Later On

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

Archive for October 29th, 2009

TSA from a former police officer’s view

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Very interesting post—followed by interesting comments. The post begins:

Today’s guest author is Deirdre Walker.  She retired recently as the Assistant Chief of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Department of Police.  She spent 24 years as a police officer.

“Do I have the right to refuse this search?”

This is a question I heard many times during my law enforcement career.  Often my answer was no.  But occasionally it would be “yes,” followed by an admonition to have a good day.

For the last half of my career, I would have documented each interaction, whether or not it involved an arrest.  I would have written down the nature and length of the interaction, the gender, race, and age of the person, and the outcome of the contact (arrest, citation, etc.).

I carry the baggage of this history with me as I’ve traveled over the last eight years, mindlessly placing my luggage on the conveyer belt and removing my shoes for TSA inspection.

Recently, something changed.

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2009 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Tagged with

Arctic sea ice

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The refreeze is going quite slowly. Read this post for the complete story. I’m blogging this as a courtesy to readers who are still confused about global warming. From the post:

When records were being set for loss of summer Arctic sea ice area (2007) and sea ice volume (2008), the deniers spent all their time talking about how quickly the ice refroze in the ensuing months.  Now, they are strangely quiet on the remarkably slow refreezing we’re seeing.

Why the slow refreezing this year?  I’ll post the answer from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the end.  First, some background.

“The recent sea-ice retreat is larger than in any of the (19) IPCC [climate] models,” as Tore Furevik, Vice director at Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, pointed out in a May 2006 talk (big PPT here) on climate system feedbacks.

And that was before another staggering drop in Arctic sea-ice area in 2007 (see “Arctic Ice shrinks by an Alaska plus a Texas“).

And then we hit a record low volume in 2008 (see here), as this remarkable figure shows:

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: See also this excellent post: Accelerating ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland. The ice is going away, folks. Reason: Anthrogenic CO2 is warming the globe.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2009 at 12:03 pm

Bad message combination from Blue Cross

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1) a letter stating that insurance rates will go up 11%; combined with

2) a request that people oppose the public healthcare option.

Jason Rosenbaum at Firedoglake:

It’s hard to make the case that private insurers are simply out to protect their profits any better than this:

Maybe it was just lousy timing, but many customers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina are ticked off at the mail they’ve received recently from the state’s largest insurer.

First, they learned their rates will rise by an average of 11 percent next year.

Next, they opened a slick flier from the insurer urging them to send an enclosed pre-printed, postage-paid note to Sen. Kay Hagan denouncing what the company says is unfair competition that would be imposed by a government-backed insurance plan. The so-called public option is likely to be considered by Congress in the health-care overhaul debate.

For those who need a reminder, a public health insurance option would compete directly with private insurers like Blue Cross, and a public health insurance option wouldn’t have to turn a profit, forcing Blue Cross’s rates down.

Blue Cross extorts more money from their customers with one hand with an 11% rate increase – they do control a whopping 53% of the market in North Carolina after all [pdf], and 98% of the individual market and billions in reserve dollars, so they can get away with that kind of thing – and with the other, tries to enlist these same customers to fight against something that would Blue Cross’s rates and profits.

Fortunately, the good people of North Carolina are having none of it.

Indignant Blue Cross customers, complaining that their premium dollars are funding the campaign, have called Hagan’s office to voice support for a public option. They’ve marked through the Blue Cross message on their postcards and changed it to show they support the public option, then mailed the cards.

“I hope it backfires,” said Mark Barroso, a documentary film maker in Chatham County who is a Blue Cross customer and recipient of the mailings. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure it does.”

Beth Silberman of Durham said she “went sort of bonkers” about the mailing. “You’re hostage to them, and then they pull this,” she said. “My new premiums are funding lobbying against competition. It’s pretty disgusting.”

Check out one of the “corrected” postcards: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2009 at 12:00 pm

What’s So Scary About Michael Pollan?

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Businesses don’t much like "the marketplace of ideas" because they don’t like quite a few ideas and will do everything in their power to silence the voices of critics demanding change. Martha Rosenberg has this story:

Even if agribusiness could shut Michael Pollan up, the outspoken author of Omnivore’s Dilemma and a journalism professor at University of California, Berkeley, it still has the Los Angeles Times to contend with.
Last week, the Times blasted California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo for downgrading a scheduled Pollan lecture because it received pressure from David E. Wood, a university donor who happens to be chairman of the Harris Ranch Beef Co.

"Agribusiness gets plenty of opportunities to preach its point of view at agriculture schools such as Cal Poly, where the likes of Monsanto and Cargill fund research," the Times wrote, calling the 800-acre Harris Ranch, near Coalinga, whose "smell assaults passersby long before the panorama of thousands of cattle packed atop layers of their own manure,"–"Cowschwitz." Ouch.

And agribusiness has the University of Wisconsin-Madison to deal with.

The land grant, ag-based university, in the middle of dairyland, clearly doesn’t remember its roots. It gave Pollan’s In Defense of Food, another anti-agbiz screed according to industry, free to all incoming freshmen as part of its common book read program where everyone reads the same book, Go Big Read, in August.

"I have not seen the students this excited about something in years," Irwin Goodman, horticulture professor and vice dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences told the Associated Press as the James Beard Award-winning book was discussed in French and political science classes and included in an exhibit on the history of food.

Protesting farmers who came to hear Pollan speak at the university’s 17,000-seat Kohl Center in September wearing matching green T-shirts which said "In Defense of Farming: Eat Food. Be Healthy. Thank Farmers" were clearly outnumbered. So were bumper stickers reading No Food; No Farms and Don’t Criticize Farmers With Your Mouth Full in the parking lot.

Students get all their facts from writers like Pollan, the farmers, who were bussed in by Madison-based feed company Vita Plus, told the Capital Times. They have never visited a farm for first-hand knowledge of food production and don’t know what they’re talking about.

But efforts to open farms to the public are not always successful…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2009 at 11:56 am

New experimental evidence re: theory of gravitation

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Conservatives Creationists love to believe that the word “theory” (as in the theory of evolution) means it’s just some idea, rather than a fully worked out explanation that takes into account experimental observations. I like to point out that there’s also a “theory of gravity” — gravity is clearly a fact of our immediate experience, but there still must be a theory that provides a formal structure of mechanisms and meaning. Here are some new findings on our current theory of gravity:

During its first year of operations, NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope mapped the extreme sky with unprecedented resolution and sensitivity. It captured more than one thousand discrete sources of gamma rays — the highest-energy form of light. Capping these achievements was a measurement that provided rare experimental evidence about the very structure of space and time, unified as space-time in Einstein’s theories. “Physicists would like to replace Einstein’s vision of gravity — as expressed in his relativity theories — with something that handles all fundamental forces,” said Peter Michelson, principal investigator of Fermi’s Large Area Telescope, or LAT, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. “There are many ideas, but few ways to test them.”

Many approaches to new theories of gravity picture space-time as having a shifting, frothy structure at physical scales trillions of times smaller than an electron. Some models predict that the foamy aspect of space-time will cause higher-energy gamma rays to move slightly more slowly than photons at lower energy.

Such a model would violate Einstein’s edict that all electromagnetic radiation — radio waves, infrared, visible light, X-rays and gamma rays — travels through a vacuum at the same speed.

On May 10, 2009, Fermi and other satellites detected a so-called short gamma ray burst, designated GRB 090510. Astronomers think this type of explosion happens when neutron stars collide. Ground-based studies show the event took place in a galaxy 7.3 billion light-years away. Of the many gamma ray photons Fermi’s LAT detected from the 2.1-second burst, two possessed energies differing by a million times. Yet after traveling some seven billion years, the pair arrived just nine-tenths of a second apart.

“This measurement eliminates any approach to a new theory of gravity that predicts a strong energy dependent change in the speed of light,” Michelson said. “To one part in 100 million billion, these two photons traveled at the same speed. Einstein still rules.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2009 at 11:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The lingering effects of income inequality

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Matthew Yglesias:

Pete Davis mentions a new book that sounds interesting. He observes that we like to think of the United States as a land of opportunity, “but a new book, Creating an Opportunity Society, by Ron Haskins and Belle Sawhill of the Brookings Institution proves otherwise.”

That’s what we like to think, but a new book, Creating an Opportunity Society, by Ron Haskins and Belle Sawhill of the Brookings Institution proves otherwise. They took a close look at intergenerational mobility and found that 42% of American men with fathers in the bottom income quintile remain there as compared to: Denmark, 25%; Sweden, 26%; Finland, 28%; Norway, 28%; and the United Kingdom, 30%. They present a wealth of new and old research evidence to support the conclusion that if you’re born poor in America, you’re likely to remain poor.

This basic result has been known for quite some time, at least in liberal circles (conservatives like Greg Mankiw believe the U.S. is ruled by a genetic aristocracy). And the interpretation seems pretty clear. The high level of income inequality in the United States leads to highly unequal opportunities for American children, whereas the low levels of income inequality in Nordic countries lead to more equal outcomes.

Davis says the book “is not a liberal polemic,” but I’m not really sure where else any analysis of this issue would lead you. One of the co-authors, Ron Haskins, has definite conservative credentials so I’ll be interested to see what kind of conservative ideas are in here, but “make America more like Sweden” doesn’t strike me as a very promising foundation for bipartisanship.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2009 at 11:43 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Party of No blocking appointment of judges

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The GOP gets little respect in large part because it deserves little respect. For example, Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress:

Last June, ThinkProgress reported that Senate conservatives were using single-senator anonymous holds to deny dozens of Obama nominees the up-or-down vote Republicans used to think was so important

Four months later, nothing has changed. Since taking office last January, only four of President Obama’s judicial nominees have been confirmed, despite the fact that President Bush’s judges received very different treatment:

Consider, for example, the judicial nominations process during President George W. Bush’s last two years in office, 2007 and 2008. Bush was deeply unpopular at the time, and he faced a Senate firmly under Democratic control. Still, a large number of Bush nominees sailed through. The Senate voted on more than one-third of Bush’s confirmed nominees (26 of 68) less than three months after the president nominated them. […]

The story was similar in the first two years of Bush’s presidency: A Democratic majority in Congress confirmed 100 of Bush’s nominees in 17 months, even after delays due to a change in party control of the Sen. after Senator James Jeffords left the Republican Party in May 2001.

Blocking nearly every single one of a President’s nominees is unprecedented, but conservatives have played Calvinball with the Senate’s confirmation rules for decades.  During the Reagan and Bush I Administrations, then-Senate Judiciary Chair Joe Biden (D-DE) followed a longstanding rule allowing a nominee’s home state senators to block a judicial nominee, but only if both senators agreed to do so. After President Clinton took office and conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) became judiciary chair, however, the rules suddenly changed to allow a single-home state senator to veto a nominee — a power that segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) used to block every single one of Clinton’s nominees from North Carolina. Yet when Bush II took office, Hatch eliminated the home-state senator veto altogether.

This time, however, the right doesn’t even have enough votes to maintain a filibuster if the Majority Leader insists that President Obama’s nominees deserve the same favorable treatment he gave to President Bush’s; the only question is how long Reid will let the “Party of No” say no to Obama’s judges.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2009 at 11:39 am

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