Later On

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

Archive for June 11th, 2009

Right-wing extremists and the GOP grows silent

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Really excellent report by David Weigel in the Washington Independent:

Two months ago, Republicans talked as if they had Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the ropes. The news that Napolitano’s agency had drafted and distributed an assessment of “rightwing extremist activity,” sparked two months of attacks, denunciations, and outright mockery from GOP members of Congress and conservative activists. From his perch in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Napolitano had “a lot of explaining to do.” On Twitter, Newt Ginrgrich demanded that the author of the report tender his resignation. At anti-tax Tea Parties, T-shirts and signs mocking the agency — “I am a rightwing extremist,” or “Are you on Janet’s List?” — were as visible as boxes of Earl Gray.

Then, on Wednesday, an 88-year-old retiree named James von Brunn was arrested after a shootout inside the Holocaust Museum that left security guard Stephen Johns mortally wounded. The details of von Brunn’s life and views spilled out across the airwaves and across the Internet, revealing ties to neo-nazi groups, virulent anti-semitism a belief in the racially charged conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Africa. Notes found in his car and years of chat board and blog comments turned into a quick portrayal of Von Brunn as a right-wing, violent extremist.

The conservative criticism of DHS, which had been waning, became much quieter. TWI contacted many of the members of Congress who had either demanded Napolitano’s resignation or signed on to a resolution — which passed the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously — but none chose to address the “rightwing extremism” report or on the ongoing investigation into von Brunn. The only official comment any member of the Republican leadership came from Boehner to Brian Beutler of TPMDC, a harshly-worded warning that “trying to exploit this awful tragedy to score political points — from the right or the left — is simply grotesque.”

Coming only ten days after the murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller and only nine days after the murder of Pvt. William Long, a military recruiter in Arkansas, the Holocaust Museum shooting has propped open a door on the complicated politics of extremism. Republican politicians, who have flirted with the rhetoric of “revolution” and attacks on the president’s “fascism,” are hesitant to push the envelope for fear of the sort of political backlash that hit them in the 1990s. Conservative activists and pundits are taking a more pro-active stance, attempting to debunk any idea of a wave of extremist violence or, failing that, to define extremists like von Brunn as lone wackos or leftists.

Republicans have reason to worry about being tied to extremists who commit crimes influence by fringe, right-wing, or eliminationist ideology…

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 5:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Dead Line

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Thanks to Laurel:

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Television and the young

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From Mind Hacks:

This week’s Nature has a feature article on how visual motion media impacts on young children. It’s an interesting article because it focuses largely on television.

This is notable for two reasons: the first is that numerous research studies have found that, as a generalisation, watching television negatively impacts on children’s concentration, increases the risk of obesity and interferes with play and communication. The second is that this rarely makes the headlines.

Despite studies appearing regularly in the medical literature, it simply isn’t fashionable to panic about television – that’s so last century.

In contrast, evidence-free panicking about computers or the internet gets broadcast across the world, because it’s something new to panic about, and that’s what the media does best.

It’s not all bad news about television and children though. There’s some evidence that it increases imaginative play and broadens knowledge.

You also may be interested to know that Sesame Street was developed with psychologists to specifically help children improve social attitudes and increase numeracy and literacy.

The programme has been carefully and scientifically evaluated, tweaked and re-evaluated and many of the studies appear in the academic literature. It was the first and most successful evidence-based children’s programme.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

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Single-payer national healthcare plan

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This is the plan I support, as the most cost-effective alternative. But Congress won’t even consider it, they are so bought out by big business. Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent:

As Congress dives head first into what has fast become a thorny debate over health care reform, the key Democrats in the discussion have insisted that all options remain on the table.

All, that is, except one.

Universal, single-payer health care — the idea that the government will cover everyone’s medical bills using taxpayer dollars — was dismissed by leading Democrats long before any details of their reform plans have been finalized. In the Senate Finance Committee, for example, a series of health reform discussions this year included input from academics, retirees, health insurers and other industry representatives, but no single-payer advocates were invited. Last month, the White House’s top health official told lawmakers that President Obama rejects the model altogether.

The dismissals have confounded supporters of the single-payer system, who contend it’s the only strategy that ensures universal access to care while minimizing expenses within a health system where costs are skyrocketing.

“Attempting to reconcile the dual imperatives of universal coverage and cost control through alternative methods besides single payer is an exercise in futility,” Walter Tsou, advisor to Physicians for a National Health Program, told lawmakers Wednesday during a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee’s health subpanel. “When some congressional leaders declare that single payer is off the table, they are in effect saying that insurers will be protected, leaving the pain to patients, taxpayers and health care providers.”

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11 June 2009 at 12:44 pm

National healthcare

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DougJ at Balloon Juice:

Now that the Global War Against Public Health Care is in full swing, let’s consider the main objection to it (the Times via Jon Taplin)

But critics argue that with low administrative costs and no need to produce profits, a public plan will start with an unfair pricing advantage. They say that if a public plan is allowed to pay doctors and hospitals at levels comparable to Medicare’s, which are substantially below commercial insurance rates, it could set premiums so low it would quickly consume the market.

Taplin makes the obvious point:

So let me get this straight. It’s not fair to have a public option because they don’t have to make obscene profits for their shareholders and they can use the leverage of the combined group of Medicare and public option customers to negotiate better fees with doctors, hospitals and drug companies.

Isn’t that the point?

I support a public option for one reason and one reason only: I think it would save money. But then again, I’m one of those hard-line dirty hippies who believes in pinko things like cost-benefit analysis.

Sometimes, I think it would be easier to be one of those wooly-headed conservatives who dreams of a private solution or a Villager seeing visions of bipartisan peace and love: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 12:41 pm

National security and global warming

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Interesting story in the Washington Independent by Spencer Ackerman:

Here’s Sharon Burke, vice president of Center for a New American Security, who just got effusive praise from former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), and who’s presenting a panel on those old atavistic security questions about natural resources. The idea of climate change, for instance, as a national security issue has been much derided, but it’ll seem a lot less crazy during the Water Wars of 2045. Welcome to Natural Security.

“It’s hard to separate out energy and climate change and how it connects to water and land and biodiversity and other issues,” Burke says. There are, of course, national security implications for resource use: “consumption and consequences,” even if this stuff doesn’t makes it into the President’s Daily Brief. The National Intelligence Council’s 2025 project predicts scarcity, creating “conflict on a geostrategic level,” alongside increased natural disasters as the result of climate change.

Look at the demand for materials from increased cellphone use (400 million more Indians and 670 million more Chinese people have cellphones than did in 2000): tantalum, indium, titanium dioxide, and other rare-earth elements. A ton of them are located in China, Burke says, placing the Chinese in a very commanding geostrategic position. Congo has the tantalum, also known as coltan, and it’s deeply unstable. “And we don’t know a whole lot about the global supply chain and how vulnerable it is.”

Climate change. More “cyclonic storms of intensity” like Hurricane Katrina. “It may drive conflict. It may drive migration. It will certainly drive disaster relief.” The species that die out take with them “the ecosystem we depend on. How that’s going to affect our security is an issue we have to explore.”

Burke links natural security to Afghanistan. Eighty percent of Afghanistan is agriculture-dependent. The wars, for 30 years, have degraded Afghanistan’s bio-infrastructure, “and the land is barren right now,” and such privation will render difficult any plan from the Obama administration to alleviate the stresses on the Afghan people. Restoring its natural resources is “critical to restoring security.”

“These are security issues right now,” Burke says, “and they’re bound to get worse as climate change proceeds. … We can either deal with it now and build in resilience or deal with it later and it’ll be much more difficult.”

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 12:21 pm

Fear of the innocent…

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

So I guess the island of Palau isn’t taking all 17 Uighurs after all.  The Justice Department today announced that four of them were actually sent to Bermuda instead.

Less than a month ago these Chinese Muslim prisoners were the subject of intense debate in Congress and had no place to go, as Republicans vehemently opposed their release into the United States. Now, the Obama administration has apparently located two island paradises willing to take them.

“By helping accomplish the president’s objective of closing Guantanamo, the transfer of these detainees will make America safer,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement today. “We are extremely grateful to the government of Bermuda.”

The Uighur prisoners have all been cleared for release for more than three years, after the government determined that none of them were “enemy combatants” as it had initially charged.

The closing sentence makes it obvious that Guantánamo was never a prison for the "worst of the worst," and also shows how stupid it was to fear these guys.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

The Lancet worries about climate change

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Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

I’m getting caught up on my journal reading and have just run across the May 16-22 issue of The Lancet devoted to a commission report on climate change.  The cover quote: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

Among other things, the report addresses the effects of climate change on food production and water availability, none of them good.  It raises issues well worth discussion:

The present structure, organisation, and control of the globalised food and agricultural system are failing to address the needs of both poor people and the environment.  For example, profits of giant agricultural and food corporations increased greatly in 2008, when the number of hungry people grew.

The report is well referenced and is a great resource for information about what climate change will do to food and agriculture.  But the report does not deal with the ways in which agriculture contributes to climate change.  For that angle, see previous posts.

Of course, noted public-health epidemiologist Dana Perino said that global warming would, on balance, be good because people wouldn’t get so cold.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 12:10 pm

The CIA and torture

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I’m wondering more and more about the CIA and whether—in view of the major developments it totally missed—it perhaps should be disbanded. Alfred McCoy in Salon:

If, like me, you’ve been following America’s torture policies not just for the last few years but for decades, you can’t help but experience that eerie feeling of déjà vu these days. With the departure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from Washington and the arrival of Barack Obama, it may just be back to the future when it comes to torture policy, a turn away from a dark, do-it-yourself ethos and a return to the outsourcing of torture that went on, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, in the Cold War years.

Like Chile after the regime of General Augusto Pinochet or the Philippines after the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Washington after Bush is now trapped in the painful politics of impunity. Unlike anything our allies have experienced, however, for Washington, and so for the rest of us, this may prove a political crisis without end or exit.

Despite dozens of official inquiries in the five years since the Abu Ghraib photos first exposed our abuse of Iraqi detainees, the torture scandal continues to spread like a virus, infecting all who touch it, including now Obama himself. By embracing a specific methodology of torture, covertly developed by the CIA over decades using countless millions of taxpayer dollars and graphically revealed in those Iraqi prison photos, we have condemned ourselves to retreat from whatever promises might be made to end this sort of abuse and are instead already returning to a bipartisan consensus that made torture America’s secret weapon throughout the Cold War.

Despite the 24 version of events, the Bush administration did not simply authorize traditional, bare-knuckle torture. What it did do was develop to new heights the world’s most advanced form of psychological torture, while quickly recognizing the legal dangers in doing so. Even in the desperate days right after 9/11, the White House and Justice Department lawyers who presided over the Bush administration’s new torture program were remarkably punctilious about cloaking their decisions in legalisms designed to preempt later prosecution.

To most Americans, whether they supported the Bush administration torture policy or opposed it, all of this seemed shocking and very new. Not so, unfortunately. Concealed from Congress and the public, the CIA had spent the previous half-century developing and propagating a sophisticated form of psychological torture meant to defy investigation, prosecution, or prohibition — and so far it has proved remarkably successful on all these counts. Even now, since many of the leading psychologists who worked to advance the CIA’s torture skills have remained silent, we understand surprisingly little about the psychopathology of the program of mental torture that the Bush administration applied so globally.

Physical torture is a relatively straightforward matter of sadism that leaves behind broken bodies, useless information and clear evidence for prosecution. Psychological torture, on the other hand, is a mind maze that can destroy its victims, even while entrapping its perpetrators in an illusory, almost erotic, sense of empowerment…

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 11:52 am

More on the fearfulness of the Right

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Glenn Greenwald:

The Obama administration announced today that it will pay $200 million to the tiny Pacific island-nation of Palau in exchange for Palau’s agreement to accept 17 Chinese Uighurs who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo for seven years.  The Uighurs have been locked away despite the fact that even the Bush Pentagon concluded years ago that they pose no threat whatsoever and were never "enemy combatants."  They’ve been imprisoned by the U.S. despite being cleared because no other nation was willing to accept them, principally because the Chinese government considers them to be separatists and were demanding they be returned to China, and nobody wanted to offend China by accepting them.

Writing on Michelle Malkin’s blog Hot Air today, war-supporting tough guy Ed Morrissey is petrified about this development and, as a result, he has announced that he is now too fearful to consider visiting that island:

Of course, with a recidivism rate for released Gitmo detainees of around 14%, odds are that a couple of the Uighurs might not be quite as cuddly as Obama promises. Hopefully it will work out all right for Palau and its tourists, but if I were making decisions on expensive South Pacific vacations, I’d start looking elsewhere.

It’s hard to put into words how inebriated with irrational fear someone has to be in order to be so scared of 17 Uighurs — who were never guilty of anything — that they would avoid traveling to whatever place this handful of persecuted individuals is located.  But this is the right-wing movement at its core:  its leaders cynically ratchet up fear levels as high as possible to justify whatever they want to do (invade Iraq, torture people, spy on Americans with no warrants) and their adherents (along with plenty of others) become more and more paralyzed by their fears of anything Muslim.  This, after all, is the same faction that continues to shake with terror at the very idea that accused Terrorists will be brought to the U.S. — in handcuffs, imprisoned, and disappeared into super-max facilities.  And it is the same faction that made accepting the Uighurs into the U.S. politically unpalatable by threatening legislation — The Keep Terrorists Out of America Act — that would bar their entrance.

As damaging as the resulting policies has been from the last eight years of constant fear-mongering, far worse is what it has done to the American national character, turning much of the citizenry into a weak and easily frightened herd, where the mere mention of the word Terrorist — or Muslim — sends people into spasms of fear and blind submission.  A frightened Ed Morrissey planning his vacations to avoid Uighurs — along with things like this ad — have really become the face not only of our right-wing super-warriors, but much of the country itself: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 11:42 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Terrorism

A new measure of global warming from carbon emissions

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Damon Matthews, a professor in Concordia University’s Department of Geography, Planning and the Environment has found a direct relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. Matthews, together with colleagues from Victoria and the U.K., used a combination of global climate models and historical climate data to show that there is a simple linear relationship between total cumulative emissions and global temperature change. These findings will be published in the next edition of Nature, to be released on June 11, 2009. Until now, it has been difficult to estimate how much climate will warm in response to a given carbon dioxide emissions scenario because of the complex interactions between human emissions, carbon sinks, atmospheric concentrations and temperature change. Matthews and colleagues show that despite these uncertainties, each emission of carbon dioxide results in the same global temperature increase, regardless of when or over what period of time the emission occurs.

These findings mean that we can now say: if you emit that tonne of carbon dioxide, it will lead to 0.0000000000015 degrees of global temperature change. If we want to restrict global warming to no more than 2 degrees, we must restrict total carbon emissions – from now until forever – to little more than half a trillion tonnes of carbon, or about as much again as we have emitted since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

"Most people understand that carbon dioxide emissions lead to global warming," says Matthews, "but it is much harder to grasp the complexities of what goes on in between these two end points. Our findings allow people to make a robust estimate of their contribution to global warming based simply on total carbon dioxide emissions."

In light of this study and other recent research, Matthews and a group of international climate scientists have written an open letter calling on participants of December’s Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to acknowledge the need to limit cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide so as to avoid dangerous climate change.

Source: Concordia University

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 11:38 am

On-line cognitive therapy for depression

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In a discovery that could lead to new treatment approaches for depression, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have shown that internet-based therapy programs are as effective as face-to-face therapies in combating the illness. Patients in a clinician-assisted internet-based treatment program experienced rates of recovery similar to those achieved by face-to-face therapy, the research found.

Moreover, the program – dubbed the Sadness program – required an average of only 111 minutes of clinician email contact per person over an eight-week period, significantly less than other comparable clinician-based therapies.

A paper outlining the study appears this week in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

"The results will come as a surprise to many people who believed internet-based programs wouldn’t work in treating depression," said lead author of the study, Professor Gavin Andrews, from UNSW’s School of Psychiatry.

"We knew that the internet was successful at treating social phobias and other anxiety disorders but these conditions are, in many ways, low-hanging fruit.

"It was assumed that depression would be more difficult because of the lack of motivation usually associated with the illness," he said.

"But that simply wasn’t the case."

In the study, Professor Andrews and UNSW colleague Dr Nick Titov, based at St Vincent’s Hospital, randomly assigned 45 people who met diagnostic criteria for depression to the Sadness step program or to a waitlist control group.

Those in the treatment program completed six online lessons and weekly homework assignments, received weekly email contact from a clinical psychologist and contributed to a moderated online forum with other participants. They received an average of eight email contacts each from a qualified psychologist.

After completing the program, more than a third (34 percent) no longer met the criteria to be diagnosed as depressed – a result similar to face-to-face therapy.

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 11:36 am

The threat of extremism

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It’s real, and forcing the DHS to remove the risk assessment of right-wing extremists from its Web site does not change the danger. (Oddly, there was no outcry over the risk assessment of left-wing extremists, published earlier.) The Right is a fearful group, thin-skinned and angry. From the Center for American Progress:

Yesterday’s tragic shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, by an "88-year-old white supremacist," is the latest in a string of right-wing extremist attacks. The number of hate groups such as the "Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads and Black separatists" operating in the United States is at an all-time high, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Moreover, gun purchases since President Obama’s election surged. However, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declassified a report "detailing potential increases in right-wing extremism" in April, right-wing commentators and Republican politicians decried the report as a politically motivated attack on all conservatives. They claimed that "the Obama administration is targeting conservatives and others simply because they disagree with administration policies and proposals." Ignoring that the report — like a similar one describing the threat of left-wing extremists — was commissioned by the Bush administration, conservatives called for the resignation of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Media Matters Action Fund’s Matt Finkelstein asks, "Will Republicans admit that their partisan ‘outrage’ was misplaced?"

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: The declassified DHS report warned, "Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely." The report further warned, "The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment." This description reflected recent extremist violence, including the July 2008 shooting spree in a Knoxville church "because of its liberal teachings," a thwarted attempt to assassinate Obama in October by two neo-Nazi skinheads, and "a racially motivated rape and murder spree in Brockton, MA" by a 22-year-old white supremacist the "day after Barack Obama was inaugurated." Since the report was issued last April, the trail of death has continued. "We have seen not only the murder of an abortion physician by a member of the radical right, but the murders of five law enforcement officers — three police officers in Pittsburgh, two sheriff’s deputies in Florida by radical right-wing extremists," SPLC’s Mark Potok told CNN. "It’s really been quite an extraordinary period." The Pittsburgh shooter "feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns," and the Florida killer was "severely disturbed that Barack Obama had been elected President." In an incident earlier this month, a "lone wolf" American Muslim extremist "shot and killed Army Pvt. William Long" outside a Little Rock, AR, mall in anger over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 11:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

Beetle shows the way to very white paper

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Interesting (and photos at the link of the beetle):

An obscure species of beetle has shown how brilliant white paper could be produced in a completely new way. A team from Imerys Minerals Ltd. and the University of Exeter has taken inspiration from the shell of the Cyphochilus beetle to understand how to produce a new kind of white coating for paper. The Cyphochilus beetle has a highly unusual brilliant white shell. In 2007, research by the University of Exeter and Imerys Minerals Ltd., published in leading journal Science, revealed how the beetle produced its brilliant whiteness using a unique surface structure. Native to south-east Asia, it is believed that the beetle’s whiteness evolved to mimic local white fungi as a form of camouflage.

New research, now published in the journal Applied Optics, shows how some of the beetle’s shell structure can be mimicked to produce coatings for white paper.

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11 June 2009 at 11:21 am

Gradually killing off wild salmon

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The latest:

Steelhead trout that are originally bred in hatcheries are so genetically impaired that, even if they survive and reproduce in the wild, their offspring will also be significantly less successful at reproducing, according to a new study published today by researchers from Oregon State University. The poor reproductive fitness – the ability to survive and reproduce – of the wild-born offspring of hatchery fish means that adding hatchery fish to wild populations may ultimately be hurting efforts to sustain those wild runs, scientists said.

The study found that a fish born in the wild as the offspring of two hatchery-reared steelhead averaged only 37 percent the reproductive fitness of a fish with two wild parents, and 87 percent the fitness if one parent was wild and one was from a hatchery. Most importantly, these differences were still detectable after a full generation of natural selection in the wild.

The effect of hatcheries on reproductive fitness in succeeding generations had been predicted in theory, experts say, but until now had never been demonstrated in actual field experiments.

"If anyone ever had any doubts about the genetic differences between hatchery and wild fish, the data are now pretty clear," said Michael Blouin, an OSU professor of zoology. "The effect is so strong that it carries over into the first wild-born generation. Even if fish are born in the wild and survive to reproduce, those adults that had hatchery parents still produce substantially fewer surviving offspring than those with wild parents. That’s pretty remarkable."

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11 June 2009 at 11:14 am

Cancer: The cost of being smarter than chimps?

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Interesting thought:

Are the cognitively superior brains of humans, in part, responsible for our higher rates of cancer? That’s a question that has nagged at John McDonald, chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Biology and chief research scientist at the Ovarian Cancer Institute, for a while. Now, after an initial study, it seems that McDonald is on to something. The new study is available online in the journal Medical Hypothesis and will appear in the forthcoming issue of the journal. "I was always intrigued by the fact that chimpanzees appear to have lower rates of cancer than humans," said McDonald. "So we went back and reanalyzed some previously reported gene expression studies including data that were not used in the original analyses."

McDonald and his graduate students, Gaurav Arora and Nalini Polivarapu, compared chimp-human gene expression patterns in five tissues: brain, testes, liver, kidneys and heart. They found distinct differences in the way apoptosis — or programmed cell death — operates, suggesting that humans do not "self-destroy" cells as effectively as chimpanzees do. Apoptosis is one of the primary mechanisms by which our bodies destroy cancer cells.

"The results from our analysis suggest that humans aren’t as efficient as chimpanzees in carrying out programmed cell death. We believe this difference may have evolved as a way to increase brain size and associated cognitive ability in humans, but the cost could be an increased propensity for cancer," said McDonald.

Like all evolutionary hypotheses, this can’t be proven absolutely, according to McDonald. However, his lab has recently obtained additional direct experimental evidence consistent with the hypothesis that apoptotic function is more efficient in chimps than in humans.

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 11:07 am

9-kyu on Kiseido Go Server

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Hey, I reached single-digit kyu rank. (Kyu runs from 30 (low) to 1 (high) and then dan ranks start, from 1 (low) to 9 (high).) I thought it was an anomaly, but I just won a game with an 11-kyu, giving a two-stone handicap. This motivates me to study more, which presses me to clear off the dining room table so I can set up the Go board.

Kiseido Go Server is a nice venue for playing Go.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 11:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Games, Go

Bisphenol A exposure in pregnant mice permanently changes DNA of offspring

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Who thought that including Bisphenol A in drinking bottles and food storage containers was a good idea? Here’s the latest finding:

Exposure during pregnancy to the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, found in many common plastic household items, is known to cause a fertility defect in the mother’s offspring in animal studies, and now researchers have found how the defect occurs. The results of the new study will be presented Saturday at The Endocrine Society’s 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. The study, funded partly by the National Institutes of Health, joins a growing body of animal research showing the toxic health effects of BPA, including reproductive and developmental problems. Last August the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found BPA to be safe as currently used but later said more research on its safety is needed. BPA is used to make hard polycarbonate plastic, such as for baby bottles, refillable water bottles and food containers, as well as to make the linings of metal food cans.

BPA has estrogen-like properties and in pregnant animals has been linked to female infertility.

"The big mystery is how does exposure to this estrogen-like substance during a brief period in pregnancy lead to a change in uterine function," said study co-author Hugh Taylor, MD, professor and chief of the reproductive endocrinology section at Yale University School of Medicine.

To find the answer to that question, Taylor and his co-workers at Yale …

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11 June 2009 at 10:40 am

The role of chance in evolution

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As Darwin observed, natural selection leading to adaptation of individuals and populations is occurring gradually and all the time. But over very long spans of time, the major channels of genetic organization, organism form, and the different ways organisms develop arose as outcomes of history-dependent variation that is now channeled, or constrained, within different groups of organisms. For example, most cats look like cats, develop like cats, but have a fossil record that begins from less than cat-like ancestors. So do snails, and crabs, and so on. But what if the broad evolutionary diversification of one of these groups were repeated by a few species in a single genus tens of millions of years after that initial diversification? What would that say about the roles of contingency, constraint, and adaptation? In other words, how big is the role of chance in the history of life? An international team of researchers including Field Museum curator Scott Lidgard, PhD, has discovered a group of closely related living species that independently repeated the different step-like changes that occurred in the major diversification of their kind during the Cretaceous Period, roughly 100 to 90 million years ago. But this group of species arose 80 million years later!

The findings of Dr. Lidgard and his collaborators will be published online this week by the British journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Dr. Lidgard’s research focuses on cheilostome bryozoans, marine animal colonies whose bodies are made up of many genetically identical box-like individuals (zooids). In the simplest, most primitive cheilostomes, the soft feeding organ is squeezed out of the box by muscles pulling on a flexible membrane. The next step in diversification was calcified spines around the membrane, then fusion of the spines, then reduction of the fused spinal shield and membrane and invention of a water sac inside the box to provide enough volume to squeeze out the feeding organ. Lineages showing each of these stages are alive today. Then as now, these steps are seen as evolved defenses against small predators and parasites on the colony surface.

What is remarkable is that the molecular genealogy of the living species shows their origin only 15 million years ago, with the same trajectory as in the distant past! Evidence suggests that trajectory has occurred again and again in other groups. The authors argue that the original trajectory was highly contingent on a set of initial conditions, but that given the possibilities afforded by time, a genetic background would arise (like flipping a coin long enough to achieve 10 heads or tails in a row) that was visible to natural selection, most likely driven by predation. Acting together, the eventual realization of a particular genetic and developmental channel, and natural selection opened the way for an adaptive solution.

Source: Field Museum

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11 June 2009 at 10:33 am

Kansas v. Ventris: The Supreme Court Misconstrues the Right to Counsel

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Sherry Colb at FindLaw:

On April 29th, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the important Sixth Amendment case of Kansas v. Ventris. In Ventris, the defendant gave an incriminating statement to a jailhouse informant, in response to interrogation (by the informant) during which the prosecution now concedes that counsel was illegally withheld. At trial, the prosecution moved successfully to introduce the defendant’s earlier incriminating statement to the informant, to impeach the defendant’s testimony.

Though the government acknowledged that it had violated the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, it argued – and the trial court found – that the confession was admissible for the limited purpose of discrediting contrary testimony by the defendant (here, testimony claiming that he did not commit the crimes charged). The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this holding.

The Court reasoned — unpersuasively, in my view — that violations of the so-called Massiah right (the right to have counsel present at all post-indictment interrogations) occur during interrogation (not later, at trial, when the evidence yielded by the interrogation is introduced). It concluded, accordingly, that suppression of the resulting statements at trial is not a rigid right, but rather a flexible remedy, subject to cost/benefit analysis.

In this column, I will argue that the Ventris ruling is incoherent, even though the Court’s earlier Massiah holding (which Ventris attempts to apply) is itself problematic.

The Facts of Ventris

The Ventris case began when the State of Kansas brought charges against Donnie Ray Ventris for a variety of crimes that resulted in the shooting death of Ernest Hicks, as well as the unlawful removal of several hundred dollars and a cellular phone from Hicks’s home. Ventris’s alleged partner in crime, Rhonda Theel, eventually pleaded guilty to robbery (after she, too, was charged with crimes including murder) and testified against Ventris, in exchange for which the government dropped the murder charge for Theel. In his defense, Ventris took the witness stand and blamed the most serious of the crimes with which he was charged on Theel.

Prior to trial, but after the State had charged Ventris with the crimes, police planted a jailhouse informant in Ventris’s cell with instructions to listen for incriminating statements…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2009 at 10:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

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