Later On

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

Archive for March 10th, 2010

Interesting email from Marijuana Policy Project

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Just received this:

New Hampshire took a major step forward today, passing a bill to decriminalize marijuana in the House by an overwhelming 214-137, thanks in great part to Matt Simon, MPP grant recipient and executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy! Having passed with equally impressive numbers (16-2) in a committee vote earlier this year, the legislation will now move on to the Senate for consideration.

Won’t you consider helping MPP and our allies to continue to work towards ending marijuana prohibition?

It’s not just New Hampshire — and not just decriminalization — that’s making waves this year. Several other states are talking about not just decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, but taxing and regulating it as well. Legislators in Washington, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia all also sponsored decriminalization bills this session. In Hawaii, a Senate bill to decriminalize an ounce of marijuana recently passed with an amazing 22-3 margin!

On the tax and regulation front, we’ve seen a historic committee win in California, where voters will get the chance to vote to tax and regulate marijuana later this year, as well as a New Hampshire House vote to study a proposed tax-and-regulate bill there. Rhode Island has just introduced a tax-and-regulate bill, and Washington state saw a bill earlier this session, as well. This is a sea change of support that MPP, our allies, and you are helping to drive.

Red states, blue states, and every color in between are beginning to realize that ending marijuana prohibition is both fiscally and socially sound. Please, help support MPP’s work so that we can continue to push for these sensible policies across the nation and end marijuana prohibition once and for all!

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 2:14 pm

How to create custom search engines in Chrome

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Extremely useful post by Simon Slangen:

No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find a custom search box in the Google Chrome browser. Even Internet Explorer has a search box, so why shouldn’t Chrome?

In developing the browser, Google did away with the separate search box, if not with the functionality. It was only in confrontation with my own ignorance that I rediscovered this feature.

You’ve probably discovered how you can launch a Google search directly from your address bar. Using keywords and a few minutes work in advance, you can also set up custom search engines. In this article, we’ll explain how to configure and use this feature, as well as how to change the default and create a custom search engine…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Around and around with Blue Shield and CHOMP

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We’re still working on the bill from early last August (the cat-bite incident). CHOMP (Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula) billed us in February from the August incident: $274 not covered. (Earlier there was much more not covered, which I paid back then.) These fees are for the hospital staff physicians, which CHOMP says that Blue Shield won’t pay. Blue Shield says otherwise. They don’t seem to want to talk to each other, so I keep bouncing from one to the other.

Wish I lived in France (and could speak fluent French). This paper-shuffling is intolerable. When will healthcare reform pass?

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 1:09 pm

Ending senseless subsidies

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From the Center for American Progress in an email:

One of the great hardships facing American college students today is student debt. According to a recent report from The Project on Student Debt, the average student in the class of 2008 graduated with $23,000 of debt, "a figure 25 percent higher than what their older brothers and sisters owed when they graduated from college in 2004"; two out of every three college students now graduate with debt, and the Great Recession is requiring students to take out more loans than ever before. In the 2008-09 academic year, federal student loan borrowing "grew about 25% over the previous year, to $75.1 billion." A major reason for the ever-growing debt load America’s students are taking on is the broken student lending system, a big part of which involves the government paying student loan companies to originate and service loans. The companies are the inefficient middle men that drive up costs for students without adding any value. To rectify this problem, progressives in Congress introduced the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which expands and improves successful student aid programs like the Pell Grant and the Perkins Loan program, and eliminates billions of dollars in subsidies to wasteful private lenders. Last September, by a 253-171 vote, the House of Representatives passed this landmark student lending legislation. Now, SAFRA is a Senate vote away from the President’s desk, and a group of Republicans and conservative Democrats, buoyed by "an aggressive lobbying campaign by the nation’s biggest student lenders," is all that stands in the way of creating a more just and cost-efficient federal student lending system. Additionally, there are reports circulating that Senate Democrats may pair their "overhaul of federal student lending with healthcare reform" in one reconciliation package, which would allow SAFRA to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate and avoid a filibuster by lender-friendly conservatives.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 12:19 pm

Is Science A Belief? Is Religion A Science? Recent Research

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Intriguing post by Rycharde Manne:

“Is religion a science?” This may seem an odd question with which to start, but this is the very first question Aquinas asks in his monumental Summa Theologica. “Among the philosophical sciences one is speculative the other practical [natural philosophy], nevertheless sacred doctrine [Roman Catholicism] includes both; as God, by one and the same science, knows both Himself and His works.” For Aquinas, not only is theology both a speculative and natural philosophy but it is also superior to both, in as much as it is guided by divine knowledge, which cannot be misled, and has as its end ultimate bliss, towards which all other sciences strive too.

Admittedly, this was written in the 13th century and what we translate as “science” (scientia) is often synonymous with “knowledge”, but it is nevertheless recognisable that science is defined as a natural philosophy guided by our rational faculty, in contrast to “wisdom” (sapientia), which alleges knowledge of the divine through the light of faith. In the absence of personal wisdom, belief in sacred doctrines (which cannot err) is sufficient to ensure eternal bliss. To Christians who agree with Aquinas a brand of natural theology is thus always superior to mere natural philosophy, even if at times they appear to be the same.

But what if we turn the question around:”Is science a religion?” or “Is science a belief?” The philosophy of science makes no claims to knowledge about the supernatural or metaphysical and, by not so doing, is left with an enterprise that although hugely successful is also permanently on probation. The only thing scientists can agree upon is the empirical nature of science, but the steps from observations to theory are not without philosophical problems. Thomas Kuhn thinks that scientific paradigms are essentially pictures of the world that are consistent with observations and logically coherent. But such pictures are necessarily always incomplete – at least until such time as we know everything – and our minds seem to struggle to accept this; it seems like there is an aesthetic compulsion to create harmonious images, even if that means filling in the spaces with metaphysical constructs. If both the sciences and religions are mental constructs are they both being sustained by human beliefs? Moving away from speculative into natural philosophy, what do we actually mean by having a belief?

Two ground-breaking papers from researchers at UCLA start to shed some light on the nature of belief: “The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief” and “Functional Neuroimaging of Belief, Disbelief and Uncertainty”. The “fMRI of Belief” concentrates on the initial results whereas the “Neural Correlates” paper looks more deeply at the implications for religious beliefs.

The fMRIs of Belief

The researchers “used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of 14 adults while they judged written statements to be “true” (belief), “false” (disbelief), or “undecidable” (uncertainty). To characterize belief, disbelief, and uncertainty in a content-independent manner, we included statements from a wide range of categories: autobiographical, mathematical, geographical, religious, ethical, semantic, and factual.” The full details can be read at the “fMRI of Belief” paper…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 12:17 pm

Social science and natural science

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Interesting post by Nicholas Horton:

Social Scientist have contended for much of the last century that we cannot approach the study of human behavior with the same tools that we would use to study the natural world.  This is hogwash.  And I think Karl Popper, the great 20th century philosopher, would agree with me. Humans are animals, they are made up of chemicals and cells, their behavior is determined by a complex interaction of chemical processes and their lives are a network of cause and effect relations with other animals (some of which we’d call human).   If we are ever going to get a solid grasp on our own behavior, we’ll need to use the items from the large and well developed toolbox of natural science.

Falsifiability and Objective Reality

Karl Popper believed that a theory is scientific if and only if it is falsifiable.  Most scientists would agree with this statement, and in fact would be shocked by anyone who didn’t.  (This may be why natural scientists and social scientists don’t tend to hang out together!)  But, falsifiability presupposes a belief in an Enlightenment-style “objective” reality beyond that of our own minds.  In much of social science, especially in sociology and psychology, there is a powerful belief in a post-modern relativism that rejects an objective reality. That is to say, they don’t believe that there is a truth that is inherent to the objects of study themselves.

Without a belief in an objective truth outside the mind of the observer, it is impossible to even discuss what it would mean to falsify a statement.  Therefore, you cannot use Poppers falsifiability axiom as a demarcation line for what is and isn’t science.  And now we allow in all sorts of unfalsifiable statements and theories simply because who is to say what is and is not objectively true?  This is not good science.  But, it defines much of what passes for science in the world of social inquiry.

Now, it must be said, that the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. But, most relativists are basing their relativism on what I’d consider a false understanding of some basic ideas.  Among the more common things I hear when encountering someone who is a hardcore relativist, who wants to impress me (knowing that I’m a mathematician) is with the idea of quantum physics.  It usually goes something like this, “hey, man, you know that every time we observe a particle we change its state.  So, everything is relative.  Our presence changes what we observe.  There is a reflexivity between us and the object.  There is no way to know what’s what if every time observe something that something changes.  Reality can be and is manipulated.”

OK, true.  But it’s missing the point…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

When pundits reveal their ignorance

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It’s really too bad that pundits seem totally free of accountability regarding lies, erroneous statements, terrible ignorance, and the like. Matt Yglesias points out some knowledge problems from which Jacob Weisberg suffers:

I think virtually every sentence of this Jacob Weisberg column from earlier in the week is tendentious. But I wanted to highlight one particular sentence, which seems to illustrate the informal rule of American journalism that any old wild assertion about the evils of big government Europe is within bounds: ” A government that constitutes half of a country’s economy, like those in Western Europe, produces a very different society over time than one that eats up only a third of the economy.”

Based on Weisberg’s sentence, how many countries “in Western Europe” would you estimate have taxes at or above 50 percent of GDP? It’s not totally clear how many countries are even in Western Europe. But let’s take that to mean non-Communist Europe before 1989—Portugal, Spain, Ireland, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, and Finland. How many of them have “a government that constitutes half of a country’s economy?” A dozen? Ten? Five? Four?

Would you believe that according to the OECD the answer is zero!

Indeed, a whole bunch of Western European countries—Greece, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, the UK, Luxembourg, Spain, and the Netherlands—including the largest Western European country appear to be below 40 percent of GDP.

Click graph to enlarge.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 11:45 am

Cute little guy

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 11:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Got data? Use Tableau

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Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 11:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

HelpGuide.org

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Via Kafeneio, let me draw your attention to HelpGuide.org, a very useful site to help in a variety of areas. From the About page:

Helpguide’s mission is to help people understand, prevent, and resolve life’s challenges. We empower people with knowledge and hope. Our goal is to give you the information and encouragement you need to take charge of your health and well-being and make healthy choices.

Robert and Jeanne Segal spearheaded the founding of this project in 1999, following the suicide of their daughter, Morgan. We believe that Morgan’s tragedy could have been avoided if she had had easy access to supportive health information. Our mission is to honor her memory and compassionate spirit by providing balanced, up-to-date, and motivating information about mental health and lifelong wellness. See Helpguide’s Story.

Helpguide relies on the generosity of our readers and supporters. The website is entirely funded by charitable contributions. We do not accept advertising, allowing us complete editorial autonomy. We devote our entire space to expert, unbiased articles that are easy-to-read, ad-free, and above all, helpful! …

The Helpguide team

Our team consists of health experts, writers, and web professionals. We strive to offer a balanced view, with a focus on information you can use to help yourself.

Our editorial team

Robert Segal, M.A., Director and Co-founder, spearheads the organization and management of the creative process. He has 53 years experience coordinating projects ranging from aircraft identification systems to Holistic Health conferences to boutique office buildings to Helpguide. His goal is to foster a synergy of creativity, collaboration, communication, humor and hard work. He gets his stress relief on the golf course.

Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Managing Editor and Co-founder, is a sociologist, psychologist, and author. For over 35 years, Dr. Segal has explored Emotional Intelligence, helping people enhance their lives and improve their relationships. Her books have been translated into thirteen languages. Dr. Segal focuses on how individuals can empower themselves and bring about life-altering social and emotional change.

Melinda Smith, M.A., has a master’s degree in psychology and over ten years experience as a health writer and editor. She is passionate about keeping up with the latest research and giving readers the facts they need to make better choices and take control of their mental health. She has significantly impacted virtually all of our mental health articles.

Gina Kemp, M.A., has collaborated on over forty Helpguide articles. She has over 15 years experience as a writer, editor and producer of content for online and print publications for corporate, academic and non-profit clients. She is constantly testing parenting skills and advice as the mother of two young children.

Joanna Saisan, MSW, has contributed to Helpguide for over five years. Among her areas of expertise are mental health, older adults, health education and working with veterans. In her spare time she enjoys yoga, hiking, and spending time with her family.

Maya W. Paul, Certified Holistic Health Counselor, is updating our Diet & Nutrition section. She works to transform the lives of her clients through a focus on nutrition and cooking. She loves to experiment with recipes, play soccer, and meditate.

Jocelyn Block is a writer, editor, and teacher with her master’s in English/Creative Writing. She is passionate about the power words have to educate, illuminate, and empower. As a new mother with questions and concerns of her own, she understands the importance of accessible and accurate information.

Good page to bookmark.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 11:24 am

Israel continues to work to undermine peace

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Israel seems determined that there be war in the Middle East, presumably because they think they would come out winners. I think they are extraordinarily short-sighted in their approach. Matt Duss at ThinkProgress:

On Monday, the day Vice-President Joe Biden was to arrive in Israel, the Israeli government announced approval for 112 new homes in Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, despite having agreed in November to curb settlement growth in partial fulfillment of Israel’s obligations under the Bush administration road map.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Interior Ministry announced plans “to build 1,600 new housing units for Jews” in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Biden released this statement in response:

I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel. We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai apologized on Wednesday “for causing domestic and international distress” with the timing of the announcement, and Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly told Biden, “No one was seeking to embarrass you or undermine your visit — on the contrary, you are a true friend to Israel.” But Meir Margalit, a member of Jerusalem’s City Council told Israel’s Ynet News that the ministry “meant to sabotage the announcement that Netanyahu issued today regarding the renewal of indirect negotiations with the Palestinians. It is also a kind of slap in the face of the American administration.”

Despite Netanyahu’s apology, his position in favor of settlement expansion is clear. As Max Blumenthal reports, “a day before Biden’s arrival, Netanyahu appeared onstage with Pastor John Hagee in Jerusalem.” Hagee is a radical American cleric who opposes the two-state solution and supports unlimited Israeli settlement expansion with millions of American dollars. “If America puts pressure on Israel to divide Jerusalem we are following the blueprint of the Prince of Darkness,” Hagee has said. “Amos 3:2 states that any nation that divides the Land of Israel will come under the severe judgment of God.”

Hagee’s views are 180 degrees opposite of the goals of the United States and the international community to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu’s appearing onstage with Hagee is a strong indication that his stated support for the creation of a Palestinian state is less than genuine.

So far as I can tell, Israel has no interest in peace or justice. They seem to want more attacks, more war, more Palestinians dead. Their solution to the problem of the Palestinians seems to be to kill them all.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 11:20 am

BIG omission in medical research

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Kevin Drum:

In the LA Times today, researchers Michael Hochman and Danny McCormick explain the sorry state of comparative medical research today. On a broad range of topics, we simply don’t know which treatments work best:

In this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn., we report the results of a study that may help explain why we don’t. In the study, we analyzed 328 medication studies recently published in six top medical journals and found that just 32% were aimed at determining which available treatment is best. The rest were either aimed at bringing a new therapy to market or simply compared a medication with a placebo. Whether the therapy was better or worse than other treatments was simply not addressed.

….Why [] did only a third of medication studies focus on helping doctors use existing therapies more effectively? The answer lies in the fact that pharmaceutical companies fund nearly half of all medication research, including the lion’s share of large clinical trials. For obvious reasons, commercially funded research is primarily geared toward the development of new and marketable medications and technologies. Once these products have won approval for clinical use, companies no longer have incentives to study exactly how and when they should be used.

At the risk of joining the forces of socialism and death panelism, this is why the federal government should be funding a lot more of these studies. The free market won’t do it — in fact, in many cases the free market actively resists studies like this — and our lives are shorter and poorer for it. Our lives are, quite possibly, also more expensive for it, since the most effective treatments aren’t always the most expensive ones.

And you know what would help fund more of these studies? The Democratic healthcare bill! Wouldn’t it be great if that passed?

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 11:16 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Did Marine Corps hide Camp Lejeune benzene data?

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Barbara Barrett at McClatchy newspapers:

Congressional investigators late Tuesday requested detailed documents from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and a private contractor that was involved in the testing and cleanup of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, N.C., over the past two decades.

More letters to the Environmental Protection Agency and a second private contractor are expected this week.

Among investigators’ questions: why a federal agency charged with understanding the health impacts of the contamination didn’t realize until recently that benzene — a fuel solvent known to cause cancer in humans — was among the substances found in drinking water at Camp Lejeune.

For years, the Marines apparently didn’t provide documents about the benzene to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which has worked for nearly two decades to understand the contamination and its health impacts, said Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., the chairman of the oversight panel on the House Science and Technology Committee.

"We want to know what did (the Navy and the Marine Corps) know about the water, when did they know and what did they do about it," Miller said in an interview.

"Did they know about it during the 30 years when Marines and families were exposed to the water?" Miller asked. "Did they know about it and not do anything to stop it?"

In his letter, Miller told Mabus that he wants access by next Monday to a password-protected online database that contains thousands of records related to the contamination, thought to have occurred from 1957 to 1987.

The database hasn’t been made public. It was finally made accessible to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry last year.

The agency tossed out a 1997 study on health effects after it learned that benzene was among the chemicals in the water. Until then, Miller wrote Mabus, the agency didn’t have the documents it needed to complete its work.

Navy spokeswoman Lt. j.g. Laura Stegherr said late Tuesday that she was looking into the matter.

McClatchy reported last month that newly revealed documents show that upward of 800,000 gallons of fuel leaked from underground storage tanks near a well that served base barracks, officers’ quarters and the hospital, an indication that benzene may have played a much more significant role in the contamination than previously had been known publicly.

Many documents McClatchy reviewed make repeated references to benzene.

At a 1988 meeting of federal, state and Lejeune environmental officials, for example, a contractor talked about the benzene contamination and described the water as "toxic enough for you that you don’t want to touch that water." …

Continue reading. More on this story:

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 10:48 am

More evidence about Gulf War illness

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Janet Raloff in Science News:

Nearly two decades after vets began returning from the Middle East complaining of Gulf War Syndrome, the federal government has yet to formally accept that their vague jumble of symptoms constitutes a legitimate illness. Here, at the Society of Toxicology annual meeting, yesterday, researchers rolled out a host of brain images – various types of magnetic-resonance scans and brain-wave measurements – that they say graphically and unambiguously depict Gulf War Syndrome.

Or syndromes. Because Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and the research team he heads have identified three discrete subtypes. Each is characterized by a different suite of symptoms. And the new imaging linked each illness with a distinct – and different – series of abnormalities in the brain.

Men with the same symptoms exhibited similar brain changes, features starkly different from healthy vets their age who had served in the same battalions. (That said, a few vets’ symptoms seemed to encompass more than one syndrome. And in such instances, imaging confirmed their brains showed impairments that extended beyond those associated with a single syndrome.)

Since the early 1990s, some 175,000 U.S. troops have returned from service in the first Gulf War reporting a host of vague complaints, notes Richard Briggs, a physical chemist at UT Southwestern involved in the new imaging. Their symptoms ranged from mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, attacks of sudden vertigo and intense uncontrollable mood swings to extreme fatigue and sometimes numbness – or the opposite, constant body pain.

With funding from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, Haley has assembled a team of roughly 140 researchers. Many work with patients. Others are developing new animal, biochemical and genetic studies to identify the biological perturbations underlying Gulf War Illness. But the vast majority – some two-thirds of these scientists – are now involved in brain imaging.

As a result of these studies, Briggs says, “In the last two years we have learned more about Gulf War Illness than we did in the previous 15.”

What’s emerged is evidence to suggest “that there are three major syndromes responsible for Gulf War Illness,” he says. They appear loosely linked to at least three different types of agents to which many troops were exposed: sarin nerve gas, a nerve gas antidote (pyridostigmine bromide) that presented its own risks, and military-grade pesticides to prevent illness from sand flies and other noxious pests. But Briggs acknowledges that no one knows for sure which combination of agents or environmental conditions might have conspired to trigger Gulf War illness.

What is clear, he says, is that “our data now clearly show, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are brain abnormalities – physiological differences – between ill veterans and normal ones.” And from the new scans, “we can tell the ill veterans from the well veterans. And we can distinguish syndromes one, two and three from each other.”

The new neuroimaging on a subset of 57 Gulf War vets was completed eight months ago. Yesterday’s presentations represent an unveiling of …

Continue reading. X-ray images at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 10:44 am

Waterboarding details show: It was torture

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I never had any doubt that waterboarding was torture, but some claim to find that it’s harmless. Mark Benjamin at Salon:

Self-proclaimed waterboarding fan Dick Cheney called it a no-brainer in a 2006 radio interview: Terror suspects should get a "a dunk in the water." But recently released internal documents reveal the controversial "enhanced interrogation" practice was far more brutal on detainees than Cheney’s description sounds, and was administered with meticulous cruelty.

Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney "specially designed" to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner’s nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.

The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding "session." Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to "dam the runoff" and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee’s mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second "applications" of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee’s nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.

"This is revolting and it is deeply disturbing," said Dr. Scott Allen, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University who has reviewed all of the documents for Physicians for Human Rights. "The so-called science here is a total departure from any ethics or any legitimate purpose. They are saying, ‘This is how risky and harmful the procedure is, but we are still going to do it.’ It just sounds like lunacy," he said. "This fine-tuning of torture is unethical, incompetent and a disgrace to medicine."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 10:20 am

Study finds that impact of Cash for Clunkers was greater than thought

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Randolph Hester in the Kansas City Star:

Search online for "Cash for Clunkers," and here’s one thing you’ll find: stories about its negligible overall impact on the economy.

Wrong, says Maritz Automotive Research Group. The Toledo, Ohio, independent automotive research company recently surveyed participants in last summer’s federal program designed to stimulate new-car sales and get gas-guzzlers off the road. On Tuesday, the company shared its results.

One key finding: 90 percent of those participating in Cash for Clunkers said they would not otherwise have bought a new car.

According to federal government data, 677,000 purchases were made through Cash for Clunkers from late July through August. Maritz’s research showed that 542,000 were incremental new car or truck sales, meaning those purchases would not have occurred without the incentives. Previous estimates by industry analysts put the incremental sales figure between 125,000 and 346,000.

The government’s Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS, offered vouchers of $3,500 or $4,500 to owners of older, gas-guzzling vehicles who traded them in for new, fuel-efficient models. The program, which was expected to last several months, was so popular that it ran out of its $3 billion in funding in two months.

“Our findings not only provide strong evidence that many more vehicles were sold as a direct result of the incentive program than were previously estimated, but they also debunk the myth that Cash for Clunkers mortgaged future car and truck sales,” said Dave Fish, a Maritz vice president. “In fact, the program resulted in sales of vehicles to people who don’t normally buy them.”

While auto sales dipped in September after Cash for Clunkers ended, Maritz noted that the most likely reason was a shortage of vehicles on dealer lots. After seasonal adjustments, monthly auto sales from October to December showed higher rates than before Cash for Clunkers started.

Cash for Clunkers brought additional people into the new-car market — those who normally buy used cars, Fish said…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 9:24 am

Honoring the trades

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John Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under Lyndon Johnson, famously said:

The most important moral of all is that excellence is where you find it. I would extend this generalization to cover not just higher education but all education from vocational high school to graduate school. We must learn to honor excellence, indeed to demand it in every socially accepted human activity, however humble that activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

France is taking action to build prestige for the trades. Devorah Lauter in the LA Times:

Reporting from Jarny, France – Most of the storefronts on Jean Jaures Avenue in this small mining town are boarded up and appear abandoned. But in the brightly lighted window of Franck Fresson’s pastry shop, tropical flowers intertwine with wild beasts made of sugar.

Inside, chocolate figurines and an array of cakes sit like colorful, edible jewels. Behind the counter, Fresson’s mother serves the customers who travel across the countryside to this shop, which belonged to Fresson’s grandfather before him.

Today, Fresson oversees every detail, arranging the glistening cakes in "harmonious," color-sensitive order. His desserts, miniature sculptures, are layers of taste and texture that one must bite through all at once, he instructs. Even their exterior beauty is important, and a sign of the pleasure Fresson takes in his work.

"Making something beautiful is like breathing," he says. "I know a lot of guys who make crap, and they aren’t happy. My guys are happy about what they do, they’re proud."

He once didn’t have such confidence. Then he won the pastry competition for "Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France," or the "Best Craftsmen in France," known as the MOF for short.

Surviving the contest, Fresson says, is not unlike coming back from war.

"It’s a mythic competition" that "changes how people see you," he says.

The contest, which is held every three years and singles out France’s best in crafts varying from cuisine to carpentry and electrical work, was established in 1924 to give craftsmen a measure of prestige in the public’s eye.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 9:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

A Floris shave

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Very nice shave today. The Floris London JF shaving soap and the Rooney Style 3 Size 2 Super Silvertip worked together well and produced a very fine lather, smoothly removed (along with the stubble) by the Progress. Three passes, a splash of Floris JF aftershave, and I’m on my way to cleaning up the apartment for the cleaning ladies.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2010 at 9:06 am

Posted in Shaving

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