Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Physics Buzz: An inside look at the Physics of NASCAR

Monday, August 29, 2011

An inside look at the Physics of NASCAR

Welcome to The Physics of Cars week here on PhysicsBuzz and what better way to kick off the week than with an interview with Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, author of the Physics of NASCAR!

What are some of the biggest ways that Physics and NASCAR intersect?

How don’t they? I think probably one of the most interesting things is that I asked someone one time if they had people in physics working there because most of the people at NASCAR are engineers. And the person thought for a moment and said ‘No I don’t think we do because you guys think everything interesting is obvious.’ And If you think about it what racing is mostly about is friction and air resistance which is the two things that we tend to like to just ignore. Everything about making a car go fast on the track has to do with the friction between the tires and the track, and so you have to get into some fascinating things like the friction of rubber, which is different than anything we teach our students about because it’s a different type of friction than the kind of friction that you have when you have a wood block moving over sandpaper.

Do you think that NASCAR looks at science from a different angle, in that it focuses more on the practical applications of it?

In real life you can’t make all the approximations we like to make to have a nice neat system in physics. We do the car going around the corner, and we’ll have a coefficient of friction, but we won’t talk about things like the coefficient of friction will be slightly different because the weight of the car shifts as it goes around corners, and so each tire actually has a different amount of grip. When we work physics problems, we try to make them as simple as we can and so we neglect things. As it turns out in everyday driving, that’s not such a big deal. But when you start pushing a car to its limit, you just can’t ignore all those things. They become very important.

How are physicists working on some of the NASCARs that we see?

I think that one of the most important things that physicists bring to motor sports in general is the ability to look for overall patterns and to try to model things. That is, ‘What can I actually ignore here?’ I think the engineers are trained more for ‘Here’s an equation, plug in numbers and go for it.’ The people who have a really strong physics backgrounds are the ones that come up with some of the most interesting innovations.

Like what kind of innovations?

For example, there’s a young man named Tommy Wheeler who has a physics degree from Davidson. and he is an engine person. When you talk to him you just hear him thinking about things very differently, its not tied to the ‘well this rule says this’ it’s ‘I understand the very basics of this so lets come up with something different, come up with a new kind of coating for the engine, come up with a way for reducing friction that way,’ for example.

What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve learned while researching the physics of NASCAR?

I would have to say aerodynamics. That’s the other component right, air resistance. These cars get a huge amount of grip from the air rushing over them because the force going over the car is an aerodynamic force, so it goes like V squared, speed squared. So, what’s important to us at 60 miles an hour is nine times more important when you’re going 180 miles an hour. When you think about the amount of force that is pushing the tire into the track, it’s basically the weight of the car. Well now I’m going to go 180 miles an hour and I’m going to get a couple of additional thousand pounds of force pushing on those tires. So you’re getting force that’s essentially equivalent to what the car weighs in addition, but only when you’re going fast. It’s sort of a really interesting thought because when I slow down to go into a corner, I lose grip, just because I slowed down.

What’s new in NASCAR recently that you find exciting?

The thing about NASCAR is that they try to keep things very equal. They’ve taken a lot of the ability to explore out of the game. If you want to talk about somewhere where there are some really interesting things going on, there’s a racing series called the American LeMans Series. They are actually working with the Department Of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency and they allow the teams to use alternative fuels. So there are some folks using diesel, there’s some folks using regular old gasoline, there’s E-85 and my favorite is they introduced a brand new isobutanol based fuel. The neat thing about isobutanol is that unlike ethanol, it doesn’t have the same negative effects on seals and things. So it’s got really good energy density, and we could probably use the same infrastructure now for gasoline, which we really can’t use for ethanol. They introduced that in, I think it was 2009 they were using it on the track, and you’re just now starting to read about it in the mainstream press. It’s actually a blend; it’s British petroleum, its called IBE-20, so it’s part isobutanol, part ethanol and part regular gasoline.

Last year NASCAR started using bio-fuels, what kind of effect has that had?

They’re using an E-15 fuel, so it’s really not all that different from what you or I would use in our cars. What it’s done mostly is that it’s really confused the crews about fuel mileage. There’s been a lot of people running out of fuel. There’s been a whole bunch of races where people were all set to win and they just ran out of fuel on the last lap because they’re cutting everything as close as they possibly can. So one of the things about ethanol is that its highly hydroscopic, it sucks up water like crazy. That’s a real problem with the fuel. The problem is that you’re going to put in a certain amount of fuel, and they weigh the fuel so they weigh the can, they put the fuel in and they weigh the can and figure out about how much fuel they got in there. If some of that mass is water and not fuel, water doesn’t combust very well.

That can’t be very good for the engines.

It’s not very good for the engines. The small amounts that they’re getting in there probably aren’t harming the engines, but they’re definitely changing the power. Another thing they’ve found is that the engines run slightly hotter, and the energy density of ethanol is less than that of gasoline, so the more ethanol you put in, the worse mileage you’re going to get. I think they thought ‘Well we should be able to figure out what the mileage is pretty easily,’ before they used to be able to calculate it, but there’s a bunch of people who have been fooled a couple of times now.

Do you think that they’ll be able to get their predictions right for the next couple of seasons?

It’s like everything else, the more experience they have with it, the more records they have. The problem is that when you change something, you basically wipe out all your previous data. So they’ve made a number of aerodynamic changes for example. When they make an aerodynamic change, you take everything that you know from a particular track and a particular car, and you throw it out the window and you start over.

What kind of aerodynamic changes?

They used to actually have an air dam on the front of the car, which was just a piece of plastic that went straight down. The idea was it would go down and seal off the front of the car to the track, so that air wouldn’t get underneath the car. Air underneath the car is never a good thing. They changed that to something called a splitter, and a splitter is sort of like an L-shaped shelf that comes out. When the air comes in, it comes on that shelf, it goes around the car and it pushes down, and so you get additional down force, additional aerodynamic down force pushing down on the car as a result of having that splitter there. That changed a lot in terms of the teams and how they can set up the car and how it responded to different things.

What’s some new and exciting technology in the automotive world in general?

There’s a lot of it if you look at everything being done with electric vehicles. They’re actually about to start, and I believe this is starting in England, there’s going to be a racing series that’s going to race electric vehicles that go 200 mile per hour.

Is it like Tesla Roadsters and things like that?

Yah. I mean they’re not Teslas, they’re all pretty much originally designed. There’s a gentleman in England named Lord Drayson, and he ran a robotics and pharmaceuticals company, he has a PhD, and he also like racing cars. So he was the minister for science and innovation in the British government until the last turnover in power. But he’s been a huge proponent of using motorsports as a way to sort of advance what we know and the cutting edge of cars. Not to mention getting people interested in these technologies, because if you show me a Prius, my response is sort of like ‘eh,” that’s nice, but Porsche just introduced a hybrid that goes 180 miles an hour, and it’s a really nice looking car. That’s going to get me a lot more excited than a Prius.

Do you see a lot of NASCAR technology crossing over into the consumer auto market?

There’s not so much from NASCAR. I’ll tell you where there is crossover is in safety. When auto companies are doing there testing for safety, they’re looking at speeds of 60, 70, 80 miles an hour. They don’t do extensive testing at very high speeds. The NASCAR cars are instrumented, they have a lot of accelerometers on them and so when there’s a crash, it’s very valuable data. They can use that to understand at the limits of speed, what’s actually happening to a car. My former institution the University of Nebraska, the Midwest roadside safety facility is responsible for the barriers that are around the track. They call them ‘soft walls,’ they’re not soft, but they’re softer; they have a bit of give to them. That group has worked with a number of other groups and NASCAR to really push what we know about how the human body and how cars respond to the extremes. I think the safety aspect is what has benefitted the public the most from NASCAR as opposed to the cars themselves.

How does knowing the science of NASCAR affect how you watch a race on TV?

One of my favorite things is to watch a car that starts off really bad and gets better. You track his lap times, and you can listen in on what the crew chief and the driver are saying to each other, and it very much reminds me of trying to debug an experiment. The graduate students in a lab say ‘well I did this, this, this and it’s doing this,’ and you say ‘well ok lets try changing X, Y and Z’ and you change those and they go and they try it and they come back and they say ‘well this is fixed but that’s not.’ It’s the exact same thing on a car. The driver will go in and say ‘when I go into the corner I’m fine, but when I’m coming out I can’t get on the gas because the rear end wants to slide out from under me.’ So the crew chief has to look at the entire car, and go ‘OK, what can we try and change to make that better?’ So when they come in for a pit stop they make a change and then they’ll go and pull out and the driver will say ‘hey that’s better’ or ‘no you didn’t fix it and you made this worse.’ And then it’s time dependent, so for example as the temperature of the track changes, the amount of friction changes. They get less friction as the track starts heating up; as the tires wear they get less friction, so the friction that you get on lap one with a set of tires is going to be different than you have on lap 30 with a set of tires. So it’s all these things constantly changing that crew chiefs are trying to keep up with and they don’t have direct data, all they have is what the driver is telling them. The driver is sort of the data acquisition system for this. So for me it’s a lot of fun watching that process, watching them trying to debug the car in real time. And then the other thing is I know people, and so I’ll be watching and I’ll be cheering for my friends.

Are you cheering for the driver or the crew?

I guess it’s a little of both. People don’t think of racing as a team sport, but it very much is. There’s the people that build the cars, the people that come to the track and get them ready, the mechanics, every team has an engineer or two they spend most of the weekend running simulations trying to figure out if you change this spring what happens to our ability to go fast.

What first got you interested in writing about the physics of NASCAR?

It was a total fluke because I was never interested in racing. I was watching television one day, I was just flipping through channels and I happened to see a race and normally I would have flipped right past it. But before I could do that this group of cars came around a corner and of then just sort of spontaneously went into the wall. I looked at that and was just kind of like ‘what?’ It made no sense, why would this one car out of the group all of the sudden go into the wall? They kept replaying the accident, because it took a while to clean up, and I’m watching and I’m going ‘nobody hit him, there’s no flat tires, his engine didn’t go bad, he wasn’t going any faster than anyone else, what happened?’ And that got me very interested, and the more I looked for answers the more I found other questions and I started realizing that this is all the same stuff we want our students to learn. It’s a lot more interesting when you’re looking at it on a racecar than a block sliding down an inclined plane. I think that’s one of the big challenges we have with physics; when we teach it I don’t think we show people where it enters their lives every day. When you go around the corner fast and you hear the tires squeal, that’s physics. Why do you have to slow down after exiting a highway off a cloverleaf, and why if you don’t slow down do you feel like you’re moving outward? Well, that’s the lack of centripetal force. This is all physics, and I think that people think of physics as people in lab coats do in big facilities in Switzerland. And yah, that’s true, but it’s also something that every one of us does every day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ben Bernanke Embraces Obama’s Reality-Based Presidency | Swampland

Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry still knows about as much about monetary policy as Sarah Palin knows about American history—or, for that matter, about monetary policy—but maybe there was a glimmer of insight in Perry’s dopey rant about Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s treasonous plot to re-elect President Obama.  Because if you cut through the mealy-mouthed Fedspeak, Bernanke’s speech on Friday at Jackson Hole reads a bit like a defense of Obama’s policies. And not just his economic policies. Bernanke, a Republican first appointed by George W. Bush, subtly hat-tipped almost all of Obama’s major domestic policies.

The news in Bernanke’s speech was his implicit argument for more fiscal stimulus, which was new, along with his implicit criticism of Republicans for their obsession with short-term spending cuts, which was not new. At a time when Obama is pushing to extend the payroll tax cut, while Republicans have suddenly decided they want taxes on workers to increase, a time when Obama is pushing to boost spending on infrastructure and research, while Republicans have linked arms against all spending, Bernanke has chosen a side, and it isn’t Perry’s side. Bernanke didn’t exactly heed calls to shout about this from the rooftops, but this is practically the Fed equivalent:

Under these unusual circumstances, policies that promote a stronger recovery in the near term may serve longer-term objectives as well. In the short term, putting people back to work reduces the hardships inflicted by difficult economic times and helps ensure that our economy is producing at its full potential rather than leaving productive resources fallow. In the longer term, minimizing the duration of unemployment supports a healthy economy by avoiding some of the erosion of skills and loss of attachment to the labor force that is often associated with long-term unemployment….Although the issue of fiscal sustainability must urgently be addressed, fiscal policymakers should not, as a consequence, disregard the fragility of the current economic recovery.

Bernanke may not have much of a future as a rooftop-shouter. But he did suggest that Obama’s “substantial” and “strong” fiscal stimulus effort in 2009 helped limit the damage of the historic housing collapse and financial implosion that preceded his presidency.  In his usual impenetrable style, Bernanke implied that the GOP strategy of holding the debt ceiling hostage and threatening to default on U.S. obligations is cuckoo. And he urged policymakers to “promote research and development and provide necessary public infrastructure” in order to spur long-term growth. He didn’t use the phrase “win the future,” but you get the idea.

My point is not that Bernanke is actually trying to get Obama re-elected; my point is that they both share a reality-based view of the country; the embodiment of widespread Republican abandonment of that view is named Rick Perry.  Way back in 2008, when John McCain was pushing cap-and-trade and Republicans favored an individual mandate for health care, just about everyone in Washington agreed that severe slumps call for stimulus. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi cut a stimulus deal. But that seems like a very long time ago.

It was never a secret that Bernanke and Obama are both Keynesians. But on Friday, Bernanke also gave a vote of confidence to the “substantial program of financial reform” that Obama pushed through Congress last year with very few Republican votes. And this was definitely new:

Our K-12 education system, despite considerable strengths, poorly serves a substantial portion of our population. The costs of health care in the United States are the highest in the world, without fully commensurate results in terms of health outcomes. But all these long-term issues were well-known before the crisis; efforts to address these problems have been ongoing. These efforts will continue and, I hope, intensify.

Did the Republican Fed chairman just endorse Race to the Top and ObamaCare? It kind of sounded like he did—and that he hopes the reforms will continue.

To recap: Bernanke wants more short-term stimulus—including spending on infrastructure, research and workforce development, which are Obama priorities that the GOP hate—as well as long-term deficit reduction. He’s bullish on financial reform, health care reform and education reform. He’s opposed to short-term austerity, and he hates the idea of playing chicken over the debt ceiling. His stirring conclusion said it all: “Four more years!”

Oh, wait, his stirring conclusion was actually: “The Federal Reserve will certainly do all that it can to help restore high rates of growth and employment in a context of price stability.” Perry is correct that high rates of growth and employment would boost Obama’s chances in 2012. He’s probably also correct that Bernanke would prefer a second Obama administration to a Rick Perry administration that would stock the Fed with inflation maniacs. But Bernanke is going to try to promote growth and employment no matter who is President. How exactly is that treason? Perry’s the one who seems to want the American economy to remain in the tank.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Court Rules Republicans Who Confiscate Cameras At Town Halls Are Violating 1st Amendment

According to a recent Federal Appeals court ruling, Republican members of Congress who confiscate citizens’ cell phones or cameras and do not allow filming at town halls are violating their constituents First Amendment rights.

One of the ways that unpopular House Republicans have been trying to dodge the wrath of their angry constituents during the August recess is to not allow filming at their town halls. Last week, Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio directed on duty police officers to confiscate the cameras of citizens who tried to film his responses at a recent town hall. Chabot justified this behavior as necessary for the protection of his constituents, but a Federal Court ruling on Friday makes it clear that the Republicans who engaging in this behavior are violating the First Amendment rights of their constituents.

The case brought before the court involved a man in Boston who was arrested for filming the police with his cell phone while they were making a separate arrest of a young man in public. The man who did the filming with his cell phone filed suit alleging that his First and Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. The district court ruled in favor of the person who filmed the arrest, and the state appealed.

The judge ruled,

It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information.

As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” First Nat’l Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978); see also Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969) (“It is . . .well established that the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas.”). An important corollary to this interest in protecting the stock of public information is that “[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by means within the law.’” Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 11 (1978) (quoting Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 681-82 (1972)).

The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218 (1966).

Moreover, as the Court has noted, “[f]reedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government because ‘[i]t is here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.’” First Nat’l Bank, 435 U.S. at 777 n.11 (alteration in original) (quoting Thomas Emerson, Toward a General Theory of the First Amendment 9 (1966)).

The court found that people have the First Amendment right to film government officials in public while they are carrying out their duties. In fact, this right is necessary in our democracy to counteract attempts by those who have power to suppress the rights of citizens. The act of not allowing the public to film the carrying out of congressional duties in public is an act of First Amendment suppression.

These same members of the House who prided themselves on their knowledge of the Constitution, and made a show of beginning the new Congress with a reading of the Constitution is so willing to violate the First Amendment rights of their constituents. The House Republicans will look you in the eye and moan about “big government” and “loss of liberty” while they simultaneously violate your First Amendment rights.

If you attempt to attend a town hall at a public place, and someone tells you that you cannot film the event, let them know that they are violating your First Amendment rights. Be sure to bring a copy of the court ruling with you, and it would also be nice of you to highlight the section on filming and the First Amendment. These are your rights. Don’t back down.

Most importantly, they are trying to prevent you from filming because they are afraid. These members of Congress who are trying to take away your rights are afraid of you. You should never be afraid of them.

Why Are Finland's Schools Successful? | People & Places | Smithsonian Magazine

  • Photographs by Stuart Conway
  • Smithsonian magazine, September 2011

    It was the end of term at Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a sprawling suburb west of Helsinki, when Kari Louhivuori, a veteran teacher and the school’s principal, decided to try something extreme—by Finnish standards. One of his sixth-grade students, a Kosovo-Albanian boy, had drifted far off the learning grid, resisting his teacher’s best efforts. The school’s team of special educators—including a social worker, a nurse and a psychologist—convinced Louhivuori that laziness was not to blame. So he decided to hold the boy back a year, a measure so rare in Finland it’s practically obsolete.

    Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This 13-year-old, Besart Kabashi, received something akin to royal tutoring.

    “I took Besart on that year as my private student,” Louhivuori told me in his office, which boasted a Beatles “Yellow Submarine” poster on the wall and an electric guitar in the closet. When Besart was not studying science, geography and math, he was parked next to Louhivuori’s desk at the front of his class of 9- and 10-year- olds, cracking open books from a tall stack, slowly reading one, then another, then devouring them by the dozens. By the end of the year, the son of Kosovo war refugees had conquered his adopted country’s vowel-rich language and arrived at the realization that he could, in fact, learn.

    Years later, a 20-year-old Besart showed up at Kirkkojarvi’s Christmas party with a bottle of Cognac and a big grin. “You helped me,” he told his former teacher. Besart had opened his own car repair firm and a cleaning company. “No big fuss,” Louhivuori told me. “This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life.”

    This tale of a single rescued child hints at some of the reasons for the tiny Nordic nation’s staggering record of education success, a phenomenon that has inspired, baffled and even irked many of America’s parents and educators. Finnish schooling became an unlikely hot topic after the 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” contrasted it with America’s troubled public schools.

    “Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”

    The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

    In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

    There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.

    Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.

    Still, there is a distinct absence of chest-thumping among the famously reticent Finns. They are eager to celebrate their recent world hockey championship, but PISA scores, not so much. “We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. “We are not much interested in PISA. It’s not what we are about.”

    Maija Rintola stood before her chattering class of twenty-three 7- and 8-year-olds one late April day in Kirkkojarven Koulu. A tangle of multicolored threads topped her copper hair like a painted wig. The 20-year teacher was trying out her look for Vappu, the day teachers and children come to school in riotous costumes to celebrate May Day. The morning sun poured through the slate and lemon linen shades onto containers of Easter grass growing on the wooden sills. Rintola smiled and held up her open hand at a slant—her time-tested “silent giraffe,” which signaled the kids to be quiet. Little hats, coats, shoes stowed in their cubbies, the children wiggled next to their desks in their stocking feet, waiting for a turn to tell their tale from the playground. They had just returned from their regular 15 minutes of playtime outdoors between lessons. “Play is important at this age,” Rintola would later say. “We value play.”

    With their wiggles unwound, the students took from their desks little bags of buttons, beans and laminated cards numbered 1 through 20. A teacher’s aide passed around yellow strips representing units of ten. At a smart board at the front of the room, Rintola ushered the class through the principles of base ten. One girl wore cat ears on her head, for no apparent reason. Another kept a stuffed mouse on her desk to remind her of home. Rintola roamed the room helping each child grasp the concepts. Those who finished early played an advanced “nut puzzle” game. After 40 minutes it was time for a hot lunch in the cathedral-like cafeteria.

    Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

    It’s almost unheard of for a child to show up hungry or homeless. Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidized day care to parents, and preschool for all 5-year-olds, where the emphasis is on play and socializing. In addition, the state subsidizes parents, paying them around 150 euros per month for every child until he or she turns 17. Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public preschool, where children begin some academics. Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care is free.

    Even so, Rintola said her children arrived last August miles apart in reading and language levels. By April, nearly every child in the class was reading, and most were writing. Boys had been coaxed into literature with books like Kapteeni Kalsarin (“Captain Underpants”). The school’s special education teacher teamed up with Rintola to teach five children with a variety of behavioral and learning problems. The national goal for the past five years has been to mainstream all children. The only time Rintola’s children are pulled out is for Finnish as a Second Language classes, taught by a teacher with 30 years’ experience and graduate school training.

    There are exceptions, though, however rare. One first-grade girl was not in Rintola’s class. The wispy 7-year-old had recently arrived from Thailand speaking not a word of Finnish. She was studying math down the hall in a special “preparing class” taught by an expert in multicultural learning. It is designed to help children keep up with their subjects while they conquer the language. Kirkkojarvi’s teachers have learned to deal with their unusually large number of immigrant students. The city of Espoo helps them out with an extra 82,000 euros a year in “positive discrimination” funds to pay for things like special resource teachers, counselors and six special needs classes.

    Rintola will teach the same children next year and possibly the next five years, depending on the needs of the school. “It’s a good system. I can make strong connections with the children,” said Rintola, who was handpicked by Louhivuori 20 years ago. “I understand who they are.” Besides Finnish, math and science, the first graders take music, art, sports, religion and textile handcrafts. English begins in third grade, Swedish in fourth. By fifth grade the children have added biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry.

    Not until sixth grade will kids have the option to sit for a district-wide exam, and then only if the classroom teacher agrees to participate. Most do, out of curiosity. Results are not publicized. Finnish educators have a hard time understanding the United States’ fascination with standardized tests. “Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts,” Louhivuori teased, as he rummaged through his closet looking for past years’ results. “Looks like we did better than average two years ago,” he said after he found the reports. “It’s nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”

    I had come to Kirkkojarvi to see how the Finnish approach works with students who are not stereotypically blond, blue-eyed and Lutheran. But I wondered if Kirkkojarvi’s success against the odds might be a fluke. Some of the more vocal conservative reformers in America have grown weary of the “We-Love-Finland crowd” or so-called Finnish Envy. They argue that the United States has little to learn from a country of only 5.4 million people—4 percent of them foreign born. Yet the Finns seem to be onto something. Neighboring Norway, a country of similar size, embraces education policies similar to those in the United States. It employs standardized exams and teachers without master’s degrees. And like America, Norway’s PISA scores have been stalled in the middle ranges for the better part of a decade.

    To get a second sampling, I headed east from Espoo to Helsinki and a rough neighborhood called Siilitie, Finnish for “Hedgehog Road” and known for having the oldest low-income housing project in Finland. The 50-year-old boxy school building sat in a wooded area, around the corner from a subway stop flanked by gas stations and convenience stores. Half of its 200 first- through ninth-grade students have learning disabilities. All but the most severely impaired are mixed with the general education children, in keeping with Finnish policies.

    A class of first graders scampered among nearby pine and birch trees, each holding a stack of the teacher’s homemade laminated “outdoor math” cards. “Find a stick as big as your foot,” one read. “Gather 50 rocks and acorns and lay them out in groups of ten,” read another. Working in teams, the 7- and 8-year-olds raced to see how quickly they could carry out their tasks. Aleksi Gustafsson, whose master’s degree is from Helsinki University, developed the exercise after attending one of the many workshops available free to teachers. “I did research on how useful this is for kids,” he said. “It’s fun for the children to work outside. They really learn with it.”

    Gustafsson’s sister, Nana Germeroth, teaches a class of mostly learning-impaired children; Gustafsson’s students have no learning or behavioral issues. The two combined most of their classes this year to mix their ideas and abilities along with the children’s varying levels. “We know each other really well,” said Germeroth, who is ten years older. “I know what Aleksi is thinking.”

    The school receives 47,000 euros a year in positive discrimination money to hire aides and special education teachers, who are paid slightly higher salaries than classroom teachers because of their required sixth year of university training and the demands of their jobs. There is one teacher (or assistant) in Siilitie for every seven students.

    In another classroom, two special education teachers had come up with a different kind of team teaching. Last year, Kaisa Summa, a teacher with five years’ experience, was having trouble keeping a gaggle of first-grade boys under control. She had looked longingly into Paivi Kangasvieri’s quiet second-grade room next door, wondering what secrets the 25-year-veteran colleague could share. Each had students of wide-ranging abilities and special needs. Summa asked Kangasvieri if they might combine gymnastics classes in hopes good behavior might be contagious. It worked. This year, the two decided to merge for 16 hours a week. “We complement each other,” said Kangasvieri, who describes herself as a calm and firm “father” to Summa’s warm mothering. “It is cooperative teaching at its best,” she says.

    Every so often, principal Arjariita Heikkinen told me, the Helsinki district tries to close the school because the surrounding area has fewer and fewer children, only to have people in the community rise up to save it. After all, nearly 100 percent of the school’s ninth graders go on to high schools. Even many of the most severely disabled will find a place in Finland’s expanded system of vocational high schools, which are attended by 43 percent of Finnish high-school students, who prepare to work in restaurants, hospitals, construction sites and offices. “We help situate them in the right high school,” said then deputy principal Anne Roselius. “We are interested in what will become of them in life.”

    Finland’s schools were not always a wonder. Until the late 1960s, Finns were still emerging from the cocoon of Soviet influence. Most children left public school after six years. (The rest went to private schools, academic grammar schools or folk schools, which tended to be less rigorous.) Only the privileged or lucky got a quality education.

    The landscape changed when Finland began trying to remold its bloody, fractured past into a unified future. For hundreds of years, these fiercely independent people had been wedged between two rival powers—the Swedish monarchy to the west and the Russian czar to the east. Neither Scandinavian nor Baltic, Finns were proud of their Nordic roots and a unique language only they could love (or pronounce). In 1809, Finland was ceded to Russia by the Swedes, who had ruled its people some 600 years. The czar created the Grand Duchy of Finland, a quasi-state with constitutional ties to the empire. He moved the capital from Turku, near Stockholm, to Helsinki, closer to St. Petersburg. After the czar fell to the Bolsheviks in 1917, Finland declared its independence, pitching the country into civil war. Three more wars between 1939 and 1945—two with the Soviets, one with Germany—left the country scarred by bitter divisions and a punishing debt owed to the Russians. “Still we managed to keep our freedom,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a director general in the Ministry of Education and Culture.

    In 1963, the Finnish Parlia-ment made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. “I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education,” said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book, Finnish Lessons, is scheduled for release in October. “It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive.”

    Practically speaking—and Finns are nothing if not practical—the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”

    To be sure, it was only in the past decade that Finland’s international science scores rose. In fact, the country’s earliest efforts could be called somewhat Stalinistic. The first national curriculum, developed in the early ’70s, weighed in at 700 stultifying pages. Timo Heikkinen, who began teaching in Finland’s public schools in 1980 and is now principal of Kallahti Comprehensive School in eastern Helsinki, remembers when most of his high-school teachers sat at their desks dictating to the open notebooks of compliant children.

    And there are still challenges. Finland’s crippling financial collapse in the early ’90s brought fresh economic challenges to this “confident and assertive Eurostate,” as David Kirby calls it in A Concise History of Finland. At the same time, immigrants poured into the country, clustering in low-income housing projects and placing added strain on schools. A recent report by the Academy of Finland warned that some schools in the country’s large cities were becoming more skewed by race and class as affluent, white Finns choose schools with fewer poor, immigrant populations.

    A few years ago, Kallahti principal Timo Heikkinen began noticing that, increasingly, affluent Finnish parents, perhaps worried about the rising number of Somali children at Kallahti, began sending their children to one of two other schools nearby. In response, Heikkinen and his teachers designed new environmental science courses that take advantage of the school’s proximity to the forest. And a new biology lab with 3-D technology allows older students to observe blood flowing inside the human body.

    It has yet to catch on, Heikkinen admits. Then he added: “But we are always looking for ways to improve.”

    In other words, whatever it takes.

    Lynnell Hancock writes about education and teaches at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Photographer Stuart Conway lives in East Sussex, near the south coast of England.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Yet another bad day for the anti-vaccine movement 2011 : Respectful Insolence

Yet another bad day for the anti-vaccine movement 2011

Category: Antivaccination lunacyAutismMedicine
Posted on: August 26, 2011 9:00 AM, by Orac

Here we go again.

Having been in the blogging biz for nearly seven years and developed a special interest in the anti-vaccine movement, I think I've been at this long enough to make some observations with at least a little authority. One thing that I've noticed is a very consistent pattern in which, every time a new study or report released that either fails to find evidence that vaccines cause autism or significant harm or that even concludes that vaccines do not cause autism, the anti-vaccine movement is right there, ready to attack it with pseudoscience, misinformation, and exaggerations of the study's or report's shortcomings. Indeed, outside of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) denialists, I can't think of another group of science or medicine denialists besides anti-vaccine loons who have such an efficient "rapid response team." Inevitably, any time a major study or report is released exonerating vaccines, it's a sure bet that within 24 hours one of the major anti-vaccine groups will have a press release ready or that wandering home of happy anti-vaccine sycophants, toadies, and lackies, Age of Autism, will have pseudoscience-laden pseudo-rebuttal.

This time around, it's a major report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), entitled Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality. This 667 page report is the result of a long effort by an IOM committee of 16 charged with examining the evidence linking adverse events with vaccines. The overall conclusion was--surprise! surprise!--that vaccines are safe. Before I dig into the results a bit more, here's how the report came about:

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that administers VICP, can use evidence that demonstrates a causal link between an adverse event and a vaccine to streamline the claim process. As such, HRSA asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review a list of adverse events associated with vaccines covered by VICP and to evaluate the scientific evidence about the event--vaccine relationship. The vaccines covered by VICP include all vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for routine administration in children. Adults who experience an adverse event following one of these childhood vaccines also are covered by the program. HRSA asked the IOM to review 8 of the 12 covered vaccines. These eight are the varicella zoster vaccine (used against chickenpox); the influenza vaccines (except for the H1N1 influenza vaccine distributed in 2009); the hepatitis B vaccine; the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine; the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine; the hepatitis A vaccine; the meningococcal vaccines, and tetanus- containing vaccines that do not carry the whole-cell pertussis component.

The adverse events selected by HRSA for IOM review are ones for which people have submitted claims--successful or not--to VICP. The committee appointed to this study was not asked to assess the benefits or effectiveness of vaccines but only the risk of specific adverse events. Its conclusions reflect the best evidence available at the time.

The VICP, as regular readers of this blog probably remember, is the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. In this program, claims of vaccine injury are adjudicated in an expedited manner in a special court known as the Vaccine Court. The Autism Omnibus was decided through the VICP and the Vaccine Court over two years ago. As I've explained before as well, the Vaccine Court uses less rigorous scientific standards than normal courts, and there are certain injuries known as "table injuries" that are almost automatically assumed to be due to vaccines. In any case, I consider it important that the committee didn't even consider efficacy, because this provides an estimate of just the known risks. Doing this was somewhat risky, because risks discussed outside the context of the benefits of vaccines can give a distorted picture of the true risk-benefit ratio. On the other hand, by focusing like the proverbial cliched laser on just adverse events, the committee could provide an estimate of the true absolute risk of each adverse event.

Obviously, I haven't read the entire 667 page report. It was only released yesterday; I doubt even the anti-vaccine groups who are even now poring over each page looking for weaknesses to attack have read the entire report yet. However, the executive summary provides sufficient information for a "first pass" analysis of its findings, which assign each relationship (between a vaccine and a specific adverse event) to one of four categories:

  • convincingly supports a causal relationship;
  • favors acceptance of a causal relationship;
  • favors rejection of a causal relationship; or
  • is inadequate to accept or reject a causal relationship.

The methodology the committee used to assess the weight of evidence involved examining the weight of epidemiological evidence linking the adverse event to the specific vaccine in question, the weight of mechanistic evidence (one could view this criterion as asking, "Is there biological plausibility linking this particular adverse event with this particular vaccine?"), and the results of its causality assessment. How the committee went about its work, weighted each form of evidence, and came to its conclusions is summarized in this figure:




So, let's summarize the results of the report and what the committee concluded. First, here are the adverse events for which the committee concluded that the evidence convincingly supports a causal relationship, which were well-summarized in this article:

  • Fever-triggered seizures, which seldom cause long-term consequences, from the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine.
  • MMR also can cause a rare form of brain inflammation in some people with immune problems.
  • The varicella vaccine against chickenpox sometimes triggers that viral infection, resulting in widespread chickenpox or a painful relative called shingles. It also occasionally can lead to pneumonia, hepatitis or meningitis.
  • Six vaccines -- MMR and the chickenpox, hepatitis B, meningococcal and tetanus-containing vaccines -- can cause severe allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis.
  • Vaccines in general sometimes trigger fainting or a type of shoulder inflammation.

The adverse reactions for which the existing evidence favors acceptance include HPV vaccine and anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), MMR vaccine and transient arthralgia (joint pain) in female adults, MMR vaccine and transient arthralgia in children, and certain trivalent influenza vaccines used in Canada and a mild and temporary oculorespiratory syndrome. One of these conclusions (the relationship between anaphylaxis and the HPV vaccine) was only based on mechanistic evidence.

More interestingly, what will likely result in great unhappiness among the anti-vaccine movement were the relations for which the evidence, according to the committee, favors rejection. These include claimed correlations between MMR vaccine and type 1 diabetes, DTaP vaccine and type 1 diabetes, MMR vaccine and autism, inactivated influenza vaccine and asthma exacerbation or reactive airway disease episodes, and inactivated influenza vaccine and Bell's palsy. Let me repeat that again: The evidence does not support the claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism, just as it doesn't support any relationship between vaccines and autism.

Finally, the committee concluded that for the vast majority of the proposed causal relationship pairs there isn't enough evidence to accept them or reject them. This shouldn't be construed to mean, however, that there is a high probability that vaccines cause these adverse reactions. The reasons that the committee concluded that there was "insufficient evidence" is because many of these particular adverse reactions were so uncommon that it is not possible to make a conclusion regarding whether or not the vaccine is causally associated. Indeed, listen to the chair of the committee, Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton:

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of their decisions -- 133 -- fell into the inadequate category, including many concerns associated with the HPV vaccine. But that doesn't mean that the data is simply inconclusive, says Clayton. In fact, that category is quite diverse, encompassing cases in which studies show both a potential connection or no connection between vaccines and an adverse event; it also includes cases in which the information simply doesn't exist -- yet --to make a sound scientific conclusion. That's the case with HPV, which hasn't been used long enough in enough people to generate robust data on many of the potential side effects, such as neurological conditions that have been linked to the vaccine in some.

In another article, Clayton points out: "We looked at more than a thousand peer-reviewed articles, and we didn't see many adverse effects caused by vaccines. That's pretty remarkable."

And so it is, although no doubt vaccine denialists won't see it that way.

It should also be noted that all of these complications, even the ones for which the committee considered the evidence to be such that it convincingly supported a causal relationship are very uncommon--rare, even. Indeed, as Dr. Clayton put it, "Despite looking very hard, it was really hard to find that vaccines cause injuries and the injuries they do cause are generally pretty mild and self-contained."

Which is pretty much what we've known all along.

Another thing that's important about this study is that it is strong evidence that, contrary to the claims of the anti-vaccine movement, adverse reactions to vaccines are not hidden; they are not swept under the rug. In fact, the government and the IOM have gone to great lengths to look for adverse events and to try to correlate them to specific vaccines. Before this report was ever conceived, real scientists and real doctors spent lots and lots of money and effort to study vaccines, autism, and whether there is a relationship between the two, even after the weight of the evidence strongly suggested that there is not. They've also studied virtually every adverse event you can imagine. Synthesizing the estimates of risk derived from the scientific literature from hundreds upon hundreds of papers, the committee concluded that adverse reactions are rare and that adverse reactions commonly claimed by the anti-vaccine movement (autism, type I diabetes) are not supported by the data.

In any rational, reasonable world, this report would be highly reassuring, and to most parents I hope it will be. I'm also under no illusions that it will persuade the anti-vaccine movement in any way. Indeed, the anti-vaccine group SafeMinds was the first off the mark with a press release (shilled for by, of course, the anti-vaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism. Naturally, SafeMinds tries to take the part of the report that concludes that insufficient evidence exists to confirm or deny a causal relationship between specific vaccines and specific adverse events and spin it to mean that the safety of vaccines is not known. Not surprisingly, there's the requisite conspiracy-mongering, where SafeMinds accuses the government of a conflict of interest by pointing out that:

The IOM report took two years to produce, mostly behind closed doors, and was paid for by the Department of Health and Human Services, the government agency which is also a defendant against the vaccine-injured in the government's vaccine court.

SafeMinds then provides yet another example of Orwellian spin:

The report investigated 158 potential adverse outcomes from vaccines. Of these, 135 or 85% were found to have inadequate research to accept or reject a causal association. Of the 23 outcomes where the research was deemed adequate, 18 or 78% were found supportive of harm. Vaccines were cleared of safety concerns for just five of the outcomes considered. "These statistics are hardly reassuring to parents who are now asked to give their young children over 32 vaccinations," noted Sallie Bernard, President of SafeMinds.

Predictably (at least, I predicted it), SafeMinds goes for raw numbers and tries to make it seem as though because there was inadequate evidence to accept or reject a causal relationship between these adverse events and vaccines that there is real uncertainty about the safety of vaccines. Of course, SafeMinds' flack fails to mention that the reason there is inadequate evidence is because these adverse reactions are so rare that there are just too few of them to make any definitive conclusions about causality with respect to vaccines. It would take enormous studies with huge numbers of subjects to have any hope of teasing out causality, and even then the events might be too rare to make any definitive conclusions.

All of this, to SafeMinds, is not surprisingly a call for "more research":

SafeMinds calls on Congress and the Administration to institute a rigorous science program on vaccine safety. This program would include the establishment of an independent Vaccine Safety Agency (similar to the National Transportation Safety Board), the launch of a study comparing health outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated children, the inclusion of vaccines as an exposure variable in the National Children's Study and mandatory reporting by physicians to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

I've already explained why the whole "vaxed versus unvaxed" study is highly unlikely to be particularly informative. Basically, SafeMinds is spinning the report into one massive appeal to ignorance, arguing that, if we don't have adequate evidence to make a conclusion regarding whether vaccines cause these very rare events, then vaccines must not be safe and we have to "do more research." It's a highly predictable response, given the history of the anti-vaccine movement in doing exactly the same thing with previous studies. No matter how much research fails to find evidence of a link between vaccines and autism, anti-vaccinationists call for "more research." When the MMR vaccine and then later thimerosal in vaccines were exonerated as causes of autism, the anti-vaccine movement turned almost on a dime and started blaming other ingredients (the "toxins gambit," a favorite distortion also sometimes known as "Green Our Vaccines") and the vaccine schedule as a whole (the "too many too soon" gambit), neither of which has good scientific evidence to support it. The implication of these latest tactics ends up being a call for testing, in essence, each vaccine ingredient and combination of vaccines independently, which is logistically incredibly expensive to the point of being virtually impossible) and doing their holy grail of a study, the "vaxed versus unvaxed" study, which, because it would be utterly unethical to do as a randomized clinical trial or even as a prospective study, would have to be retrospective and thus prone to the typical confounding factors all retrospective studies are prone to.

The IOM report is yet another indication that serious vaccine reactions are rare and that in general most adverse reactions to vaccines are mild in nature. That is not to say that they are nonexistent, but they are much less frequent and much less severe than the impression that is intentionally promoted by anti-vaccine activists. These conclusions should reassure most people who are willing to listen, but groups like SafeMinds are anything but willing to listen. The bottom line is that anti-vaccine beliefs are not based on evidence or data, no matter how much anti-vaccine believers try to distort scientific data or do bad science themselves (like Mark and David Geier or Andrew Wakefield) to represent their fear and loathing of vaccines as being "evidence-based." No matter how many scientific studies, systematic reviews of the literature, meta-analyses, and other evidence exonerate individual vaccines or vaccines as a whole as a cause for autism and the other conditions, the anti-vaccine movement will not be swayed. Because to groups like SafeMinds, Generation Rescue, the National Vaccine Information Center, and others, it's first and foremost about the vaccines. It's always about the vaccines. It always will be about the vaccines.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eagles singer Don Henley: EFF, Google "aid and abet" criminals | ars technica

Eagles singer Don Henley: EFF, Google "aid and abet" criminals

Eagles singer Don Henley: EFF, Google "aid and abet" criminals

According to a USA Today op-ed from Eagles drummer and singer Don Henley, blocking foreign "rogue" websites, banning them from search engines, and cutting off their advertising and credit cards is "common sense." His arguments are neither new nor interesting, but what caught my eye was Henley's truly aggressive language toward those who lack his "common sense."

Henley supports the controversial PROTECT IP Act currently suffering a legislative hold in the Senate thanks to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Those who have issues with the bill include the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Google—and Henley suggests that both are borderline complicit in criminal activity because of their resistance.

Critics of this pending legislation need to be honest about the company they keep and why they essentially aid and abet these criminal endeavors. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties group, claims such a bill would "break the Internet," while Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt says it sets "a disastrous precedent" for freedom of speech. No one has the freedom to commit or abet crimes on the Internet. Stopping crime on the Internet is not, as EFF says, "censorship." There is no First Amendment right to infringe intellectual property rights.

That's a strong charge, though Google's recent agreement to pay $500 million to the US government for accepting money from foreign pharmacy websites certainly bolsters critics like Henley. I asked both Google and the EFF what they thought of this "aiding and abetting" language; Google did not respond by publication time.

The EFF sent me a copy of its own letter to USA Today, which has yet to run. It reads, in part:

EFF opposes this legislation not because we support intellectual property infringement (we don’t) but because the bill proposes troubling ways to try to address it. The legislation would establish vague and overbroad definitions, increase the risk of costly litigation (the bill’s right of action would not, as Mr. Henley suggests, be limited to law enforcement but encompass private actors and civil claims as well), and impose compliance burdens on search engines, payment processors, online advertisers, and potentially any service that provides links to third-party websites.

As a result, it poses a threat to online innovation, free speech, and creative efforts that our intellectual property system is supposed to promote... Apparently Mr. Henley does not object to compromising the Internet in the name of intellectual property rights enforcement. We do, and we think your readers should, too.

The response showed amazing restraint when it came to incorporating Eagles song titles; EFF board member Brad Templeton, who penned his own response to Henley, went in the other direction:

Take it Easy, Don. There’s a New Kid in Town, and it’s called the Internet. Get Over It. I Can’t Tell you Why, but in The Long Run, there isn’t going to be a Heartache Tonight. One of these Nights I hope you’ll you understand that for search engines to Take it To the Limit, they can’t be forced to police every search result.

Internet companies only grow when living Life in the Fast Lane, able to operate, innovate and design products without needing to check for permission from the music industry. If every time you wrote a song you had to worry about what every user who plays it and every store that sells it might do with it, you would lose your Peaceful, Easy Feeling quickly. Big companies might run filters, but if the small ones had needed to they would be Already Gone.

Henley closes without apparent irony, warning Congress not to be "taken in by special interest agendas disguised as First Amendment claims, or they themselves will be as culpable of abetting theft as the rogue sites and companies that support them."

So, Members of Congress, remember: doing the entertainment industry's bidding is common sense. Listening to the "special interests" who worry about freedom of speech and breaking the Internet? Well, that makes you just as much a criminal as they are.

Iceland's On-going Revolution | Deena Stryker Daily Kox

Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:47 AM PDT

Iceland's On-going Revolution

by Deena Stryker

An Italian radio program's story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt.  The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here's why:

Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors.  But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt.  In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent.  The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro.  At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution.  But only after much pain.

Geir Haarde, the Prime Minister of a Social Democratic coalition government, negotiated a two million one hundred thousand dollar loan, to which the Nordic countries added another two and a half million. But the foreign financial community pressured Iceland to impose drastic measures.  The FMI and the European Union wanted to take over its debt, claiming this was the only way for the country to pay back Holland and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse their citizens.

Protests and riots continued, eventually forcing the government to resign. Elections were brought forward to April 2009, resulting in a left-wing coalition which condemned the neoliberal economic system, but immediately gave in to its demands that Iceland pay off a total of three and a half million Euros.  This required each Icelandic citizen to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, at 5.5% interest, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. It was the straw that broke the reindeer’s back.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.

Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country.  As Icelanders went to vote, foreign bankers threatened to block any aid from the IMF.  The British government threatened to freeze Icelander savings and checking accounts. As Grimsson said: “We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North.  But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.” (How many times have I written that when Cubans see the dire state of their neighbor, Haiti, they count themselves lucky.)

In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt.  The IMF immediately froze its loan.  But the revolution (though not televised in the United States), would not be intimidated. With the support of a furious citizenry, the government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisis.  Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, as the other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.

But Icelanders didn't stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money.  (The one in use had been written when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, in 1918, the only difference with the Danish constitution being that the word ‘president’ replaced the word ‘king’.)

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

Some readers will remember that Iceland’s ninth century agrarian collapse was featured in Jared Diamond’s book by the same name. Today, that country is recovering from its financial collapse in ways just the opposite of those generally considered unavoidable, as confirmed yesterday by the new head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde to Fareed Zakaria. The people of Greece have been told that the privatization of their public sector is the only solution.  And those of Italy, Spain and Portugal are facing the same threat.

They should look to Iceland. Refusing to bow to foreign interests, that small country stated loud and clear that the people are sovereign.     

That’s why it is not in the news anymore.

Want to Lower Your Cholesterol? There's a Diet for That: Nuts, Soy, Margarine, Oats |

Eating certain foods can help people lower their cholesterol levels, even without the aid of medication, a new study finds.

In the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients who started out with high or borderline high LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels (anything above 158 mg/dL) were able to lower their LDL by 14% over six months by sticking with a diet rich in cholesterol-lowering foods.

That diet cut participants' LDL three times more than a standard low-fat diet.

So what foods were effective against artery-clogging fat? According to study leader Dr. David Jenkins, chair of nutrition, metabolism and vascular biology at the University of Toronto, there are four pillars of a cholesterol-lowering diet: plant oils or sterols such as margarine; viscous fibers including oats, barley and psyllium; nuts; and soy.

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For most people, Jenkins says, it wouldn't require that much effort to boost consumption of these foods enough to achieve a cholesterol-reducing effect. In fact, he says, it would be sufficient to substitute oat bran or psyllium cereal in the morning in place of your regular breakfast, and to try soy milk products instead of dairy.

The six-month study was the first to look at the potential impact of a real-world diet on cholesterol levels. Rather than providing their 345 participants with foods to eat, researchers counseled them on how to shop for and incorporate more cholesterol-lowering products into their diet on their own. (The only food given to the study participants was plant sterol-based margarine, which was not permitted to be sold in Canada, the site of the study, at the time.) One group of participants received two nutritional counseling sessions of 40-60 mins. each, while another group received a more intensive schedule of seven sessions over six months. The control group got advice on how to eat a low saturated fat diet.

At the end of the six months, the two intervention groups showed an average 25 mg/dL drop in their LDL levels, compared with an 8 mg/dL decline in the low-fat-diet group. Both groups that received counseling on cholesterol-lowering diets showed similar reductions, suggesting that people were able to change their diets after just two sessions of instruction.

"The results show that we do have something worthwhile to add to the dietary formula," says Jenkins.

He notes that the majority of people in the study were recruited through advertisements, which may have targeted people with a pre-existing interest in lowering their cholesterol levels, so they might have been particularly keen on adopting the necessary dietary changes to keep their lipid levels in check.

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Jenkins suggests that the results could be even more impressive among people who aren't paying much attention to their diet at all and may therefore have more to gain. "The implication from our point of view is that if we take the couch potato, and they were to bite the bullet and adopt these changes, they could do much better in terms of reducing their cholesterol," he says.

How much more tofu and oat bran would it take to make a difference? Based on an average 2,000-calorie daily diet, Jenkins said the study participants were instructed to aim for 2 g of plant sterol, nearly 20 g of fiber, and 40 g each of soy and nut products daily.

Only about 40% of the volunteers reached this target, but Jenkins says anyone can easily start adding some of these foods into their diet gradually. "To eat more oats, for example, change your breakfast cereal and try some desserts made of oat bran with fruits and nuts," he says. He acknowledges that boosting soy intake could be a little more difficult, particularly among westerners who still aren't accustomed to the protein that's such a staple of Asian diets.

But the effort may be worth it, especially for those who aren't eager to start popping pills to lower their cholesterol, Jenkins says. In the first study his team did on these foods, in 2003, they showed that in a lab setting, when participants were provided with the adequate amounts of fiber, nuts, soy and plant sterols, they were able to lower their LDL levels by nearly 30% — with the reductions associated with early cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

Jenkins says his next step is to follow-up with his diet-study patients to see whether the change in their eating habits translates to cleaner arteries and therefore to fewer heart events. He plans to conduct imaging studies of the major arteries to document any changes the diet may have on blood vessels.

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In the meantime, he says, "I don't think it's that difficult" to switch to a more powerful cholesterol-lowering diet. "You don't have to hold your nose, but just change as much as you can and look for substitutes for high-fat foods that often fill the gap very, very well."

Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

24 Policies That Republicans Supported BEFORE They Were Against Them | Addicting Info

Since President Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, Republicans have reversed their stances on many different policies and beliefs. Here are 24 of them.

1. Health Care Mandates) Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act by Democrats, Republicans widely supported the idea of an individual health care insurance mandate, Newt Gingrich being perhaps the chief supporter. Republicans have always preached about how people need to take responsibility for themselves, and now that a law exists that makes people take responsibility, the GOP is rejecting it simply on the grounds that President Obama and the Democrats passed it.

2. The Nuclear START Treaty) Republicans shamelessly filibustered the ratification of the Obama START Treaty for quite a period of time and criticized it tremendously and continue to try and find ways to circumvent the treaty today. What Republicans conveniently forget is that Ronald Reagan, the man that Republicans worship like a God, negotiated the very first START Treaty which was signed by yet another Republican, George H. W. Bush in 1991. That treaty expired in 2009 so President Obama negotiated a new one to continue the Reagan legacy. But since President Obama negotiated this treaty, Republicans retreated from Reagan’s policy faster than the decade it took to create the START Treaty in the first place.

3. Dream Act) Immigration reform has been touted by Republicans for decades now. Reagan granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants in the 1980′s. Most recently, Republicans worked on immigration reform under the Bush Administration and failed. President Bush and Senator John McCain both supported immigration reform and were willing to cross the aisle to work with Democrats, most notably Edward Kennedy. All of that work and bipartisanship ceased after the 2008 Election. Staunchly opposed to President Obama and anything his administration supports, Republicans turned their backs on immigration reform in favor of militarizing the border and laws that violate the civil rights of Hispanics. Obama’s Dream Act would do much that Reagan would approve of, but Republicans refuse hear anything of it.

4. TARP) Republicans supported TARP when they helped pass it in response to the economic collapse in 2008. President Bush even signed the legislation into law. But since it’s been up to the guiding hands of President Obama to deal with TARP, Republicans have since revoked their support and have been highly critical even as they take credit for it when presenting stimulus checks to their local constituents. The fact is, TARP is successful because President Obama oversaw it and Republicans hate that fact.

5. Bail Out of Auto Industry) Republicans once supported this too but abandoned it once President Obama called for it. The auto industry is a vital manufacturing sector that supports millions of American jobs and Republicans WANTED the industry to fail simply because President Obama wanted the bail out. If it had failed, Republicans would have blamed President Obama for not supporting the American auto industry. The bail out has been a resounding success with most of the money plus interest paid back to the taxpayers. Mitt Romney has since tried to take credit for the idea because it has been so successful.

6. Israel Going Back To Pre-1967 Borders) Many Presidents have suggested this, even George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. But once President Obama repeated it, Republicans immediately denounced the President and threw their support to Israel’s President. This action by Republicans is totally unprecedented. It is reprehensible for American politicians to support a foreign leader more than the American President. Imagine if the Republican Party had overtly supported Hitler over FDR during World War Two. The only reason Republicans are rejecting President Obama’s plan is because they cannot bring themselves to endorse any idea he suggests, even if it is a Republican one.

7. Gun Control) Republicans overwhelmingly reject any and all gun control measures today. Which is very strange considering Ronald Reagan himself supported the Brady Handgun Act. But, it’s still true. Republicans did indeed support gun control measures in the past. It’s different now. Today’s intolerant, prejudiced, and extremist Republican Party is only against gun control now because they believe there needs to be a war against liberals and minority groups. It’s all about fear and war.

8. Public Education) Even the Founding Fathers believed in education for all. Every Republican President in United States history has been supportive of the public education system in this country. Ronald Reagan campaigned on axing the Department of Education but not only did he NOT eliminate it, he amped up its budget. It is only now that President Obama seeks to improve the education system that Republicans are against public education. When President Bush sought to improve public education, Republicans were on board but now that Obama is President, Republicans have decided that all public schools are evil liberal institutions that must be destroyed.

9. Infrastructure Spending) Republicans have always believed in strong infrastructure, until now. Republicans used the power of the federal government to build the railroads in the 1860′s and 1870′s, the Panama Canal in the beginning of the 20th century, and the interstate highway system in the 1950′s. Yet when President Obama called for new infrastructure spending to improve America’s crumbling roads and bridges and to improve our rail lines, Republicans immediately reversed their long-held belief in a strong American infrastructure. Why? Because they hate President Obama and oppose everything he believes in, even if it was once a part of the Republican platform.

10. Child Labor Laws) This one is surprising. Republicans were the ones that championed child labor laws in the first place. Starting in 1852, in the once Republican state of Massachusetts, child labor laws have been fought for by both parties. The only opponent of child labor laws has traditionally been big business. Republicans tried to pass a Constitutional amendment in 1924 and it didn’t succeed. It wasn’t until Democrats passed the Fair Labor Standards Act that child labor laws became federal law. Republicans oppose child labor laws now because of their deep ties with corporations. The goal of the corporate world is to find cheap labor and because President Obama is against huge corporations, Republicans must stand with the corporations, even if that means killing child labor laws.

11. Civil Rights) Republicans were once the champions of civil rights as well. They ended slavery and adopted the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. They splintered over the Civil Rights Act in 1964, although it was a Republican led Supreme Court that ruled in the Brown v Board of Education case, and have become more and more opposed to civil rights ever since. President Obama has called for increased civil rights and because of that, Republicans now oppose civil rights for everyone except Christian white males.

12. Environmental Protection) Originally championed by Theodore Roosevelt, Republicans used to support efforts to protect the environment. Over the last century, however, that support has reversed. Republicans even once supported the environment in the 1970′s when Nixon created the EPA, but no longer. Republicans are now in complete support of the irresponsibility of the oil and coal industry and want to open the entire American coastline and even federally protected lands to drilling and mining.
Republicans even used to support cap-and-trade. The first George Bush signed legislation in 1990 that implemented the cap-and-trade system and many Republicans still do support cap-and-trade. But because President Obama supports it, most Republicans are now against it.

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13. Deficit Spending) This one is big. Republicans have employed deficit spending since the Reagan years and abused it during the Bush administration to pass the conservative agenda and to fund wars. Reagan doubled the national debt and George W. Bush proceeded to double it again. But because Democrats controlled the White House and the Congress from 2008 to 2010, Republicans completely reversed their stance on deficit spending and still oppose deficit spending solely on the grounds that a Republican isn’t President. If a Republican were President right now, you can bet the farm that they would abuse deficit spending once again to slam the destructive anti-middle class, anti-poor, anti-women, and anti-America agenda through Congress with no thought about fiscal responsibility whatsoever.

14. Federal Reserve) The Federal Reserve is now a target for most Republicans, which is puzzling because it was a Republican idea. Proposed by Republican leader Nelson Aldrich to organize and regulate the banking system and to enforce monetary policy, and thus stabilize our financial system, the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law by Democratic President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Republicans now want to dismantle or weaken the Federal Reserve because President Obama needs it to enforce Dodd-Frank which will make banks more responsible and accountable, and will protect consumers.

15. Women’s Rights) The women’s rights movement was born in and grew with the Republican Party in the mid 1800′s. Many Republicans supported voting rights for women although to pass the 19th Amendment it took women threatening to cause Republican losses in the 1920 Election to persuade them to help pass it in Congress. As women gained more equality, they also demanded equal pay for equal work and reproductive rights. Ronald Reagan legalized abortion as Governor of California in the 1960′s and a moderate conservative Supreme Court handed down the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. Today’s Republican Party is now waging a war against women and the harder Democrats and President Obama fight for women’s rights, the harder Republicans will fight to eliminate them because of orders from white Christian extremists.

16. End Of Life Counseling) Republicans referred to this as “death panels” in 2009 in response to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But Republicans wholeheartedly supported end of life counseling in their own 2003 Medicare bill. Both of the Bush Presidents supported end of life counseling and even Sarah Palin herself supported it before she suddenly turned against it. In fact, Republicans had supported end of life counseling for decades. So what happened? Easy. President Obama supports it, so Republicans are now against it. It’s really that simple. And petty.

17. Financial Disclosure) Republicans were all for this in 2002 when they passed and President Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law. Campaign financing laws have always been supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, until now. Because of their hatred of President Obama, who supports campaign finance laws, and their desperation for absolute power and authority, Republicans are now completely against financial disclosure. They have allied themselves with the corporate world over the American people in their effort to steer elections their direction and do that, campaign finance laws must not exist. That is why the activist conservative Supreme Court struck down the laws to begin with.

18. Minimum Wage) The way Republicans have been talking about abolishing the minimum wage, you would think they’ve always been against it, right? Wrong. 82 House Republicans and 39 Senate Republicans joined the Democratic majority in passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. President Bush signed the bill into law. It is only now that President Obama stands with the American workers that Republicans oppose the minimum wage on behalf of their corporate masters, most notably, Koch Industries. If Republicans were so against the minimum wage, they would not have voted to raise it. Three times.

19. Military Intervention In The Middle East) This should really convince you that Republicans are simply opposing policies because a black President supports them. Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43 all supported military intervention in the Middle East yet when President Obama uses the military to intervene in Libya, Republicans all of a sudden become doves? They’ve really revealed themselves with this policy reversal. The fact that under President Obama, Libya successfully overthrew their dictator without one American life being lost must infuriate the GOP.

20. Abortion) It may sound really far-fetched but there are many pro-choice conservatives out there and some politicians are part of that group. Take Ronald Reagan for instance. He made abortion legal in California as Governor of the state. And most recently, it was discovered that extreme right-winger Rick Santorum’s wife had an abortion to save her own life. In my opinion, that means Santorum is for the procedure when his wife’s life is on the line, but every other woman needs to die rather than exercise their right to an abortion which was ruled to exist in Roe v Wade by a conservative leaning court in 1973.

21. Economic Development Administration) Never heard of this you say? This program provides grants to local projects which have created jobs. Republicans such as Susan Collins, Chuck Grassely, and even John Cornyn have supported it in the past. Cornyn stated in March 2010 that funds from an EDA grant “would pave the way for the creation of new jobs and business opportunities, which will strengthen the region’s economy,” according to a local East Texas NBC news affiliate. But now that the GOP plan to crash the economy on purpose is in full swing, Republicans are now calling for an end to the EDA.

22. Lower Taxes) Republican do support lower taxes, except they only support them for the wealthy, NOT the rest of us. Even as they crusade to eliminate taxes on corporations and the wealthy, Republicans fully support a new proposal that would actually raise taxes on the rest of us. And guess who opposes it? That’s right. President Obama. Republicans usually crusaded for lower taxes for everyone, but since they support class warfare now, they have partly reversed themselves.

23. Medicare) I’m aware that Republicans initially opposed Medicare when it was passed, but since its passage into law, Republicans have largely defended it, especially when they try to pander to senior citizens for votes. But if Republicans really wanted to kill Medicare, they would have actually done it when Ronald Reagan was in office. Reagan opposed Medicare when it was created but then did something quite unexpected as President. He saved it. By saving Medicare, Republicans practically endorsed it. Even Theodore Roosevelt supported national health care. And now the GOP has come full circle once again by opposing it, and are trying to slaughter it and the millions of seniors that rely on the popular health care program. Why? Because President Obama is in favor of keeping Medicare around for a very long time and Medicare represents just how popular government-run universal health care can be. So technically speaking, Republicans were against Medicare before they were for it before they were against it.

24. Social Security) Social Security is popular with everybody, even the staunchest right wingers. Ronald Reagan and Milton Freidman supported the New Deal programs of the 1930′s and even Ayn Rand collected Social Security up to her dying breath. Ronald Reagan even saved this program too by raising payroll taxes. This action also saved Medicare as it is part of the Social Security Act. The idea to privatize Social Security has popped up many times but has been met with negative reactions by a majority of the people so those ideas usually die in infancy. President Bush wanted to privatize it, but never did. Republicans had control of Congress and the White House from 2001-2006. If they had wanted to kill Social Security, they would have done so. But now all of a sudden they feel now is the time to privatize it, even as big bankers have proven that they are untrustworthy with money. Oh, and President Obama supports Social Security. Just another reason for Republicans to hate it.

Undoubtedly, one could add even more to the list but now you know what policies Republicans once supported and why they are now against those very same policies. If we take Republican claims to love America and their claims that the Founders were Republicans seriously, we could also now say that Republicans were for America before they were against her.