Later On

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

Archive for April 2nd, 2009

The American Clean Energy And Security Act

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From the Center for American Progress:

Following President Obama’s call for investment in a clean energy economy, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-MA) this week unveiled green economy legislation.  The 648-page "discussion draft" of the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act sets national standards for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and global warming pollution, but it does not specify whether industry will be subsidized to achieve those standards. However, the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Joseph Romm still gave the bill a "B+," because it "boosts the economy, creates green jobs, and puts the country on a path to preserve a livable climate." The global warming cap-and-trade system described in the bill would restore American technological leadership and steer us away from planetary catastrophe. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) claimed it would "raise energy taxes in the midst of a serious recession." Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) echoed industry talking points by saying that the pollution targets "impose too much of a burden." Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) claimed that the bill would "save the planet by sacrificing the economy."

ECONOMY VS. ENVIRONMENT?: The attacks on green economy legislation are based on the premise that protecting the environment comes at a cost to the economy. But the premise is false. Our fossil-based economy comes with great costs for society — and not just the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on Saudi oil. Global warming-fueled disasters already cost the United States billions of dollars a year, and their cost will eventually reach trillions. Clean energy standards will reduce the 24,000 premature deaths, 550,000 asthma attacks, and 38,000 heart attacks caused each year by power-plant pollution and disproportionately harms children and the elderly. According to an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the ACES standard requiring all utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025 would create 297,000 new domestic jobs and save consumers $64.3 billion in lower electricity and natural gas bills. Building a green economy that would cut United States greenhouse emissions by 45 percent by 2030 could create a net 7.8 million jobs versus business as usual. The economy versus environment myth was debunked 10 years ago when a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher found that states with stronger environmental policies "consistently out-performed the weaker environmental states on all the economic measures." The true choice facing the American public is a green economy that offers jobs, opportunity, and a healthy planet, or a gray economy of pollution, debt, and inequity.

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2009 at 3:12 pm

How the salmonella got into the pistachios

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A basic error on the production lines of a California processing plant is thought to have contaminated its pistachios with salmonella, a top federal food safety official said yesterday.

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, the nation’s second-largest processor of the nut, ran raw and roasted pistachios through the same machinery on several production lines, said David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food protection at the Food and Drug Administration.

Salmonella bacteria can live on raw nuts but are usually killed during the roasting process. Good manufacturing standards call for keeping raw and roasted nuts separate so that bacteria do not spread between the two.

It is unclear why Setton Pistachio ran raw and roasted nuts through the same machinery. A company spokeswoman did not respond to queries.

The company was apparently aware that it had a salmonella problem because its own tests found the bacteria on roasted nuts, Acheson said. Managers ran the nuts through the roasting process a second time to kill the bacteria before shipping them to customers, an accepted way to "recondition" the product, he said.

The FDA learned of the test results in the past week. Setton Pistachio did not report them to any regulatory agency because it is not required to do so under state or federal law. It is unclear what additional steps, if any, the company took to address the presence of salmonella in its plant, Acheson said…

Continue reading. I see where one improvement might be made.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2009 at 11:49 am

Can fractals explain quantum mechanics?

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Interesting article in New Scientist:

Quantum theory just seems too weird to believe. Particles can be in more than one place at a time. They don’t exist until you measure them. Spookier still, they can even stay in touch when they are separated by great distances.

Einstein thought this was all a bit much, believing it to be evidence of major problems with the theory, as many critics still suspect today. Quantum enthusiasts point to the theory’s extraordinary success in explaining the behaviour of atoms, electrons and other quantum systems. They insist we have to accept the theory as it is, however strange it may seem.

But what if there were a way to reconcile these two opposing views, by showing how quantum theory might emerge from a deeper level of non-weird physics?

If you listen to physicist Tim Palmer, it begins to sound plausible. What has been missing, he argues, are some key ideas from an area of science that most quantum physicists have ignored: the science of fractals, those intricate patterns found in everything from fractured surfaces to oceanic flows (see What is a fractal?).

Take the mathematics of fractals into account, says Palmer, and the long-standing puzzles of quantum theory may be much easier to understand. They might even dissolve away…

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2009 at 11:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

More work needed on financial disclosures

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Interesting article in The Economist:

In the past scientists sometimes managed to publish medical studies flogging the supposed benefits of some or other drug without disclosing that they had financial ties to the drug’s manufacturer. One of the leading voices arguing for full disclosure of such connections has been the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Catherine DeAngelis, JAMA’s editor, was even awarded the Catcher in the Rye humanitarian prize last year “because of her leadership on discussions of conflicts of interest in medicine.”

So it comes as something of a shock to see her journal now engulfed by a scandal concerning its handling of precisely such a matter. The affair, which involves both non-disclosure of financial interests and alleged attempts to suppress whistle-blowers, has already drawn other medical journals into the fray. On March 20th JAMA published an editorial revising its procedures for investigating allegations of such misconduct—but this new policy has itself come under attack.

The trouble started when JAMA published a study last May that looked at how best to prevent depression in patients recovering from strokes. A team of researchers, led by Robert Robinson of the University of Iowa, compared the usefulness of “problem-solving therapy” (i.e., talking) and escitalopram (a popular antidepressant drug also known as Lexapro) against a placebo. Lexapro is made by Forest Laboratories, an American firm under investigation by the Department of Justice for marketing that drug “for unapproved paediatric use and for paying kickbacks to induce physicians to prescribe”.

The study prompted much favourable coverage of Lexapro, thanks in part to kind words from the its authors. In USA Today, a widely read newspaper, Dr Robinson insisted that “every stroke patient who can tolerate an antidepressant should be given one”. But the study itself did not support such a clear conclusion. Rather, it found that although both forms of treatment were better than a placebo, there was no statistical difference between the results from the use of talk therapy and the popping of Lexapro.

Alas, as Jeffrey Lacasse of Arizona State University and Jonathan Leo of Lincoln Memorial University pointed out in a letter published in JAMA last October, Dr Robinson failed to clarify that important point in his paper. In a response published alongside the critical letter from Drs Lacasse and Leo, Dr Robinson and his colleagues acknowledged that Lexapro performed no better than talk therapy in their study, but insisted this omission was not intended to mislead.

To make matters worse, though, he had taken money from …

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2009 at 11:44 am

Good news: surge of college students studying "green energy"

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From the LA Times:

In what could be an encouraging sign of change in the long-standing shortage of Americans preparing for "clean energy" careers, the subject is suddenly hot on college campuses across the nation — a surge of interest largely stimulated by the specter of global warming.

Concern about climate change is galvanizing more undergraduate students to turn toward a subject involving science and engineering, some educators suggest, in much the same way that Moscow’s launching of the Sputnik space satellite jolted baby boomers to turn their eyes to the stars.

What remains uncertain is whether their enthusiasm for renewable energy will carry over into graduate school and lead them to swell the ranks of Americans with advanced science and engineering degrees.
"We have a shortfall of people to do cutting-edge research and do the innovations we need," said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of the engineering school at UCLA. But, he added, "the potential is there."

The rising interest in renewable energy is so new that it’s …

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2009 at 11:41 am

Media knowingly provokes copycat killings

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"Knowingly" in the sense that it’s well known how to avoid such provocation, but the mainstream media do it anyway. From Mind Hacks:

Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe is a comedy news analysis programme that often has a serious point. A recent episode had a section examining TV coverage of the tragic school shooting that recently occurred in Germany and its relation to the motivations of potential copycat killers.

The video clip contrasts the advice of a forensic psychiatrist on how to cover the story in the media to prevent further tragedies and the actual coverage the incident received. I’m sure you can guess the rest.

The forensic psychiatrist being interviewed is Park Dietz, who frequently appears in the media but who has also done a great deal of research in the area, including the classic article ‘Mass, serial and sensational homicides’ where he noted that publicity was a major factor in driving these sorts of public killing sprees.

This was published in 1986 and more than 20 years later satirists are being fed material by TV stations who can’t resist sensationalist coverage.

Both funny and uncomfortably chilling.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2009 at 11:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Media, Science

Good news: Bagram detainees have rights

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

In a groundbreaking ruling today that directly contradicts the Bush and Obama administration’s insistence that detainees held by the U.S. government at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan have no right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a federal judge ruled on Thursday that in fact, they do.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates ruled that the four men — all foreign nationals captured by U.S. forces outside Afghanistan and sent there to be incarcerated at a prison on the U.S.-run Bagram air base — have the same rights as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, who were similarly sent there by U.S. forces from other countries.

As I’ve written before, the Bagram prison — which is fast turning into Obama’s Gitmo — has many of the same attributes as the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. That’s just what the lawyers for the four detainees there argued.  Although the Obama administration had, like the Bush administration before it, argued forcefully that Bagram detainees have no constitutional rights and therefore no rights to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, Bates — a conservative judge appointed by former President George W. Bush — today disagreed.

“The writ of habeas corpus plays a central role in our constitutional system as conceived by the Framers,” wrote Judge Bates. “Indeed, ‘the Framers deemed the writ to be an essential mechanism in the separation-of-powers scheme,’ ” he wrote, quoting the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which gave Guantanamo detainees habeas corpus rights, “that, as Alexander Hamilton observed, was vital to the protection of individuals against the very same arbitrary exercise of the government’s power to detain that is alleged by petitioners here.”

Although all four of the detainees in the case were captured outside Afghanistan and have been held at Bagram for more than six years, Bates ruled that one of the men, who is an Afghan citizen, may not be entitled to habeas corpus review because of the “practical obstacles in the form of friction with the host country.” He ordered the lawyers to file additional briefs with the court addressing those issues.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2009 at 11:26 am

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