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2.24.2005

get those kids some guns


The New York Amsterdam News writes today that "The military spends about $3 billion each year to convince young people that enlistment will give them college money, job training and an alternative to working at McDonald's." They usually get what they pay for. However, the military is having a bit more trouble than usual finding young fodder in New York of late, since a student led group called Youth Activists-Youth Allies (YaYas) has begun educating students at recruiting meetings and around schools about the realities of signing up for the military. Many students have reconsidered theri initial excitement about signing up after hearing some of the facts:

* Two-thirds of recruits don't get any college money, according to the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.
* Most people in the military do not have time to attend college while in the service.
* To qualify for college money recruits have to pay $100 per month for a year.
* The unemployment rate for veterans is three times higher than the national average.
* People who sign up with the Delayed Entry Program are told they can't change their minds, but getting out is as simple as writing a letter.
* The enlistment contract is for eight years.
* There are other ways to finance college, like federal financial aid, private scholarships, going to community college or joining AmeriCorps.

The aritcle continues, "Often, the recruiters' sales pitches, brochures and posters go unchallenged. Many educators fear principals will retaliate if they speak out... Some schools are reticent to limit the military's presence because they think they will lose federal funding... No Child Left Behind, the educational policy touted by the Bush administration, requires that recruiters and college representatives have equal access to students. This is often misinterpreted as unlimited access."

The YaYa's are members of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY), a group formed last year to combat the militarization of young people around the country.
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torture train


Newsweek has got its paws on the flight log of a Boeing 737, which has been used over the past few yeas to pick up suspects and deliver them to be tortured by the CIA. This is good news for Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent who was snatched off of a bus in Macedonia on December 31, 2003. For five months he was tortured in Afghanistan, before being returned to Macedonia where the boarder guards laughed at his story. Kafka's nightmares are alive, but hopefully it's going to be possible to wake up.
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2.18.2005

back to the kitchen!


Harvard president larry summers finally released a a transcript of his incindiary remarks yesterday. i've pasted the most important passage below, though it's worth skimming through the whole thing. in case it reads like garbage to you, what he's saying is that the paucity of women in top science places is due to three factors: (1) women being unwilling to spend a lot time in the work place, (2) women not being as likely to vary from the statistical norm of dumb average population (this analysis based on a self-avowedly bad calculation of a study of twelfth graders), and (3) some small amount of discrimination.

summer claimed that such discrimination was much less responsible for the result than the first two factors. he proved this by arguing that if everyone was discriminating against talented people, a few people could assemble the best departments by choosing not to discriminate. since we don't see such departments, they clearly aren't discriminating. the problem with this argument is that people dont pursue incredibly advanced degrees and top positions for their health; it it is understood that women are barred from the top, and it gets more and more difficult to achieve each stage (college, graduate programs, post doc, early teaching positions), then a large number of potentially brilliant women will not seek this path, and then remainnig few who duke it out won't be enough to create the skewed department that summers mentioned in his example.

ok, here is the paragraph on factor Two on natural aptitude:

"The second thing that I think one has to recognize is present is what I would call the combination of, and here, I'm focusing on something that would seek to answer the question of why is the pattern different in science and engineering, and why is the representation even lower and more problematic in science and engineering than it is in other fields. And here, you can get a fair distance, it seems to me, looking at a relatively simple hypothesis. It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined. If one supposes, as I think is reasonable, that if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean. But it's talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean in the one in 5,000, one in 10,000 class. Even small differences in the standard deviation will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out. I did a very crude calculation, which I'm sure was wrong and certainly was unsubtle, twenty different ways. I looked at the Xie and Shauman paper-looked at the book, rather-looked at the evidence on the sex ratios in the top 5% of twelfth graders. If you look at those-they're all over the map, depends on which test, whether it's math, or science, and so forth-but 50% women, one woman for every two men, would be a high-end estimate from their estimates. From that, you can back out a difference in the implied standard deviations that works out to be about 20%. And from that, you can work out the difference out several standard deviations. If you do that calculation-and I have no reason to think that it couldn't be refined in a hundred ways-you get five to one, at the high end. Now, it's pointed out by one of the papers at this conference that these tests are not a very good measure and are not highly predictive with respect to people's ability to do that. And that's absolutely right. But I don't think that resolves the issue at all. Because if my reading of the data is right-it's something people can argue about-that there are some systematic differences in variability in different populations, then whatever the set of attributes are that are precisely defined to correlate with being an aeronautical engineer at MIT or being a chemist at Berkeley, those are probably different in their standard deviations as well. So my sense is that the unfortunate truth-I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true-is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances probably explains a fair amount of this problem."

another cute way to summarize would be: Women don't want to do it, and they can't do it, so it doesn't really matter if we won't let them do it.

flimsy analysis there, summers.
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2.15.2005

mind over time


RedNova has an intriguing article about the Global Consciousness Project, located at Princeton University. The piece has a high fruit factor, but is worth reading all the way through. In short: random number generators apparently respond to strong emotional states in people. They have no only reacted to large global events, but have done so several hours before the events themselves. The article calls this "predicting the future". I would think that to even conveive of this phenomenon, you would have to do away with the concept of "future", that which is inaccessible and distinct from the present, altogether. I'll let you know when I have it all figured out.
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2.12.2005

responsible people don't get sick


Professor Elizabeth Warren writes in the Miami Herald that three quarters of those who went bankrupt due to medical bills in the year of her study (2001, I'm pretty sure) had health insurance. Why? Because when they got sick, they lost their jobs, and with the jobs went the health insurance. Tying insurance to jobs makes little sense. Warran eloquently protests the credit lobby's attempts to make bankruptcy even more difficult to declare, arguing that "this tired approach is no different than a congressional demand to close hospitals in response to a flu epidemic." I wonder if she can put her sizeable brain towards suggesting a comprehensive plan to fix the problem. That should be Congress's job, but they don't seem to be up to it.
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stealing vs. stealing


off the shelf has an illuminating post on the penalties for stealing objects vs. stealing copyrighted material online. The latter is about 30 times more expensive. Proportion?
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lethal stun guns


The nytimes reports that Chicago is rethinking its use of Tasers, after one man is dead and one 14 year old boy in the hospital after a cardiac arrest. More than 100,000 police officers around the country carry tasers. They are supposed to have been the non-lethal alternative to hand guns. This is problemmatic, since an officer is much more likely to use a "non-lethal" weapon than a lethal one, and Tasers have proven lethal of late. About 100 people have died after being shocked with Tasers. However,
Taser has said the deaths are unrelated to the gun and would have occurred in any event because of other factors like drug overdoses. But scientists who have examined the company's research say it is spotty and inconclusive. The company's primary safety studies on its most powerful weapon consist of shocks administered to one pig and five dogs.

One pig and five dogs? Excuse me? How is it that makers of dangerous drugs and products can get away with such flimsy safety testing? Don't answer that, we already know why.
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2.08.2005

no fly


Slate as a nice little comment on how the no-fly lists are easily evaded and thus completely useless. Is the TSA really unaware of this hack? Or is the no-fly list geared more towards harassment than terrorism control?

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a bit of a muddle


It looks like we are not the only ones confused about how the fuzzy math of Bush's new socical security program is supposed to work. In a White House press conference, Bush struggled to answer the question of how the new plan is going to fix the problem:
THE PRESIDENT: Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.

Thanks to kos for keeping me informed.

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your tax dollars at work


The Observer has an account by a British man who was tortured in Guantanamo for 33 months and finally released after it was determined that he had no connections to Al Qaeda.

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2.06.2005

class action bonanza


The Senate Judiciary Committee has just voted to approve the "Class Action Fairness Act", which mandates that most class actions be heard in federal courts. This bill failed to pass by one vote in 2003, but will almost certainly make it through this time. The new law would seem to have several consequences:
- federal courts, already overburdened, will be absolutely swamped.
- long waits for a court date will discourage many suits, throwing out the good with the bad.
- federally appointed judges will now have even more power over the states (federalists, you should be cringing)
- the lingering questions of opt out and notice will have to be addressed fairly quickly
- either class actions are now made a federal question, or complete diversity is no longer required for cases in federal court.

The bill is supported by industry leaders and the Chamber of Commerce. A concise criticism of the bill can be found here.
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trust us, we're experts


Jesselyn Radack, a legal ethics advisor, attests that the Justice Department lied when it claimed that John Walked Lindh had not chosen to have a lawyer present during interrogation. She was the advisor on the phone when a criminal division attorney called to ask whether they could interrogate Lindh without a lawyer. Radack said no, but the FBI went forward anyways. Radack then said that the interrogation should be kept under seal, but that also was disregarded. Emails that she wrote regarding this situation were deleted by the FBI, and a prosecutor lied to the judge about their existence. The person in charge of this operation was Michael Chertoff, nominee for head of Homeland Security, who spoke recently about the need to remain within the bounds of the law. The New York Times has confirmed Radack's claims.

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elephant in a china shop


Talking Points Memo has an very good post about what exacly president Bush is proposing to do with social security. As Marshall describes it, social security is currently a "defined benefit", whereas the new 'privatized' plan amounts to a 401k style "defined contribution" system. The essence of social security is its guarantee of some income in retirement; by eliminating this guarantee, Bush is not reforming the system, he is ending it. This topic has been circling for a while, but has been somewhat buried in verbiage. Read talking points for a bit of clarity.


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2.02.2005

medical bankruptcy


Forbes writes, "Illness and medical bills contributed to roughly half the personal bankruptcy filings in 2001, affecting as many as 2.2 million Americans, a new Harvard study says." So would it perhaps be cheaper for this country to institute national health insurance rather than bearing the cost of billions of dollars in forgiven debt? Wondering whether this information will stick to those who argue that failures of personal responsibility are responsible for most bankruptcies. See professor Elizabeth Warren on this subject.
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liability, libel and speech


Jon Weiner, history professor at UC Irvine, writes in the Nation that twenty of the biggest chemical companies in the US have teamed up to discredit two historians who have investigated the industry's tango with cancer:
Attorneys for Dow, Monsanto, Goodrich, Goodyear, Union Carbide and others have subpoenaed and deposed five academics who recommended that the University of California Press publish the book Deceit and Denial - The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner. The companies have also recruited their own historian to argue that Markowitz and Rosner have engaged in unethical conduct... The reasons for the companies' actions are not hard to find: They face potentially massive liability claims on the order of the tobacco litigation if cancer is linked to vinyl chloride-based consumer products such as hairspray. The stakes are high also for publishers of controversial books, and for historians who write them, because when authors are charged with ethical violations and manuscript readers are subpoenaed, that has a chilling effect. The stakes are highest for the public, because this dispute centers on access to information about cancer-causing chemicals in consumer products.

The question about the chemical companies and the health risks of vinyl chloride is the classic one: What did they know, and when did they know it? Rosner and Markowitz used the Baggett materials to show that in 1973 the industry learned that vinyl chloride monomer caused cancer in animals--even at low levels of exposure. Since vinyl chloride was the basis for hairspray, Saran Wrap, car upholstery, shower curtains, floor coverings and hundreds of other consumer products, the implications for public health were massive. Yet the companies failed to disclose that information about cancer to the public and to the federal regulatory agencies...

At issue now in US district court in Jackson, Mississippi, is the claim by another former chemical worker that Airco and other companies are liable for his liver cancer because he was exposed to vinyl chloride monomer on the job. Markowitz is a key expert witness for the plaintiffs, because of the research he and Rosner published in Deceit and Denial. But the judge is being told that Rosner and Markowitz's research is "not valid," that the publisher's review process was "subverted" and that Rosner and Markowitz have "frequently and flagrantly violated" the American Historical Association's code of ethics.

To review: chemical companies have paid someone to testify at trial that this research on their activities is bunk, making inexpert and unsupported reference to standards of ethics in the profession (everyone the writer talked to found the research to be top rate.) Furthermore, they have subpoenaed and deposed the peer reviewers who recommended that the university publish the book. One person deposed called the process "harassment" with "a chilling effect on folks who tell the truth." It is unclear how much this unprecedented tactic will sway the jury to find the research untrustworthy.

This failure to disclose and sham academics business reminds me of the Vioxx situation - I am very curious to see what path this liability train takes, whether any of it will stick, whether the public will press the government to take action, and what claim the historians might have against the chemical companies (for slander perhaps?). While the public currently seems unsympathetic to large tort settlements (thanks to some forceful PR on the part of 'tort reformers'), the intentional concealment of damning studies may strike a chord.
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helping kids make heavy choices


The Wall Street Journal reported today that the "top three advertisers of packaged-foods to children," General Mills, Kellogg and Kraft Foods, along with the Grocery Manufacturers of America and several advertising associations, "have created a lobbying group to defend the right to advertise to kids." The new group, the Alliance for American Advertising, states, "There is not a correlation between advertising trends and recent childhood obesity trends."

(methinks the food industry doth protest too much...)

If you can't access the WSJ, here is a Reuters Article about it.
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neo-cons calling for a draft?


This from the Project for a New American Century,

Letter to Congress on Increasing U.S. Ground Forces
January 28, 2005

Dear Senator Frist, Senator Reid, Speaker Hastert, and Representative Pelosi:

The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume. Those responsibilities are real and important. They are not going away. The United States will not and should not become less engaged in the world in the years to come. But our national security, global peace and stability, and the defense and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force than we have today. The administration has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to meet today's (and tomorrow's) missions and challenges.

So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.

There is abundant evidence that the demands of the ongoing missions in the greater Middle East, along with our continuing defense and alliance commitments elsewhere in the world, are close to exhausting current U.S. ground forces. For example, just late last month, Lieutenant General James Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, reported that "overuse" in Iraq and Afghanistan could be leading to a "broken force." Yet after almost two years in Iraq and almost three years in Afghanistan, it should be evident that our engagement in the greater Middle East is truly, in Condoleezza Rice's term, a "generational commitment." The only way to fulfill the military aspect of this commitment is by increasing the size of the force available to our civilian leadership.

The administration has been reluctant to adapt to this new reality. We understand the dangers of continued federal deficits, and the fiscal difficulty of increasing the number of troops. But the defense of the United States is the first priority of the government. This nation can afford a robust defense posture along with a strong fiscal posture. And we can afford both the necessary number of ground troops and what is needed for transformation of the military.

In sum: We can afford the military we need. As a nation, we are spending a smaller percentage of our GDP on the military than at any time during the Cold War. We do not propose returning to a Cold War-size or shape force structure. We do insist that we act responsibly to create the military we need to fight the war on terror and fulfill our other responsibilities around the world.

The men and women of our military have performed magnificently over the last few years. We are more proud of them than we can say. But many of them would be the first to say that the armed forces are too small. And we would say that surely we should be doing more to honor the contract between America and those who serve her in war. Reserves were meant to be reserves, not regulars. Our regulars and reserves are not only proving themselves as warriors, but as humanitarians and builders of emerging democracies. Our armed forces, active and reserve, are once again proving their value to the nation. We can honor their sacrifices by giving them the manpower and the materiel they need.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution places the power and the duty to raise and support the military forces of the United States in the hands of the Congress. That is why we, the undersigned, a bipartisan group with diverse policy views, have come together to call upon you to act. You will be serving your country well if you insist on providing the military manpower we need to meet America's obligations, and to help ensure success in carrying out our foreign policy objectives in a dangerous, but also hopeful, world.


Respectfully,

Peter Beinart, Jeffrey Bergner, Daniel Blumenthal, Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, Ivo H. Daalder, Thomas Donnelly, Michele FlournoyFrank F. Gaffney, Jr., Reuel Marc GerechtLt. Gen. Buster C. Glosson (USAF, retired), Bruce P. Jackson, Frederick Kagan, Robert Kagan, Craig Kennedy, Paul Kennedy, Col. Robert Killebrew (USA, retired), William Kristol, Will Marshall, Clifford May, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey (USA, retired), Daniel McKivergan,  Joshua Muravchik, Steven J. Nider, Michael O'Hanlon, Mackubin Thomas OwensRalph Peters, Danielle Pletka, Stephen P. Rosen, Major Gen. Robert H. Scales (USA, retired), Randy Scheunemann, Gary Schmitt, Walter Slocombe, James B. Steinberg
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2.01.2005

revival


school has managed to come between me and blogging, but i'm going to give it another go. my posts may start taking a distinctively legal turn - hopefully someone will be interested. at least it will allow me to digest. cheers all...


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