Tuesday, February 28, 2006

ANTI-DARWIN BILL FAILS IN UTAH

Excellent news!!

ANTI-DARWIN BILL FAILS IN UTAH

Written by Kirk Johnson – NY Times
Tuesday, 28 February 2006

In a defeat for critics of Darwin, the Utah House of Representatives on Monday voted down a bill intended to challenge the theory of evolution in high school science classes.

The bill had been viewed nationally, by people on each side of the science education debate, as an important proposal because Utah is such a conservative state, with a Legislature dominated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But the bill died on a 46-to-28 vote in the Republican-controlled House after being amended by the majority whip, Stephen H. Urquhart, a Mormon who said he thought God did not have an argument with science. The amendment stripped out most of the bill's language, leaving only that the state board of education "shall establish curriculum requirements relating to scientific instruction."

Legislative officials said the bill was not likely to be revived before the scheduled adjournment of the Legislature on Wednesday. The Origins of Life bill, in its initial form, would have required teachers to issue a disclaimer to their students saying that not all scientists agree about evolution and the origin of species. It did not mention any alternative theory to Darwinism, but was viewed by some supporters and opponents as part of the drive to encourage the teaching of intelligent design, which says that life is too complicated to have evolved without an architect.

Some Mormon legislators opposed the bill because they agreed with Mr. Urquhart that science and religion should remain separate, others because they thought intelligent design was not in keeping with traditional Mormon belief.

Casey Luskin, a spokesman for the Discovery Institute, a research group based in Seattle that has promoted the ideas of intelligent design, called the vote "a loss for scientific education," but said it was a purely local Utah matter.

A spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Joe Conn, said Utah's vote would resonate.

"If the creationists can't win in a state as conservative as Utah, they've got an uphill
battle," Mr. Conn said.

BoingBoing banned in UAE, Qatar, elsewhere.

Here's the BoingBoing team's response to being listed as a "nudity" site. Go BoingBoing.....


Our response to net-censors: Get bent!

Xeni Jardin:


Boing Boing to net-censors: Get bent!

We've decided not to rejig our editorial process to make it easier for a censorware company to block us for their customers. Instead, we're creating a clearinghouse of information on how to defeat censorware.

Last week, we reported that Boing
Boing was blocked
by entire countries including the United Arab Emirates, and by many library systems, schools, US government and military sites, and corporations.

Today, we've learned that Internet Qatar, the sole ISP in the State of Qatar, has also banned BoingBoing.

We've heard from librarians in Africa who want to watch the video of the American Register of Copyrights denouncing Congress, employees at the Australian Broadcasting Company, students, and workers around the world who can't gain access to our work.

At fault in most of these cases is a US-based censorware company called Secure Computing, which makes a web-rating product called SmartFilter. But SmartFilter isn't very smart. Secure Computing classifies any site with any nudity -- even Michaelangelo's David appearing on a single page out of thousands -- as a "nudity" site, which means that customers who block "nudity" can't get through.

Last week, Secure Computing updated their software to classify Boing Boing as a "nudity" site. Last month, we had two posts with nudity in them, out of 692 -- that's 0.29 percent of our posts, but SmartFilter blocks 100 percent of them. This month, there were four posts with nudity (including the Abu Ghraib photos), out of 618 -- 0.65 percent.

In fact, out of the 25,000+ Boing Boing posts classed as "nudity" by SmartFilter, more that 99.5 percent have no nudity at all. They're stories about Hurricane Katrina, kidnapped journalists in Iraq, book reviews, ukelele casemods, phonecam video of Bigfoot sightings (come to think of it, he doesn't wear clothes either), or pictures of astonishing Lego constructions.

Why is SmartFilter content to deliver a product with a 99.5 percent false-positive rate? Because it has promised its customers that it will stop their users from seeing nudity (fat chance -- it's a dead certainty that Smart Filter has failed to class innumerable sites containing nudity), and punishing 24,875 nudity-free posts to get at 125 that contain mild or "art" nudity is fine by them.

Secure Computing told us that their categorization system protects kindergartners from being exposed to porn. We argue that not only are products like SmartFilter incapable of blocking all potentially kid-inappropriate sites, but why treat entire countries, or entire corporate sites full of working adults, as kindergartners?

The question of keeping your child from viewing content you don't want them to see can be addressed more efficiently locally, with tech tools like the browser Bumpercar. As BoingBoing founder (and father of two) Mark Frauenfelder explains, "My daughter and I found a bunch of great kid-friendly sites and have added them to the 'white list.' As a parent, I have local control of the sites she visits instead of handing over control to a remote group of people that I don't trust to do my job of being a parent."

The fact is, there's no effective way to censor the Internet in broad strokes. Only dumb CIOs and totalitarian governments like the UAE believe that adding censorware to your network will prevent the naughty stuff from slopping in. Having a human being review a few pages on a site every couple months is a perfectly adequate classification system, in SmartFilter's lights -- which is convenient, since a genuinely thoroughgoing review would be ruinously expensive.

Secure Computing offered us a devil's bargain: if we'd change the URLs of images with "nudity" (which, they assured us, included photos of Michaelangelo's David) to something they could detect and block, they'd let the rest of the world see us again. That guy in the UAE who was worried he'd be imprisoned for trying to read BoingBoing would be OK again.

We considered their offer, and decided not to do it. What happens when the next censorware company comes along with another editorial process they want us to engage in to help them censor the site?

More importantly: why should we let a company that helps corrupt dictatorships oppress their citizen dictate morality to us?

So instead we've decided to help put Secure Computing out of business. We're doing this in three ways:

  • First, we're publishing a guide to evading the
    SmartFilter censorware
    . There are hundreds of ways to defeat these
    censorware apps, and we're going to catalog as many of them as possible.
    Link to "BoingBoing's Guide To Evading Censorware."
  • Next, we're compiling a list of SmartFilter's dumb classifications. Send us your misclassified SmartFilter sites so we can add them to the list.
  • Finally, we're producing a guide to convincing your employer to ditch
    SmartFilter. It consists of parts one and two above: a list of bad SmartFilter
    classifications and a list of ways that SmartFilter can be shredded like wet
    kleenex. Why spend money on bad technology that doesn't work?

Signed, the BoingBoing team:
- Cory Doctorow
- Mark Frauenfelder
- Xeni Jardin
- David Pescovitz
- John Battelle









(Internet Qatar screengrab: thanks, Patrick McKinnion)

Previous BoingBoing posts:

* Stick Michelangelo's "David" on your blog to protest censorware

Original Article

>JjV<
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Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window. -
Steve Wozniak

Friday, February 24, 2006

SciTech Watch: Broadband’s Economic Impact




My latest column is up at blogcritics. Its a look at the report on the economic impact of Broadband Internet access published by MIT's Communications Futures Program.

>JjV<
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Ability is nothing without opportunity. - Napoleon Bonaparte

Monday, February 20, 2006

An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science

Ten thousand clergymen have signed this open letter concerning Religion and Science.

Here's the text of the letter:

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

This project was organized by The Clergy Letter Project and pointed to by John Dvorak's blog.

>JjV<

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He was a wise man who invented God. - Plato

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Louisville Named Site Of First World Championship Of Video Games

Ran across this article on my Blocritics newsfeed!  More info at the World Series of Video Games web site.  Here's the full-text of the WSVG press release:
 
FIRST-EVER 'WORLD SERIES OF VIDEO GAMES' INTERNATIONAL GAMING COMPETITION AND FESTIVAL ANNOUNCED

The Definitive Tournament Series Will Span Six Events and Establish the World's First True Video Game Champions

Presented By Intel and Sponsored by Xbox 360

New York - February 16, 2006 - Games Media Properties today announced the first-ever World Series of Video Games international gaming competition, set to kick off in June 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky with four subsequent circuit events taking place throughout the year and culminating in a final event in December 2006. With $1 Million in cash prizing, the World Series of Video Games will combine PC and Xbox games to establish true world champions under standardized rules and procedures across a circuit of multiple tournaments. The 3-5 day events will be open to the public and will encompass 150,000 square feet of tournaments, exhibitions, concerts and other attractions. The World Series of Video Games is presented by Intel and sponsored by Xbox 360. The announcement was made by Games Media Properties executives Matthew Ringel and Scott Valencia.

"Video games are the entertainment of choice for millions of people worldwide and competition and achievement are of paramount importance to gamers," said Matthew Ringel, President and CEO, Games Media Properties. "In bringing together some of the most well-known tournaments, the best gamers and unprecedented media exposure, the World Series of Video Games will help promote a new class of champions, and bring the excitement of gaming competitions to a wider audience."

The World Series of Video Games has forged partnerships with some of the world's largest and most well-respected competition organizations and is working closely with these organizations in the selection of tournament games and the establishment of standardized rules and procedures to create a uniform platform for video game competition. Participating organizations include The Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), Lanwar, and E-Sport Entertainment Group (DreamHack). Akin to the structure of such established sports franchises as the PGA Tour and NASCAR, the World Series of Video Games will establish the first video game competition circuit that features a series of "Major" tournaments on multiple gaming platforms that culminate in final rounds at which true world champions emerge.

"To date, video game competitions worldwide have been narrowly focused on one platform or another," said Scott Valencia, Executive Vice President, Games Media Properties. "The professional gaming movement requires a structure and an inclusive platform in order to grow. The World Series of Video Games embraces PC and console platforms and several of the most important game titles and communities. This approach increases the value and excitement of the events for the players, sponsors and a mainstream audience."

The World Series of Video Games will kick off at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky June15-18, 2006. Events will include PC and console tournaments, a 3000-user "Bring Your Own Computer" ("BYOC") and first ever "Bring Your Own Xbox" event, concerts, consumer electronics exhibitions and more. This event is timed to coincide with DreamHack, the world's largest LAN (Local Area Network) party, to be held in Jonkoping, Sweden during the FIFA World Cup. American and European teams will have the ability to compete against each other from these two events, and the events will vie to set a world record for the largest LAN party ever held. Additional details for this event and the dates and locations of the remaining circuit events, including the finals, will be announced soon.
 
>JjV<
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Advertising is 85 percent confusion and 15 percent commission. - Fred Allen

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

New SciTech Watch Column - In Theory




My latest column is up at blogcritics. Its a piece on what the word theory means in context of the Scientific Method.

>JjV<
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2.998e10 cm/sec; It's not just a good idea, it's the law.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

ENIAC's 60th Birthday


From an article on CNET about the birth of ENIAC, the first modern computer:

In February 1946, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were about to unveil, for the first time, an electronic computer to the world. Their ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, could churn 5,000 addition problems in one second, far faster than any device
yet invented.



Here's a comparison between ENIAC's processor and Intel's latest chip:



Read the whole article here.

>JjV<
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I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time. - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Happy Birthday - Charles Darwin

Today, February 13th is the 197th anniversery of Charles Darwin's birth.
 

Friday, February 10, 2006

New SciTech Watch Column - Alt Fuels

My latest column is up at blogcritics.  Its a piece on biodiesel and ethanol as replacements for petroleum-based fuels.
 
>JjV<
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Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories.   - Arthur C Clarke
 

Keep Religion out of Science Class

Please read the posting below from the Skeptics Society and consider joining/donating to help keep religion out of Science classes!




Help the Skeptics Society keep Religion out of the Science Classroom!

Consider these recent developments:

  • A prominent Catholic cardinal recently published a New York Times editorial suggesting - contrary to long-standing church policy -that evolution and the Catholic faith are incompatible.
  • A county in Tennessee wants to require textbook stickers that insist that evolution is unproven.
  • Language has been included in Bush’s No Child Left Behind law that says students should be exposed to “the full range of scientific views that exist” - suggesting that the theory of evolution is seriously flawed.
  • Bills have been introduced in Alabama and Georgia to encourage the introduction of Intelligent Design in science classes. They have already been approved in Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio.

Lawsuits are being filed across the country at state and local levels to challenge the teaching of evolution in the classroom.

The promoters of creationism are well-funded

The well-funded Discovery Institute - home of the new creationism known as “Intelligent Design” - is behind much of the new strategy to discredit evolution.

According to the New York Times, the Seattle-based think tank has been funded by right wing, conservative religious groups such as the Ahmanson Foundation ($750,000 from Howard Ahmanson Jr., who once said his goal is “the total integration of biblical law into our lives”) and the MacLellan Foundation ($450,000 from a group that commits itself to “the infallibility of the Scripture”) to the tune of $3.6 million a year since 1996,sponsoring fellowships of $5,000 to $60,000 per year to 50 researchers.

This money has resulted in 50 books on intelligent design, countless opinion editorials, essays, reviews, and commentaries, and two slick documentaries broadcast on public television and one shown at the Smithsonian Institute.

The Discovery Institute is not alone. In Virginia, Liberty University sponsored the Creation Mega Conference with a Kentucky group called “Answers in Genesis,” which raised $9 million in 2003 in their efforts to teach biblical Young-Earth Creationism.

The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally ‘introduced to Jesus.’

- Phillip Johnson, Church & State magazine, 1999, on the “wedge” strategy

Intelligent Design opens the whole possibility of us being created in the image of a benevolent God ... The job of apologetics is to clear the ground, to clear obstacles that prevent people from coming to the knowledge of Christ... And if there’s anything that I think has blocked the growth of Christ as the free reign of the Spirit and people accepting the Scripture and Jesus Christ, it is the Darwinian naturalistic view.

-William Dembski, National Religious Broadcasters convention, February 6, 2000

Father’s [the Reverend Sun Myung Moonâ??s] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.

-Jonathan Wells, author of the anti-evolution book, The Icons of Evolution

What can you do to put the brakes on the Intelligent Design publicity juggernaut?

- Support the Skeptic’s Society with a donation!

With your help, we can stop the religion from being taught in science class with our own public relations campaign. Thepress, public, and educators are eager to hear what science has to say aboutthe claims of Intelligent Design. Here is what we can do in 2006:

  • A new book by Michael Shermer: Why Darwin Matters: Evolution, Design, and the Battle for Science and Religion, to be published by Henry Holt/Times Books, put on the fast track for release in 2006.
  • Copies of Why Darwin Matters will be sent to every Congressman, Senator, and Governor in America, along with the relevant state boards of education, and state legislative bodies contemplating passing pro-creationist legislation.
  • A national book tour by Michael Shermer, covering all the major national media sources as well as local radio, television, and newspaper outlets.
  • A special volume of essays on evolution and Intelligent Design creationism collected from the pages of Skeptic magazine, to be published by the Skeptics Society and widely distributed to science teachers throughout America to give them the intellectual tools they need to deal with ID and creationism.
  • Distribute free copies to teachers of our already published and wildly popular booklet How to Debate a Creationist, the bestselling item in our catalogue.

SUPPORT OUR WORK and the promotion of science, by making a donation



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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Frappr Mappr


I've created the Johniac group on the mapping web site Frappr.
How about going over here and adding yourself so I can see where you my dear readers are.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Skillet Cornbread


Here's a recipe for skillet cornbread. Goes great with the Chili recipe
above.


Skillet Cornbread

Requires a Nine (9) inch cast iron Skillet.

3/4 Cup - Corn Meal
1¼ Cup - All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup - Sugar
2 Teaspoons - Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon - Salt (Optional)
1 Cup - Milk
1 - Egg
½ Cup + 2 Tablespoons - Vegetable Oil

Preheat oven to 400°F. Put skillet in oven while it preheats.

Whisk together first five (5) ingredients.
In a separate container, combine the egg and milk. Mix with a fork until egg and milk are well blended.
Stir egg/milk mixture into dry ingredients. Blend well.
When oven is at temperature, remove skillet from oven.
Add ALL the Vegetable Oil to the skillet and return skillet to oven for five (5) minutes.
Carefully add most of the hot oil from the skillet to the batter. Blend slowly, but completely.
Pour batter into hot skillet.
Return skillet to oven.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a knife blade inserted in the center comes out clean.
Turn out onto cooling rack and immediately return to skillet.Slice into wedges for serving.

Makes approximately eight (8) servings.

>JjV<
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Youth and skill are no match for experience and treachery.

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Texas-Style Lip-Smackin' Chili

chili
Made this recipe for Texas Red Chili last night and it was awesome. Will post the cornbread recipe a bit later.

Texas-Style Lip-Smackin' Chili
Serves 8-10

INGREDIENTS

  1. 5 pounds beef chuck or beef round
  2. Salt as needed
  3. Pepper as needed
  4. Masa Flour as needed
  5. Vegetable oil as needed
  6. 1-1/2 pounds small diced onion
  7. 1/2 ounce minced garlic
  8. 1 can of your favorite beer
  9. 16 ounces tomato puree
  10. 1 quart beef broth
  11. 8 ounces diced green chilies
  12. 1-3/4 ounces minced jalapenos
  13. 2 tablespoons chili powder (or to taste)
  14. 2 tablespoons chipolte chili powder (or to taste)
  15. 1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
  16. 3 tablespoons ground cumin (or to taste)
  17. 3 tablespoons dried oregano
  18. Skillet Corn Bread
  19. Shredded cheddar, chopped onions, sour cream and minced jalapenos, for garnish

DIRECTIONS


-Trim beef and cut into one-inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper and dredge in Masa flour.

-Heat oil in a pan over medium to high heat. Add the beef (do not crowd the beef, it must have room to brown). Sear on all sides until well-browned. Remove and reserve.

-Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat. Don't forget to stir now and then until onions become a deep brown, about 10-12 minutes. Add a small amount of beer to deglaze the bottom of the pot (dispose of the rest of the beer however you want to!).

-Add the tomato puree and broth and bring to a boil.

-Return beef and any juices it released to the pan and bring to a slow simmer. Cover pot and place in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour. Check on the chili every 20 minutes or so, stirring and skimming the fat along the way.

-Add the chilis, jalapenos, chili powders, ground cumin and oregano. Place back in the oven for another 45 minutes (don't forget to stir).

-The meat should be very, very tender by now. To finish the chili, return to simmer on stovetop and taste. If you want to add more salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, or oregano then now is the perfect time. (Note: Adding more ingredients will not hurt my feelings!) Now, it's time to serve it up.

-Cut corn bread into wedges, split wedges in half horizontally. Ladle on chili. Enjoy!

Here's the original recipe from The Today Show.

>JjV<
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Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy. - Joseph Campbell


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Sunday, February 05, 2006

OneWebDay


http://www.onewebday.org







September 22, 2006 is OneWebDay. Its a day to remind people that the Internet is a place not just a collection of network equipment and data pipes. Doc Searl's wrote an excellent piece about this issue called Saving the Net. Here's a quote:

We who know and understand the territorial nature of the Net need to appeal to the same territorial sense in those we hope to win over with our arguments.

Advocating and saving the Net is not a partisan issue. Lawmakers and regulators aren't screwing up the Net because they're "Friends of Bush" or "Friends of Hollywood" or liberals or conservatives. They're doing it because one way of framing the Net--as a transport system for content--is winning over another way of framing the Net--as a place where markets and business and culture and governance can all thrive.

Please go and read Doc's entire article. When you're done go visit the OneWebDay wiki and find a way to participate.

>JjV<

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...I'd even be willing to entertain the notion of a black hole passing over the area or some cosmic anomaly but it's not really black hole season either... - Fox Mulder

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Danielle Crittenden: The Secret Presidential IMs

I've been reading Danielle's The Secret Presidential IMs in The Huffington Post for a while now and I have to say they are they are fantastic.  Humor, satire and political comentary all in l33t speak.
 
Highly recommended!
 
>JjV<
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Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing. - Albert Einstein

 

My Very Own Column

I’ve hesitated about blogging this until I had a couple of them done....  BlogCritics has asked me to do a weekly (more or less) feature column on Science and Technology for their web site.  I’ve named the column SciTech Watch and the purpose of the column is to explain science or technology news in terms everyone can understand.  Especially items that the mainstream press ignores or underplays.
 
 
Let me know what you think.....
 
>JjV<
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There's too much blood in my caffeine system.
 
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Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Truth About Universal Health Care By Tyler Zimmer

Found on Alternet’s RSS feed......

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The Truth About Universal Health Care

By Tyler Zimmer, Campus Progress. Posted January 31, 2006 in Alternet’s Wiretap.


There are numerous pathologies (such as a fear of increasing the size of the federal government) in the American political climate that prevented Universal Health Care (UHC) from succeeding. For many, blind faith in the free market and the sentiment that "private is always more efficient than public" is the motivation for dismissing such a sweeping reform initiative.


The trouble with UHC isn't that it's politically infeasible, financially ruinous, or inefficient, because none of the above is true. The largest impediment to implementing UHC is that it has yet to receive a fair trial in this country.


There are over 40 million people in the U.S. who do not have any health insurance. For a country touted as the most powerful in the world, that figure is appalling. Ensuring that every individual has free access to health care should be an imperative of any fair and just society.


Health care, contrary to what those on the right would argue, is not simply a commodity to be bought and sold according to the market, but rather it is a basic human need. As such, it should not be limited to only those who are able to pay for it. Even some conservatives will reluctantly sympathize with the spirit of social justice inherent in UHC, but skepticism about the political and financial feasibility of UHC frequently color their arguments against it.


So, let's debunk five myths about UHC.


Myth #1: It would be too expensive


Rather than cost more money, UHC would actually reduce the cost of health care. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that UHC could save up to $14 billion annually by spreading the risk evenly over the entire population, eliminating deductibles and co-pays and making preventive medicine available to the poor and uninsured. The federal government already subsidizes private health insurance in the form of tax deductions.


Private insurance companies also spend billions on administration and overhead, advertising, and determining and inspecting patient eligibility, all while trying to make a profit. UHC would not be burdened with some of those costs, like advertising, and unlike private business, it could run at a loss and still be viable. The pressures of profitability would no longer close the door for millions of Americans and drive up costs. As a result, Americans would effectively pay less for health insurance than they do now, according to the Government Accountability Office.


Myth #2: It would require a HUGE, inefficient bureaucracy


The current system is already a HUGE, inefficient bureaucracy! As previously mentioned, much of the unnecessary overhead and micromanaging in the system now could be eliminated if UHC were implemented. For example, the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in determining patient eligibility would be completely unnecessary if everyone were eligible and covered. Insurance companies spend an estimated 25 cents of every dollar on administration. Canada, which already has a comprehensive UHC in place and still manages to pay 70 percent less per citizen on health care, spends about the equivalent of about 12 cents of every dollar on administration.


Myth #3: It would restrict patient choice


How can we even begin to talk about choice when 40 million Americans don't have any health insurance at all? "Choice" really isn't an appropriate topic for those who can't afford health care. Many of the chronically sick are simply denied coverage by private insurance companies because they aren't good financial investments. The concept of choice probably doesn't resonate much for people in this situation, either. But even for those who are insured under the current system, HMOs and insurance companies alike restrict patients to a strict list of complying physicians. UHC wouldn't directly dictate what doctor you have to see in order to get treatment and would thus enable more choice in selecting a physician than the current system would for many, if not most, Americans.


Myth #4: It would be a socialist seizure of the medical industry


It would be nothing of the sort. Socialized medicine would entail hospitals and doctors becoming employees of the state. UHC only provides funding for people's health care, but doesn't provide the health care itself. The only difference is that health care insurance plans would be funded by the state. Hospitals, physicians, and other health care employees would all remain part of the private sector. Competition between doctors and hospitals would not be eliminated. Although using the "s" word in attacking UHC has proven effective in frightening the populace, UHC would be no more socialist than Medicare and arguably less so than public education. Granted the far-right would gladly see both of those programs destroyed, but the overwhelming majority of Americans would not.


Myth #5: UHC would impede economic growth


An added benefit of UHC would be that private business would no longer have to worry about health-care benefits, and employees wouldn't have to remain in unpleasant jobs just to keep their benefits. Benefits wouldn't interfere with wage increases, and employers would have more financial mobility. The recent problems General Motors has been having with maintaining health benefits for its workers while trying to remain financially afloat have been well-documented. GM estimates that health-care benefits account for nearly $1,500 of the price of every car they build and sell. Many other companies are switching to "temporary" or outsourced jobs in order to avoid paying benefits. Not only would UHC relieve businesses of having the burden of providing health insurance for their workers, but the workers would also be unconditionally covered regardless of where they work.


Given that worker mobility has increased tremendously in the last 100 years, and that the number of jobs held by the average worker in his or her lifetime is considerably higher (about 9 to 10 jobs per lifetime), people are frequently between or changing jobs. UHC would work well with the high turnover rate in many jobs by maintaining coverage even during periods of temporary unemployment.


Rather than tolerating a system that is set up to make as much money as possible instead of guaranteeing health-care coverage for the highest number of people possible, Americans should seriously consider UHC. We should be disgusted with the injustice of a system devised to insure precisely the people who don't need it (those who are healthy and can afford it) and turn away those who do (the poor and chronically sick).


Until we devise a system that enables every member of society to gain equal access to quality health care, our claim to be the greatest country in the world will perpetually ring hollow.



SciTech Watch: Bird Flu - Encouraging News

I ran across a couple of bits of good news in the onslaught of bad news that typically surrounds the Bird Flu (H5N1) outbreaks that are occurring in Southeast Asia and some points east.


Modelling the Spread of a Pandemic

A
Reuters article on January 25th detailed how scientists have new information for modelling how infectious diseases spread. The work to develop such a model been ongoing, but this latest breakthrough entailed using the movement of currency through the United States as the basis for the spread of infectious disease model. The data on how currency moves in the US has been accumulating at a web site called Where’s George. This site asks people to mark One Dollar bills and to log any marked bills they find and where they found them. Where’s George has information on 50 million one dollar bills. Dr. Dirk Brockmann, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Gottingen, Germany analyzed the data accumulated by Where’s George and found that the data closely correlated with the traffic flow data from aviation networks. Since human movement is the chief means of spreading an infectious disease having a good mathematical model of people’s movements will allow scientists to model and predict the spread of an infectious disease in a pandemic.

Brockmann’s work has been published in an article in Nature as The scaling laws of human travel. Nature 2006: 439; 462-65. Further analysis of this work can be found here.

A Vaccine Against H5N1

An article published in the Feb 15 issue of the Journal of Virology and reported on by Physorg.com indicates that scientists at the University of Pittsburgh (UP) have produced a genetically-engineered avian flu vaccine. The vaccine has been tested in birds and in mice and has proved to be 100% effective. This new vaccine has several significant pluses to it: the method used to produce the vaccine lends itself to quicker scale-up of production, this vaccine appears to trigger a stronger immune response than previous vaccine candidates, and that one form of the vaccine stimulates several lines of immunity against H5N1. The lead author of this study was Dr. Andrea Gambotto, an assistant professor at UP.


I wanted to thank everyone for their feedback on my last column. I’ll publish another Space Resource column in the near future to include all the great suggestions I received.

If you have any ideas for future SciTech Watch columns feel free to leave them in the comments or email them to me.



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Misstatement of the Union

 Text of the latest email from factcheck.org

Misstatement of the Union

The President burnishes the State of the Union through selective facts and strategic omissions.

February 1, 2006

Summary

The President left out a few things when surveying the State of the Nation:

  • He proudly spoke of "writing a new chapter in the story of self-government" in Iraq and Afghanistan and said the number of democracies in the world is growing. He failed to mention that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan yet qualify as democracies according to the very group whose statistics he cited.
  • Bush called for Congress to pass a line-item veto, failing to mention that the Supreme Court struck down a line-item veto as unconstitutional in 1998. Bills now in Congress would propose a Constitutional amendment, but none have shown signs of life.
  • The President said the economy gained 4.6 million jobs in the past two-and-a-half years, failing to note that it had lost 2.6 million jobs in his first two-and-a-half years in office. The net gain since Bush took office is just a little more than 2 million.
  • He talked of cutting spending, but only "non-security discretionary spending." Actually, total federal spending has increased 42 percent since Bush took office.
  • He spoke of being "on track" to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009. But the deficit is increasing this year, and according to the Congressional Budget Office it will decline by considerably less than half even if Bush's tax cuts are allowed to lapse.
  • Bush spoke of a "goal" of cutting dependence on Middle Eastern oil, failing to mention that US dependence on imported oil and petroleum products increased substantially during his first five years in office, reaching 60 per cent of consumption last year.

Analysis

We found nothing that was factually incorrect in the President's Jan. 31 State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. However, we did note some selective use of statistics. We also found that Bush omitted some relevant facts that tended to make the state of the union look less rosy than he presented.

Bush: In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government -- with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom.

Democracy & Freedom

The President spoke of the growing number of nations in the world that live under democratic governments, and said "we're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The President's numbers come from Freedom House, a nonprofit group that tracks levels of democracy and freedom around the globe.

It is true, just as the President said, that there were 122 democracies in the world in 2005, but Iraq and Afghanistan are not yet counted among them by Freedom House.

Also, Freedom House rates neither Iraq nor Afghanistan as "free." It rates Iraq as "not free," with scores on civil liberties and political freedom as low as those of Egypt. "Iraq gets points taken away for the chaos that is associated with the insurgency, among other things," Freedom House's Arch Puddington told FactCheck.org. Afghanistan is rated somewhat better but still only "partly free."

We asked Puddington why the highly publicized elections in Iraq and Afghanistan don't yet qualify those countries to be counted as democracies. "It’s a flawed way of thinking to believe that elections alone guarantee democracy," Puddington said. "You have to have a reasonable rule of law, a reasonable amount of freedom of the press, personal security.  You have to have a fair and consistent electoral process in place, and you have to have the people who are elected then effectively governing the society."

Bush: I am pleased that members of Congress are working on earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special interest projects. And we can tackle this problem together, if you pass the line-item veto.

Line Item Veto

The President called for enactment of line-item veto power, but failed to mention that the Supreme Court struck down a line-item veto as a violation of the Constitution in 1998, after President Clinton exercised the power once. The vote was 6 to 3, and one of the three Justices who wanted to uphold the power was Sandra Day O'Connor, whose resignation from the high court took effect earlier on the same day Bush spoke. The President offered no explanation of how the veto might be revived by legislation in a form that the current, more conservative Supreme Court would approve, nor did he call specifically for a Constitutional amendment.

This was Bush's first mention of a line-item veto in a State of the Union address, though he and several of his subordinates have made mention of his support for such a veto throughout his presidency. Congress has so far shown very little interest, however. A bill to amend the Constitution to create a line-item veto has been introduced in every Congress during Bush's presidency, but all died in committee without so much as a hearing. In the current Congress, Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina introduced such a bill in late September to amend the Constitution to include the line-item veto, and it currently sits dormant in the Judiciary Committee. There are no co-sponsors. In the House, Republican Rep. Todd Russell Platts of Pennsylvania introduced a similar bill in the House on Sept. 21, 2005 which was promptly referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it still sits. There is one co-sponsor, Republican Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey.

Bush: Our economy is healthy and vigorous, and growing faster than other major industrialized nations. In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs -- more than Japan and the European Union combined. Even in the face of higher energy prices and natural disasters, the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.

Jobs

The President noted that the US has gained 4.6 million jobs in the past two-and-a-half years. That's true. However, most of that gain merely made up for the 2.6 million jobs that were lost during Bush's first two-and-a-half years.

The graph below shows the cumulative change in jobs starting in January 2001, when Bush first took office, and ending in December 2005, the most recent month for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released figures for total nonfarm employment. (New figures for January are due to be announced Feb. 2.)

 

However, when the President said "the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world," he was standing on firm ground. The US unemployment rate for December was 4.9 per cent. That's significantly lower than most other industrialized democracies. Unemployment in Germany stands at 9.3 per cent, France at 9.2 per cent, Canada at 6.5 per cent. Only Japan's rate of 4.6 per cent and the United Kingdom's 4.8 per cent were better than the US, according to latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Bush: Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending. This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.  

Spending

The President, speaking of being "good stewards of tax dollars," focused on one small part of the budget and did not mention rapid growth in overall federal spending that has taken place under his tenure.

He said "we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending," which is true. However, that category accounts for only about 16 per cent of the whole federal budget, and it too has grown, though not as rapidly as other categories.

Bush said bills were passed last year that would actually cut this category, and that is correct. The decline is projected to be 0.5 per cent, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget.

Overall federal spending is up 42 per cent under Bush, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office. And CBO projects further upward pressure on spending, including rising interest rates pushing up the cost of servicing the swelling national debt, and rising medical costs and Bush's new prescription drug benefit pushing up the cost of Medicare. (Neither item is counted in the "discretionary" category). CBO projects interest costs will increase 18 per cent in the current fiscal year, and Medicare will go up 17 per cent.

The President proposed cutting $14 billion worth of programs and said this would keep the US "on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009." Not mentioned is that the deficit is going up this year. It was $317 billion in the fiscal year that ended last Oct. 30, and CBO projects that this year's deficit will be at least $337 billion, and probably $360 billion by the time added money is approved for flood insurance and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. CBO currently projects the deficit to decline to $241 billion in fiscal 2009, but that doesn't include the effects of making Bush's tax cuts permanent, something Bush urged strongly in his speech. 

Bush: Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

Oil Imports

The President voiced a "goal" of replacing more than three-quarters "of our oil imports from the Middle East" by the year 2025. He did not mention that the US has grown more dependent on imported oil and petroleum products since he took office.

According to most recent figures from the Energy Information Administration, the US imported 60 percent of its oil and petroleum products during the first 11 months of last year, up from just under 53 percent in President Clinton's last year in office. Last year, of all the oil and petroleum products consumed in the US, 11.2 percent came from Persian Gulf countries, according to the EIA. That is actually down somewhat from Clinton's last year, when the Persian Gulf countries supplied 12.6 percent.

Whether imports from the Middle East can ever be "a thing of the past" is open to question. It is true that the US currently imports nearly as much oil from nearby Canada (2.1 million barrels per day last year) as it does from all Persian Gulf countries combined (2.3 million barrels per day), but that's still a lot of oil to do without.

--By Brooks Jackson, with Justin Bank, James Ficaro and Emi Kolawole

Sources

"President Bush Delivers State of the Union Address," Office of the White House Press Secretary, 31 Jan 2006.

"Freedom in the World 2006: Select Date from Freedom House's Annual Global Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties."  Freedom House. 2006.

Clinton v. City of New York,   524 U. S. 417, 429 (1998)

"Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006 ."  Summary Tables.  Office of Management and Budget.  February 2005.  Table S.2

"Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006."   Office of Management and Budget.  February 2005.  Pp. 52, 97, 105, 125, 146. 

Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.7: " Overview of U.S. Petroleum Trade " US Energy Information Administration 25 Jan 2006.

>JjV< http://johniac.blogspot.com

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The difference between truth and fiction: Fiction has to make sense. - Mark Twain

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Tragedy of the Commons By: Robert W. Lucky...

I found a pointer to the article below in the latest issue of EDN’s Digital Den. A lot of good points!

Tragedy of the Commons

By: Robert W. Lucky

I often think about the tragedy of the commons—both in life and in technology. It's a powerful metaphor, first described by Garrett Hardin in a 1968 article in Science. Briefly, it says that a shared resource is inevitably ruined by uncontrolled use.

In the classic example, I have a cow, and there's this nice patch of grass in a nearby park. I see my neighbors taking their cows over to the park to graze. I know somewhere in the back of my mind that all the grass in the commons is going to get eaten by all these cows, but everyone else is doing it, and I want to get the grass for my cow before it's all gone. So off I go with my cow, doing my part to help destroy the commons.

It's the same thing on the highways, which are another type of commons. Everyone takes his or her car out on the road, and soon all the traffic is stalled. No one gets through. I look at the other drivers and think they should have stayed home. It's their fault that I'm stuck. Moreover, even when traffic is flowing, drivers often act in their own interest by speeding, changing lanes, and trying to jump exit queues—all at the expense of the common good.

We have many examples of technological commons. Probably the most obvious is in communications, where a common medium must be shared among many disparate users. Will they act courteously for the public good—or hog the medium for themselves? And the history isn't good. Remember citizens band (CB) radio? It reminds me of what Yogi Berra once said about a certain restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." Today we worry whether Wi-Fi will exhibit the same meltdown. There is no incentive, other than the ultimate survival of the system, for users to limit their use.

The World Wide Web is also a commons, which brings up another problem. When everyone is allowed free use of a commons, a small percentage of users will behave badly. It's like someone bringing a diseased cow to graze. On the Web, it's the spammers, tearing down the public good for their own profit.

I despair of the concept of "enlightened self-interest." I don't see it on the highways or anywhere else. Instead, it appears that a commons needs to have some form of control. In the traditional telephone system, this means limiting access to a dial tone.

More recently, some freeways have regulated access with stoplights at on-ramps. In the use of the radio frequency spectrum, the conventional approach has been exclusive ownership of segments through licenses. The unlicensed bands are a more recent experiment, one that has resulted in tremendous innovation. Yet people warn that they can't be trusted—it's a commons, and you know what happens to a commons.

These commons are shared not only by humans but by machines, and by our design, these machines exhibit discourtesy or courtesy. For example, the Ethernet Protocol used in many local area networks employs a collision-detection-and-avoidance mechanism. If you try to send a packet and it interferes with another packet, the system automatically backs off for a random amount of time before trying again. "Oops," says the interface card, "excuse me; I'll be back in a little while."

Courtesy is also built into the transmission control protocol, TCP, used to send information across the Internet. Normally, this protocol increases the speed of data packets being sent by a computer until unacknowledged packets begin to accumulate, indicating the connection is getting congested. Then the computer that is sending the packets slows the speed of transmission to avoid clogging up the network.

The vast majority of Internet users are undoubtedly unaware of this courteous behavior. The sending computers could, of course, hack the protocol stack to increase their own share of the Internet commons and transmit at maximum speed at all times, but it appears that this doesn't happen. Perhaps those who have the knowledge and skill realize that this would be bad behavior.

Imagine if our cars acted like TCP. You'd be allowed to drive as fast as you wanted, as long as you didn't interfere with others. As soon as your car detected that you were interfering with others, your speed would be automatically reduced, and you could build it back up only gradually. If everyone were subject to such a system, perhaps traffic would flow much better, and the roads would be more peaceable. However, we'd all hate it. It seems that the freedom to ruin a commons is one of those inalienable rights.

Now you'll have to excuse me, but I've got this hungry cow, and everyone else is taking their cows to the park. I've got to run while there's grass left.

About the Author

ROBERT W. LUCKY (IEEE Fellow), now retired, was vice president for applied research at Telcordia Technology in Red Bank, N.J. (rlucky@research.telcordia.com).

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