Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Plague

Uh-oh.

Three more people in Colorado have been diagnosed with the plague after coming in contact with an infected dog whose owner contracted a life-threatening form of the disease, state health officials said on Friday.
In all, four people were infected with the disease from the same source, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement.
Last week the department said a man in an eastern Colorado county whose dog died of the plague had been diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a rare and serious form of the disease.
The man remains hospitalized, but authorities have not released his condition.
The three people in the latest reported cases had "mild symptoms" and have fully recovered after being treated with antibiotics, the department said, adding that they are no longer contagious.
Two of the patients in the new cases contracted pneumonic plague, the department said.
Pneumonic plague is the only form of the disease that can be transmitted person-to-person, usually through infectious droplets from coughing. [my bolding]
Here's what they are doing in China. Overreaction? 
A Chinese city has been sealed off and 151 people have been placed in quarantine since last week after a man died of bubonic plague, state media said.
The 30,000 residents of Yumen, in the north-western province of Gansu, are not being allowed to leave, and police at roadblocks on the perimeter of the city are telling motorists to find alternative routes, China Central Television (CCTV) said.
A 38-year-old man died last Wednesday, the report said, after he had been in contact with a dead marmot, a small furry animal related to the squirrel. No further plague cases have been reported.
CCTV said officials were not allowing anyone to leave. The China Daily newspaper said four quarantine sectors had been set up in the city.
"The city has enough rice, flour and oil to supply all its residents for up to one month," CCTV added. "Local residents and those in quarantine are all in stable condition." No further plague cases have been reported.
No word on whether the plague case there was pneumonic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Australia kills carbon tax

Bad news from down under on the climate change front:
Australia’s carbon price has been repealed, leaving the nation with no legislated policy to achieve even the minimum 5% greenhouse emissions reduction target it has inscribed in international agreements.
After eight years of bitter political debate, during which climate policy dominated three election campaigns and contributed to the demise of two prime ministers, after last week’s Senate drama in which the repeal was again defeated and this week’s lengthy last gasp debate, the Senate has now finally voted to make good Tony Abbott’s “pledge in blood” to “axe the tax”.
..............
 The tax was $25.40 a tonne and was scheduled to move to the floating and lower international price in 12 months.
The repeal will cost the budget around $7bn over the next four years as around 350 businesses, mainly electricity generators and big manufacturers, no longer have to pay the tax.
The government argues the carbon pricing scheme has been ineffective, but national emissions have actually fallen by 0.8% in the first calendar year of its operation, the largest fall in 24 years of records. Since the tax began, emissions from the east coast electricity market have fallen 11%, but emissions from other sources – especially coal and gas mining have increased.
The government also says households will be better off by an average $550 – the amount treasury estimated prices would rise when the tax was introduced – but supermarkets and airlines are now saying consumers should not expect price reductions.
............

The Abbott government says it will now achieve the target of a 5% reduction in Australian emissions compared with 2000 levels by 2020 with its Direct Action policy, which will offer $2.5bn in competitive grants over the next four years to companies and organisations voluntarily reducing emissions. The budget actually allocated only $1.14bn over the four-year forward estimates for the scheme. The government said this is because they will pay on delivery of the abatement. The policy is voluntary and puts no overall cap on emissions.
The government itself has not modelled Direct Action (Abbott said he would prefer to “have a crack”), but two other modelling exercises found even the 5% cut would cost far more than $2.5bn, and the independent climate change authority – which the government is seeking to abolish – has said Australia’s “fair share” of international emissions reductions has now increased to between 15% and 19% by 2020.
The government says it is sure Direct Action will meet the 5% target, but Abbott has said he will not allocate any more money even if it does not, and has not said how he would make deeper reductions in Australia’s emissions which are likely to be required after the United Nations meeting to try to forge a new post-2020 climate agreement in Paris next year.
But Abbott need not worry about curbing emissions, according to one of his own party members.
 Government backbencher Ian Macdonald accused opposition parties of being hypocrites for refusing to accept the will of the voters and said that while he had “an open mind”, he would like to point out that Brisbane had recently had its coldest day in 113 years.
So there you have it. Along with global warming, we also see a trend of global stupidification.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hostages of War


 As Israeli bombs continue to strike Gaza, killing almost 200, 3/4 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch, and Israeli authorities telling 100,000 Gazans to evacuate (to where?) a Gazan born journalist and US resident who returned to Gaza with her young children to visit family writes of her experience.
I grew up in Gaza. When I was in school, I spent my days walking to and from class, avoiding the streets that were normally targeted by airstrikes. On my summer holiday, I stayed indoors for fear of meeting the same fate as the families who dared to visit the beach and were killed by missiles while they enjoyed their barbecue.
Despite my best efforts to give my daughters a different life, I have found myself in the exact same situation my mother was in 16 years ago when airstrikes hit Gaza. I was 10 years old, and the strikes haven’t really stopped since.
After covering two wars in Gaza, I shifted my whole life. I moved with my American husband to the United States, to try to give my two daughters — Talia, who is three, and Lateen, who is one — the universal dream of peace. But as I drifted into a suburban life, I also longed for my sweet mother and my home. I longed to smell the roses while walking on the beach. So I took my daughters back to Gaza to visit their grandmother, and now I find myself again at ground zero, trapped between airstrikes and the unknown.
Now, seeing my two daughters staring at me in shock, calling my name in fear, asking to come with me when I leave on assignment to photograph the airstrikes or their aftermath, my heart refuses to believe I could have possibly risked the lives of my two angels by bringing them here. They don’t understand why their little adventure to see grandma escalated into war so quickly and so dramatically, or why they can’t get a hug from daddy, but only get to see his face through the cold laptop screen.
The ones who write the rules of war are the ones who never experience it. If you haven’t tasted the pain of losing a loved one, the urge to run away when there is no way out, or the need to jump out of bed to hold your kid and cover her ears because a war plane just offloaded its rockets around your house — then you have no idea what life in Gaza is like.
...................
 My daughters have no shelters to run to. Israelis hide in shelters in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Haifa. But Gazans have none; cement has been banned from entering Gaza since the siege was imposed on the strip seven years ago. Gazans succeeded in smuggling some through underground tunnels from Egypt. But it was barely enough to rebuild their destroyed houses.[my bolding]
Here's the experience of an Israeli mother, living in Jerusalem amid sirens warning of Gazan rockets.
Here’s a scene from my life last week: It’s 9:30 pm. I’m lying on my bed, fully dressed, talking to my husband, who is ready for bed. We weren’t supposed to be here, tonight. We were supposed to be in the Galilee, in a beautiful cabin with its own private pool and Jacuzzi, with a massage chair in the bedroom and a hammock rocking gently in the garden outside. We escape there once a year, without the kids. It’s an oasis of calm and relaxation and peacefulness.
We’ve been looking forward to our getaway for a year. We were supposed to leave this morning. But last night, rockets were fired toward Tel Aviv. We live in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, and we haven’t been attacked yet, but there’s always the first time, so how can we leave our boys? What if it happens while we’re away? My mother-in-law is babysitting, and competent as she is, she’s never lived here through sirens, and how can one person get two kids to a shelter downstairs within 90 seconds, if they’re asleep when the siren goes off? We live in an older apartment, so we don’t have a secure room. The building’s shelter is not far, just eight steps down and across the hallway, but still.

.........
 There are little things that change. I’m a freelancer who works from home. Most days my husband drops both kids at kindergarten and daycare so I don’t have to leave the house. I am often at the computer, working, still wearing my pajamas; sometimes I only get dressed after midday, when it’s time to go and pick up my little one. Not now; now I need to be dressed in case I have to go to the shelter. I won’t take a shower if I’m the only adult in the house — someone has to be around to hear the siren. My older son is in a kindergarten that has a shelter, so he’s okay, but my younger son is in a daycare at someone’s house; I doubt his metapelet (caretaker) could get him and five other toddlers down three flights of stairs to the shelter in time. She tells me her adult son is home on vacation; between that, and the fact that I’m irrationally convinced that they won’t send rockets to Jerusalem during the day, I decide to keep sending him. I have to keep working, after all, or I won’t meet deadlines, won’t get paid. It’s not easy to concentrate, though. There is a constant low-grade anxiety thrumming through me, that spikes when I hear something I think is a siren, or read some opinion piece on where the war is headed, on where Israel is headed. During the intifada, I survived psychologically by disengaging, by not reading the news, not listening to the radio. I need to do that now, but it’s harder, when the danger is in our homes, when I have to remain alert to protect not just myself, but my children. When I have so much more to lose.
 It is tempting to write:"Enough already" or "Stop the madness" but the sad reality is that both groups of bomb throwers are following a rationally developed script---rational in the sense that they think the steps they are taking, and the bombs and rockets they are launching help realize those goals. Both Hamas and Israeli leadership aim to stay in power, and their military theatrics (theatrics in the sense that these actions are meant to affect a domestic audience, evoking responses which will help keep them in power, though the effects---death, maiming, destruction, are all too real, and permanent) are the means to accomplish this aim.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Academic follies: Zizek plagiarism edition

You may have already read about the charge of plagiarism levied against Slavoj Zizek---he lifted a summary of someone's views from an article in a (wait for it...) white supremicist publication in a piece he published in Critical Inquiry. But as Rebecca Schuman explains, his defense is that he didn't plagiarize; his unofficial research assistant did.
As much as Žižek’s detractors want to believe that he has a similar (and inexplicable) affinity for back issues of American Renaissance as they do Critical Inquiry, there is actually a fairly understandable explanation for the whole thing—one that comes from Žižek himself. The philosopher explained, in an email to Eugene Wolters at the Critical Theory blog:
A friend told me about Kevin Macdonald’s theories, and I asked him to send me a brief resume. The friend send [sic] it to me, assuring me that I can use it freely since it merely resumes another’s line of thought. Consequently, I did just that – and I sincerely apologize for not knowing that my friend’s resume was largely borrowed from Stanley Hornbeck’s review of Macdonald’s book. […] As any reader can quickly establish, the problematic passages are purely informative, a report on another’s theory for which I have no affinity whatsoever […] In no way can I thus be accused of plagiarizing another’s line of thought, of »stealing ideas.« I nonetheless deeply regret the incident.
Like many eminent scholars, Žižek sought the help of someone else (who, for some reason, isn’t jumping to claim credit) to act as de facto research assistant. Research assistants complete the most boring and least glamorous parts of scholarship, like putting footnotes into Chicago Manual style, double-checking quotes, and, in some cases, providing quick summaries of books—in this case, Kevin MacDonald’s The Culture of Critique, part of a dubious series which is widely considered anti-Semitic. Unfortunately, the friend Žižek enlisted was big into providing summaries (someone else’s summaries!) and not so big into double-checking quotes (and neither, apparently, were Žižek or his editor at Critical Inquiry).
Like many eminent scholars, Žižek sought the help of someone else (who, for some reason, isn’t jumping to claim credit) to act as de facto research assistant. Research assistants complete the most boring and least glamorous parts of scholarship, like putting footnotes into Chicago Manual style, double-checking quotes, and, in some cases, providing quick summaries of books—in this case, Kevin MacDonald’s The Culture of Critique, part of a dubious series which is widely considered anti-Semitic. Unfortunately, the friend Žižek enlisted was big into providing summaries (someone else’s summaries!) and not so big into double-checking quotes (and neither, apparently, were Žižek or his editor at Critical Inquiry).
Although Žižek’s defense—that lifting Hornbeck’s “purely informative” summary does not count as real plagiarism—is not correct, I understand his predicament. Famous academics have their minions do their dirty work all the time. And most of these minions are legitimate scholars who would not steal someone else’s words (especially not someone who writes for a white supremacist rag). So when one of them says, “Sure, you can use this verbatim,” Žižek has no reason not to do just that.
So children, the moral of this story is that when you get someone else to do your work for you, check to make sure it isn't plagiarized from elsewhere.

Academic follies

Here's a case of life plagiarizing art---the film Footnote (rather, art plagiarizing life, since the Golb case predates the 2011 film). But this one ends up with a criminal conviction and two months of jail time in a case of a man assuming the identity of others to defame his dead sea scroll scholar father's critics.
Golb, a literature scholar and lawyer, acknowledged disguising his identity in emails and blog posts to discredit detractors of his father's views on the scrolls' origins.
Containing the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible, the scrolls have enhanced scholars' understanding of the history of Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity since their discovery in caves in Israel, beginning in the 1940s. Some researchers believe the texts were assembled by a sect known as the Essenes; others – including Golb's father, historian Norman Golb – say the writings were the work of a range of Jewish groups and communities.
Raphael Golb used various online aliases to take on his father's adversaries in the debate, at one point opening an email account in a prominent Judaic studies professor's name and sending out messages in which that professor appeared to confess to plagiarizing Norman Golb's work. The professor denied it.
The NYTimes gives more background in a story from last year.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The big chill: Fukushima edition

Work continues on the so-called ice wall which will surround four damaged Fukushima Daichi reactors underground with a barrier of frozen earth.
Last month workers from Tepco and the construction firm Kajima Corp began inserting 1,550 pipes 33 metres vertically into the ground to form a rectangular cordon around the reactors. Coolant set at -30C will be fed into the pipes, eventually freezing the surrounding earth to create an impermeable barrier.
"We started work a month ago and have installed more than 100 pipes, so it is all going according to plan to meet our deadline," Tadafumi Asamura, a Kajima manager who is supervising the ice wall construction, said as workers braved rain, humidity and radiation to bore holes in the ground outside reactor No 4, scene of one of three hydrogen explosions at the plant in the early days of the crisis.
But sealing off the four reactors – three of which melted down in the March 2011 disaster – is costly and not without risks. The 32bn-yen (£185m) wall will be built with technology that has never been used on such a large scale.
"I'm not convinced the freeze wall is the best option," Dale Klein, former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a senior adviser to Tepco, recently told Kyodo News. "What I'm concerned about is unintended consequences. Where does that water go and what are the consequences of that? I think they need more testing and more analysis."
The 1,500-metre wall will stay in use until 2020, using enough electricity every year to power 13,000 households, according to officials.
Over the next eight months, 360 workers from Tepco and Kajima will work in rotating shifts of up to four hours a day, with each shift beginning in the early evening to combat heat exhaustion. Each worker is wrapped in hazardous materials suits and full-face masks, along with tungsten-lined rubber torso bibs for added protection against radiation.
The project has experienced prior failures.
Last month, Japan's nuclear regulators voiced concern at the failure to freeze the water in the trenches. Ono [Fukushima Daiichi's manager] conceded attempts had been unsuccessful, but said it did not mean the ice-wall technology was faulty. "The water inside the trenches isn't freezing properly because it is circulating inside at higher speeds [than the groundwater]," he said. "I'm confident we'll be able to freeze the trench water by next March."
..........
 He insisted that the 6,000 men from Tepco and its huge network of contractors and subcontractors now working at Fukushima Daiichi would see the world's most complex nuclear cleanup through to the end. "Obviously, it's difficult to say for sure how many years it's going to take … at the moment we're talking about 30 or 40 years," he said. "But I know that our employees have a strong sense of mission – the Tepco spirit, if you like – that is being passed down from one generation of workers to the next." [my bolding and brackets]
So the people of Japan must put their trust in that Tepco spirit, the ineffable je ne sais quoi that sets the standard for excellence in the nuclear industry.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Post Hobby Lobby Derangement Syndrome

That's the way you do it:

The city of Salem, Mass., says it will end a contract with Gordon College that allowed the Christian institution to use Salem’s Old Town Hall, The Boston Globe reports. The decision came in response to Gordon’s request that religious colleges be granted an exemption from a forthcoming federal ban on discrimination against gay and lesbian people.
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said in a written statement that the college’s anti-gay policies violated an ordinance that prohibits the city from doing business with entities that discriminate.
Seems to me that if you think your religion requires you to discriminate against people based on their sexuality, or to restrict the freedom of other people in living their lives, you should get a different religion.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Chemical terrorism: Freedom Industries edition

It turns out that poisoning the water supply of 300,000 people in West Virginia is no big deal,
at least judging from the size of the fines:
The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Freedom Industries $7,000 for keeping storage tanks containing crude MCHM behind a diked wall that was not liquid tight. On Jan. 9, roughly 10,000 gallons of MCHM leaked from one of the tanks and through the riverside diked wall and left 300,000 residents without clean water for days. OSHA also fined Freedom Industries $4,000 for failing to have standard railings on an elevated platform. Inspectors classified both of those citations as “serious,” meaning the workplace hazards could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm. OSHA also issued to Freedom one “other-than-serious” citation, alleging the company did not properly label one of its chemical storage tanks at the Elk River site. OSHA said that one of the tanks — not the one that leaked on Jan. 9 — was labeled as containing glycerin, when it actually contained MCHM. OSHA issued the citations on July 3. Freedom can pay the fines, seek a meeting to discuss the citations with the OSHA area director, or appeal the matter to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Freedom Industries did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The day after the January spill, OSHA launched an investigation at the Freedom site. It was the federal agency’s first inspection at the facility. OSHA had in started to examine the operation in November 2009 as part of a program of special emphasis looking at accidents that prompted amputations. But agency officials discovered that Freedom was in the wrong industry classification for that program, and the inspection was never performed, officials have said.
Want more indignation? Read Wonkette's gloss on a January Bloomberg story about the people behind Freedom Industries.