Later On

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

Archive for August 12th, 2010

Terrific nonfiction book about the movie biz

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It’s not recent, but it’s absolutely terrific: fast-paced, well written, vivid and bizarre: everything that makes for great summer reading. Indecent Exposure:  A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street, by David McClintick. Link is to secondhand hardbound copies. I don’t think it would do well as a mass-market paperback.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Movies & TV

Feeling judged implicitly

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Trent Hamm has quite an interesting post at The Simple Dollar on how relating some personal information about yourself that is outside the norm seems to make many people feel defensive, as if they are being judged.

It strikes me that most of us (some projection here, I’m sure) sort of work things out as they come up, taking a position that we work out for ourselves at the time and, as the default, maintain until something brings it up for inspection and discussion, at which point we may change our position.

In other words, most of us go through life making it up as we go along: winging it.

So when we encounter someone who has thought through things to reach a different position, it reminds us that we never did quite work out the details but just took our position and ran with it. So it’s very easy to feel caught out, guilty, judged, and insecure.

I don’t know that that’s the cause, of course, but it seems like one possibility.

Obviously, a more mature reaction is to switch to learning mode and see what you can learn from someone who’s taken a different approach: find out the reasons, see if they apply to you, and discuss and invent more options.

But, yeah, most people just get defensive.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life

Moroccan Chickpea-Barley salad

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This sounds very good. The ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups barley
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil
  • 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and strained
  • 1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
  • 1 cup diced dried apricots
  • 2-3 chopped green onions or scallions
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • Zest and juice of a lemon
  • 1 Tbsp of ras el hanout spice mix*
  • Salt to taste

*Ras El Hanout Spice Mix:

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 11:11 am

Does the FDA have a drug problem?

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Massimo Calabresi in TIME:

Five days before a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the diabetes drug Avandia was linked to a 43% increase in heart attacks compared with other medications or placebos, a group of scientists and executives from the drug’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), gathered in a conference room at the offices of the Food and Drug Administration in White Oak, Md. The GSK goal: to convince regulators that the evidence that the company’s $3 billion-a-year blockbuster drug caused heart problems was inconclusive. To do that, the GSK officials focused not on heart-attack data but on a broader, less well defined category of heart problems called myocardial ischemia. The most recent studies of Avandia, the GSK officials told the FDA, had "yielded information that is inconsistent with an increased risk of myocardial ischemic events," according to sealed court proceedings obtained by TIME.

What GSK didn’t tell the FDA was that on May 14, 2007, two days before the White Oak meeting, GSK’s Global Safety Board had noted that a new assessment of Avandia studies "strengthens the [cardiac-risk] signal observed in the [previous] analysis." Or that eight days earlier, the company’s head of research and development, Moncef Slaoui, had sent an e-mail to its chief medical officer saying Avandia patients showed an "increased risk of ischemic event ranging from 30% to 43%!" Or that the day before the meeting, the company had produced a preliminary draft report that showed patients on Avandia had a 46% greater likelihood of heart attack than those in a control group.(See how to prevent illness at any age.)

But the mixed-evidence argument GSK presented to the FDA worked. After months of deliberation, the agency decided to keep the drug on the market — a move worth billions of dollars to GSK but that also may have put millions of patients at risk.

Such examples of the drug industry’s outmaneuvering FDA regulators are disturbingly common, say both scientists and policymakers who follow drug approval and safety monitoring. More than 140 million Americans take at least one prescription drug in any given month, and they rely on the FDA to ensure those drugs are safe. That trust, the story of Avandia illustrates, is a gamble. In July, an FDA advisory group conducted the second hearing on the drug’s safety since its 1999 approval and again concluded that the evidence against the drug was insufficient to pull it from the market. The group instead recommended additional warnings and restrictions on Avandia’s use. In the coming weeks, the FDA will decide whether to take that advice or withdraw Avandia from the market…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 11:07 am

Sexy undo-closed-tab

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For Google Chrome.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 11:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Why Jeffrey Goldberg should be ignored

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Jeffrey Goldberg, in the new cover story in The Atlantic, on an Israeli attack on Iran:

Israel has twice before successfully attacked and destroyed an enemy’s nuclear program. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting — forever, as it turned out — Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions; and in 2007, Israeli planes destroyed a North Korean-built reactor in Syria.  An attack on Iran, then, would be unprecedented only in scope and complexity.

Good news!  Israel can successfully end a country’s nuclear program by bombing them, as proven by its 1981 attack on Iraq, which, says Goldberg, halted "forever, as it turned out — Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions."

Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, 2002, trying to convince Americans to fear Iraq:

Saddam Hussein never gave up his hope of turning Iraq into a nuclear power. After the Osirak attack, he rebuilt, redoubled his efforts, and dispersed his facilities. Those who have followed Saddam’s progress believe that no single strike today would eradicate his nuclear program.

When it suited him back then, Goldberg made the exact opposite claim, literally, of the one he makes today.  Back then, Goldberg wouldn’t possibly claim what he claims now — that the 1981 strike permanently halted Saddam’s "nuclear ambitions" — because, back then, his goal was to scare Americans about The Threat of Saddam.  So in 2002, Goldberg warned Americans that Saddam had "redoubled" his efforts to turn Iraq into a nuclear power after the Israeli attack, i.e., that Saddam had a scarier nuclear program than ever before after the 1981 bombing raid.  But now, Goldberg has a different goal:  to convince Americans of the efficacy of bombing Iran, and thus, without batting an eye, he simply asserts the exact opposite factual premise:  that the Israelis successfully and permanently ended Saddam’s nuclear ambition back in 1981 by bombing it out of existence (and, therefore, we can do something similar now to Iran).

This is what a propagandist, by definition, does:  asserts any claim as fact in service of a concealed agenda without the slightest concern for whether it’s true.  Will the existence of a vast and menacing Iraqi nuclear program help my cause (getting Americans to attack Iraq)?  Fine, then I’ll trumpet that.  Now, however, it will help my cause (mainstreaming an attack on Iran) to claim that the Israelis permanently ended Iraq’s nuclear efforts in 1981, thus showing how well these attacks can work.  No problem:  I’ll go with that.  How can anyone take seriously — as a Middle East expert and especially as a journalist — someone with this blatant and thorough of an estrangement from any concern for truth?  Can anyone reconcile these factual claims?

Jonathan Schwarz, who flagged this contradiction, documents how Goldberg’s dishonest propaganda begins in the very first sentence of his new Atlantic article, which reads:  "It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons."  Schwarz explains the obvious: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 9:52 am

Reagan’s budget director speaks out

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Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 9:44 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

Kids tend to have diets deficient in 4 essential nutrients

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 9:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

More pepper sauce

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Around here, the red Fresno peppers don’t hit the stores until August, so this is the time I make pepper sauce. Each batch is somewhat different. Here’s what I’m bottling now:

One qt of ripe red Fresno peppers, stem cut off
1 small can chipotle peppers (otherwise I used dried chipotles)
2 dried ancho peppers
1/4 cup kosher salt

Put the above in a blender, add sufficient vinegar to barely cover. You can use white vinegar, but this batch has a combination of tarragon white-wine vinegar and golden balsamic vinegar. Also, in this batch I added half a dozen or so large cloves of garlic, peeled.

Blend until smooth, pour in a pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool for 20 minutes, then pour back into the blender and blend again.

Use a funnel to pour sauce into bottles and cap. I use these bottles.

With all the vinegar and salt, I’ve not refrigerated this sauce, but feel free. I find the homemade sauce has a better taste than the commercial stuff.

Sometimes I add 6-8 habanero peppers to the batch, discarding the stem. Since it’s a pepper sauce, just leave the seeds and ribs.

Other things that can be added: bourbon, rum, ketchup (not much), …

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 9:26 am

Two tax plans, compared

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Taxes cut by income level, proportional to area of disk. Graph from here.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 9:10 am

Matt Taibbi: Wall Street’s Big Win

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Matt Taibbi reports in Rolling Stone:

Cue the credits: the era of financial thuggery is officially over. Three hellish years of panic, all done and gone – the mass bankruptcies, midnight bailouts, shotgun mergers of dying megabanks, high-stakes SEC investigations, all capped by a legislative orgy in which industry lobbyists hurled more than $600 million at Congress. It all supposedly came to an end one Wednesday morning a few weeks back, when President Obama, flanked by hundreds of party flacks and congressional bigwigs, stepped up to the lectern at an extravagant ceremony to sign into law his sweeping new bill to clean up Wall Street.

Obama’s speech introducing the massive law brimmed with celebratory finality. He threw around lofty phrases like "never again" and "no more." He proclaimed the end of unfair credit-card-rate hikes and issued a fatwa on abusive mortgage practices and the shady loans that helped fuel the debt bubble. The message was clear: The sheriff was padlocking the Wall Street casino, and the government was taking decisive steps to unfuck our hopelessly broken economy.

But is the nightmare really over, or is this just another Inception-style trick ending? It’s hard to figure, given all the absurd rhetoric emanating from the leadership of both parties. Obama and the Democrats boasted that the bill is the "toughest financial reform since the ones we created in the aftermath of the Great Depression" – a claim that would maybe be more impressive if Congress had passed any financial reforms since the Great Depression, or at least any that didn’t specifically involve radically undoing the Depression-era laws.

The Republicans, meanwhile, were predictably hysterical. They described the new law – officially known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – as something not far from a full-blown Marxist seizure of the means of production. House Minority Leader John Boehner shrieked that it was like "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," apparently forgetting that the ant crisis in question wiped out about 40 percent of the world’s wealth in a little over a year, making its smallness highly debatable. 

But Dodd-Frank was neither an FDR-style, paradigm-shifting reform, nor a historic assault on free enterprise. What it was, ultimately, was a cop-out, a Band-Aid on a severed artery. If it marks the end of anything at all, it represents the end of the best opportunity we had to do something real about the criminal hijacking of America’s financial-services industry. During the yearlong legislative battle that forged this bill, Congress took a long, hard look at the shape of the modern American economy – and then decided that it didn’t have the stones to wipe out our country’s one ­dependably thriving profit center: theft.

It’s not that there’s nothing good in the bill. In fact, there are many good things in it, even some historic things. Sen. Bernie Sanders and others won a fight to allow Congress to audit the Fed’s books for the first time ever. A new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to protect against predatory lending and other abuses. New lending standards will be employed in the mortgage industry; no more meth addicts buying mansions with credit cards. And in perhaps the biggest win of all, there will be new rules forcing some varieties of derivatives – the arcane instruments that Warren Buffett called "financial weapons of mass destruction" – to be traded and cleared on open exchanges, pushing what had been a completely opaque market into the light of day for the first time.

All of this is great, but taken together, these reforms fail to address even a tenth of the real problem. Worse: They fail to even define what the real problem is. Over a long year of feverish lobbying and brutally intense backroom negotiations, a group of D.C. insiders fought over a single question: Just how much of the truth about the financial crisis should we share with the public? Do we admit that control over the economy in the past decade was ceded to a small group of rapacious criminals who to this day are engaged in a mind- numbing campaign of theft on a global scale? Or do we pretend that, minus a few bumps in the road that have mostly been smoothed out, the clean-hands capitalism of Adam Smith still rules the day in America? In other words, do people need to know the real version, in all its majestic whorebotchery, or can we get away with some bullshit cover story?

In passing Dodd-Frank, they went with the cover story…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 9:03 am

More Good News on Social Security

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Neil Buchanan at FindLaw:

Last week, the Trustees of the Social Security system released their 2010 annual report.  Unsurprisingly, this news event served as an opportunity for many long-time opponents of the system to argue that Social Security is doomed and must be either dismantled, privatized, or significantly revamped.  Once again, however, the report itself shows that the nation’s retirement system is fundamentally healthy.

This year’s annual report was delayed for several months, because the report on Medicare’s finances is issued at the same time as the Social Security report.  Because of the passage of the health-care bill earlier this year, the Trustees needed additional time in order to produce estimates of the effects of that legislation on Medicare.  As it turned out, the new health-care law has extended the exhaustion date of the Medicare trust fund from 2017 to 2029.

That good news was amplified by forecasts showing that Social Security’s long-term financial picture has not changed, compared to last year’s forecasts, even though the recession has continued its grim hold on the economy.  If anything, Social Security looks slightly better this year than it did a year ago.

In this column, I will first describe the major findings of the Social Security Trustees’ report.  I will then turn to the arguments that the system must be "fixed" as soon as possible — arguments that stubbornly refuse to go away, even in the face of the clear facts about Social Security’s continuing viability.

Most importantly, I will argue that adopting unnecessary fixes today will actually worsen the cynicism among younger workers, too many of whom already believe that Social Security will not be there when they retire.  They are wrong in that belief, but efforts to change Social Security will only make their cynicism grow.

The Short-Run Forecasts: Focusing on an Unimportant Issue

This year, the release of the Trustees’ annual report was accompanied by a discussion of the short-term finances of the Social Security system.  As the headline in The New York Times put it: "Medicare Stronger, Social Security Worse in Short Run, Report Finds."  The way in which Social Security’s short-run situation is worse was described by Treasury Secretary Geithner, who said that Social Security’s benefits "are expected to exceed tax revenue for the first time this year, six years earlier than was projected last year."

As I discussed in a FindLaw column earlier this year, this supposed short-run problem is completely meaningless…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Moving From South Asia to U.S.

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We’re all in this together—when we help others, we help ourselves. Donald McNeil, Jr., reports in the NY Times:

A dangerous new mutation that makes some bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics has become increasingly common in India and Pakistan and is being found in patients in Britain and the United States who got medical care in those countries, according to new studies.

Experts in antibiotic resistance called the gene mutation, named NDM-1, “worrying” and “ominous,” and they said they feared it would spread globally.

But they also put it in perspective: there are numerous strains of antibiotic-resistant germs, and although they have killed many patients in hospitals and nursing homes, none have yet lived up to the “superbug” and “flesh-eating bacteria” hyperbole that greets the discovery of each new one.

“They’re all bad,” said Dr. Martin J. Blaser, chairman of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center. “Is NDM-1 more worrisome than MRSA? It’s too early to judge.”

(MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is a hard-to-treat bacterium that used to cause problems only in hospitals but is now found in gyms, prisons and nurseries, and is occasionally picked up by healthy people through cuts and scrapes.)

Bacteria with the NDM-1 gene are resistant even to the antibiotics called carbapenems, used as a last resort when common antibiotics have failed. The mutation has been found in E. coli and in Klebsiella pneumoniae, a frequent culprit in respiratory and urinary infections.

“I would not like to be working at a hospital where this was introduced,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. “It could take months before you got rid of it, and treating individual patients with it could be very difficult.”

A study tracking the spread of the mutation from India and Pakistan to Britain was published online on Tuesday in the journal Lancet.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the first three cases of NDM-1 resistance in this country and advised doctors to watch for it in patients who had received medical care in South Asia. The initials stand for New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase.

“Medical tourism” to India for many surgeries — cosmetic, dental and even organ transplants — is becoming more common  …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 8:19 am

On domestic and international fronts, reform calls gather mainstream support

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Interesting post at Transform:

There have been two very positive developments for drug law reform in the last few days: On Sunday, The Observer newspaper ran a series of pro reform news and comment features alongside arguably the most unambiguous call for a debate on alternatives to the drug war, including regulation, yet to emerge from a UK broadsheet. Meanwhile, the previous week witnessed the debate making a significant step forward in Mexico when President Calderon joined calls for a debate on legalisation as a response to the country’s growing crisis, followed by a clear call for legalisation and regulation by his presidential predecessor Vicente Fox – both statements receiving massive international media coverage.

  • The Observer.

The first piece in the news section united these recent developments. Titled ‘War on drugs: why the US and Latin America could be ready to end a fruitless 40-year struggle’, with the subheading:

‘Mexico’s president Felipe Caldéron is the latest Latin leader to call for a debate on drugs legalisation. And in the US, liberals and right-wing libertarians are pressing for an end to prohibition. Forty years after President Nixon launched the ‘war on drugs’ there is a growing momentum to abandon the fight’

The coverage then describes some of the developments in the Americas, from the Mexican president’s recent comments through to the growing cannabis law reform activity in California and elsewhere in the US.

A second piece in the Observer is a drug law reform op-ed (also using the Mexican presidential comments as its launch pad) titled ‘Drugs: the problem is more than just the substances, it’s the prohibition itself’ by Maria Lucia Karam, a retired Brazilian judge and board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Using examples from Brazil she argues that:

‘Prohibition consigns the drug market to criminalised actors not subject to oversight of any kind. Legalisation would mean regulation and regulation is the best way to control the dangers of drug use, while cutting the cartels off at the knees’.

and that: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 8:16 am

How the Google/Verizon proposal could kill the internet in 5 years

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TYD passes along this column by Annalee Newitz:

Earlier this week Google and Verizon pledged to uphold a set of network principles that could transform the internet into a husk of its former self. Let’s look down the barrel of the Googlezon* future.

Keep in mind that the two-page Googlezon proposal, which you can read here, isn’t law, though both companies have requested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) turn it into a formal regulation. Even if it isn’t law, though, Googlezon has stated it will follow the proposal’s principles. And mostly those principles are harbingers of a dystopian media future.

Quick backgrounder on net neutrality
The Googlezon agreement was written partly in response to public interest groups and lawmakers lobbying for the US government to mandate "net neutrality." In a nutshell, net neutrality means that internet service providers like Verizon have to deliver everything – data, services, whatever – in a "neutral" way. For example, if we had net neutrality laws in the US, Verizon wouldn’t be allowed to do things like make Gmail run faster than Facebook. Neither would Verizon be able to "prejudice" its consumers against certain services, for example by making any peer-to-peer traffic run really slowly.

Google has always been a staunch supporter of net neutrality, since its income depends on people being able to access the company’s services quickly online. Imagine if Verizon demanded that Google pay extra to prevent YouTube from giving you the annoying twirly circle. Google’s business model would be crippled, and you would probably have to start paying for YouTube access.

But nobody has successfully implemented net neutrality laws in the US. So if Google wants to protect its business, it has to make deals with companies like Verizon. And here’s where things get ugly.

The internet becomes a pay-to-play medium
The the Googlezon agreement includes a section where both companies pledge to keep the "public internet" completely neutral. Verizon says it won’t privilege some services over others (unless they are "special services" or "mobile services," but we’ll get to that). And for its part, Google pledges that it will keep all of its services on the public internet.

But what the hell is this "public internet"? Isn’t all of the internet public? Obviously there are internal business and government intranets that are private, and pay-to-play services, but the internet itself is by definition public. So why all this talk from Googlezon about how they’ll keep the public internet neutral?

One simple answer, my friend: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 8:06 am

The BP Cover-Up

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Julia Whitty reports in Mother Jones:

Read also: The rest of this special report and MoJo‘s complete BP coverage.

WE’RE SWINGING ON ANCHOR this afternoon as powerful bursts of wind blow down through the Makua Valley and out to sea. The gales stop and start every 15 minutes, as abruptly as if a giant on the far side of the Hawaiian island of Oahu were switching a fan on and off. We sail at the gusts’ mercy, listing hard to starboard, then snapping hard against the anchor chain before recoiling to port. The intermittent tempests make our work harder and colder. We shiver during the microbursts, sweat during the interludes, then shiver again from our own sweat.

I’m accompanying marine ecologist Kelly Benoit-Bird of Oregon State University, physical oceanographer Margaret McManus of the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and two research assistants aboard a 32-foot former sportfishing boat named Alyce C. On the tiny aft deck, where a marlin fisher might ordinarily strap into a fighting chair, Benoit-Bird and McManus are launching packages of instruments: echo sounders tuned to five frequencies; cameras; and a host of tools designed to measure temperature, salinity, current velocity, chlorophyll fluorescence, and zooplankton abundance, all feeding into computers lashed into the tiny forward cabin.

Despite the impressive technology crammed aboard the boat, its deployment is pure 19th century. At any given time, two of us man the aft winch, launching the equipment overboard by hand, feeding out dual lines of nylon and coaxial cable, slowly wearing calluses into our gloves as we ease the instruments through the water column at roughly 33 feet per minute. Six feet shy of the bottom, 74 feet down, the rig is hauled back up, collecting data the whole way. The process is repeated around the clock for the next 24 hours, a procedure either monotonous or meditative, depending on your frame of mind. Near the bottom, McManus calls, "Making a mark." She might as well be calling "mark twain."

But whereas old-time riverboat captains sounding with lead-weighted ropes were gleaning information about safe shipping channels and shifting sandbars, we’re sounding for signs of life. To the untrained eye, the incoming echo soundings appear as waves of blue, green, and yellow scrolling horizontally across our computer monitors. To the trained eye, they appear as layers of life flooding in on darkness. Benoit-Bird points toward the screens, each one tuned to read the sonar signature of a different-size life form. "That layer is zooplankton," she says. "And that layer is fish." Suddenly, I can see a crude facsimile of the migrations of the nighttime sea…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 8:03 am

The oil’s stain on science

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Linda Hooper-Bui writes in The Scientist:

Functioning as an independent researcher in and around the Gulf of Mexico these days is no simple task. I study insect and plant communities in near-shore habitats fringing the Gulf, and my work has gotten measurably harder in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It’s not hazardous conditions associated with oil and dispersants that are hampering our scientific efforts. Rather, it’s the confidentiality agreements that come with signing up to work on large research projects shepherded by government entities and BP and the limited access to coastal areas if you’re not part of those projects that are stifling the public dissemination of data detailing the environmental impact of the catastrophe.

Some Gulf scientists have already been snatched up by corporate consulting companies with offers of $250/hour. Others are badgered for their data by governmental agencies. Some of us desire to conduct our work without lawyers, government officials, or corporate officers peering over our shoulders. In the end, it may be the independent, non-biased researchers who can deliver credible scientific results that perform the crucial function of assessing the damage wrought by this disaster…if we survive professionally.

Thanks to the National Science Foundation (NSF), some of us might. We don’t work for BP or the government’s National Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)process, which is overseen by state, tribal and federal science agencies and is partially funded by BP. We are independent scientists who want to honestly and independently examine the effects of the oil spill.

The ants, crickets, flies, bees, dragon flies, and spiders I study are important components of the coastal food web. They function as soil aerators, seed dispersers, pollinators, and food sources in complex ecosystems of the Gulf.

Insects were not a primary concern when oil was gushing into the Gulf, but now they may be the best indicator of stressor effects on the coastal northern Gulf of Mexico. Those stressors include oil, dispersants, and cleanup activities. If insect populations survive, then frogs, fish, and birds will survive. If frogs, fish, and birds are there, the fishermen and the birdwatchers will be there. The Gulf’s coastal communities will survive. But if the bugs suffer, so too will the people of the Gulf Coast.

This is why my continued research is important: to give us an idea of just how badly the health of the Gulf Coast ecosystems has been damaged and what, if anything, we can do to stave off a full-blown ecological collapse. But I am having trouble conducting my research without signing confidentiality agreements or agreeing to other conditions that restrict my ability to tell a robust and truthful scientific story.

I want to collect data to answer scientific questions absent a corporate or governmental agenda. I won’t collect data specifically to support the government’s lawsuit against BP nor will I collect data only to be used in BP’s defense. Whereas I think damage assessment is important, it’s my job to be independent — to tell an accurate, unbiased story. But because I choose not to work for BP’s consultants or NRDA, my job is difficult and access to study sites is limited.

In southern Alabama back in late May, my PhD student’s ant samples were taken away by a US Fish and Wildlife officer at a publicly accessible state Wildlife Management Area because our project hadn’t been approved by Incident Command (also called the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command— which is a joint program of BP and federal agencies, such as the Coast Guard, the Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, assembled to respond to problems related to the April 20 blowout).

We’ve had similar experiences in south Louisiana, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 7:59 am

10 Apps To Turn iPhone Into Your Best Travel Companion

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For you iPhone fans.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 7:56 am

Cloud notes

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This is sort of neat

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 7:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Mark Kleiman’s strategy for drugs

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Mark Kleiman has long studied drug policy. Here’s his current prescription in a nutshell:

Seven years ago, another blogger asked me for a post-length summary of my practical views about drug policy. What’s scary is how little has changed in the meantime. I’ve reposted that note below verbatim, with a couple of parenthetical updates.

The original note deliberately omitted the question of the hallucinogens and MDMA, which pose a different set of challenges from the drugs that cause most of our actual problems. The issue of religious/spiritual use gets especially tricky. There’s also no discussion of the medical uses of currently banned drugs. That can and should be handled through the FDA approval process; in the case of cannabis, that would require that the federal government stop obstructing medical research

Warning: Believing all of the stuff below will make people on both sides of the drug-war debate look at you funny.

1. Leave heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine illegal for non-medical use.

2. Allow use of cannabis, and growing for personal use or gratis distribution. Forbid commercial activity.

3. Shift drug law enforcement and sentencing to focus on reducing the side-effects of dealing: violence, neighborhood disruption, and the recruitment of juveniles. (Update: The High Point strategy shows how this can work.) Cut back on base sentences for drug-selling. Target a reduction in total drug-related imprisonment from 400,000 to 200,000. (Update: The current number is probably north of 500,000.)

4. Require users of expensive illicit drugs who are also criminally active to abstain from drug use as a condition of bail, probation, parole, or other supervised release. Enforce that requirement with frequent drug tests and predictable, immediate, and mild punishments for each violation. (Update: We now have a decisive proof-of-concept on this, in the form of the HOPE program.)

5. Integrate school-based and mass-media drug prevention efforts into broader efforts aimed at health risk management and self-command. Stop running drug-war propaganda as "drug abuse prevention." (Update: "Resilience" is a theme of the new national drug strategy, and some actual progress is being made.)

6. Tell the National Institute on Drug Abuse that its job is science, not providing support for drug prevention efforts or the latest proposal to stiffen drug sentences on the one hand or the drug treatment lobby on the other.

7. Expand drug treatment by convincing medical providers and their financing machinery that diagnosis of and intervention in substance abuse is an essential part of routine and acute medical care. (Update: The Affordable Care Act and laws requiring parity for drug treatment in health insurance represent movement in this direction; medical education and the actual management of health-care organizations have yet to catch up.)

8. Reduce regulatory burdens on opiate maintenance therapies: methadone, LAAM, and buprenorphine.

9. Continue to raise cigarette taxes. Identify currently addicted smokers and either give them coupons good for exemption from the taxes or just give them lump sums in cash. The point of the policy is to reduce the number of new users to somewhere near zero without impoverishing existing users, not to generate windfalls for the states. Dealing with the resulting smuggling and black-marketing should be considered drug law enforcement.

10. Raise taxes on alcohol from the current average of a dime per drink to something closer to a dollar.

11. Make getting drunk (as opposed to drinking) the object of a big negative-advertising campaign. Goal: make being drunk, or having been drunk, something people—especially young people—try to hide, rather than something they brag about.

12. Abolish the age restriction on alcohol.

Here’s a somewhat longer and more recent statement.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2010 at 7:44 am

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