May morning link dump

2011-05-10

in Daily updates

Here are some news stories on various topics of interest:

Photojournalism

The problem today, however, is that anyone with a camera can lie – and refashion reality for their own purposes. And they may not be caught. Modern digital technology allows amateurs and professionals to tinker with images, creatively manipulating shadow, colour, reflection and perspective.”

Multiple sclerosis

Last August, two reports in the same issue of the Annals of Neurology found scant evidence of the condition Dr. Zamboni had dubbed chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI). In fact, none of the MS patients studied met more than one of the five criteria Dr. Zamboni said are needed to diagnose CCSVI.

A paper in February’s issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry again found no vein problems, prompting its authors to “cast serious doubt” on the concept.

Canada’s election

The Conservatives fought a vicious campaign against a poorly defined opponent. The NDP rise was partly a rejection of both those things. However, the only way irreparable damage will be done here is if many of us dismiss the Tory majority, and the fellow citizens who elected it, as somehow less Canadian, less well-informed and less well-intentioned than ourselves, instead of trying to understand why they voted the way they did.

University degrees and pay

Defence priorities

Put on the front burner the question of whether the U.S. military should continue to circumnavigate the globe fighting insurgents and building nations in countries that don’t particularly want to be experiments for our preconceptions about proper governance.

The bin Laden raid

He also said “the fact that there were some who voiced doubts about this approach was invaluable, because it meant the plan was sharper, it meant that we had thought through all of our options.”

This was a very difficult decision, in part because the evidence that we had was not absolutely inconclusive,” he said. “This was circumstantial evidence that he was going to be there. Obviously it entailed enormous risk to the guys that I sent in there. But ultimately I had so much confidence in the capacity of our guys to carry out the mission.”

Gay marriage in Brazil

Kermit the Frog’s awards and commemorations

Elites versus the public

The fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.

Let me focus mainly on what happened in the United States, then say a few words about Europe.

These days Americans get constant lectures about the need to reduce the budget deficit. That focus in itself represents distorted priorities, since our immediate concern should be job creation. But suppose we restrict ourselves to talking about the deficit, and ask: What happened to the budget surplus the federal government had in 2000?

The answer is, three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs.

So who was responsible for these budget busters? It wasn’t the man in the street.

President George W. Bush cut taxes in the service of his party’s ideology, not in response to a groundswell of popular demand — and the bulk of the cuts went to a small, affluent minority.

Vancouver’s safe injection site

The evidence supports Insite

Ottawa Citizen

The Supreme Court of Canada will consider on May 12 whether the federal government has the jurisdictional authority to shut down Insite, the supervised drug-injection facility in Vancouver.

No matter which way that case goes, the Conservative government should drop its campaign against the facility. There is new, dramatic evidence that if Insite closes, people will die. No government can, in good conscience, ignore such evidence.

It comes in the reputable medical journal The Lancet, which published a study last month regarding fatal overdoses in Vancouver between 2001 and 2005. In the city as a whole, such deaths decreased by nine per cent. Within 500 metres of Insite, such deaths decreased an impressive 35 per cent. The conclusion? “Closing Insite would likely lead to unnecessary and preventable deaths due to overdose.”

We already knew that Insite reduces behaviours that transmit HIV, and helps the general public by preventing costs to other public services and reducing disorder. A national crime or health policy that saw any of this as a bad thing would be laughable, if it were not so dangerous. Yet that’s exactly the policy Conservatives have developed so far.

Tasers and police

Inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired appeal court judge, rejected the officers’ testimony as self-serving and not credible. He said there was no reason to stun Dziekanski and the officers could not have believed he posed a danger to anybody.

After Braidwood released his report, Peck was appointed to determine whether, in light of the evidence heard at the inquiry, the decision not to charge the officers should stand. Peck was also asked to review other conduct of the officers, including their testimony at the inquiry.

The criminal justice branch released the decision to charge the officers only after a news outlet gained advance knowledge of it.

Behavior of nuclear fuel during a reactor accident

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

. May 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Every thousand years or so, the lower Mississippi changes course. It piles up enough silt at its delta that it ’spills over’ to a new shortest path to the ocean. At times, the outlet has been anywhere from Texas to the Florida Panhandle.

Since the early 20th century, the Mississippi has been trying to change course again—sending its main flow down the Atchafalaya river, which offers a much shorter, steeper path to the ocean. The Army Corps of Engineers was ordered by Congress to keep that from happening. The center of their effort is the Old River Control Structure, which limits the flow down the Atchafalaya to 30%.

Every now and then there’s a massive flood which stresses the system. The fear is that if the Mississippi ever broke through the ORCS and the main flow was captured by the Atchafalaya, it would be very hard or virtually impossible to return it to its old route. This would devastate the people and industries around in Baton Rouge and New Orleans who depend on the river (as if they haven’t had enough problems lately). This almost happened in 1973, when a massive flood undermined the structure; this was the subject of John McPhee’s book.

They’ve since strengthened the structure, but the coming flood is quite a bit larger than the one in 1973. In order to save New Orleans and Baton Rouge, they have to send some of the floodwaters down the Atchafalaya.

. May 10, 2011 at 10:04 pm

“Humans evolved along this path. The basic mechanism can be modeled simply. It is in our collective group interest for everyone to cooperate. It is in any given individual’s short-term self interest not to cooperate: to defect, in game theory terms. But if everyone defects, society falls apart. To ensure widespread cooperation and minimal defection, we collectively implement a variety of societal security systems.

Two of these systems evolved in prehistory: morals and reputation. Two others evolved as our social groups became larger and more formal: laws and technical security systems. What these security systems do, effectively, is give individuals incentives to act in the group interest. But none of these systems, with the possible exception of some fanciful science-fiction technologies, can ever bring that dishonest minority down to zero.”

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