Later On

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

Archive for June 23rd, 2009

Suspected US air strike kills 60 in Pakistan

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This is grim. Pir Zubair Shah and Salman Masood report in the NY Times:

An airstrike believed to have been carried out by a United States drone killed at least 60 people at a funeral for a Taliban fighter in South Waziristan on Tuesday, residents of the area and local news reports said.

Details of the attack, which occurred in Makeen, remained unclear, but the reported death toll was exceptionally high. If the reports are indeed accurate and if the attack was carried out by a drone, the strike could be the deadliest since the United States began using the aircraft to fire remotely guided missiles at members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The United States carried out 22 previous drone strikes this year, as the Obama administration has intensified a policy inherited from the Bush administration.

Before the attack on Tuesday, the Pakistani Army and Air Force had begun operations in South Waziristan against the forces of the Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud. The group’s suicide bombings in major cities have terrorized Pakistanis for years.

In a serious blow to Pakistan’s effort, on Tuesday an assassin loyal to Mr. Mehsud shot and killed a rival tribal leader, Qari Zainuddin, whom the government had hoped to use as an ally in its campaign to corner the Taliban leader.

The killing called into question the government’s strategy of exploiting tribal fissures in order to defeat Mr. Mehsud and was apparently intended to serve as a reminder that there were serious consequences for crossing him, analysts said.

“It tells people, if you side with the government, this is what will happen to you,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and a military analyst. “It says the government can’t give you protection, but the other side can.”

… While the strike on the funeral may have been conducted by the Pakistani Air Force, residents and local news reports uniformly attributed it to a United States drone…

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 7:27 pm

Quick and easy interactive side-by-side health plan comparisons

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Quite useful. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 4:11 pm

Will the GOP ever, ever get it? Iran edition

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Joe Klein in the Swampland blog:

I’ve been receiving a steady stream of favorable emails from Iranian-Americans regarding my appearance on Larry King last night. They’re delighted that I made it clear that Iran is different from the other countries in the region–better educated, more sophisticated, with far greater rights for women (although not nearly enough). And they also appreciated the fact that when King asked me what John McCain should do right now, I said, "Be quiet."

The Washington Post has a piece today about the efforts of some Republicans to make hay out of the situation in Iran. McCain, who spent the entire 2008 election making misleading statements about the nature of the Iranian government (I wonder if he still thinks Ahmadinejad is more powerful than the Supreme Leader), has been at the forefront of this. It is very unseemly. I have yet to hear what possible good it would do for the President of the United States to encourage the protesters, except to give the Iranian regime a better excuse for killing more of them. McCain’s bleatings are either for domestic political consumption or self-satisfaction, a form of hip-shooting onanism that demonstrates why he would have been a foreign policy disaster had he been elected.

To put it as simply as possible, McCain–and his cohorts–are trying to score political points against the President in the midst of an international crisis. It is the sort of behavior that Republicans routinely call "unpatriotic" when Democrats are doing it. I would never question John McCain’s patriotism, no matter how misguided his sense of the country’s best interests sometimes seems. His behavior has nothing to do with love of country; it has everything to do with love of self.

Again, the crucial fact about the protesters is this: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iran, Politics

Stalkers and assassins

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Interesting post from Mind Hacks:

I’ve just found this fascinating 2006 article by a consultant psychiatrist to the US Secret Service that classifies the types of stalkers and assassins that have troubled the President of the United States.

The piece, by psychiatry professor Robert Phillips, reviews past classifications of presidential harassers and cases from the literature to produce a list of main types.

In my work as consultant to the U.S. Secret Service on protective intelligence cases, it is my clinical assessment that aids in their ultimate determination of who poses a potential risk to a protectee.

In performing evaluations of persons who have either threatened or attacked presidents, pursued them without nefarious intent, or appeared at the White House without invitation, I have searched for a framework that would allow me to integrate my diagnostic opinion of an individual subject with a conceptualization of what is known about others who have acted similarly.

Phillips’ classification includes:

* The Resentful Presidential Stalker or Assassin
* The Pathologically Obsessed Presidential Stalker or Assassin
* The Presidential Infamy Seeker
* The Presidential Nuisance or Presidential Attention Seeker

But perhaps most interesting is the part where he illustrates each type with examples from past cases.

These include famous cases, such as John Hinckley – the man who shot President Reagan but was apparently also a stalker of Carter, to less well known cases such as one woman referred to only as ‘Ms Doe’ who "possessed a delusional love interest" in Clinton.

It’s interesting to compare this classification with the independently created typology of stalkers of the British royal family drawn from the Metropolitan Police’s Royalty Protection Unit files.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Supreme Court ruling allows gold mine to dump waste in lake

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This is what you get with people like Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas on the court: business-friendly, public-hostile decisions. Elizabeth Bluemink in McClatchy:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday decision allowing a gold mine near Juneau to discharge its waste into a fish-bearing lake could be the final word in the long-running dispute.

But environmentalists hope that it is not.

Their lawsuit over the Kensington mine, 45 miles northwest of Juneau, fueled a bitter war between industry boosters and environmentalists in the state’s capital.

Statewide, the suit cast a shadow over Alaska’s mining industry, and in particular, the massive Pebble copper and gold prospect in Southwest Alaska.

On Monday, Kensington’s supporters – including the entire Alaska congressional delegation and Gov. Sarah Palin – hailed the Supreme Court decision as a positive step for Juneau and the state.

Coeur Alaska Inc., operator of the Kensington mine, announced plans to begin producing gold in the last half of 2010.

But environmentalists say their fight is not over…

Continue reading. And Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent has a good story on this:

In a bow to the mining industry, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Clean Water Act permits an Alaskan gold mining company to dump tons of waste into a 23-acre lake nearby — never mind that the dumping will kill off every bit of aquatic life there.

The ruling extends from a 2002 rule change, under which the Bush administration redefined mining debris — even toxic mining debris — as “fill” rather than “waste.” That seemingly subtle change had the wide-sweeping consequence of shifting mine-waste disposal decisions from the Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — a switch that also helped fuel the popularity of mountaintop mining operations in the Appalachian states in the last decade.

The Obama administration has taken steps in recent weeks to reassert the powers of the EPA to protect waterways surrounding mountaintop sites, but those changes, up to now, are limited to Appalachian projects. Alaskan mines just aren’t subject to the new scrutiny.

That spells bad news for Tongass National Forest’s Lower Slate Lake. In 2005, the Corps had approved permits for the Alaskan gold mine company, Coeur Alaska Inc., to dump 210,00 gallons of waste per day into Lower Slate — waste containing aluminum, copper, lead, and mercury. It was those permits that the Supreme Court upheld 6-3 Monday, overturning an earlier ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The reasoning from the court’s majority goes something like this: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:20 pm

Insurance companies whingeing about the public option

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They get no sympathy from me—they are all to ready to cancel policies when people need them. Congressional Quarterly reports:

Lobbies representing the insurance industry said in a letter to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy , D-Mass., that a “government plan” option in any form would have “devastating consequences” for current health insurance coverage as well as for the budget deficit and “existing provider systems.”

Friday’s letter from America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association of America also expresses concern about insurance exchanges proposed in a plan developed by Kennedy that is being marked up by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The “gateways,” as they are known in the proposal, could be overly regulatory and should not be the only place where people can get subsidies to help buy coverage under a system in which everyone is required to have health insurance, the letter says.

The letter follows growing efforts in the Senate to fashion a compromise on the controversial issue of creating a new government-run insurance plan as part of overhauling health care. Sen. Kent Conrad , D-N.D., for example, has suggested creating member-run health insurance co-operatives as a form of public plan instead of creating a government-run insurance alternative to private health insurance. But the insurers appeared to reject that attempt at compromise.

“A government-run plan — no matter how it is initially structured — would dismantle employer-based coverage, significantly increase costs for those who remain in private coverage, and add additional liabilities to the federal budget,” the letter says.

A public plan would pay providers less and therefore charge lower premiums, attracting growing numbers of enrollees, the letter says. Providers would charge private plans more to make up for the lower payments, “causing further declines in private coverage and leaving hundreds of billions of dollars to be covered by the federal budget.”

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:18 pm

Language as a looking glass

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Interesting bit from Mind Hacks, and if you like this, you’ll love Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes.

Edge has a fantastic essay on how the language we speak can affect how we experience and think about the world.

The piece is by psychologist Lera Boroditsky whose work has shown that the not only are there differences across people with different mother tongues, but that asking people to use different words can affect their perceptions.

Boroditsky’s article is full of fascinating snippets about how language structure enforces a different mental set on the speaker.

For example, she notes that in Russian you need to change verbs to indicate whether the action was completed or not (when someone read a book, did they finish the book or just manage part of it). In Turkish verbs indicate whether you saw the thing yourself or whether you’re describing what someone else has told you.

But one of the most vivid examples is from the language of a small Aboriginal community in Australia:

Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.

This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There’s an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly…

The result is a profound difference in navigational ability and spatial knowledge between speakers of languages that rely primarily on absolute reference frames (like Kuuk Thaayorre) and languages that rely on relative reference frames (like English).

Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings. What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language. Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities.

This research is interesting because it relates to the much maligned Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that claims that language shapes how we experience the world.

When I was a student this theory wheeled out in psycholinguistics classes to show how naive we used to be. I’m no expert on psycholinguistics, but I suspect that this was due to the dominance of Noam Chomsky’s idea that all languages are based on an underlying universal grammar, implying that, fundamentally, we all think about things in broadly similar ways. Jerry Fodor’s language of thought hypothesis might also have been a culprit.

What ever the cause, the effect of language on perception and understanding was neglected for many years and only recently have some of these interesting effects come to light through the work of people like Boroditsky.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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