Monday, February 10, 2014

NYT: Nuclear Waste Solution Seen in Desert Salt Beds


One of the great problems of nuclear power has always been what to do with the radioactive waste. Most of it presently is stored at the reactor sites, and most of the spent rods are kept in specially designed pools, called wet storage. 
The rest of the waste, also usually kept on site, is in dry storage. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, dry storage began in 1986: "In this method, spent fuel is surrounded by inert gas inside a container called a cask. The casks can be made of metal or concrete, and some can be used for both storage and transportation. They are either placed horizontally or stand vertically on a concrete pad." 
Finally, however, The New York Times is reporting that New Mexico salt mines are providing a simple, feasible and effective solution:
Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste. 
The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons. 
The process is deceptively simple: Plutonium waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a variety of defense projects is packed into holes bored into the walls of rooms carved from salt. At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years.

For many years the hope had been to bury it in Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But that never happened, largely because Nevadans opposed it, and they had strong political leadership from Sen. Harry Reid to make sure it was never done.
(The salt beds of the New Mexico desert are) of particular interest since the demise of the plan for Yucca Mountain, a volcanic ridge 100 miles from Las Vegas chosen by Congress for the storage of nuclear waste from power reactors and weapons, but adamantly opposed by the state of Nevada. 
The material buried at the plant, which began accepting waste in 1999, is limited by law to plutonium waste from making weapons, which is exceptionally long-lived but not highly radioactive. The waste from spent nuclear fuel, which is far more radioactive in its first few centuries, is not permitted. But experts say that proper testing and analysis might show that the salt beds at (the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) are a good home for the radioactive waste that was once meant for Yucca.

Unlike with the situation in Nevada, the nearest neighbors in New Mexico support using he salt mines to bury the spent nuclear material.
In the nearby community, business and political leaders are agitating for expansion. John A. Heaton, a Democratic former state representative and the head of the Nuclear Opportunities Task Force, a local business group, argued that the geology was suitable. “The Permian basin is 250 million years old,” he said. “It’s been here a long, long time.” His group has bought a patch of desert and is now exploring whether the land could be used for interim storage of highly radioactive waste.
However, some opposition has arise at the state level, and the governor, Susana Martinez (R), has not yet decided which way she stands.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Maira interview

Prof. Sunaina Maira


What follows is a complete transcript of an email interview I recently conducted with UC Davis professor of Asian American Studies, Sunaina Maira:

Rifkin: As you know, the members of the American Studies Association have endorsed the Association’s participation in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. You are listed as being on the ASA Council. I would appreciate your responding to some questions I have regarding the boycott:

Q. The ASA has no boycott against any other country in the world but Israel. Is it your belief that Israel’s human rights record is worse than that of all other countries?

A. The ASA responded to the call from Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions as an act of anticolonial and antiracist solidarity, following the Association of Asian American Studies, the Association for Humanist Sociology, and now also the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. The response to this call from Palestinian academics, trade unions, and civil society groups has come after years of diplomatic negotiations and UN resolutions condemning Israel's illegal military occupation and war crimes have failed. 

Israel is the largest single recipient of US financial and military aid and receives unconditional US diplomatic and political support. It is the only country in the world that receives $3 billion annually from the U.S. Moreover, the US has singled out Israel for exceptional impunity in protecting it in the UN and despite its ongoing failures to comply with international law. The US mainstream media and academy has also helped maintain an embargo on free and open debate on Israel-Palestine through censorship. The Israeli state has been largely exempt from criticism of its human rights abuses, unlike, say China, North Korea, etc. A double standard has long been applied to Israel's human rights violations in the U.S. mainstream media and state policy. 

I should note that the crisis of academic freedom does not exist on any other geopolitical issue in the US at present. No academic in the US has ever been denied tenure or employment due to criticism of China or North Korea. Therefore the academic boycott is an *enlargement* of academic freedom for Palestinian, American, and Israeli academics alike, all of whom face reprisals for objective criticism of the Israeli state. So the issue was not just one of human rights, but also of academic freedom and repression.

Q. If you don’t think Israel has the world’s worst human rights record, would you support a boycott of the academic institutions in all countries which have human rights records worse than Israel’s?

A. If civil society or academics in other countries called upon US academics to engage in an academic boycott, yes, of course. Note that the ASA boycott resolution was adopted after years of discussion within the ASA and after an overwhelming show of support from the membership in the referendum, an unprecedented measure in the association. 

Q. What do you believe will be accomplished by the boycott? 

A. The boycott is a nonviolent, focused measure to oppose collaboration and complicity with Israeli academic institutions, none of which have condemned the daily violation of academic freedom of Palestinian scholars and students; and which engage in military and intelligence collaboration with the Israeli state and expropriation of Palestinian land that helps perpetuate the illegal occupation. Numerous reports have documented the extensive repression, surveillance, and racial discrimination against Palestinian students in Israeli universities; for example, see http://www.usacbi.org/reports-and-resources/. Yet the US academy has till now been largely silent on this. The academic boycott specifically targets academic institutions because the academy plays an important role in legitimizing Israel's illegal occupation and racially discriminatory policies. It is part of a global, nonviolent civil society campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law and end this rogue state's daily human rights abuses, which have been provided cover by our own government and the lockdown on open debate in the US academy. 

Q. Do you believe there is a risk of harm, where academicians in Israel who believe in changing Israeli policy will be shut out of dialogue by your boycott and thus they will be less effective? 

A. The academic boycott promotes dialogue and collaboration. The false presumption that the boycott "shuts down" dialogue emerges from an obfuscation of the actual academic boycott resolution, which does not in any way prevent individual Israeli scholars from attending conferences in the US or collaborating with American colleagues. Israeli scholars who challenge Israel policy have for years been shut out of the Israeli academy; some have even been forced into exile due to repression and backlash, e.g. Ilan Pappe. The boycott resolutions will enlarge academic freedom by supporting Israeli scholars who want the illegal military occupation and apartheid policies to end and who support the global boycott movement. 

Yet it is striking that the US mainstream media coverage fails to mention Palestinian academicians who are shut out of not just academic dialogue, but sometimes out of the US and other places in their own country as well, given Israel's discriminatory travel policies, checkpoints, and restrictions on Palestinian freedom. 

Q. The head of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, has said he opposes the ASA boycott. Your reaction to this? 

A. This is false as President Abbas never said anything about the "ASA boycott." But what the Palestinian president or PA thinks is not relevant to the academic boycott which is a response to the call from Palestinian civil society, and is an act of people-to-people solidarity, and academic-to-academic dialogue, not a response to any political parties. 

(Note: I am not sure if Ms. Maira is unaware that Mr. Abbas said in December he opposes boycotts against Israel or if she thinks that because he did not specifically discuss her boycott that he therefore is not opposed to it. Either way, her claim that he is not against the ASA policy is clearly wrong. And it should be said that, where the so-called civil society which she says asked her to boycott is unelected, Mr. Abbas is the democratically chosen leader of the Palestinian Authority and of his party, Fattah.)

Q. The anti-Israel sentiments (outside of Muslim countries) around the world seem to be rooted in left-wing politics (as opposed to anti-Semitic prejudice). Do you think the ASA’s boycott is a reflection of this left-wing attitude toward the Jewish state? And if so, does that suggest that there is a lack of political diversity in the ASA? 

A. The ASA boycott resolution reflects the organization's commitment to social justice, antiracism, and anticolonial and anti-imperial solidarity. If "political diversity" means being pro-racist, anti-justice, and pro-colonial/imperial, then that is a form of diversity that very few people would uphold-or so I would hope!

Furthermore, to assume that Muslims critique Israeli policies generally because of "anti-Semitic" prejudice suggests a gross misrepresentation of Muslim politics around the world and a denial of the impact of the Israeli state's anti-Arab policies on the region. 

(Note: Muslim anti-Semitism is in fact widespread and a serious problem. The Anti-Defamation League wrote this in 2013:

“Newspapers across the Arab and Muslim world continue to feature anti-Semitic caricatures and themes, with demonic depictions of Jews that include big noses, black coats and hats, large skull caps, and many promoting age-old global Jewish conspiracy theories, including blood libel themes, Nazi symbols and the use of animal imagery – snakes, vultures and sharks - to portray Israel as a sinister predator.”

Public opinion polls in all Muslim countries confirm a ubiquitous, nearly unanimous hatred of Jews by most Muslims in Muslim dominated countries, even those with no Jews.)

Q. Some universities associated with the ASA, including Brandeis, have withdrawn their participation in the ASA in reaction to the boycott. Would you support UC Davis withdrawing from the ASA or otherwise issuing a protest against the ASA over the boycott? 

A. It is the American Studies department at Brandeis that has withdrawn its institutional membership from ASA. This is very unfortunate, as it suggests that some departments are enforcing their own political or partisan views on their faculty and graduate students and depriving them of engagement with a professional academic association. This restriction of academic freedom is very troubling and entirely inappropriate, given that the ASA resolution is not legally binding on individual members so there is no reason for this backlash. 

Note also that there has been a massive campaign of hate mail, intimidation, and threats, including physical threats, to leaders and members of ASA and supporters of the boycott since the resolution. I am on the ASA National Council and I know many colleagues have received highly racist, homophobic, and offensive emails and letters, including myself. It is extremely disturbing that opponents of the boycott would resort to such tactics to bludgeon and terrify academics into silence.  

Q. Michael S. Roth of Wesleyan University recently wrote that “… the boycott is a repugnant attack on academic freedom, declaring academic institutions off-limits because of their national affiliation.” What is your reaction to this? Would you feel differently if associations like the ASA launched a boycott of UC Davis because your university was built on land taken from American Indians and is thus UCD is considered by them a colonial institution oppressing indigenous people? 

A. Please see above response re: the twisted logic of academic freedom. What all these statements clearly illustrate is blind support for the Israeli state's illegal and racist policies and human rights violations. It is also hypocritical for university leaders and academics to call for a boycott of an institution that has called for a boycott!


It is misleading to presume that a boycott could take the same form if it were enacted in one's own country. The academic boycott of Israel was inspired by the boycott and divestment movement opposing South African apartheid, which was also an act of solidarity with Black South African and antiracist academics and movements there. If indigenous and Native American scholars or others at UC Davis asked for the ASA to take a programmatic stance on settler colonialism here, of course, we would. Many of us work on issues of settler colonialism, imperialism and indigenous rights and we do not see these struggles as pitted against those of indigenous Palestinians--nor does the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association which just endorsed the academic boycott. Social justice activism is not a zero-sum game.

Wolf interview

Prof. Diane Wolf

I posed the same questions I asked of Sunaina Maira to other faculty at UC Davis, including Diane Wolf. Ms. Wolf is a professor of sociology and the director of the Jewish Studies Program at UCD. What follows is a complete transcript of her response to my inquiry.

Wolf: Thank you for your questions which are very thorough and thoughtful. This is clearly a very complicated issue.  

I think that the ASA and the Association of Asian American Studies which was the first scholarly organization to vote on this have chosen the wrong institution to boycott and in that sense, they have mis-fired. Clearly there are other countries whose human rights abuses are worse than Israel's and there are no protests about or boycotts of these other countries.   One argument in response to this challenge has been that the US gives Israel more foreign aid than other countries, and, therefore,  we are implicated in these behaviors and human rights abuses.  While I agree somewhat with this argumentation, at the same time, I am also struck by the single-mindedness of this movement when protesting Israel's behavior. For example, why were there no protests on campus and around the country against Syria's mass murders of civilians this past year?  Why weren't petitions circulated demanding that the Syrian government cease its murderous behavior?  The silence around this most recent disaster was and continues to be eerie, indeed.  At the same time, this is not to say that what Israel is doing in the Occupied Territories is acceptable. It is not.  

I am very much against a boycott of Israeli academics and of Israeli universities. It is crucial for Americans to be exposed to Israeli academics so that they understand there exists a multiplicity of voices in Israel.  The Jewish Studies Program at UC Davis has sponsored several visiting Israeli professors who taught UCDavis students and gave talks at the university and in the community and we hope to continue doing so.  We will not observe a boycott.    Israeli universities are an important site within Israel where progressive discussion can take place.    American academics are inflicting symbolic violence on their own by boycotting Israeli academia; instead they should be showing solidarity with their colleagues.  This boycott then, I believe, is an error.  A boycott of universities will not be felt or noticed by most Israelis.

Some colleagues predict that this academic boycott will pick up steam and sweep through other disciplinary organizations, e.g. the MLA; the idea is that many more will follow. Much as I believe it is an error to boycott universities if one is aiming at the government, some politicians in Israel ARE noticing.  Since many European countries have already instituted boycotts and bans, the addition of some US academic organizations has made at least one Minister in Netanyahu's cabinet notice these votes and suggest that these boycotts  will quickly catch on and lead to boycotting Israeli goods more broadly.   Minister Livni encouraged her colleagues to take their heads out of the sand in order to understand that such boycotts will hurt Israel economically.   Thus, while I do not condone academic boycotts, it is possible that a broader movement of US academic organizations boycotting Israeli universities could catalyze broader protests which are then taken seriously by the Israeli government.  

Abbas does not favor this boycott because it does not focus specifically on the occupation.

I do not believe that UC Davis should withdraw from the ASA because of this boycott; Chancellor Katehi has already issued a statement protesting this attack on academic freedom and the way it singles out Israel. Our American Studies Program has some superb and fascinating faculty whose work is important. It would be silly to react to the ASA as a whole due to this one vote by what turns out to have been less than 1,000 of its members.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When a calorie is not just a calorie




A story from Wired magazine reports that the traditional method for counting the calorie content of food is inaccurate, because it ignores how much energy the human body takes to process different preparations of the same food. The findings were presented by a panel of researchers American Association for the Advancement of Science.


... the panel reviewed a new spate of studies showing that foods are processed differently as they move from our gullet to our guts and beyond. They agreed that net caloric counts for many foods are flawed because they don’t take into account the energy used to digest food; the bite that oral and gut bacteria take out of various foods; or the properties of different foods themselves that speed up or slow down their journey through the intestines, such as whether they are cooked or resistant to digestion.

A major distinction comes when comparing raw foods, which use up a lot of calories to digest, with cooked foods, which are processed by your body more easily, and therefore result in more net calories left in your system.
One key area where the system is inaccurate, Wrangham reported, is in estimating the calories for cooked food. Cooked items often are listed as having more calories than raw items, yet the process of cooking meat gelatinizes the collagen protein in meat, making it easier to chew and digest—so it takes fewer calories to eat. Heat also denatures the proteins in vegetables such as sweet potatoes, said Harvard University evolutionary biologist Rachel Carmody, a postdoc who studies the energetics of digestion and organizer of the session.

My takeaway from this story is that, given a choice between eating a raw carrot and one cooked, raw is better. Same with any fruits, such as apples, or vegetables, like bell peppers, which don't need to be cooked to taste good.

When it comes to weight loss and weight control, the preparation method of your food should be a secondary or tertiary concern. Much more important is to eliminate addictive foods, such as anything with sugar or other sweeteners added, to eliminate inflammatory foods, like dairy and wheat, to eliminate systemic toxins, like transfats, preservatives, excess salts and fake sugars, and to control your portions. If you only eat good foods, and you eat one small meal every 5-6 hours, beginning with breakfast and ending with dinner, and you mix in a modest, healthy snack 2-2.5 hours after breakfast and lunch, you will be satiated and, if you are fat, you will lose weight. And if you add in 60 minutes of exercise every 24 hours, you will get in good shape in 6 months or less.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Who is our greatest president?



The Davis Enterprise, this week, asked people on the street, "Who is our greatest president?" Most of the respondents got it wrong. 
“I guess I would have to say Obama, I think because he’s an excellent mediator.” ... “Woodrow Wilson, because of his idealism.” ... “Bill Clinton, because he fixed things.” ... “Bill Clinton. He’s a great president; he should be a king. Policies, charisma, leadership, you name it.”

Two, at least, had smart choices, although the person who picked Franklin Roosevelt had poor reasoning:

“FDR, I guess, because I like social programs.” ... “Lincoln. Saved the union and ended slavery.”
There are three possible right answers: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Our first president did two things as president which have served our nation extremely well ever since he held that office:

First, Washington, by choosing to step aside after his second term and leave it up to the citizens to pick their new leader, established a democratic precedent for an office which inherently has many of the trappings of a king. He could have won a third and (had he lived) a fourth term, and effectively made the presidency a job for life, albeit with elections every four years. That would have been in line with how kings and other potentates worked. Once in office, they are there for the long haul. In that course, we would have lacked the new blood we get by regularly turning over the office, often changing parties, every four or eight years. With a limited amount of time, our presidents are compelled to do all they can to improve the country, while managing its business, in the limited time they have.

Second, Washington, with the great help of his Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, effectively created the federal government out of nothing. It was not clear, even in the Federalist Papers written by Hamilton, exactly what the size and scope of our new central government would look like. The Washington Administration built it up dramatically, figured out how to use taxes and debt to pay for our needs, and established a working relationship with the states, respecting the division of responsibilities. Had Washington not been there, and had we started with someone less wise (like Thomas Jefferson), the federal government would not have gotten off to such a strong start, would not have built a healthy foundation and perhaps would have collapsed not long after the Constitution was adopted.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

The argument for Lincoln is almost entirely built on the fact that he saved the union. Abraham Lincoln ascended to the presidency at the time of our nation's greatest crisis, and he was uniquely able to guide us through it. Lincoln deserves high praise for his leadership in the Civil War and historic greatness for emancipating the slaves. Lincoln won the war by employing large numbers of black-American soldiers, many of whom were escaped slaves. Their war efforts permitted and effectively required President Lincoln then to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. A secondary part of Lincoln's greatness, as president, was his greatness as a writer. His words, written and spoken, are themselves more eloquent than all other presidents we had before or have had since.

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT

Despite the fact that FDR violated the Washington precedent of stepping aside after his second term--leading the Republicans, when they had a chance, to amend the Constitution to prohibit any later president from serving more than 8 years--his claim to greatness was built on three big factors: his profound leadership in the Great Depression; his leadership in our nation's largest military effort, World War 2; and his policies created during the War which served the cause of peace among all the major powers and the cause of economic prosperity in the decades after he died.

In hindsight, there are reasons to doubt some of the approach that Roosevelt took to solving the Depression. Much more is known today about the inadequacies of our Federal Reserve policies, which starved the nation's banks of cash and kept the economy sluggish much longer than it should have. However, in his time, Roosevelt is rightly credited with lifting the spirits of a sunken nation full of unemployed workers. FDR was a great public speaker, who inspired his country, when the people needed it. Using radio addresses, he was the first great figure of the mass media. It is overstated to say that Roosevelt "saved capitalism"--that was the argument of business honcho Joe Kennedy (father of JFK), who served Roosevelt as his first head of the SEC. However, FDR's reforms in the banking system and his regulations of the stock markets (designed smartly by Kennedy) ultimately helped to restore lost confidence and in doing so have served our nation well ever since. FDR's legacy of Social Security and other welfare programs is more of a mixed bag, as these ideas have been beneficial in some respects but harmful in others. None of his job's programs really accomplished anything in terms of getting us out of the economic swamp.

Much like he did throughout the Great Depression, Roosevelt used strong and comforting rhetoric in radio addresses to lead our nation in World War 2. Among his best decisions in the war were to put in place great generals at the top of his command, among them George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, and of course Admiral Chester Nimitz running the Navy. Roosevelt deserves extra credit for winning unconditional surrender from Germany and Japan (even though he died shortly before this took place). By completely destroying our enemies, we were able to help them rebuild as countries which could prosper without being threats to their neighbors. That decision played a large role in keeping the peace in Europe and around Japan since WW2.

Lastly, Roosevelt's Administration during the War set up the economic structure which allowed for more and more trade, and hence more prosperity after the War, than had ever taken place before in history. Additionally, the basic design of NATO (which came about under Harry Truman) was agreed upon during the War and served as an effective block on the communist powers and held the free Europeans together.

THE WINNER IS ...

So who was our greatest president? Lincoln. Ultimately, it was Lincoln because he faced our nation's greatest crisis and brilliantly led us through it. Had Lincoln not been killed, it seems highly likely to me that he would have also done a much better job than Andrew Johnson did in leading our country's reconstruction.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Study: Diet Soda Increases the Risk of Diabetes





One thing I never see: a thin person drinking a diet soda. The only people who consume these drinks are fatties. And clearly, drinking zero-calorie, artificially flavored drinks is not making them thin. A new study out of France suggests they may be worse for one's health than sugary sodas, and it is well established just how unhealthy eating any products with sugar is.

Yet another study confirms what people have been saying for ages: Stop drinking diet soda. Like, right now. Drinking just one 12-ounce can of an artificially sweetened fizzy drink per week can increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 33 percent, French researchers found. And given that most people don't stop at a single weekly serving, your real risk for diabetes could actually be much higher.

This was no small study. It included more than 60,000 people, all women.

The study ... was conducted by France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research and covered 66,118 middle-aged women whose dietary habits and health were tracked from 1993 to 2007. ... Though it's well-known that people who consume a lot of sugar are more likely to develop diabetes, the researchers found that participants who drank "light" or "diet" soft drinks had a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those who drank regular, sugar-filled sodas. Those who drank 100 percent natural squeezed fruit juices instead had no additional risk.

Part of the problem is that these sweeteners are chemically addictive. Users cannot stop at one drink.

Women who choose artificially flavored soft drinks usually drink twice as many of them as women who choose regular soda or juice—2.8 glasses per week compared to 1.6 glasses. "Yet when an equal quantity is consumed, the risk of contracting diabetes is higher for 'light' or 'diet' drinks than for 'non-light' or 'non-diet' drinks," the researchers, epidemiologists Francoise Clavel-Chapelon and Guy Fagherazzi, said in a statement. Women who drank up to 500 milliliters (about 12 ounces) of artificially sweetened beverages per week were 33 percent more likely to develop the disease, and women who drank about 600 milliliters (about 20 ounces) per week had a 66 percent increase in risk.

Diet sodas not only increase your chance of becoming a diabetic (by jacking up your insulin); they make you fat, too, because they increase your physical cravings for sugar.

Drinking sweetened beverages increases the risk of becoming overweight, which is itself a risk factor in developing diabetes. But the study didn't find that the results were the same even among overweight women. So how can artificially sweetened drinks be making the problem worse if they're fat- and calorie-free? "With respect, in particular, to 'light' or 'diet' drinks, the relationship with diabetes can be explained partially by a greater craving for sugar in general by female consumers of this type of soft drink," the researchers explained. "Furthermore, aspartame, one of the main artificial sweeteners used today, causes an increase in glycaemia and consequently a rise in the insulin level in comparison to that produced by sucrose."

The takeaway: stop drinking soda of all kinds. You would do well to stop drinking fruit juice and any other drinks with added sugars. Your best bet is to drink tap water. It will quench your thirst far better than all flavored drinks.
 

Friday, February 8, 2013

What caused the lights to go out in New Orleans?




It turns out the answer to the mysterious 34-minute power outage at the Super Dome in New Orleans during the Super Bowl had a terribly mundane cause: The local electric utility, Entergy New Orleans, set the trip setting too low on a circuit breaker.

The manufacturer of a protective device blamed in the power outage that interrupted the Super Bowl said a low "trip setting" on the equipment caused the partial blackout in the Superdome. Friday's statement from S&C Electric Co. of Chicago said the outage would have been avoided if the operator of the relay device had set the trip threshold higher. The statement did not name the operator, but the equipment was owned and installed by Entergy New Orleans, the local electric utility company that supplies power to the dome. Earlier Friday, Entergy said the device was the cause of the power outage.

In essence, what happened is the same thing as a circuit breaker in your house shutting off electric flow if you have too many appliances running on one circuit.

Here is what Wikipedia says about circuit breakers:

A circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by overload or short circuit. Its basic function is to detect a fault condition and, by interrupting continuity, to immediately discontinue electrical flow. Unlike a fuse, which operates once and then must be replaced, a circuit breaker can be reset (either manually or automatically) to resume normal operation. Circuit breakers are made in varying sizes, from small devices that protect an individual household appliance up to large switchgear designed to protect high voltage circuits feeding an entire city.




Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Europe considers designating Hezbollah as terrorists




I find this USA Today story intriguing:

Under pressure from the United States and Israel, the European Union said Wednesday it will think about designating Hezbollah a terrorist group now that it has been implicated in a bomb attack that killed six people in a sovereign EU nation. U.S. officials urged European leaders to take decisive action against Hezbollah after a report by the Bulgarian government that said the Iran-backed group orchestrated a bus bombing in Burgas in July that killed six people. ... Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Wednesday that "if the evidence proves to be true that Hezbollah is indeed responsible for this despicable attack, then consequences will have to follow."


The fact that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and has carried out hundreds of terrorist attacks on Jews never once stirred the Europeans to call a spade a spade. Only after Hezbollah staged a terrorist attack in Europe--of course against Jewish people--are the Europeans considering being honest?

The reason the Europeans will not call Hezbollah a terrorist organization is because the EU is run by leftists who hate Israel. If they accept the fact that Israel is under attack by criminals, like Hezbollah is, the anti-Israel case in Europe suffers.

The EU has refused to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Some members say it is a political organization with an armed wing. Hezbollah has refused to disarm as it agreed to do in a United Nations-brokered truce after a war with Israel in 2006. In 2011, Hezbollah and its allies gained 18 of 30 Cabinet seats in Lebanon's government.

The list of Hezbollah's crimes is very long. A few of them include:
•The bombing of the U.S. Embassy in 1983 in Beirut, which killed 58 Americans and Lebanese.
•A truck bombing in 1983 that demolished the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Americans. A truck bombing of French barracks that same day killed 58 French soldiers.
•The bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 in Argentina, which killed 29 people, and the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in 1994 in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
•A bomb attack on the Khobar Towers military housing complex in 1996 in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. servicemembers.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Should companies tie health insurance premiums to employee’s health?



Marketwatch.com is reporting that, when employees sign up for some company-provided health insurance plans, physically fit workers are charged less, fatties more.

... as companies struggle to curb rising health-care costs, they are increasingly pointing a finger at workers’ ballooning bellies. Obesity-related health problems account for a big chunk of medical claims, insurance experts say, leading some executives to believe the best way to trim their budgets is to get workers to trim their own fat first. ... For the past few years, companies have experimented with tying health insurance premiums to people’s health. Here’s how it works: Employees go through medical and biometric testing as part of their health insurance open-enrollment process. They are weighed, their height and blood pressure are measured, and their blood is drawn. Those with high scores on cholesterol, glucose and blood-pressure and — or with chronic conditions like diabetes — are told they will have to pay higher premiums unless they actively try to improve their risky condition.

It's entirely fair to make people whose lifestyle choices result in higher health risks to internalize the medical costs of those choices. (It's a different matter for people born with health challenges, even though they, too, tax the medical system more than people without congenital maladies.) However, it's questionable whether requiring fat people to pay more will actually incentivize them to lose weight.

Fat people already pay a high price for being overweight. They are usually ashamed of their condition. They know they are putting their health at risk. They literally have trouble comfortably fitting in society. Everyone prefers to look good and feel well. All else held equal, no one wants to be obese.

So while I support a higher medical premium for those who are overweight or who smoke or drink or do drugs, I doubt the added cost will tip the scales toward making fat people drop down to a healthier weight.

I think the two major factors needed for an obese person to get healthy are internal motivation and dietary education.

For some, the internal motivator may be a health crisis, such as a heart attack or developing diabetes. It might be turning age 40 or 50. It could be the birth of a child or an imminent marriage or a divorce. Whatever it is, the fat person has to desperately want to lose the weight and has to use that motivator to drive himself to do everything possible to change his lifestyle, including eating properly and exercising regularly.

Dietary education is something seriously lacking in our society. The main reason so many people are so fat is because they eat foods with added sugars. Sugar is what makes you fat. There has long been a focus on animal fats and calorie counts in diets. That's mostly a waste of time. The key educational component that fat people need to understand is that they are addicted to sweets, and they need to eliminate all added sugars from their diet. They need to cut out all sodas (even diet sodas), all cakes, all candies, all honey, all ketchup (which is loaded with sugar) and all processed foods where sugar is added.

The one sugar that is okay to eat is fruit, as long as the fruit is loaded with fiber. Our bodies can process the sugar in fruits without turning that sugar into fat. But fruit in the form of juice, where the fiber has been removed, is very much the same as drinking a can of Coke. It's unhealthy, and to the fat person it is poison.

Once obese people completely eliminate all foods with added sugars -- it takes a few weeks to detoxify a body from sugar and end all cravings for sweets -- dieting is easy. The rest is just common sense: Eat a modest meals and don't pig out in between or after dinner.

Less obvious -- and not hard to follow -- is the need to eliminate all foods with gluten and dairy. It's not so much that milk and cheese or pasta and bread are addictive or that your body cannot process them. It's that these food groups cause chronic inflammation, and in fat people inflammation results in added belly fat. As it pertains to health, belly fat is worse than other bodily fat deposits.

Keep in mind that because fat people are food addicts, eliminating entire food groups (dairy, gluten and sugar) is far easier than trying to eat modest amounts of these groups. It's very much like an alcoholic. He can maintain his sobriety if he resolves to drink no alcohol. His addiction makes it impossible for him to just drink in moderation. Fat people need to address sugar, gluten and dairy in the same way.

The final component to good health is the need to move, to burn off the calories once takes in. With internal motivation, a fat person will be able to gradually increase the amount they exercise. An adult who wants to get and stay fit should work out for 30 minutes twice a day. That is achievable by starting out doing less and slowly adding more. It really doesn't matter what the exercise is, as long as it involves movement. A 30 minute walk and 30 minutes on a stationary bike would be sufficient. A half an hour of skipping rope and 30 minutes more swimming laps will do the trick, too.

If a fat person is in terrible shape, it's fine to start off with a 5 minute walk in the morning and 5 minutes dancing at night. After a few weeks of that, just add 5 minutes to the morning walk, and a few weeks later add 5 minutes to the dance. In a few months, he can achieve 30 minutes of exercise, twice each day.



Saturday, February 2, 2013

My Super Bowl prediction: Intangibles favor Baltimore




Something Justin Tuck of the New York Giants said on Thursday on SportsCenter rang true to my ear:

“I like the Ravens for one simple fact -- they remind me of us. They seem to be the team of destiny. I truly believe the 49ers are a better team on paper. But this is a game where so many emotions have come into this game. I think the Ravens are riding high with the whole playing for Ray (Lewis). All types of stuff that momentum is going to come into effect on Sunday. I think I am going with the Ravens just because of that."

A number of things cause me to think the 2012 Ravens are a lot like the 2011 Giants. Neither one, for starters, had a great regular season. The Giants were just 9-7; the Ravens 10-6.

Both teams had good stretches: the Giants won 6 of 7 after losing their first game; the Ravens won 8 of 9 after starting 1-1. And both teams had bad stretches: the Giants lost 5 out of 6 games from mid-November to mid-December in 2011; the Ravens lost 4 out of 5 games in December, 2012.

Arguably, the reason neither was consistently good in the regular season was due to key injuries, where older veteran leaders on defense were out for some games. It was in those stretches the Giants in 2011 and the Ravens in 2012 lost. When they had all their players, these clubs were excellent.

Both the Giants and Ravens had to win three playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. Each of them started by winning one at home and then they won two on the road.

The Giants were led by quarterback Eli Manning, whose regular season career passer rating (82.7) is good, but not great.  The Ravens are led by quarterback Joe Flacco, whose regular season career passer rating (86.3) is good, but not great. Since 2005, 23 NFL quarterbacks who attempted at least 2,000 passes have a passer rating of 75.0 or higher. Flacco ranks 14th; Manning 16th. Neither is anywhere near the best: Aaron Rodgers, 104.9 and Tom Brady, 101.3.

In the two seasons Eli Manning led the Giants to the Super Bowl and the one Joe Flacco has done the same for the Ravens, each was his best. Manning's post-season passer rating for the Giants championship runs in 2007 and 2011 was 100.1, 17.4 better than his career number. Flacco's post-season passer rating for the Ravens championship run, this year, is 114.7 so far, 28.4 better than his career number.

THE 49ERS ARE BETTER ON PAPER

As Justin Tuck said, San Francisco appears to be the better team in 2012 on paper. The 49ers outscored their opponents by 124 points; the Ravens bettered theirs by just 54. The two teams scored almost the same number of points: 398 for Baltimore; 397 for San Francisco. The difference was that the 49ers gave up only 273 points in 16 games; the Ravens allowed 344.

The 49ers had a much better running game. San Francisco gained 2,491 yards on the ground; Baltimore 1,901. The Ravens passed for 441 more yards. But after Colin Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith at quarterback, the passing numbers for the two teams were nearly identical.

Baltimore's defense, now, however, is better than it was when Ray Lewis was out. Lewis has been a tackling machine in the post-season. And while Terrell Suggs is still not 100%, the Ravens missed him part of the season and that hurt their defense, as well.

A huge factor for San Francisco's defense will be their pass rush. When Justin Smith was out, teams doubled-up on Aldon Smith and the 49ers could not pressure opposing quarterbacks. That exposed their defensive backs, who had to cover for much longer. My expectation is that, while Justin Smith is still ailing, their line will be able to rush Flacco, and that will give their backs a chance to cover the Ravens receivers.

THE FIVE KEY FACTORS

There are five factors to judge a team by: offense; defense; special teams; coaching; and intangibles. When comparing the two clubs, each factor is worth zero or more points to one and the inverse to the other.

Offense: Because of his experience and quality and quantity of his receivers, Joe Flacco is likely to pass for more yards than Colin Kaepernick. Conversely, between Frank Gore and Kaepernick, the 49ers look to have a big edge in the running game over Ray Rice and the Ravens. Additionally, the 49ers scheme is run-oriented. Offensive value--San Francisco +3.

Defense: Both teams are strong on the defensive line. The 49ers are just a bit stronger. Both have excellent linebackers, but the 49ers are better. Their defensive backs are roughly equal as groups, but because Ed Reed is a great playmaker, the Ravens have an edge. Offensive value--San Francisco +2.

Special Teams: Justin Tucker was perfect all season on extra points and 30 of 33 on field goals, including 4 of 4 for 50+ yards; the 49ers weakness this year has been David Akers, who missed 7 field goals and was only 2 for 6 from 50+. Special Teams value--Baltimore +3.

Coaching: John Harbaugh has more experience. Jim Harbaugh has more intensity. The Ravens were forced to change offensive coordinators mid-stream. The 49ers offensive play-calling has been questionable at times. Coaching value--Even.

Intangibles: The first which works for the Ravens is the Ray Lewis factor. He is their clear leader. He inspires them. This will be Lewis's last game. They want to send him out on top. And the other is what Justin Tuck said: this Ravens team is very much like last year's Giants team. It might not be great on paper. But when it counts, they will come up big. Intangible value--Baltimore +5.

Added together, the Ravens win by 3 points. The big difference will be the intangibles.

My pick: Baltimore 24, San Francisco 21.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ed Koch dead: Mayor who became a symbol of New York City passes away at 88




Among the many things to love about Ed Koch was his willingness, unusual for a politician, to say things just how they were. He never came across as fake. Even when Mayor Koch stumbled, I respected the fact that he was a forthright man.

Sadly, the New York Daily News is reporting that Koch passed away yesterday.

Three-term mayor Ed Koch, whose exuberant "How'm I doin'?" tagline made him synonymous with New York chutzpah, is dead at age 88. The Bronx born pol was a reformer who saved the city from bankruptcy but whose final term was marked by scandal and corruption. Political friends and foes praise Koch as a man who meant what he said and fought for the city he loved. ... “Ed Koch has given New York City back its morale," the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said in 1984.

I had noticed that in the last year, when Koch's name was in the news, it usually regarded his failing health.

Koch was in and out of the hospital in recent weeks, battling a fluid buildup around his lungs that caused shortness of breath and made speaking difficult. He was unconscious when he was moved to the intensive care unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia Thursday afternoon, and died at 2 a.m. Friday of congestive heart failure.

THE DECLINE AND FALL

In some respects, it's amazing Koch lived to age 88.
Koch, who'd had a mild stroke while in office in 1987, suffered a heart attack in 1999 and had a bout with pneumonia in 2001. Nothing slowed him down for long. In August 2008, firefighters and paramedics raced over to his Greenwich Village apartment after he accidentally set off his Life Alert pendant in his sleep. He jovially told the Daily News that he had not died. “To the consternation of my enemies, I'm still alive,” the then 83-year-old said.

In the last few years he sensed the end was near.
A couple years later, as he marked his 85th birthday, a more subdued - but still feisty — Ed Koch acknowledged his mortality. "I'm coming to the end of my life, whether it's another five years or so ... or less, or more," he said. "I do reflect on what I've done for the 85 years that I have been given so far. And I'm proud of what I've done."

LIFE AFTER DEATH

Koch's name will forever be remembered in his native city.

“Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement Friday. “We will miss him dearly, but his good works - and his wit and wisdom - will forever be a part of the city he loved so much.” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said Koch “was more than just the sum total of his accomplishments.” “Mayor Koch was larger than life," she added. “He stood taller than the bridge that bears his name. His sense of humor and tenacious spirit personified this town. Ed Koch was New York."

To my mind, the relationship which defined Koch's fame in New York was his animosity with the criminal activist, Al Sharpton, who came to national fame in the Tawana Brawley fraud.

... the Rev. Al Sharpton, with whom Koch clashed repeatedly, called hizzoner a man who “fought for what he believed. He was never a phony or a hypocrite,” said Sharpton. “He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. He meant what he said.” ... Koch long had an uneasy relationship with the city's black leaders, but the one-two punch of the 1986 Howard Beach race beating and the 1989 shooting death of a black teen in Bensonhurst proved fatal to his mayoralty. He lost the 1989 Democratic primary to Dinkins, who became the city's first black mayor.

One thing I liked about Koch was his effusive Jewishness.

Edward Irving Koch was born Dec. 12, 1924 in the Bronx, the son of a Polish-Jewish furrier, but actually grew up in Newark, N.J. One of three kids, he grew up idolizing his big brother Harold, who died in 1995. In a kids book Koch wrote with his sister called “Eddie: Harold’s Little Brother,” he recounted how his brother set him on the path of City Hall by telling him to do something he’s good at.

WAS HE A HOMOSEXUAL?

Koch's battles with Mario Cuomo led to questions about whether Koch was gay.

Though most famous famous for being mayor, he served eight years in Congress before setting his sights on Gracie Mansion in 1977. Koch was the dark horse in a crowded field seeking to oust hapless Abe Beame from City Hall. But on primary day, Koch lead the pack followed closely by then Secretary of State Mario Cuomo — setting the state for brief but brutal runoff battle that Koch won. Cuomo refused to quit and carried on as the Liberal Party candidate, over the objections of his own advisers and the Democratic Party. And on the streets, some of Cuomo's supporters took the campaign to a new low by posting signs reading, “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo,” a reference to longstanding rumors that Koch was gay. ... He was a champion of gay rights, but his own sexuality was off-limits for discussion. And his public appearances with Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, on his arm did little to banish the rumors. “I have a social life,” the lifelong bachelor once said. “But I don't discuss it.”

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Snowmobiler Caleb Moore dies a week after crash




CNN is reporting sad news out of Aspen, Colo.

Snowmobiler Caleb Moore died Thursday, a week after a crash that has raised new safety concerns about the X Games. He was 25 years old. ... Moore, a freestyle snowmobiler, was attempting a backflip at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, when he couldn't rotate his machine enough to land properly. The skis dug into the lip of the slope, bringing the 450-pound snowmobile crashing down on him. The vehicle slammed into Moore's head and chest.

What X Games athletes do is incredible. And incredibly dangerous. And as they push the envelope, adding more and more difficulty, the danger level keeps growing.

So it is no surprise that someone died. Unless the promoters prohibit some of the more perilous tricks, more X Games athletes are bound to die. It's the choice they make for thrills ... and in some cases for good money.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

With Timbuktu Retaken, France Signals It Plans to Pull Back in Mali




The world as a whole, and particularly the people of northern Africa, owe France a great debt of gratitude. The French had nothing to gain from routing the Islamists in Mali. They simply acted because Mali was formerly a French colony and France wanted to do what is right and good.

The New York Times is reporting this morning that French and Malian troops have captured the famous desert city of Timbuktu from the Islamists who, before France intervened, had taken over the northern half of Mali and had been imposing its totalitarian brand of religion on that nation.

SEGOU, Mali — French paratroopers arrived in the ancient desert oasis of Timbuktu on Monday, securing its airport and main roads as thousands of residents poured out of its narrow, mud-walled streets to greet French and Malian troops, waving the two countries’ flags, with whoops, cheers and shouts. ... The rapid advance to Timbuktu, a day after French and African troops took firm control of the former rebel stronghold of Gao, may spell the beginning of the end of France’s major involvement in the conflict here.

Pretty soon, the French expect to depart.

The French president, Fran├žois Hollande, suggested on Monday that French troops might soon stop their northward advance, leaving it to African soldiers to pursue the militants into their redoubts in the desert north. “We are winning this battle,” Mr. Hollande said in televised remarks. “When I say, ‘We,’ this is the Malian army, this is the Africans, supported by the French. ... They’re the ones who will go into the area of the north, which we know is the most difficult because the terrorists are hidden there and can still lead operations that are extremely dangerous for neighboring countries and for Mali,” he said.


The forces associated with Al-Qaeda did not put up much of a fight.

French airstrikes had preceded the ground operation and French troops met no resistance, said Colonel Burkhard. The militants who had been controlling the city appeared to have fled northward. ... To the east, the city of Gao is now under the full control of French and African troops, he said, with a contingent of 450 Malian soldiers joined by 40 soldiers from Niger and 40 from Chad. French special forces killed about 15 fighters in what were described as brief but intense firefights when they arrived just south of the city late Friday night, and perhaps 10 more militants on Sunday night on the city’s outskirts.


Partly because of the religious extremism of the Islamists and partly because Mali is divided on racial lines--the south is black and the north is olive-skinned Arabs, Berbers and Tuaregs--the liberated Malian population has been taking revenge on everyone whose skin matches that of the Islamists.



Angry crowds shouted at suspected Islamist extremists in the back of an army truck in Gao, Mali, on Tuesday, after the four suspects were arrested. Malian soldiers prevented the mob from attacking them. ... Television footage from Timbuktu captured scenes of jubilation as thousands of people drove cars, trucks and motorbikes through the streets, honking their horns.

France24 has a more extensive report regarding widespread looting going on in Mali.

A day after French and Malian troops gained control of Timbuktu from rebels, tensions were rising in the historic northern Malian city as hundreds of people broke into shops owned by ethnic Arabs and Tuareg on Tuesday in a backlash against perceived collaborators. “After Timbuktu fell yesterday, the situation is now very different,” said FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin, reporting from the centre of Timbuktu. “It’s a time of revenge here and we can see people – everybody, children, old men, women – attacking Arab shops in a misguided idea that those shops were linked to Islamist fighters, which is absolutely not true in many cases.”

While the northern forces which had been ravaging northern Mali were Islamists, the war in the north had begun as a movement by the non-Islamist Tuaregs to gain independence. Because of that, the current backlash is also anti-Tuareg.

A vast, multi-ethnic West African nation, Mali is home to a variety of ethnic groups, including the Tuaregs and other ethnic groups of North African Berber origins, which comprise about 10 per cent of Mali's total population of 14 million. Signs of a backlash against the Tuareg and other lighter skinned groups – commonly called Arabs – were evident nearly 10 months ago in the capital of Bamako shortly after northern Mali fell to a motley mix of Tuareg and Islamist rebels.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gingrich: Republicans "clearly have to change"

                                 


On the television program Face the Nation this morning, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told host Bob Schieffer that his party needs to repair itself, if the GOP hopes to win moving forward.

Gingrich ... pointed to overly conservative policies as the GOP's 2012 curse. "When I said as a candidate we're not going to deport a grandmother if she's been here 25 years, we had a nominee who said yes, we would, that she would self-deport," Gingrich said. "I think at that point we lost Asians, we lost Latinos. You can't lose Asians, Latinos, African Americans and young people, and think you're going to be competitive. I think we have to come to grips with the reality," he continued. "We have to learn to communicate in the world of young people on their terms but we also have to understand that we need to be a country of immigrants where Republicans are seen as welcoming, hard-working, competent people, not prepared to kick grandmother out."

It's not going to be easy to fix the Republican Party. What it is today started in the mid to late-1960s, when, following the adoption of civil rights legislation, conservative Southern Democrats drifted into the Republican Party and slowly took over its culture. It became less a party of businessmen and more one of right-wing preachers. It has abandoned balanced budgets for Jesus jingoism.

If the GOP hired me as a consultant to make its message and style more palatable, here are some suggestions I would offer up:

1. Primaries. They are low-turnout affairs dominated by extremists. The Republican primaries have served to defeat conservatives and moderates who could win a general election in favor of troglodyte morons who could not. My suggestion is that the national party needs to back sensible candidates in every important primary with money and it needs to work harder to raise turn out in their primaries. If necessary, the GOP also needs to spend money to tarnish extremist candidates. The party cannot simply sit back and see what happens when these nut-jobs have a chance to win.

2. Social conservatism. All the right-wing preachers need to be sidelined. The Republicans would be a lot more attractive if they could live with a separation of church and state. The GOP platform needs to focus on finance, investment, taxes, defense and foreign affairs. The party which says it believes in individual liberty needs to get out of the nation's bedroom and out of the offices of gynecologists. It may still play in the deep South to hate abortion and gays. But more and more that is a losing strategy nationally. Gays should be welcomed for the first time.  Republicans ought to have no dogma on a woman's right to choose.

3. Science. Gov. Bobby Jindal recently said that Republicans cannot succeed as long as they are the stupid party. Nothing says stupid more than the Republican aversion to science. When virtually every climatologist agrees that burning fossil fuels is filling our atmosphere with excessive carbon dioxide and that in turn is causing global warming, the Republican Party has adopted its most aggressive stance against science. If Republicans want to be the smart party, they have to be led by scientific consensus, not bloviating that science is a liberal conspiracy.

4. Clean energy. Republicans need to become a party which accepts that there is a serious external cost when we burn coal and oil. To internalize that cost, Republicans should be calling for a stiff carbon tax, one which would make cleaner forms of energy (including nuclear power) more cost-competitive and would generate revenues to pay down our debts. Being the party of drill, baby, drill makes the Republicans come across as one which does not care about our nation's future.

5. Immigration. Newt Gingrich spoke to this. The GOP cannot succeed if it turns off tens of millions of Hispanics. Republicans need to advocate a sensible reform, where those who are here illegally and are productive workers can transition to legal status. Additionally, the GOP should push for a jobs-based immigration program, where employers (including farmers) can sponsor workers to come here legally, and those workers can stay as long as they are needed by their employers.

6. Media whining. Republicans have been complaining about the liberal media for 40 years. Even with Fox News pushing the right-wing message all over the place, they keep complaining that reporters are biased in favor of liberals. There may be some instances of this. However, a lot of those complaints are unmerited. A report which is entirely neutral gets called liberal if the conclusions are not in line with conservative thinking. It harms the GOP--makes it the stupid party--to incessantly complain about liberal media bias. Instead, Republicans need to simply tell a better story.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hackers take over goverment website to avenge Swartz





CBS News reports today that Anonymous is out for revenge for the death of the young computer programmer who helped write the software for Reddit ("a social news and entertainment website where registered users submit content in the form of either a link or a text") and as a 14-year-old boy wrote the software for RSS ("Rich Site Summary: a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works, such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video, in a standardized format"):

The hacker-activist group Anonymous says it hijacked the website of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to avenge the death of Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist who committed suicide. The website of the commission, an independent agency of the judicial branch, was taken over early Saturday and replaced with a message warning that when Swartz killed himself two weeks ago "a line was crossed."

From what I have read about the crimes of Mr. Swartz, it does not seem that they were all that serious. Yet he faced a long time behind bars (up to 35 years) and a large fine ($1 million) for illegally downloading research documents (which Swartz said were paid for with taxpayer funding) from an MIT library system, most of which MIT has since made freely available to the public.

On that score, I understand the anger of the supporters of Swartz.

However, I don't buy the notion that he committed suicide because he was being oppressed by the government. Millions of people all over the world face far more serious oppression and don't kill themselves. The problem for Aaron Swartz was that he suffered from depression, and that is why he took his life. Untreated, he likely would have killed himself had he faced no prosecution for anything.

What Aaron Swartz wrote about his own mental anguish is telling:

"Everything gets colored by the sadness. You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none."

Complicating matters is the fact that his father refuses to accept that fact that his son's depression was psychiatric mental illness. Robert Swartz mistakenly thinks Aaron killed himself entirely because of the unfairness of federal prosecutors (never mind whether he did the crime he was accused of).

"He had never been diagnosed as having depression; he was never on medication for having depression. So the notion, the narrative that people are going to say -- is that he’s somebody who just has depression -- is just wrong. You’d be depressed too if you were under a 13-count federal indictment and you go see your mother, who’s in a coma."

It seems likely to me that had Aaron Swartz been diagnosed and prescribed medication for his depression, he would be alive today. Robert Swartz cannot see what is obvious to me.