Later On

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

Archive for November 12th, 2014

A very divisive drone

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Power to the people? or the ultimate Big Brother/Capitalist state ever? But I think it’s cool.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 6:14 pm

Kevin Drum gets exasperated

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Venting a little. And check out those comments.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 5:53 pm

Very tough column on the situation in Mexico

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Really worth reading.

It should be noted that the whole thing is a direct consequence of the War on Drugs. We created the market (the demand) and the market conditions (illegal = high markup) and so the drug cartels grew in power and wealth. That’s what the War on Drugs did. And not a single shred of science in it: totally a political move against Mexicans and Latinos—cf. the Zoot Suit Riots. So a vote against marijuana was a vote against Them.

That’s really not a good way to make policy—or at least policy that works instead of fails utterly.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 4:14 pm

I have to say, this seems ominous: Russian troops invade Ukraine

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This doesn’t bode well. It’s perfectly clear from the military sent in that they expect to use them, and that a war will begin. Lordy. NATO’s reaction? The US? (Not a good time for us, I think.) Bears watching.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Military

Two good ones on climate change

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Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 3:40 pm

Moving column on the costs of war

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Daniel Bolger writes in the NY Times:

AS a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, I lost 80 soldiers. Despite their sacrifices, and those of thousands more, all we have to show for it are two failed wars. This fact eats at me every day, and Veterans Day is tougher than most.

As veterans, we tell ourselves it was all worth it. The grim butchery of war hovers out of sight and out of mind, an unwelcome guest at the dignified ceremonies. Instead, we talk of devotion to duty and noble sacrifice. We salute the soldiers at Omaha Beach, the sailors at Leyte Gulf, the airmen in the skies over Berlin and the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and we’re not wrong to do so. The military thrives on tales of valor. In our volunteer armed forces, such stirring examples keep bringing young men and women through the recruiters’ door. As we used to say in the First Cavalry Division, they want to “live the legend.” In the military, we love our legends.

Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that — a story.

The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

The surge legend is soothing, especially for military commanders like me. We can convince ourselves that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 3:20 pm

Who is speaking for the public on net neutrality? Where is our advocate?

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John Cassidy in the New Yorker:

initial reaction to President Obama’s call, on Monday, for the Federal Communications Commission to categorize Internet service providers (I.S.P.s) as public utilities, akin to suppliers of power and water, was that it can’t be all bad. Maybe I’m biased, but any proposal that is immediately criticized in the strongest terms by Ted Cruz, the junior Republican senator from Texas, and by Michael Powell, Colin’s son and the F.C.C.’s chairman from 2001 to 2005, who now serves as the top lobbyist for the cable-television industry, is very likely to have something going for it.

And so it has.

In a post on this site, Tim Wu, the Columbia University law professor who came up with the phrase “net neutrality,” noted that President Obama came into office pledging to appoint an F.C.C. chairman who supported strict rules preventing I.S.P.s from blocking certain Web sites, or from creating slow lanes and fast lanes so that some sites load faster than others. Six years, two F.C.C. chairmen, and several hostile court rulings later, we are still no nearer to seeing such policies enacted. Indeed, we are a good deal further away from them. Big content companies like Netflix are busy cutting deals, or preparing to cut deals, with big I.S.P.s—the likes of Comcast, A.T. & T., and Verizon—to insure that their data gets preferential delivery.

Rather than outlawing this practice—which is what the vast majority of Web sites and content creators want, and which is also the preferred option of most of the 3.7 million people and organizations who offered their opinions on the subject during a five-month commenting window held by the F.C.C. earlier this year—Obama’s latest appointee to head the regulatory body, Tom Wheeler, is still trying to reach a compromise that will give broadband providers some wiggle room. (It may not be entirely incidental that Wheeler used to run the biggest cable lobbying group in the country, but we won’t get into that here.) Rather than endorsing such a compromise, Obama called on the F.C.C. to “answer the call of almost four million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

In refusing to settle for half-measures that would end up having little impact, the President did the right thing. Once the I.S.P.s were granted the right to impose different prices on different content providers, even under some restrictions, they would inevitably find a way to expand the practice—just as the railroads did in the late nineteenth century, when, according to many accounts, they discriminated against famers and other small businesses. In calling on the F.C.C. to enforce a policy of not allowing the blocking, throttling (meaning deliberately slowing down certain sites), or paid prioritization of content, the White House was seeking to uphold the nondiscriminatory principles that were enshrined in the architecture of the Internet and the World Wide Web by the people who created it. (“It’s all predicated on a neutral network,” Tim Berners-Lee, the Englishman who wrote the Web’s original protocols, told the Times last month.)

In order to foster innovation and preserve diversity, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 2:37 pm

7-minute video workout

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The above video is from an article in The Verge by Gregory Ferenstein, and I highly recommend you click the link and get more of the context of the exercise video. But I think it’s pretty cool. (Seems strenuous, though.)

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 2:06 pm

Some interesting stories

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Study: Having just one drink doubles your risk of going to the E.R.

Americans are falling out of love with restaurants—in 3 charts – It’s certainly true for me: we formerly ate out often, probably a few times a week, counting lunches, breakfasts, and dinners. But less and less, and now it must be a special occasion. Interesting. It doesn’t feel like financial pressure, but OTOH some prices certainly have escalated: Scotch, for one. In California it’s increased by some $20 per bottle.

A ton of people didn’t vote because they couldn’t get time off from work – Interesting: another way big businesses can throttle down the vote from those perhaps unfriendly to business interests. Indeed, it could be done plant by plant. Since business has the control, business decides who gets released to vote—until we make election day a national mandatory holiday.

Why not? and when?

The world is spending a stunning $ 550 billion per year on fossil fuel subsidies – Would you be willing to kill yourself for money? No, not even that. Would you be willing to kill yourself for a check, made out to you?


Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Daily life

Well, here’s a happy post: Embracing transparency, the first step against corruption

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Emily Alpert Reyes and Jack Dolan report in the LA Times:

After more than a year of bitter legal battles, Los Angeles city leaders have approved a deal with the powerful Department of Water and Power union that promises the first detailed, public look at how two controversial nonprofits affiliated with the utility spent tens of millions of ratepayer dollars.

The agreement gives city officials “unfettered access” to financial records held by the nonprofits, which will be used to produce the first independent public accounting of the groups’ expenditures.

“For the past year, we’ve worked to bring transparency to these trusts and accountability for ratepayers,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday. “With this agreement, the city can open the books and follow the money, which is what DWP customers deserve.”

The 13-0 vote Wednesday by the City Council, which took place without public discussion, also paves the way for release of a roughly $4-million annual payment to the nonprofits. City Controller Ron Galperin had refused to transfer the money earlier this year, citing a lack of public accounting on the use of ratepayer money.

Brian D’Arcy, leader of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which manages the nonprofits with DWP executives, said in a statement that the vote assures that a labor agreement reached last year with his union won’t be jeopardized “and that the (nonprofit) trusts will continue to operate to protect and train the work force at DWP.”

“We look forward to collaboratively working with DWP on tackling the challenges that it faces today and into the future,” the statement said.

D’Arcy spent more than a year fending off attempts by top city elected leaders, including Garcetti, to gain access to the nonprofits’ internal ledgers, bank records and other documents.

Officials demanded the records after The Times reported that DWP executives, who manage the nonprofits with union leaders, couldn’t explain in detail how the groups had spent more than $40 million. There had been no public accounting of what the nonprofits achieved, The Times reported. . .

Continue reading.

Enjoy pleasure. That’s my advice.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law, Media

Another insight on how the Kindle affects my reading

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I just realized that the freedom to highlight as I wish—totally erasable highlighting— has changed the way I read: with penalty-free highlighting at my fingertips, I find myself noticing, if not actually seeking, passages that deserve highlighting. I just hit one now—and highlighted it—the scene when Jack takes dinner in the wardroom on Thursday (washing, and make and mend) the entire dinner conversation is summarized in various snatched phases, that fit together so nicely you feel you’re following the actual conversation—indeed, you can almost identify the speakers. And, since highlighted passages are, well, highlighted, it’s easy to copy and paste, thus:

At the same time he listened to the talk at his end of the table: rhinoceroses, [earlier had been described the exercise of a rhinoceros being transported as a gift to a potentate: not your usual Thursday – LG], how best stowed, their probable weight, their diet – the one-horned kind and the two, where found – anecdote of a Sumatra rhinoceros belonging to HMS Ariel, its appetite for grog and unhappy end – the properties of powdered rhinoceros-horn, taken inwardly – regret at Dr Maturin’s absence – a health to the absent Doctor – Barka, and the possibility of renewing their livestock, at least in sheep and poultry – the likelihood of the Pasha’s coming it the handsome in the article of bullocks, in view of the rhinoceros and a cargo of no doubt equally valuable presents.

Update: And I just noticed, in the rereading, we have the long-winded anecdote writ small but unmistakeably.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Books, Technology

Excellent TED talk on the War on Drugs

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Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Daily life

Why We Lost: Retired U.S. General Calls for Public Inquiry into Failures of Iraq, Afghan Wars

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Interesting interview at Democracy Now! Their blurb:

Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, a retired three-star U.S. general who helped command troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, joins us to discuss his new book, “Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.” Bolger writes: “I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.” Bolger is now calling for a public inquiry along the lines of the 9/11 Commission to look into why the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone so poorly.

I can totally understand the feelings of a professional soldier wanting to be sure that the record reflects reality and that the failures were not due to the military (if that turns out to be the case).

I’m reminded of how the failures of the Big Three automakers were blamed on the unions, even though management was totally responsible for car design, marketing, sales, supply of materials, and so on: the union workers simply assembled cars as directed and had zero say in design, styling, advertising, and so on—which was where the trouble lay.

But I also totally understand how management would be VERY eager to blame the problems on someone else.


Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 12:23 pm

Buying Out Your Boss: Worker Cooperatives Are the Future of Small Business

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Interesting (and hopeful—note the change in tone, Arne) article about a way forward.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

An open letter to the US from a Canadian

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From Daily Kos. He makes some good points:

You Americans Have No Idea Just How Good You Have It With Obama

Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there’s no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money.

America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden.

So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason.

When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way?

Richard Brunt
Victoria, British Columbia

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life

States Where Fewer Kids Get The HPV Vaccine Have Higher Rates Of Cervical Cancer

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No real surprise. And of course it’s the most ignorant states where the incidence of cervical cancer is highest.

Tara Culp-Pressler writes:

The states with the lowest rates of HPV vaccination are the same ones with the highest rates of cervical cancer, according to a new study that was presented on Tuesday at a conference for the American Association for Cancer Research.

HPV, which stands for the human papillomavirus, is linked to several different types of cancer. In fact, an estimated 91 percent of cervical and anal cancers are probably caused by HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And HPV-related cancers have actually been on the rise over the past several years.

Rates of cervical cancer have always varied across the country — so when the HPV vaccine was introduced for widespread use in 2006, public health experts hoped that it would help even out some of those disparities. But that hasn’t been the case. The states with particularly high cancer rates aren’t vaccinating kids against HPV at very high rates.

For instance, according to the new study, 69 percent of the girls who live in Massachusetts get at least one HPV shot. The cervical cancer rate in that state is one of the lowest in the country, affecting just 6 women out of every 100,000. But in states in the South, where cancer is more common, fewer girls are initiating the vaccination process. There are 10.2 cases per 100,000 women in Arkansas, but only 41 percent of girls there get at least one HPV shot. In Mississippi, where there are 9.6 cases per 100,000 women, only 40 percent of girls get a shot.

“These states could really use some interventions to increase the rates of HPV vaccination now, and hopefully there will be big dividends in the coming decades in terms of cancer mortality,” Jennifer Moss, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, told TIME.

Previous research has found similarly low rates of HPV vaccination in the South, something that’s concerned researchers for years. “If a lower rate of HPV vaccine uptake in the South persists, it could contribute to the national burden of cervical cancer in the long run,” Dr. Abbey Berenson, a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, pointed out last year after publishing the results from a study that highlighted this discrepancy.

Moss and her team recommend some simple policies to encourage more girls to get vaccinated against HPV. Health care providers should be more intentional about recommending the shots and explaining their benefits, while state officials could implement programs to fund vaccines for low-income and uninsured families. Moss believes that could help start changing public opinion about the HPV shots.

Public opinion has historically been a big barrier to increasing HPV vaccination rates in the United States, which lag far behind the rates in other developed countries. Since HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, some parents are uncomfortable with the idea of giving their young daughters a vaccine for it — they worry the shot will encourage kids to have risky sex, even though there’s absolutely no link between the vaccine and promiscuous sexual behavior. Others still worry that the HPV shot isn’t safe, even though the CDC recommends it for both boys and girls.

Plus, many parents don’t understand why the vaccine matters in the first place. About70 percent of U.S. adults don’t realize the HPV shot can protect against cancer, and about a quarter of parents surveyed by the CDC in 2013 said they don’t believe the vaccine is necessary for their kids.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 10:16 am

Policing for profit in Tennessee

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Radley Balko has a good column on the continuing practice of police robberies, known as civil-asset forfeiture:

Phil Williams of Nashville’s NewsChannel 5, WTVF-TV, one of the best TV investigative journalists in the country, has been doing particularly stellar work over the last several years on civil asset forfeiture in central Tennessee. He has continued that work with a series of reports this week.

A traffic stop along Interstate 40 is raising new questions about your constitutional rights. Among the questions: what happens to your right to say “no” to a search when police are looking for cash?

The traffic stop occurred west of Nashville, along a stretch of interstate in Dickson County that’s become well-known for a controversial practice known as “policing for profit.” . . .

[Ronnie] Hankins and his wife Lisa had been on the road for days back in May, after attending a family funeral in Virginia, when they got stopped on the westbound side of I-40. It came right after they passed an interdiction agent with the 23rd Judicial District Drug Task Force.

Lisa was driving.

“I told her we are going to get pulled over,” Ronnie remembered.

“What made you think he was going to stop you?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

“Because we had out-of-state license plates and my wife is Hispanic.”

I personally know people who can vouch for this. Out-of-state plates, dark skin and driving through a forfeiture corridor will dramatically raise your odds of getting stopped. And it’s everywhere, not just Tennessee.

After separating Lisa from her husband, supposedly so he could write her a warning ticket for a traffic violation, dashcam video shows that the agent began repeatedly questioning her about what was inside the car.

Then, he had a favor to ask.

“You say there’s not anything illegal in it. Do you mind if I search it today to make sure?” the officer asked.

Lisa responded, “I’d have to talk to my husband.”

She told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “I just feel like he was harassing me, you know, wanting me to say yes that he can search my car.”

The agent continued, “I am asking you for permission to search your vehicle today — and you are well within your rights to say no and you can say yes. It’s totally up to you as to whether you want to show cooperation or not.”

So why not say yes?

“I mean there was no reason for him to search my car,” Lisa said.

The interdiction agent told her that he was asking “because I do believe that you are not being honest with me.”

The agent didn’t believe their story that they had been to a funeral for Ronnie’s grandfather, even though a quick search of the Internet would have proved they were telling the truth.

“You have to either give me a yes or no,” he continued. “I do need an answer so I can figure out whether I need a dog to go around it or not.”

Lisa recalled, “I was getting upset because he kept on asking me over and over. I said you have no reason to search my car.”

They brought out a drug dog, which of course “alerted” to the presence of drugs. So the couple was subjected to an extremely thorough roadside search of their belongings. They ripped out the dash of the car, which the couple had recently bought new.

The police found no contraband. Here’s the punchline: . . .

Continue reading.

I think it’s obvious that these dogs are “alerted” at the direction of the handler, which is done when there are no drugs and thus the dog doesn’t alert to drugs. When that happens, it seems clear that the handler himself triggers the alert so the vehicle can be searched.

The destruction involved is, I assume, simply to “teach a lesson” and for the enjoyment of the police.

Why do people put up with this? Too much trouble to go vote.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life

Americans believe they live in a privacy dystopia, report finds

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And yet the public sits idly by as the chains are forged. Andrea Peterson writes in the Washington Post:

Americans are very worried about governments and private businesses tracking their online behavior in the post-Snowden era, a new report from the Pew Research Center found, and most want to do more to protect their privacy online.

Eight in 10 Americans believe the public should be concerned about the government’s monitoring of phone calls and Internet communications according to a survey conducted by the organization in January. Some 61 percent said they “would like to do more” to protect the privacy of their personal information online.

And it’s not just the government consumers worry about: Americans increasingly feel they aren’t in control over how private companies collect and use information about them. Over 90 percent of those surveyed by Pew agreed or “strongly” agreed that they have lost control over how their personal data is collected and used by companies. Nearly two-thirds believe the government should do more to regulate advertisers while over 60 percent were skeptical that providing personal information to companies made their online experiences better in a meaningful way, disagreeing with the statement: “I appreciate that online services are more efficient because of the increased access they have to my personal data.”

But 55 percent agreed they were willing to share some information in exchange for free online services. This type of cognitive dissonance explains how even as consumers become more and more wary of the ways data about them is being hoarded, the underlying economic model of most online services continues to rely on turning user data into a commodity that can be sold to advertisers.

Distrust of advertisers is widespread according to Pew. Only 1 percent of respondents to the survey said they trusted advertisers to do what’s right “just about all of the time,” with an additional 11 percent trusting advertisers “most of the time.” The government fares only slightly better in terms of public perception, with 2 percent trusting them almost all the time and 16 percent most of the time. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 8:58 am

Anti-Science Republican Lawmakers Are Going After Crucial Research Grants

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Again it is unclear whether these actions are done in bad faith, or from simple ignorance (combined with arrogance: sort of a Dunning-Kruger effect), or from simple stupidity. Michael Byrne writes in Motherboard:

There’s really no shortage of bad news for science in the United States given the looming Republican takeover of the Senate and, thus, both houses of Congress. There’s the certain resurrection of a leaky Yucca Mountain, a green light for the Keystone XL pipeline, the likely ascendancy of climate science-denying, NASA-cutting cartoon Ted Cruz to chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and a general redoubling of the right’s mindless obsession with obliterating federal programs.

Over the weekend, Science magazine’s Jeffrey Mervis noted another sort of science-targeting that’s a bit more subtle, yet completely chilling. This comes courtesy of Texas representative Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House science committee. Of particular concern is a favorite pastime of Smith’s: the personal targeting of scientists engaged in basic research.

Last week, Smith set his sights on Ohio State University’s Brad Bushman, recipient of a 2010 National Science Foundation grant for work studying the “effect of self-control on antisocial and prosocial behavior.” At a hearing, Bushman was attacked by Smith as an example of wasted tax dollars, one of 11 projects singled out by the representative, including efforts at reducing snowmobile emissions, a study of “Wikipedia and the democratization of knowledge,” and, of course, a grant related to climate change, for the PoLAR climate change education partnership.

This isn’t Smith’s first round of targets. The representative has been waging small-scale war against the NSF for over 18 months. It’s included attacks on NSF officials, a steady stream of press releases ridiculing NSF-funded projects—most recently a project examining political speech on Twitter—and an attempt at a wholesale slashing of social science funding.

So far Smith has targeted around 60 grants, which is, according to the representative, just the tip of the iceberg. In an August letter to NSF director France Cordova, Smith declared, “the current review work is 5 percent complete, which implies that this oversight initiative will span at least 12 months.” House staffers pouring through grant awards have been a regular sight at the NSF’s Washington, DC headquarters. Other targets have included research into sustainable forests, a climate change education initiative, and a historical exploration of textiles and gender.

“The fight has rekindled the age-old question of how to assess the value of basic research. Most scientists say that peer review—using experts in a particular field—offers the best way to judge both the scientific merit and the societal value of a piece of fundamental research,” Mervis notes. “And they object when politicians substitute their own judgment. But Smith says he’s simply doing his job, questioning research that seems to him silly, obvious, or of low priority to society.”

On Monday, the Association of American Universities fired back at Smith and his committee. In a statement, the AAU declared, “Our concern is that the Committee’s current inquiry into the value of selected NSF grants, based primarily on their titles, is far from constructive. In fact, it is having a destructive effect on NSF and on the merit review process that is designed to fund the best research and to remove those decisions from the political process.”

The statement goes on to blast the committee’s demands for the names of grant peer reviewers, who are left anonymous for very good reason. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 8:55 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Science

Read the first four pages of the introduction to National Security and Double Government

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You can use the “Read Inside” feature to read the first part of the introduction, and I have to say it is stunning. Take a look. (Link fixed.)

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2014 at 8:50 am

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