives oppose indefinite detention of US citizens

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

Turns out that even conservatives can’t stomach the indefinite detention of a lawful U.S. resident, without charge, in an American prison.

In an amicus brief filed today in federal court, the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative Rutherford Institute, along with the bipartisan Constitution Center, are urging the Obama administration to reverse course on the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. 

As we’ve reported before, FBI agents arrested al-Marri, a 28-year-old father of five who was legally living with his family in Peoria, Ill., in 2003 and imprisoned him in a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina. He’s been held there without charge for the last five years as a so-called “enemy combatant” — a situation the Bush administration consistently contended was perfectly legal.

The Obama administration, in an executive order last week, announced it would review al-Marri’s case — the only known instance of a legal U.S. resident being held indefinitely, and without charge, within U.S. borders.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had accepted the Bush administration’s position in the case and allowed it to keep holding al-Marri for as long as it wanted; the U.S. Supreme Court has since agreed to hear the case.

The Obama administration successfully sought an extension of time to respond to al-Marri’s petition to the Supreme Court.  The Justice Department’s brief is now due in mid-March, and the case is scheduled for argument on April 20.

Many legal experts watching the proceedings have predicted that the Obama administration will move al-Marri into the criminal justice system before the Supreme Court gets a chance to decide it.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 11:24 am

“Missing Manual” for Wikipedia now on Wikipedia

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Interesting:

The Missing Manuals series, published by O’Reilly Media, today announced the migration of its book about Wikipedia to Wikipedia. As of today, the entire contents of Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (O’Reilly, $29.99) by John Broughton is available for free online for editing and updating just like any other Wikipedia entry.

"What makes this project different than any of the other zillion books online today is the format we’ve chosen–a wiki," explains Peter Meyers, Missing Manuals’ managing editor. "Book viewers will be able to do all the same things they do on any other wiki: view the document, edit it, add to it–in short, whatever they want. The book is going to reside in the site’s Help area, naturally, since the book is all about helping people edit and navigate their way around Wikipedia."

Adds Meyers: "Once it’s live, our hope is that the Wikipedia community will flock to the book and ‘curate’ it by adding tips, tricks, and by updating the material to reflect changes to Wikipedia since we’ve published the original edition. Down the road, when it comes time for us to consider publishing a second edition of the print book, we’ll think about whether to incorporate some of the community’s changes into the new edition."

The drive to post "Wikipedia: The Missing Manual" to Wikipedia was spearheaded by …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 11:21 am

Posted in Books, Technology

Andrew Sullivan on Obama’s TV interview

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Andrew Sullivan has a very good post on Obama’s first TV interview as president:

It popped up on television last night and I had two reactions. The first was a sense of met expectation. Part of the rationale for Obama’s presidency from a foreign policy perspective was always his unique capacity to rebrand America in the eyes of the Muslim world. Since even the hardest core neocons agree that wooing the Muslim center is critical to winning the long war against Jihadism, Obama’s outreach is unremarkable and should be utterly uncontroversial. Bush tried for a while to do the same. But Karen Hughes is not exactly Barack Obama. And the simple gesture of choosing an Arab media outlet for his first televised interview as president is extremely powerful. It has the elegance of a minimalist move with maximalist aims. It is about the same thing as inviting Rick Warren or supping with George Will: it’s about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

This respect came with the following astonishing words: …

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Also read what John Cole has to say. Sullivan is a conservative today, and John Cole was a conservative until the Bush Administration made him a Democrat.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 11:09 am

The lobbyist exclusion is dying fast

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The new sheriff resembles the old sheriff in his bringing lobbyists in to monitor the industries they lobbied for. Mary Kane in the Washington Independent:

Well, this doesn’t look too good, does it? A recent lobbyist for Goldman Sachs, Mark Patterson, is in line to become chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, ABC news reports. And more former lobbyists also are expected to be filling some key administration jobs as well. All this seems to fly in the face of those new ethics rules President Obama recently announced, to limit the influence of lobbyists in his administration.

From ABC:

Patterson first began lobbying for Goldman Sachs in 2005, after working as policy director for then-Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. According to publicly filed lobbying disclosure records, he worked on issues related to the banking committee, climate change and carbon trading and immigration reform, among others.

Patterson’s lobbying was first noted by the National Journal magazine.

Patterson is one of over a dozen recent lobbyists in line for important posts in the Obama administration, despite a presidential order severely restricting the role of lobbyists in his administration, the magazine reported.

Steve Ellis, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, isn’t happy: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 11:01 am

There’s a new sheriff in town

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Mary Kane of the Washington Independent:

That was fast: The Obama administration told Citigroup to get rid of its $50 million jet, just one day after reports about the expenditure made their way into the public eye, ABC News reports.

From ABC:

The high-flying execs at Citigroup caved under pressure from President Obama and decided today to abandon plans for a luxurious new $50 million corporate jet from France.

The bank used TARP funds to purchase a new corporate jet for executives.

The decision came 24 hours after the banking giant, which was rescued by a $45 billion taxpayer lifeline, defended buying the state-of-the-art Dassault Falcon 7X — one of nine to be flying in U.S. skies — as a smart business deal.

The jet, the epitome of corporate prestige and privilege, can carry 12 passengers in elegant comfort.

ABC News has learned that on Monday officials of the Obama administration called Citigroup about the company’s new $50 million corporate jet and told execs to “fix it.”

I’ll bet Citigroup and other banks aren’t quite used to this. They used to get away with this sort of thing all the time, and I can bet the Bush Administration never picked up the phone. Nothing like moving quickly to correct something that clearly was becoming a symbol of corporate irresponsibility. Now, if the administration could only take back that $4 billion spent on executive bonuses at Merrill Lynch …

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 10:49 am

A Democrat (DINO?) attacks healthcare

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Read the excellent post by John Aravosis. It begins:

His name is James Clyburn’s (D-S.C.), he’s a senior member of Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, and he’s trying to kill health care reform this year.

Clyburn, for no apparent reason, went on TV (twice) in the past few days and said we likely won’t be doing anything on health care reform this year – even though Obama has said otherwise, and it was a key promise in the campaign. You see, Clyburn says he still feels burned by the 1994 health reform fiasco, so he’d rather have us bite off a few small pieces of reform and then we can revisit the issue later. I guess "later" means the next time the Democrats hold the White House, House and Senate after winning a massive mandate. I’m sure we’ll have another Barack Obama type candidate some time in the next generation or two.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 10:43 am

Why I don’t read Richard Cohen

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Glenn Greenwald shows in detail (through brief extracts) why Richard Cohen is not worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 10:29 am

Posted in Media, Washington Post

Bipartisanship, GOP style

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From the Associated Press:

House Republican leaders are urging their rank and file to oppose the economic stimulus bill heading for a vote on Wednesday, delivering their appeal hours before President Obama heads to the Capitol to seek bipartisan support.

Two officials say the top House Republican leaders — Rep. John Boehner and Eric Cantor — made the request.

In a gesture of bipartisanship, Obama on Monday urged Democrats to delete money from the bill for family planning funds for the low-income.

The House bill includes about $825 billion in tax cuts and spending. Republicans say much of the spending is wasteful and will not stimulate the economy.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 9:59 am

Posted in Congress, GOP

Canada’s Film Board puts hundreds of short films on-line

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Very good news. From Download Squad:

The National Film Board of Canada has decide to share its archive with the world, posting nearly 500 short films on their web site, http://www.nfb.ca.

Videos cover a wide range of subject matter, from war documentaries to offbeat animation. There are even four feature-length films to watch in their entirety.

Keep in mind that the site is new – the NFB is still learning how to cope with the increased traffic and you may experience the occasional hiccup. As backup, you can visit their YouTube channel.
For more information, check the NFB.ca blog.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 9:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Medical marijuana and Obama

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Via email from the Drug Policy Alliance:

Less than two days. That’s how long it took ex-President Bush’s cronies inside the federal government to strike out at President Obama and use taxpayer money to undermine him.

Last Thursday the DEA raided a medical marijuana dispensary in California, putting the lives of cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients at risk.

But we can show President Obama that the American people will stand with him in this fight and hold him accountable for his campaign promise to end these raids.

As you may know, President Obama promised to end the Bush administration’s cruel and costly raids on medical marijuana patients and caregivers in states where marijuana is legal for medical use. He’s in the process of replacing Bush officials who are the source of the problem, but that takes time.

Quite frankly, what the Bush loyalists inside the DEA did in South Lake Tahoe is the equivalent of giving President Obama the finger.

Now is our chance to urge President Obama to protect at-risk patients. If he doesn’t stand up forcefully to Bush’s cronies, they will continue to undermine his presidency. And terminally ill patients will suffer.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 9:45 am

High-Fructose Corn Sweetener: now with mercury included

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Via Kate Hopkins and the Accidental Hedonist, this story:

That much-debated sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, is going to need more than a pricey PR campaign to fix this one.

After one set of scientists found mercury — yes, everyone’s favorite brain-impairing element — in almost half of commercial HFCS, another bunch of scientists decided to get specific and tested 55 common consumer products that use HFCS. And guess what? Almost a third of them contain mercury.

How did the heavy metal get in there? In making HFCS — that “natural” sweetener, as the Corn Refiners Association likes to call it — caustic soda is one ingredient used to separate corn starch from the corn kernel. Apparently most caustic soda for years has been produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants, where it can be contaminated with mercury that it passes on to the HFCS, and then to consumers.

David Wallinga, M.D., and his co-authors of “Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup,” are naming brand names in their report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. At the top of the list: Quaker Oatmeal to Go, Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Sauce from Heinz, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce, and Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars. Oy!

And, although soft drinks, the über-users of HFCS, surprisingly weren’t the worst offenders, I’m betting Coca-Cola Classic (coming in at 12th) gets consumed in far higher dietary quantities than Oatmeal to Go.

That’s all bad enough, especially considering no level of mercury is considered safe and that it’s especially toxic to growing brains — that is, the brains of the people consuming the highest levels of HFCS (children) and the brains of babies in utero. (See the figures in the report.) Worse: People at the FDA and USDA knew about the presence of mercury in HFCS and did nothing about it

Continue reading. I assume that the last statement refers to the agencies under the Bush Administration, when the direction was to do whatever industry wanted and to hell with consumers.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 9:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Terrorism and Israel

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It’s worth noting that Israel itself has its origins in terrorism and terrorist acts, so it’s a little rich that the country is so offended by terrorism from the Palestinians: the Palestinians are following the Israel example. This news story from ten days ago describes the situation:

A veteran British-Jewish parliamentarian has compared the latest Gaza conflict to the Nazi Holocaust and said Israel too was created out of Jewish terrorism, IRNA reported Friday.

‘Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism. Jewish terrorists hanged two British sergeants and massacred 254 Palestinians in Deir Yassin village in 1948,’ Sir Gerald Kaufman said.

‘The present Israeli government’s ruthless and cynical exploits are due to its continuing guilt over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust,’ he told the British parliament during a debate on Gaza attacks Thursday.

Referring to his ancestors, who were killed by the Nazis in Poland, he said: ‘My grandmother did not die to protect Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza.’

The toll in Gaza shows Jewish lives are more precious than the lives of Palestinians, he said in condemnation.

Responding to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s claim that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, Kaufman said, her (Livni’s) father was a ‘chief operations officer of the Jewish terrorist group Irgun Zvai Leumi’.

He added that the group was responsible for the bomb blast in King David Hotel in al-Quds that killed 91 people, including four Jews.

No matter how many Palestinians they (Israel) kill in Gaza, there won’t be an end to the conflict, as it cannot be solved through the military might, he warned.

Continue reading. To be perfectly clear: I oppose terrorism from any party. But when a country has embraced terrorism, it should acknowledge, I think, its own earlier guilt in its condemnation of terrorism today. The US can oppose racism, for example, but it still must acknowledge the racism that once was so strong in our own country.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 9:15 am

BBC refuses to air appeal for humanitarian aid for Gaza

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Wow. This story astounds me. It begins:

In more than 80 years as a publicly financed broadcaster with an audience of millions at home and around the world, the BBC has rarely been buffeted as severely as it has in recent days over its decision not to broadcast a television appeal by aid agencies for victims of Israel’s recent military actions in Gaza.

BBC executives made the decision late last week and defiantly reaffirmed it on Monday, citing their concern with protecting the corporation’s impartiality in the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The dispute stirs high passions here, and the BBC, like other news organizations, has struggled uneasily for years to strike a balance, even as some critics claim it has tilted heavily toward Israel and others claim it has favored the Palestinians.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2009 at 9:02 am

Posted in Media, Mideast Conflict

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