Later On

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

Archive for April 1st, 2009

VoteVets on "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

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Worth reading:

During an interview in 2007, Marine Corps General Robert Magnus addressed what it was like having to deal with intolerance and bigotry in the ranks during the 1970s:

When asked if being Jewish was ever a liability in his expansive military career, Magnus’ answer is matter-of-fact: It has not. More pointedly, when asked about anti-Semitism, he recalls only one incident, years ago, when as a captain someone foolishly called him a "Jew boy." His response: "I punched him in the face."

Ironically, the now-retired General Magnus—whose own career was enabled by the tolerance of those not like him—is now actively working to prevent gays from serving openly in the military.  

This is hypocrisy.  

When it was announced on Tuesday that over 1,000 flag and general officers had signed a letter urging President Obama to continue barring gays from serving openly in the military, General Magnus was among them.  

Now, this one general’s hypocrisy  aside, the whole thing struck me as a bit odd.  When I read the letter to President Obama, I became even more perplexed by the language:  …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 2:13 pm

The problem with the Senate

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publius has a good post on the topic:

To echo dday and Ezra Klein, I tend to think that the problems with the Senate described in Chait’s new TNR article are structural. That is, the problem with the Senate is the Senate itself rather than the individual Senators.

The fact that the Senate kills and waters down legislation is no accident — it’s the whole point. Legislative failure is written into the DNA of our constitutional system. It’s a great system for blocking ambitious legislative changes, but it’s a horrible one for enacting major national reform. Hell, African-Americans in the South couldn’t vote 100 years after the Civil War — or even publicly eat with whites — largely because of the Senate. As Sanford Levinson’s most excellent book illustrates, our Constitution simply has a lot of very dumb provisions. The Senate is one of them.

Anyway, as dday noted, this is a structural problem that requires a structural solution. The more appropriate solutions — e.g., getting rid of 2 Senators per state; adopting a more parliamentary system — aren’t going to happen. We could, however, take more ambitious steps to reforming the Senate even while accepting some of its more permanent flaws. It’s at least conceivable, for instance, that we could "constitutionalize" internal Senate procedure to make the body more legitimate — e.g., limit the filibuster; eliminate "holds"; curtail the power of committee chairs.

I realize none of this will happen soon. And who knows — maybe Obama’s ambitious agenda will be wildly successful, thus rehabilitating the Senate. But Senate reform should be added to the longer-term progressive agenda. Indeed, the other big-ticket items on that agenda — things like health care reform and cap-and-trade — might not be possible without it. I guess we’re about to find out.

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1 April 2009 at 12:58 pm

Interesting take on throwing away the Pension Fund money

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Josh Marshall:

The more I look at these investment decisions of Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and former Lehman exec Charles Millard the more my suspicion grows that some very bad happened here. There’s no question that something happened very bad for the pensioners who were relying on this fund. But is there any conceivable good reason why you’d take most (the quote from the Boston Globe is "much" of the funds) of the assets of the fund designed to insure pension benefits out of safe investments like bonds and put them into highly speculative investments — hedge fund, equities, etc. — just before the stock market collapsed.

Incompetence doesn’t cut it as an explanation.

First, some topline numbers: The PBGC decided to put most of its $64 billion of reserves into stocks. And already by September 2008, i.e., before the bottom really fell out on Wall Street, the stock portfolio had already lost 23%. That percentage must be much higher today.

One of the big drives behind Social Security privatization was the desire to find more money — in the case of Social Security, a lot more money — to keep the fires burning on Wall Street. Not just more fees for the people handling the money, but more money to keep pushing asset values higher. This looks like the same thing just using slightly different means.

Late Update: …

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Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 12:51 pm

Courage from Bayer CropScience

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Typical, unfortunately:

Source: New York Times, March 28, 2009

Bayer CropScience has invoked the specter of terrorism in a bid to limit what information the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board can release at a public hearing into a chemical plant explosion in West Virginia that killed two employees. Bayer is claiming that "because it has a dock for barge shipments on the adjacent Kanawha River, its entire 400-acre site qualifies under the 2002 federal Maritime Transportation Security Act," reports Sean D. Hamill. "It has asked the Coast Guard, which has jurisdiction under the act, to review the public release of ‘sensitive security information.’" Bayer appears to want to limit discussion of the potential hazards of methyl isocyanate, the same chemical made at Bhopal, India, notes Hamill. On its website, Bayer CropScience states that one of its core values is "integrity, openness and honesty" and that it is committed to "having the courage to tell the truth" and "presenting the unvarnished truth in an appropriate and helpful manner."

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Fun column from Greenwald

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Commenting on how the Right always feels mistreated, he writes:

The predominant attribute of the right-wing movement is self-victimizing petulance over the unfair treatment to which they are endlessly and mercilessly subjected.  Last week, C-SPAN broadcast a Commentary Magazine event that almost certainly set a record for most tough-guy/warrior nepotism ever stuffed onto a single panel, as it featured William Kristol (son of Irv and Gertrude), John Podhoretz (son of Norm and Midge), and Jonah Goldberg (son of Lucianne).  Jihadis around the world are undoubtedly still trembling at the sight of this brigade of Churchillian toughness.

Exemplifying the deeply self-pitying theme of the entire discussion, Jonah continuously insisted that conservative magazines are so very, very important to the political landscape — indispensably so — because conservative voices are frozen out of mainstream media venues by The Liberal Media, so that poor, lonely, stigmatized conservatives can only get right-wing opinion in places like Weekly Standard and National Review.  In between Jonah’s petulant laments about how conservative opinion cannot be heard in The Mainstream Media, Bill Kristol talked about his New York Times column and his Washington Post column, John Podhoretz told stories about his tenure editing The New York Post Editorial Page and Charles Krauthammer’s years of writing a column for Time and The New Republic, and Jonah referenced his Los Angeles Times column.  None of them ever recognized the gaping disparity between those facts and their woe-is-us whining about conservative voices like theirs being shut out of The Liberal Media.   So important in conservative mythology is self-victimization that they maintain it even as they themselves unwittingly provide the facts which disprove it.

Today, National Review‘s Andy McCarthy advises readers that — shock of all shocks — The New York Times today, for some indiscernible reason, for once actually allowed his opinion to seep into its rigidly leftist pages:

Here’s Something You Don’t See In the New York Times Everyday [Andy McCarthy]

Namely, my opinion — on the controversy over the Uighur detainees at Gitmo.

He can’t just say that he has a contribution in the Times today.  Everything has to be accompanied by a self-pitying grievance lest the victimization be undermined.  Thus:  it’s such a shock when one encounters a strong conservative voice like McCarthy’s in The Liberal Media.  The leftist censoring editors at the NYT must have been out sick yesterday, as only that could explain how they let such a brave right-wing voice slip through.  Something like that basically never happens because conservatives are treated so unfairly in the media and are excluded from those venues, and it’s specifically shocking and rare that opinions from someone like McCarthy would ever, ever be found in a place like The New York Times: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 12:25 pm

Posted in GOP, Media

When is torture not torture?

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When the US does it and the Washington Post (and NY Times and Associated Press) report it. Andrew Sullivan:

When The Washington Post Calls Waterboarding “Torture”

When it’s done by the Khmer Rouge:

His victims — most of whom were either disgraced members of the Khmer Rouge or their families — were tortured with electric shocks, waterboarding, or beating to extract a confession, which would implicate new victims… Among the four forms of torture he officially condoned, they said, was pouring water up victims’ noses.

Note also that repeated beatings are also put in the “torture” category, another technique that the Washington Post does not describe as torture when authorized by president Bush. It’s rare you see a leading newspaper reveal that it has one set of moral standards for non-Americans and another one for the people they socialize with.

Remember: we don’t torture. When Bush said that he meant: when we do it, it’s not torture. And the WaPo and the AP and the NYT‘s news divisions agree.

A longer and angrier post on the same topic.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 12:10 pm

The Party of No attacks Koh

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Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent:

It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s nomination of the widely respected human rights expert and dean of the Yale Law School, Harold Hongju Koh, to be the State Department’s legal adviser has gotten conservatives to call out their attack dogs, as FOX News reports.

Koh, as Spencer has written, is a former Clinton administration State Department official who actually cares about human rights: at Alberto Gonzales’ confirmation hearing to become attorney general in 2005, he testified that the infamous August 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo authorizing torture was “perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion that I have ever read” and a “stain on our national reputation.” Of course, Jack Goldsmith, the former Bush administration OLC official, has also attacked those opinions as “deeply flawed” and “sloppily reasoned,” so Koh is hardly alone.

But Koh — who is the author or co-author of eight books and more than 150 articles on international human rights, business, national security and international law, among other things — has on occasion also boldly expressed his strong respect for international human rights law, which doesn’t go over very well with many conservatives.

In an article published in the Berkeley Journal of International Law in 2004, for example, which FOX News cites, Koh asked: “What role can transnational legal process play in affecting the behavior of several nations whose disobedience with international law has attracted global attention after September 11th — most prominently, North Korea, Iraq and our own country, the United States of America? For shorthand purposes, I will call these countries ‘the axis of disobedience.’”

Putting the United States in the same axis as North Korea and Iraq has, not surprisingly, outraged critics who, like the Bush administration, don’t believe the U.S. ought to be reined in by international legal standards…

Continue reading.

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1 April 2009 at 11:58 am

Industrial hemp may become legal!

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Of course, it’s already legal in the US, provided that it was grown in another country. What’s illegal is growing industrial hemp in this country. Why? Because the DEA doesn’t like it, since industrial hemp is related to a different plant (cannabis) that the DEA doesn’t like. So the DEA decided that industrial hemp (a different plant) is also illegal. That’s truly "reefer madness." The story from Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent:

Got hemp?

Well, you might have a bit more if Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) get their way. The two lawmakers have plans to reintroduce legislation to legalize the domestic farming of industrial hemp, a genetic but non-psychoactive relative of marijuana.

Hemp advocates (yes, there are hemp advocates out there) argue that the change would benefit the economy at a time when it could certainly use the boost.

“Hemp is a versatile, environmentally-friendly crop that has not been grown here for over 50 years because of a politicized interpretation of the nation’s drug laws by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA),” Eric Steenstra, president of Vermont-based Vote Hemp, said in a statement. “Jobs would be created overnight, as there are numerous U.S. companies that now have no choice but to import hemp materials valued at $360 million in annual retail sales and growing.”

Any number of domestic businesses — from soap makers to auto suppliers — use industrial hemp in their products, but the hemp must be farmed overseas and imported. (Nearly every other industrialized country in the world already produces the crop.) The Frank-Paul bill, Steenstra said, “will return us to more rational times when the government regulated marijuana, but allowed farmers to continue raising industrial hemp just as they always had.”

The Obama administration has already shown some signs that it plans to move the country’s drug policy away from the “war on drugs” mentality that’s marked the last few decades. Support for the Frank/Paul bill would be another signal that it’s serious.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 11:54 am

Rodin’s Gates of Hell

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I’ve been to this museum with The Wife:

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 11:45 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Finger food for watching a movie

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I’m going to try this recipe from Mark Bittman:

Crisp Pork Bits With Jerk Seasonings

Yield 4 servings  Time 2 hours, largely unattended

The pork can be simmered a day ahead, then browned as close to serving time as possible; though it’s best to serve it warm, it is almost as good at room temperature.

  • 1 1/4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into about 40 small pieces
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 dried chipotle or other chili
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Several gratings of nutmeg
  • Salt to taste
  • 20 to 40 cilantro leaves
  • Juice of one lime

1. Put pork in a deep skillet. Wrap garlic, coriander, chili and cinnamon in cheesecloth and add to pan, along with nutmeg and salt. Add water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat to low, and simmer until pork is very tender, about 1 1/4 hours, adding water as necessary.

2. When pork is soft, remove cheesecloth sack and discard. Raise heat to medium, and boil off all liquid, and then brown pork in its own remaining fat. If pork sticks to pan, add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil.

3. Scoop up the pork with a slotted spoon and put into a bowl. Add chopped cilantro and toss so that the cilantro is scattered over and through the pork bits. Squeeze lime juice over, and serve. If you have a lot of people, use very small bowls and provide toothpicks for them to pick up the pork pieces.

The original recipe offered a labor-intensive alternative:

3. Put a piece of pork on a toothpick, followed by a leaf of cilantro, another bit of pork and another leaf. When skewers are done, serve or set aside for an hour or two. Drizzle with lime juice just before serving.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 11:38 am

More Monsanto

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From Culinate:

You may remember Vanity Fair’s story a year or so ago about Monsanto and its unpleasant tactics for increasing its share of the world food market. Or you may recall Ali Benjamin’s wry, open letter to Monsanto over at The Ethicurean last February, calling the corporation to task for limiting labeling of rBST. Now, once again you may wish to head to The Ethicurean, where a civil — if heated — discussion is taking place (in the comments) among Bonnie Powell and other Ethicurean-regulars, and a person named Chris who works for Monsanto.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 11:28 am

Pistachios now with Salmonella

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From Obama Foodorama:

Poor Joshua Sharfstein. The Baltimore doc took over the reins of FDA yesterday as interim commissioner, while President Obama’s chief commish nominee Dr. Margaret Hambug awaits Senate confirmation–and he’s already got a big problem on his plate (Sharfstein, in pic). Late last night, FDA announced that two million pounds of pistachio nuts are being recalled from Setton Pistachio, a subdivision of Setton Farms, which carries organic certification for its dried fruit and seed operation. No illnesses have yet been officially associated with the tainted nuts, but this may be because reports simply haven’t worked their way up through the long, arduous chain of FDA and CDC command; the recall extends backward to nuts processed in September of 2008. One of the biggest problems for this recall: Salmonella has proven to be heat resistant, and does not necessarily die when cooked, and pistachios are ground into all kinds of things, from cake mixes to ice cream to canned foods, in addition to being eaten as a snack food. Multiple strains of salmonella have been identified in the contamination, and this problem could get huge over the next few weeks, because in addition to the dried fruit and seeds, Setton Farms also produces chocolate and other candy for the snack food industry, as well as imports foods from twenty different countries. With the size of the current recall, Dr. Sharfstein is staring down a salmonella outbreak that may well equal the Peanut Butter Corporation of America salmonella peanut butter recall. Interestingly, while FDA has now issued recall alerts, Setton’s website has nothing about a recall on it.

Big Ag At Fault Again For Food Safety: The Ongoing Problem Of Consolidated Jumbo Processing

Setton’s USDA organic certification means nothing in terms of food safety, and it should be noted that their pistachios are not certified organic. But both organic and non-organic foods are equally likely to get contaminated if poor sanitation conditions exist. Setton’s nuts are processed in a 150,000 square foot facility, and the plant has silo storage for 60 million pounds of pistachios. That’s a lot of storage space for creatures to live in and poop in; salmonella can come from rats and mice, as well as birds and frogs, all of which been responsible for other salmonella outbreaks. Climate control and drainage are also important considerations in a salmonella outbreak; contaminated water can lead to a salmonella outbreak. Salmonella contamination can also come after processing and storage at various points along the distribution chain, and if this is the case, then Setton’s dried fruit and seed operation could be equally likely to be contaminated, as could their imported foods. When you’re dealing with millions of pounds of food going to dozens or even hundreds of after-processing points, it’s difficult to keep track of where foods eventually end up; this has proved to be wildly dangerous to eaters again and again, especially given our currently lax requirements for food labeling, an ongoing debate within both FDA and USDA. Yesterday, in a press teleconference about the, FDA’s Dr. David Acheson highlighted the Big Ag poisoner problem when he pointed out that Setton Pistachio’s recalled nuts were sold in 2,000-pound bags, 1,800-pound bags, 1,700-pound bags and 1,000-pound bags, and distributed to 36 wholesalers who then repackage them or resell them for more processing.

In addition to selling to Kraft foods, Setton Pistachio supplied pistachios to …

Continue reading. Lots more at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 11:18 am

"New things are bad for you"

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Interesting post by Vaughn at Mind Hacks:

Advances in the History of Psychology has just alerted me to a fascinating short article on the work of the influential 18th-century physician Samuel Tissot, who wrote a book arguing that concentrating on books for too long damaged the mind.

The 18th century was when books were becoming cheap enough to be widely available to the middle classes and it’s interesting that this new cultural development produced a similar pseudo-medical concern about damage to the mind that we often hear today, but in a completely different direction.

While modern day technological doom-sayers suggest that technology damages the mind because it interrupts concentration, 18th century technological doom-sayers suggested that reading damaged the mind because it required too much concentration.

Neither have an evidence base, but I maintain a morbid interest in medicalised concerns about new technology and cultural innovations, which often take the same basic form but cite a cause which is always curiously in line with the authors’ prejudices.

It turns out Tissot, like many of this medical contemporaries, was also obsessed with masturbation, which he cited as the cause of madness and a host of other psychological problems.

Catholic church aside, it seems an ridiculous view to us now, but it was widely held by some of the most prominent and influential medical men of the time.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 11:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

The high costs of poverty

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An article by Brandon Keim in Wired:

Growing up poor isn’t merely hard on kids. It might also be bad for their brains. A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory.

The findings support a neurobiological hypothesis for why impoverished children consistently fare worse than their middle-class counterparts in school, and eventually in life.

"Chronically elevated physiological stress is a plausible model for how poverty could get into the brain and eventually interfere with achievement," wrote Cornell University child-development researchers Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For decades, education researchers have documented the disproportionately low academic performance of poor children and teenagers living in poverty. Called the achievement gap, its proposed sociological explanations are many. Compared to well-off kids, poor children tend to go to ill-equipped and ill-taught schools, have fewer educational resources at home, eat low-nutrition food, and have less access to health care.

At the same time, scientists have studied the cognitive abilities of poor children, and the neurobiological effects of stress on laboratory animals. They’ve found that, on average, socioeconomic status predicts a battery of key mental abilities, with deficits showing up in kindergarten and continuing through middle school. Scientists also found that hormones produced in response to stress literally wear down the brains of animals.

Evans and Schamberg’s findings pull the pieces of the puzzle together, and the implications are disturbing. Sociological explanations for the achievement gap are likely correct, but they may be incomplete. In addition to poverty’s many social obstacles, it may pose a biological obstacle, too.

"A plausible contributor to the income-achievement gap is working-memory impairment in lower-income adults caused by stress-related damage to the brain during childhood," they wrote.

To test their hypothesis, …

Continue reading.

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1 April 2009 at 11:06 am

Marcy Wheeler on the torture memos

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Very interesting post by Marcy Wheeler, via Dan Froomkin.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 11:02 am

Struggling toward transparency

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From the NY Times:

The Obama administration is intensely debating whether and when to release documents from the Bush administration related to harsh interrogation methods used on prisoners belonging to Al Qaeda, according to administration and Congressional officials.

Some officials, including Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., have argued for disclosing the material as quickly as possible to distance the new administration from the most controversial policies of the Bush years. Mr. Holder and other top officials have condemned the most extreme of the past interrogation techniques, waterboarding, as illegal torture, and they see no reason to hide from public view what they consider the mistakes of their predecessors.

But some former and current Central Intelligence Agency officials say a rush to release classified material could expose intelligence methods and needlessly offend dedicated counterterrorism officers. Some administration and Congressional officials said John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who now serves as President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, has urged caution in disclosing interrogation documents.

One test on the disclosure issue will come this week in federal court in New York. By Thursday, the Justice Department must tell a judge overseeing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union whether it will release three legal memorandums from 2005, signed by Steven G. Bradbury, who worked in the department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush, that offered legal justification for harsh interrogation.

The Justice Department had asked Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court in Manhattan to delay a decision on whether to order the release of the memorandums, suggesting that the government might voluntarily release them. Government lawyers could turn them over this week or seek a further delay.

A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, declined to comment on internal talks about the disclosure issue, noting that the matter involved current litigation. A Justice Department spokesman, Matt Miller, said only that “the memos are being reviewed for possible release.”

The Obama administration has already made public some legal opinions from the Bush Justice Department, and both President Obama and Mr. Holder have pledged a new policy of openness. But they are listening to the objections of intelligence officials. Newsweek reported this week that Michael V. Hayden, who stepped down in February as C.I.A. director, was lobbying against disclosing the Bradbury memorandums.

Meanwhile, some Congressional Democrats have become frustrated with what they consider to be the slow pace in releasing information.

On Tuesday, two Democratic senators, …

Continue reading. Froomkin states:

Among the questions Durbin and Whitehouse want answered:

“Is there any precedent for allowing the subject of an OPR investigation to review and provide comments on a draft report on OPR’s findings and conclusions?

“Have the former Justice Department attorneys who are the subjects of the investigation been given a deadline for responding?

“Will OPR provide Attorney General Holder and Deputy Attorney General Ogden with the draft report that it provided to Attorney General Mukasey so that Attorney General Holder and Deputy Attorney General Ogden will know what revisions have been made to the report?”

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 10:57 am

A link between infectious disease and depression

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Researchers at the University of Illinois report that IDO, an enzyme found throughout the body and long suspected of playing a role in depression, is in fact essential to the onset of depressive symptoms sparked by chronic inflammation. Their study, just published online in the Journal of Immunology, is the first to identify IDO (indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase) as a molecular switch that induces depressive symptoms in some cases of chronic inflammation.

Doctors have known for decades that patients with chronic inflammation, such as that linked to coronary heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis, are more likely than others to become depressed. Some pro-inflammatory drugs, such as interferon-alpha, which is used to treat Hepatitis C and a cancer known as malignant melanoma, also induce symptoms of depression in a significant number of patients.

In the new study, mice were exposed to Bacille Calmette–Guérin (BCG), a vaccine used in many parts of the world to prevent tuberculosis. BCG produces low-grade, chronic inflammation in mice, which can be detected by measuring levels of certain immune system proteins, called inflammatory cytokines, in the blood and brain.

Mice exposed to BCG display the normal symptoms of illness (lack of appetite, reduced activity), but after these symptoms fade the mice continue to exhibit depressive-like behaviors that can be reversed with antidepressants, said animal sciences and pathology professors Keith Kelley and Robert Dantzer, who led the study.

Even after they recover from their sickness, …

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 10:46 am

The real story of the Columbine massacre

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A book review by Art Winslow of the new book Columbine, by Dave Cullen:

When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, wearing black dusters and T-shirts emblazoned "NATURAL SELECTION" and "WRATH," went on the shooting and pipe-bomb rampage in 1999 that killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., it hardly should have been a surprise.

Officials of Jefferson County, where the mass murder occurred, had records dating back more than a year of Harris’ death threats and rants, 10 pages from his Web site brought to their attention by the parents of a student whom Harris said he would kill. Thirteen months before the slaughter, sheriff’s investigators had evidence that Harris was making pipe bombs but never executed a search warrant in response. In the days after the killings, officials denied knowledge of Harris’ Web site. They suppressed evidence of their previous knowledge of the pipe bombs for five years; files of the original affidavit related to that were destroyed, perhaps intentionally. The memory of the "Thirteen," as the victims became in shorthand, was thus desecrated as they were publicly consecrated.

This you will learn in Dave Cullen’s Columbine, an astonishingly comprehensive look at the incident and the decade of struggle in its aftermath, which has included recovery and travail by survivors and the community, lawsuits and protracted attempts to get at the truth. Who were these two young killers and why did they do it? Why did a teacher bleed to death, left for three hours without rescue? In what ways was coverage by the media distorted to meet stereotypes that were prevalent, but grossly inaccurate?

Be forewarned that Cullen includes some blunt descriptions of the shootings, but those are far from a focal point of his book, which avoids sensationalism and carefully constructs a timeline of the events. It would be a rare and dubious distinction to complete Columbine without shedding a tear, but in the violence and grieving and heart-wrenching side stories, this is an American story deeply embedded in the national psyche. Cullen points out that since the incident, more than 80 school shootings have occurred, and yet they remain misperceived in popular conception.

For example, Cullen quotes from …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 10:41 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

California wants to legalize marijuana

with 5 comments

Legalize, regulate, and tax—and stop wasting billions in fighting a hopeless war on drugs. From a Steve Lopez column in the LA Times today, in which he first discussed the teacher layoffs in California:

… And now, I’m sorry to say, there is no smooth segue to our next subject, the increasingly disastrous war on drugs, other than to say that if we weren’t wasting billions of dollars on it, maybe we wouldn’t have to fire teachers.

To say that readers agree is an understatement. Even retired Judge Jim Gray, the legalization proponent I wrote about Sunday, was surprised by the results, as was state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), whose bill would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

Now you could say that maybe potheads have more time to respond to online polls, but with 4,400 votes cast as of midday Tuesday, a staggering 94% of readers had lined up on the side of legalization.

Ammiano called this "a perfect storm" moment, in which the recession and government cutbacks are accompanied by humongous drug war expenditures. At the same time, the drug cartels are more powerful and violent than ever, with bloodshed in Mexico spilling across our borders. Although some polls have indicated majority support for decriminalization, according to Ammiano, I think some politicians will be reluctant to go out on that limb. He said he won’t push for passage of his bill until next year, taking time to build support.

Judging by my mail, readers don’t want to wait.

"Hurray for the judge!" wrote Barbara Collins of Studio City. "What did prohibition get us? The Mafia. What did the war on drugs get us? The Mexican drug cartels and the financing for the Taliban."

"I would strongly encourage you to look into the oft-reported fact that in the Netherlands, where the purchase and use of marijuana is legal, the rate of use of the general public is significantly lower than in the U.S.," wrote Devin Shoecraft of San Diego.

And Glenn Backes of Sacramento was kind enough to send me an ending.

Yes, he said. Legalize and tax drugs, and use the revenue for drug rehab.

And for our schools.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

GM’s problems were years in the making

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And they were the result of management decisions, not of the unions. Take a look at this graph from


That’s from an interesting article by Nate Silver that begins:

I haven’t provided the dates on the chart because they aren’t important. The auto business is highly cyclical because consumers are buying expensive assets that last for years at a time. Nobody ever really has to buy a new car (they can buy a used one if their car breaks down), and therefore consumers are willing to hold on to their existing vehicles and wait out economic slumps. You can’t do that with, say, a loaf of bread, or even something like a cellphone, which has a much shorter lifespan.

But you knew all of that already. The remarkable thing is that, once you account for the economic cycles, the trend for GM is exceptionally steady — an exceptionally steady trend downward. There were still bad times thirty years ago — but they weren’t bad enough to threaten GM’s survival, and conversely, the good times were much better. These are General Motors’ operating margins by decade: …

Continue reading because this is really good. From later in the same post:

… GM was willing to cut its employees some very attractive deals in the 1950s through the 1980s — provided that they took them in the form of retirement benefits rather than salary, which wouldn’t hit GM’s books until much later and which until 1992 weren’t even required to be carried on its balance sheets all, making its financial statements (superficially) more appealing to its shareholders. That health care costs have risen so substantially in the United States have made a bad matter worse.

This issue is wrongly portrayed by both the liberal and the conservative media as one of management versus labor, when really it is a battle between General Motors past and General Motors present. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, everyone benefited: GM and its shareholders got the benefit of higher profit margins, and meanwhile, its employees benefited from GM’s willingness to cut a bad deal — for every dollar they were giving up in salary, those employees were getting a dollar and change back in retirement benefits. But now, everyone is hurting…

Also, the comments to the post are well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2009 at 10:05 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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