Since the twentieth century...

Yet Another Web Log

A clipping service without portfolio*, compiled and annotated by Vicki Rosenzweig since March 1999

ISSN 1534-0236

Technology and ideology alike are exercises in applied imagination.

6 March 2007

Guilty, guilty, guilty! [Thank you, Gary Trudeau.] Scooter Libby has been convicted on four out of five counts, and faces a civil lawsuit to go with that.

After the trial, jurors speaking for the cameras made clear that they believed the Wilson matter and his harsh criticism of the Iraq war were a central concern in Cheney's office and that Libby's claims of memory problems were not credible. Still, one juror said he and his fellow jurors agreed with the defense argument that Libby had been hung out to dry by Mr. Rove and other more senior officials.

"It seemed like … he was the fall guy," juror Denis Collins said in an ad hoc press conference after the verdict. But, he added, that point did not negate Libby's actions.

The disappointment is that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is calling the investigation finished.

The USDA has given "preliminary approval" to transgenic rice containing proteins found in human breast milk. The company that developed it says the rice could be used medicinally, specifically to treat diarrhea and dehydration in infants. (It's not clear whether this would be "feed them cereal made with this rice" or extracting the proteins from the mature rice plants and putting them into a medication.)

The story talks about 3,000 hectares in Kansas: this isn't, yet, a commercial-level venture, and won't be for a while even if the company gets approval to plant the rice this Spring. Critics are concerned, again, about the transgenic rice getting out of the test plot and into the broader human food chain.

The company's attempts to plant a test crop in previous years have run into problems including opposition from farmers in Missouri, spurred in part by by Anheuser-Busch's threat to boycott rice grown anywhere near the GM plantings. [I can't get to Ventria Bioscience's website at the moment.]

28 February 2007

The Canadian Parliament has done the right thing: two days after the Supreme Court ruled that indefinite detention of foreign suspects is against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Parliament has voted against renewing anti-terror laws, passed after the 9/11 attacks, that had separate, timed indefinite detention (not limited to the foreign-born) and could have compelled witnesses to testify. The BBC notes that these provisions had not been used in the five years they were on the books. The PM is calling the opposition the standard names used by authoritarians who don't get their way.

19 February 2007

Remember tabletop fusion? Purdue has released some of the results of an investigation into possible research misconduct in that case. While New Scientist's brief piece does its best to suggest that tabletop fusion is back before noting, briefly, that the researcher, Rusi P. Taleyarkhan, has been cleared of misconduct, the New York Times goes into greater detail to state that the whole thing remains, murky. Purdue won't actually say what allegations they were investigating:

Critics of Dr. Taleyarkhan said other wording in the statement suggested that the university had disregarded concerns and accusations raised by non-Purdue scientists and instead had concentrated on one seemingly small issue: whether it was improper for the professor to have left his name off two scientific papers.

“The Purdue administration apparently narrowly focused the committee’s charge and avoided the question of whether the research was doctored,” said Kenneth S. Suslick, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This may help Taleyarkhan's reputation, but it doesn't do much for the underlying scientific claims: nobody outside Purdue has replicated the work.

16 February 2007

The Order of the Science Scouts has come up with a bunch of mostly silly badges for achievements in science and scientific communication.

My badges are: talking science badge ("required of all members") I blog about science badge, which makes this post self-referential will gladly kick sexual
harasser's ass badge The 'respect me - I've published at an upper tier publication for popular science readership' badge. I know what a
tadpole is badge

10 February 2007

In case you missed it: Breaking news: Young woman meets sudden, tragic death.

Yes, people die every day, and too many do so before their time. But this woman was special, and the things that she did made an impact on all of us.…

Yesterday, Jennifer Parcell was supporting combat operations in Al Anbar province when she was killed in action. If we had more information about her death, we would provide it. But here at Attytood, we don't have the millions of dollars in resources or the extra manpower that they have at CNN, or MSNBC, or Fox News.

We wish we did, because then we could give the life and death of Jennifer Parcell the national attention that it truly deserves.

We could call in our medical expert, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to talk about the type of combat injuries that America's fighting men and women are suffering in Iraq, and whether the troops have adequate protection. Then we would dial up our legal affairs correspondent, Jeffrey Toobin, and discuss whether or not Congress has the legal authority to defy the White House and bring at least some of our soldiers home. We'd send all our spare reporters out into the field, maybe to track down the last person who saw Jennifer Parcell alive, or find that friend who could tell us about her life, and our loss. We would make sure that our news coverage gave you a name and a face to go with that number, 3,115.

[via Pecunium]

29 January 2007

A dromeosaur named Bambiraptor (they don't say why it's called that) appears to have had opposable fingers, which it may have used to capture and eat prey such as frogs. Bambiraptor is the first known non-mammal with this ability. Neither of the opposable digits is technically a thumb (they were its two outer fingers, and I suspect that term is reserved for primates).

26 January 2007

The Canadian government has apologized to Maher Arar for his deportation and torture, and is giving him C$10.5 million, plus legal fees, as compensation. Arar told the press that "This means the world to me." The CBC notes, however, that the US won't take him off its watchlist, and that he is afraid to leave Canada.

"The struggle to clear my name has been long and hard," he said, with his lawyers at his side. "I feel now I can put more time into being a good father [to my children], and to being a good husband and to rebuilding my life."

He said he is thankful for the Canadians who supported him and helped him get home.

Mr. Arar, the story said that you sometimes google your name. If you find this Weblog, please accept my apology as an American for what my government has done, and for its continued refusal to admit its wrongdoing.

Regulatory bodies representing the tuna industry say they have adopted the first international plan to control overfishing of tuna.

The plan, agreed by delegates from 60 countries, recognised "the critical need to arrest further stock decline in the case of depleted stocks (and) maintain and rebuild tuna stocks to sustainable levels."

Conservationists, however, argue that the plan involves no specific action other than measuring the catch and talking to each other:

"Their only agreement was to gather more data and talk more often," [the World Wildlife Fund] said in a statement on its website.

"WWF believes this inaction will result in further depletion of tuna populations, degradation of the oceans, loss of tuna to eat, and ultimately to a loss of livelihoods across the world."

The different nations at the meeting disagree even on the basic issue of fleet capacity, with richer nations wanting to reduce it while poorer nations want to add to their own tuna fleets. No action was agreed to on this issue. It may be time for me to do some research and see if I should stop buying tuna; I ought to investigate the condition of the local cod fishery (off the South Shore of Long Island, specifically).

21 January 2007

At this point, visits to out-of-the-way parts of the Earth are undertaken for their own sake, not for science or even bragging rights:

Paul Landry traveled for 47 days from the tip of Antarctica to reach the most remote point of its geographic interior, the Pole of Inaccessibility, and when he finally reached it he was greeted by a surprising sight -- a giant statue of Vladimir Lenin sticking out two metres above the snow.

"He basically welcomed us here," said Landry. "Lenin was actually placed on this chimney above the base."

The statue of the former Soviet leader was placed there by Russian explorers who built a shelter when they first travelled there in 1958. A second Russian team returned there in 1967, but no one on Earth had returned to the site since.

18 January 2007

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it's going to cut the size of the no-fly list in half, but refuses to publish either the current size or the target; estimates of the former vary by an order of magnitude, with the high end being 350,000 people.

Being politicians, bureaucrats, and maybe even simply human, they're also claiming that the inaccuracies aren't their fault, but that of the airlines that are required to enforce the no-fly list.

Politicians at the Senate Commerce Committee brought up the issue of complaints with Mr Hawley.

Senator Ted Stevens said his wife Catherine was being identified as Cat Stevens - the folk singer now known as Yusuf Islam who was prevented from entering the US in 2004.

Mr Hawley said his department did send updated information to airlines but added: "Unfortunately, it depends airline by airline how their individual systems work."

We're also promised a complaint system, by which passengers who are blocked from flying will be able to have the records checked, but I suspect the agency will find it easier to stamp forms "checked/keep on list" than to do a thorough investigation if the name matches, even though other identifiers like age and gender aren't even close. I wouldn't put money on the chances of a Muslim college student whose parents named him "Yusuf Islam" getting on a US airline flight, despite the obvious age disparity.

17 January 2007

Five minutes to midnight. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have moved the hands of their doomsday clock, but they've also changed the criteria: they're now indexing on both the risks of nuclear war, which they believe have increased, and the dangers caused by climate change:

Growing global nuclear instability has led humanity to the brink of a "Second Nuclear Age," the group concluded, and the threat posed by climate change is second only to that posed by nuclear weapons.

"When we think about what technologies besides nuclear weapons could produce such devastation to the planet, we quickly came to carbon-emitting technologies," said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Chicago-based BAS.

While recognizing that they have a point, it feels as though they're fiddling with the criteria. If the goal is to warn people of a particular danger, using the same alarm for multiple problems may be counter-productive.

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