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

Archive for July 17th, 2015

Susan Rice evades the truth

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Jon Schwarz reports in The Intercept:

According to paragraph 67 of the new nuclear deal with Iran, IAEA inspectors in charge of monitoring the agreement may only be “from nations that have diplomatic relations with Iran.” This means that no inspectors will be American (unless the U.S. unexpectedly reestablishes the diplomatic ties with Iran that it severed in 1980).

This seems like a strange, telling concession by the Obama administration. But there’s an extremely good reason for Iran to insist on such conditions: during the UN’s weapons inspections of Iraq during the 1990s, some inspectors were American — and some of them were spies placed there in an apparent effort to conduct espionage against, and eventually overthrow, the Iraqi government. This was one of the key reasons Iraqi relations with the inspectors were so rocky, since Iraq repeatedly blocked inspection teams because of the presence of Americans.

But now the no-Americans-allowed-in-Iran clause has become a talking pointin right-wing media. And when Wolf Blitzer recently interviewed National Security Advisor Susan Rice on CNN, he felt it was so crucial that he did what television hosts almost never do: question a powerful guest until they get a straight answer out of them.

BLITZER: No Americans will directly be involved in any on the ground inspections in Iran, is that right?

RICE: Wolf, yes, the IAEA, which is a highly respected international organization, will field an international team of inspectors. And those inspectors will, in all likelihood, come from IAEA member states, most of whom have diplomatic relations with Iran. We, of course, are a rare exception.

BLITZER: So no one…

RICE: The British have diplomatic relations…

BLITZER: — so no Americans…

RICE: — the French…

BLITZER: — will be — I just want to be precise on this … No Americans will be on the ground in Iran actually inspecting?

RICE: No Americans will be part of the IAEA inspection teams.

BLITZER: Will Americans be outside of the IAEA inspection teams? … I’m talking about American government officials or military officials who could be inspecting … I take it they will not be doing that?

RICE: I don’t anticipate that, no.

Rice here was caught between two unpleasant options, and it’s significant which one she chose. On the one hand, she didn’t want to candidly acknowledge something that, shorn of historical context, makes the Obama administration look bad. But she clearly preferred that to making the Obama administration look better by explaining the context that would make the United States look horrible.

Also significant is that Wolf Blitzer personally covered the issue of U.S. espionage against Iraq during the 1990s — yet as much as he wanted to ask Rice hard questions, he scrupulously avoided questions that would have been even harder.

Read also:

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2015 at 7:38 pm

The Whites of Our Eyes

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“Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes” has new resonance after reading this NY Times column by Nancy Segal et al.:

SEVERAL years ago, while browsing the campus bookstore, one of us, Professor Segal, encountered a display table filled with Squirtles. A Squirtle is a plush-toy turtle manufactured by the company Russ Berrie. They were adorable and she couldn’t wait to take one home.

Afterward, Professor Segal began wondering why this toy was so attractive and suspected that its large, round eyes played a major role. It’s well known that a preference for large eyes emerges in humans by 5 months of age. But the Squirtle was even more appealing than many of its big-eyed competitors. Was there something else about its eyes?

Professor Segal consulted one of us, Professor Goetz, a colleague in evolutionary psychology, who suggested that because the Squirtle’s eyes were bordered in white, the cooperative eye hypothesis might have answers. This hypothesis, developed by the Japanese researchers Hiromi Kobayashi and Shiro Kohshima, holds that the opaque white outer coating of the human eye, or sclera, evolved to assist communication between people by signaling the direction of their gaze.

The clear visibility of the sclera is a uniquely human characteristic. Other primates, such as the African great apes, also track the gaze direction of others, yet their sclera are pigmented or, if white, not visible. The great apes appear to use head direction more than other cues when following another’s gaze.

Do humans have an instinctive preference for the whites of eyes, thus explaining the allure of the Squirtle? We conducted a study, to be published this year in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, that suggested that the answer was yes.

First we had to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2015 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

McConnell Secures Hemp Provision in Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill

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I just got an email from Vote Hemp! that states:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell secured a provision in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill today to allow the processing of legally grown industrial hemp. The McConnell language would help farmers transport legal industrial hemp between states so the crop can be developed for commercial purposes. The full Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill today.

“Kentucky’s industrial hemp pilot programs continue to prosper and I want to make sure our legal hemp producers can safely transport their crops between states, including to States that maintain processing facilities, so they can fully capitalize on the commercial potential for this commodity,” said Senator McConnell.

“This latest language reemphasizes that industrial hemp from a farm bill research program is an agricultural commodity. The ability of Kentucky to research the full potential of industrial hemp through processing, marketing, and sales is vital to understanding the future possibilities for industrial hemp.  Kentucky’s agriculture community continues to be indebted to Senator McConnell for his continued leadership on industrial hemp,” said Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, James Comer.

Last month, Senator McConnell worked with Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Jon Tester (D-MT) to secure language in the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill to ensure that legal industrial hemp pilot programs, like those in Kentucky, can continue without federal disruption.

These latest hemp provisions build upon Senator McConnell’s work in last year’s Farm Bill, which gave state agricultural commissioners and universities the federal authority to cultivate industrial hemp for pilot programs.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2015 at 4:02 pm

The Iran Deal Goes to Washington

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Elizabeth Drew has a good column in the NY Review of Books:

The first thing to know about all the noise being made in Washington over the nuclear deal with Iran is that there’s a lot of play-acting going on. A number of politicians, particularly Democrats, are striking positions to get them past this early period; several significant Democratic Senators simply aren’t yet ready to say they’re for the deal, though many of them are expected to be. The real question isn’t where they are now but where they’ll end up. Therefore some statements shouldn’t be taken literally. When Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said recently that he had questions about the coming deal, some journalists and other observers interpreted this as a sign of trouble; but his statement simply reflected political prudence. To be taken seriously on such a weighty issue, a politician needs to be seen as having carefully considered his or her position.

This may be where the Republicans are making a mistake. Lindsey Graham was caught out by reporters on Tuesday when he condemned the deal and then, in response to their challenges, admitted that he hadn’t read the more than one-hundred-page agreement, nor did he know what was in it. House Speaker John Boehner also immediately denounced the deal. Boehner’s tack, which others also employ, is to charge that the agreement isn’t as tough on Iran as what the president said he would seek. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who officially entered the 2016 presidential race the day before the Iran deal was formally announced, said that it should be abrogated by the next president on day one—which would free Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon and create an unholy mess with our allies. The Republicans’ rush to judgment undermines their position.

In fact, knowledgeable analysts say that the final deal fulfills what was outlined in the interim framework agreement announced in April. Jim Walsh, a security and nuclear policy expert at MIT, describes it as “the most intrusive multilateral agreement in nuclear history.” According to Walsh, the deal’s inclusion of a “snapback” provision—the rapid restoration of sanctions if Iran is caught cheating—is “unprecedented.”

Yet I can find no one on the side of the deal who thinks that it will have majority support in either chamber, which means that the president will veto what Congress sends him. Therefore, beneath all the rhetoric, the realists here are looking for one thing: whether there will be enough votes in the Senate and the House—one-third plus one of the members—to uphold that veto. (A veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in both chambers.) It’s believed that there’s a sufficient number of House Democrats who will vote to sustain it. So what happens in the Senate is the crucial question. . .

Continue reading.

It’s sort of depressing to see such an important issue being addressed with partisan ignorance. It’s quite clear that the GOP will, regardless of what the agreement says, oppose it, just as they said when Obama took office that they would oppose anything he proposed, regardless of the merits. Mitch McConnell was quite proud of that thinking.

In the wonderful book by Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (a book that the GOP could profitably study), there is this passage on negotiating with the other side:

To direct their attention toward improving the options on the table, discuss with them hypothetically what would happen if one of their positions was accepted. In 1970, an American lawyer had a chance to interview President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He asked Nasser, “What do you want [Israel’s Prime Minister] Golda Meir to do?”

Nasser replied, “Withdraw!”

“Withdraw?” the lawyer asked.

“Withdraw from every inch of Arab territory!”

“Without a deal? With nothing from you?” the American asked incredulously.

“Nothing. It’s our territory. She should promise to withdraw,” Nasser replied.

The American asked, “What would happen to Golda Meir if tomorrow morning she appeared on Israeli radio and television and said, ‘On behalf of the people of Israel, I hereby promise to withdraw from every inch of territory occupied in 1967: the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights. And I want you to know, I have no commitment of any kind from any Arab whatsoever.’”

Nasser burst out laughing. “Oh, would she have trouble at home!”

Understanding what an unrealistic option Egypt had been offering Israel may have contributed to Nasser’s stated willingness later that day to accept a cease-fire in the ongoing hostilities.

The proposed agreement with Iran does include verification procedures, a point the GOP seems unable to grasp.

The GOP should be asked what they want Iran to do. Their answers would be interesting. Indeed, it’s strange that the question is not asked. Instead, they are asked what they would do, not what they want the Iranians to do.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2015 at 3:58 pm

The end of capitalism has begun

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Interesting article by Paul Mason in The Guardian. It makes sense: a society based on the simple idea that anything that increases profits is good has too narrow a foundation to long endure.

The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.

You only find this new economy if you look hard for it. In Greece, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2015 at 1:35 pm

Kale: Too much of a good thing is bad

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I just learned that the cruciferous vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, collards, bok choy) are contraindicated for those who suffer from hypothyroidism, a condition that often develops in women over 40. Flaxseed is also to be avoided. Foods good for those with that condition are seaweed (e.g., seaweed salads, which I love), brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts, fish, and others.

Tom Philpott has an interesting article in Mother Jones on the dangers of eating large amounts of kale daily: thallium poisoning, such as “Chronic fatigue. Skin and hair issues. Arrhythmias and other neurological disorders. Foggy thinking. Gluten sensitivity and other digestive troubles.” But this is for people who eat a lot of kale—e.g., using a juicer to make a daily glass of kale juice. (I avoid juicing in any case: why avoid the fiber?)

Jennifer Berman also has a column in the NY Times (from 1/1/2014) about the dangers and effects of overindulging in kale:

. . . Imagine my shock, then, at my last physical, when my doctor told me I had hypothyroidism, common in women over 40. When I got home I looked up the condition on the Internet and found a list of foods to avoid. Kale, which I juiced every morning, tops the list, followed by broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and collard greens — the cruciferous vegetables I consumed in large quantities because they are thought to prevent cancer, which runs in my family. And flax — as in the seeds — high in omega 3’s, that I sprinkled on cereal and blended in strawberry almond milk smoothies. Also forbidden: almonds and strawberries, not to mention soy, peaches, peanuts, corn, radishes, rutabaga and spinach. . . .

Continue reading.

If you find yourself eating a lot of any food, it’s probably a good idea to search for common side-effects or contraindications. Eating a good variety whole foods (not concentrating them by juicing) is a good and conservative approach.

UPDATE: An interesting note from TYD: “Cooking breaks down the goitrogenic compounds and thus it is only the vegetables in raw form that should be avoided by people on synthetic thyroid hormones.”

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2015 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Medical, Science

The puzzle of jailhouse suicides

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As Radley Balko writes in this review of what we know:

  • . . .  According to most recent data, about a fifth of people who kill themselves in jail are facing what the Bureau of Justice Statistics calls “minor charges.”

This is the most puzzling group of people who kill themselves in jail — those facing minor charges, and with no history of mental illness. Hayes first says that this can be misleading. “Someone who seemingly has no mental illness may still have mental illness. It may just not yet have manifested in obvious ways, or it may be undiagnosed.”

But Hayes adds that even without mental illness, someone can be driven to suicide. The mere trauma of sitting in a jail cell can be overwhelming, and this is particularly true for someone who has never been in one before. And that could explain the suicides by people who aren’t facing serious charges.

“That it was an arrest for a minor crime may not matter. In fact a sense of injustice can only add to the emotional damage. Someone may be sitting in a cell for longer than they were supposed to be. So the walls start closing in. There’s the uncertainty, of not knowing when you’re going to get out. There’s the loss of control. You’re cut off from family and friends. And it’s all beyond your control. That can be really difficult, especially for someone who hasn’t experienced it before.”

  • Men are much more likely to kill themselves in jail than women.
  • White people are more than three times more likely to kill themselves than black people. . .

The whole article is worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2015 at 10:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Law

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