Later On

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

Archive for July 22nd, 2012

Hope for controlling climate change

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Hope feels a lot better than despair. Here’s a hopeful article by David Leonhardt in the NY Times on progress in attacking climate change, and I would imagine that a couple more summers like the current summer will engage the attention of the citizenry so that more pressure in the right direction may be brought to bear. The article begins:

YOU don’t have to be a climate scientist these days to know that the climate has problems. You just have to step outside.

The United States is now enduring itswarmest year on record, and the 13 warmest years for the entire planethave all occurred since 1998, according to data that stretches back to 1880.  No one day’s weather can be tied to global warming, of course, but more than a decade’s worth of changing weather surely can be, scientists say. Meanwhile, the country often seems to be moving further away from doing something about climate change, with the issue having all but fallen out of the national debate.

Behind the scenes, however, a somewhat different story is starting to emerge — one that offers reason for optimism to anyone worried about the planet. The world’s largest economies may now be in the process of creating a climate-change response that does not depend on the politically painful process of raising the price of dirty energy. The response is not guaranteed to work, given the scale of the problem. But the early successes have been notable.

Over the last several years, the governments of the United States, Europe and China have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on clean-energy research and deployment. And despite some high-profile flops, like ethanol and Solyndra, the investments seem to be succeeding more than they are failing.

The price of solar and wind power have both fallen sharply in the last few years. This country’s largest wind farm, sprawling across eastern Oregon, is scheduled to open next month. Already, the world uses vastly more alternative energy than experts predictedonly a decade ago.

Even natural gas, a hotly debated topic among climate experts, helps make the point. Thanks in part to earlier government investments, energy companies have been able to extract much more natural gas than once seemed possible. The use of natural gas to generate electricity — far from perfectly clean but less carbon-intensive than coal use — has jumped 25 percent since 2008, while prices have fallen more than 80 percent.Natural gas now generates as much electricity as coal in the United States, which would have been unthinkable not long ago. . .

Continue reading. He makes the point that the success of alternatives makes cap-and-trade or carbon taxes not so urgent, though obviously the combination of cheaper alternatives and more expensive fossil fuels would be even better—and two more summers hotter than this summer may push cap-and-trade and/or carbon tax into the “acceptable” column even if not all the way to “desirable.” Things change.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 5:13 pm

Lawsuit over assassinations

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Charlie Savage had an interesting article in the NY Times on 18 July that I just spotted:

Relatives of three American citizens killed in drone strikes in Yemen last year filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against four senior national security officials on Wednesday. The suit, in the Federal District Court here, opened a new chapter in the legal wrangling over the Obama administration’s use of drones in pursuit of terrorism suspects away from traditional “hot” battlefields like Afghanistan.

The first strike, on Sept. 30, killed a group of people including Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico, and Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen who lived at times in Queens, Long Island and North Carolina. The second, on Oct. 14, killed a group of people including Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Colorado.

Accused in the suit of authorizing and directing the strikes are Leon E. Panetta, the secretary of defense; David H. Petraeus, the director of the C.I.A.; and two senior commanders of the military’s Special Operations forces, Adm. William H. McRaven of the Navy and Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel of the Army.

“The killings violated fundamental rights afforded to all U.S. citizens, including the right not to be deprived of life without due process of law,” the complaint says.

Press officials with the C.I.A., the Pentagon and the Justice Department declined to comment.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed by Nasser al-Awlaki, who was Anwar’s father and Abdulrahman’s grandfather, and Sarah Khan, Samir’s mother. Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights are assisting them in the legal action.

In 2010, the two groups helped Nasser al-Awlaki in an effort to obtain a court injunction against government efforts to kill his son. A federal judge threw out the case, primarily on the ground that Nasser al-Awlaki had no standing to sue in place of his son. Now Nasser al-Awlaki and Ms. Khan represent the estates of their sons and his grandson.

But the new lawsuit may face other procedural impediments before it would reach any substantive ruling on whether the strikes violated the Constitution — or even a public acknowledgment that the United States government did carry them out and an explanation of the evidence and decision-making behind them.

The Justice Department, which is likely to provide lawyers for the defendants, may ask a judge to dismiss the case by asserting that the evidence necessary to litigate it would disclose state secrets, or that decisions about whom to kill in an armed conflict are “political questions” not fit for judicial review. The government asserted both arguments in the 2010 case, and the judge who dismissed that lawsuit also cited the “political question” doctrine.

Even if a judge declined to dismiss the case on those grounds, the officials could assert that “qualified immunity” protected them from lawsuits that accuse them of violating someone’s constitutional rights while performing official actions that did not violate “clearly established law” at the time. President Obama is not named in the lawsuit; the Supreme Court has ruled that presidents enjoy “absolute immunity” from lawsuits stemming from their official actions.

While it has been widely reported that the United State carried out the strikes, the Obama administration has never officially acknowledged responsibility for them. The New York Times has described the details of a secret Justice Department memorandum that concluded that it would be lawful to target Anwar al-Awlaki if capturing him was infeasible. The Times and the A.C.L.U. have sued for disclosure of that document under the Freedom of Information Act.

Several administration officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in a speech at Northwestern University in March, have also defended the targeting of citizens, without a trial, if they join terrorist groups and under certain conditions.

“Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces,” Mr. Holder said. “This is simply not accurate. ‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” . . .

Continue reading. TomDispatch has a good discussion of this action along with an article by Noam Chomsky on the Magna Carta.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 4:15 pm

Those who fought against Sheriff Joe Arpaio

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They are brave people, they stayed with the fight, and they are now winning. Particularly revealing is the degree to which the sheriff and the county attorney trumped up lawsuits to harass Arapio’s critics—in one case costing the county $975,000 in a settlement. Read this editorial by Lawrence Downes.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Knowing that we don’t know about James Holmes

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Interesting column in the NY Times by Dave Cullen, a reporter who reported on the Columbine mass shooting at the time, but then later wrote a book about it (Columbine) in which he discusses how wrong many of those early reports were:

YOU’VE had 48 hours to reflect on the ghastly shooting in Colorado at a movie theater. You’ve been bombarded with “facts” and opinions about James Holmes’s motives. You have probably expressed your opinion on why he did it. You are probably wrong.

I learned that the hard way. In 1999 I lived in Denver and was part of the first wave of reporters to descend on Columbine High School the afternoon it was attacked. I ran with the journalistic pack that created the myths we are still living with. We created those myths for one reason: we were trying to answer the burning question of why, and we were trying to answer it way too soon. I spent 10 years studying Columbine, and we all know what happened there, right? Two outcast loners exacted revenge against the jocks for relentlessly bullying them.

Not one bit of that turned out to be true.

But the news media jumped to all those conclusions in the first 24 hours, so they are accepted by many people today as fact. The real story is a lot more disturbing. And instructive.

At every high school, college and school-safety conference I speak at, I hold up the journals left behind by the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The audience is shocked at what they learn. Perpetrators of mass murder are usually nothing like our conceptions of them. They are nothing like a vision of pure evil. They are complicated. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Increasingly restricted childhoods

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Comparison of sizes of areas for independent play over 4 generations in one family:

The graphic above is from this story by David Derbyshire in the Mail of 15 June 2007, on how children have lost the right to roam independently. It is referenced in this intriguing article in Salon by Will Doig on how a plummeting crime rate seems to have increased, rather than decreased, allowing children independence in their neighborhoods. Doig’s article begins:

When Lenore Skenazy was growing up in Wilmette, Ill., in the 1960s, she routinely walked the four blocks between her home and her kindergarten all by herself. She knew to stay safe near traffic and not go anywhere with a stranger. And to help her cross the street was a friendly crossing guard — a sixth-grader named Joey. “For the record, I ended up marrying him,” she laughs.

That a kindergartner was allowed to toddle four blocks without adult supervision seems extraordinary now, even though cities are at least as safe for children today as they were then. Crime is at a 40-year low. The percentage of kids fatally hit by cars has been dropping for decades. And the child abductors that leer from every corner are tabloid fantasy — only about 100 kids,out of tens of millions, are kidnapped in public by a stranger each year.

So naturally, children can now be found romping unsupervised throughout our neighborhoods, acquiring the intuition, resourcefulness and sense of independence that such a childhood provides, right?

Actually, no. In the time since Skenazy walked off to kindergarten alone, the number of children that can be found in public without supervision has only diminished. In one survey, 85 percent of mothers said they allowed their kids outside unsupervised less frequently than they themselves were allowed.In Britain, the average age of children allowed to play outside adult-free has risen by more than a year since the ’70s, and 25 percent of 8- to 10-year-olds have never played outside without an adult. . .

Continue reading, but fair warning: it’s a bit depressing. For example, just one paragraph later in the article:

. . . The UCLA study also details the differences between how kids get to school in Japan and the United States. Whereas half of all American kids now get dropped off by private car, that practice is banned at public schools in Japan, and even school buses are rare. Instead, the money is spent on crossing guards and an enviable pedestrian infrastructure. Children as young as 5, in a choreographed daily routine, arrive at each other’s homes, one by two by three. Once a critical mass has formed, they walk the route as a group (in adorable yellow hats, no less).

Compare that to the U.S., where the anecdotes about unsupervised kids being caught in the net of paranoid parenting are as laughable as they are depressing: the Davidson, N.C., school that ended its long tradition of fifth graders walking to the village green over “concerns about safety”; the Pittsburgh dad who was charged with child endangerment for letting his 9- and 6-year-olds play in a park; the Florida community thatbanned anyone under 18 from being outdoors without a chaperone.

“It’s almost a suburbanization of cities,” says Skenazy. “The idea that we should keep kids in cars and hover at the park and be with them 24/7 — it started in the suburbs and became the norm for parenting.” . . .

And an interesting factoid:

. . . It says something that we perceive walking down the street to be a greater risk to kids than speeding along in two tons of steel and glass, when in actuality, four-fifths of kids killed by cars are in those cars. No parent, however, is going to be accused of endangering their child by driving them to school, but the parent who lets them walk might be — the fear of being judged by other parents looms large. As does the fear of liability on the part of these schools and cities. . .

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life

A good word for grub (in effect)

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I continue to make batches of grub—a mix of some protein, some starch, a little oil, and a varied mix of vegetables: for example, onions, garlic, zucchini/summer squash, beans (green or cooked dried), eggplant, tomatoes, and always at least one kind of greens and often two—greens are the heart of the meal. I could cook each food in a separate pot and arrange them on a plate, but being practical/lazy, I normally cook them all in a single pot as a sort of thick semi-stew. While its appearance is … understated?, the taste is excellent, plus I know that I’m getting a well-balanced meal.

And, it turns out, grub (or at any rate, such a varied mix) has other benefits as well, as reported by Allison Aubrey on NPR:

There’s no magic elixir for healthy aging, but here’s one more thing to add to the list: good gut health.

study published in the latest issue ofNature finds diet may be key to promoting diverse communities of beneficial bacteria in the guts of older people.

To evaluate this, researchers analyzed the microbiota, or gut bacteria, of 178 older folks, mostly in their 70s and 80s.

Some of the people were living in their own homes, and their diets were rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry and fish.

Others were living in long-term care facilities or nursing homes where the typical diet was much less varied. “Mashed potato and porridge were the only staples in this diet type that were consumed daily,” explains Paul O’Toole of the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre at University College Cork in Ireland. Meals were supplemented with puddings, cookies and sugar-sweetened beverages such as tea.

O’Toole’s team found that people living independently, who had the most diverse diets, also had more varied gut bacteria. And they also scored better on clinical tests measuring frailty and cognitive function. In other words, “they were healthier older people,” says O’Toole.

There may be many factors at play here, but O’Toole thinks diet is key. “We were surprised that the correlations between microbiota and health came out so strongly,” O’Toole says.

There’s an explosion of research into the gut microbiome as scientists fine-tune methods to analyze bacteria in the gut, and with that comes an emerging body of evidence that diversity of gut bacteria is important. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:38 am

Chia, another superfood

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I include chia as part of my standard breakfast (which is a mix of hot cereals, topped with an egg over easy—I like a savory breakfast rather than a sweet one). The hot-cereal mix always includes 2 Tbsp of chia seed, and I sometimes use it as well to thicken a grub I’ve made. This brief article at NPR explains some of the health benefits.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:11 am

Posted in Food

Good old Clyde McCoy: Sugar Blues

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His signature tune, with a postscript:

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:07 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

The liberal arts are indeed liberating

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An interesting article in the NY Times by Abby Goodnough on providing school drop-outs who are young mothers a good education that goes beyond simple job-skills training to teach humanities and liberal arts:

High school was a lost cause for Priscilla Rivera, a child of the downcast mill city of Holyoke, Mass. “I went to school with the attitude, ‘Oh, this is hard, and I’m not going to do it,’ ” Ms. Rivera said recently. “After a while, the teachers gave up on me. They were like, ‘If you don’t want to do your work, just put your head down.’ ”

She dropped out after the ninth grade, had a baby a year later and went on welfare. Two years ago, the state referred her to the Care Center, an alternative education program where young mothers work toward their G.E.D.’s, and can get parenting instruction, college-transition support and other services.

For much of last year, Ms. Rivera, now 21, also studied philosophy, art, literature and history, just as students do at Smith, Amherst and the cluster of other elite colleges in this region of western Massachusetts. She was one of several young mothers enrolled in the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a program for the poor offered by the Care Center and about 15 other organizations across the country. The course aims to provide what Earl Shorris, who started it at the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in New York City in 1995, called “an avenue to reflection.” Such avenues are hard to come by in Holyoke, which has among the highest dropout and teenage pregnancy rates in the state.

Mr. Shorris, who died in May, rejected the notion that the poor should focus on learning practical skills to prepare for mostly low-paying jobs. He believed that studying the humanities would teach them how to reflect on the world, putting them on more equal footing with the privileged class.

The course is taught by local college professors at the Care Center, which provides transportation and child care. It is held two days a week and is open to low-income women of all ages as well as Care Center regulars like Ms. Rivera. Those who complete the course will earn six credits from Bard College, which oversees the program nationally. This year’s students, from age 18 to 58, included homeless women, victims of domestic violence, recovering addicts and others for whom day-to-day existence is often excruciating.

“There’s a way in which the course asks people to examine their life and what they are seeing around them more deeply,” said Anne Teschner, the Care Center’s executive director. “Living in poverty can be very constricting, so to bring those more expansive ideas into the world of people struggling economically is really empowering.”

One day in March, Ms. Rivera and her classmates sat in a basement classroom discussing the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. The students questioned why it was necessary. One asked, “Why isn’t the list of grievances enough?” . . .

Continue reading. Education, in my view, properly opens a broader window on life than can be done simply through teaching skills. This is not to denigrate skills, which are important and even essential—just as protein is important and essential but alone is insufficient to sustain life: one also needs fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and the various micronutrients such as the vitamins and minerals. Indeed, there’s an illness associated with high-protein diets deficient in fat—as I recall, in the West some experienced this when they were reduced to eating rabbit and fish, both relatively low in fat. The result is a debilitating weakness.

The point is that the human mind needs human culture for its full development and expression, and to give it the resources to deal with the richness of life. Mere vocational skills are insufficient. The program offered by the Care Center is more likely to ensure long-term life success than a simple vocational training program: it will awaken the students to what their lives can be and give them tools with which to explore and grow.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

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