Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 2011

2011 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

London Olympic Stadium holds 80,000 people. This blog was viewed about 640,000 times in 2011. If it were competing at London Olympic Stadium, it would take about 8 sold-out events for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2011 at 9:33 am

Posted in WordPress, Writing

Bending the needle: NYPD edition

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The title refers to the common organizational practice of distorting reports, facts, and statistics to hide problems—until, of course, the problems become so severe that they can no longer be hidden—Google “Olympus Corporation scandal” for a prime example. Of, to take a domestic example, the false claim that the air around the wreckage of the World Trade towers was safe—a perfectly good lie until the workers started falling ill. But Christine Todd Whitman got away with it, and she’s quite happy about that. The New England Journal of Medicine took a look at the issue in 2007 and Wikipedia has an excellent summary article of the situation.

The idea to which the title refers is that top management, on learning that some indicator is showing serious problems—the needle now being in the red zone—will without hesitation immediately call for bending the needle so that it’s back in the green. Indeed, in my experience, this has been the first response, but perhaps I’ve not had the experience in working with truly good companies in which there is a strong moral obligation to face the truth and report the facts: like the Catholic church, for example.

At any rate, the NYPD is now refusing to record crimes so that their statistics will look better. Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein report in the NY Times:

Jill Korber walked into a drab police station in Queens in July to report that a passing bicyclist had groped her two days in a row. She left in tears, frustrated, she said, by the response of the first officer she encountered.

“He told me it would be a waste of time, because I didn’t know who the guy was or where he worked or anything,” said Ms. Korber, 34, a schoolteacher. “His words to me were, ‘These things happen.’ He said those words.”

Crime victims in New York sometimes struggle to persuade the police to write down what happened on an official report. The reasons are varied. Police officers are often busy, and few relish paperwork. But in interviews, more than half a dozen police officers, detectives and commanders also cited departmental pressure to keep crime statistics low.

While it is difficult to say how often crime complaints are not officially recorded, the Police Department is conscious of the potential problem [the Police Department should be conscious of the problem, because it is the Police Department that is causing the problem - LG], trying to ferret out unreported crimes through audits of emergency calls and of any resulting paperwork.

As concerns grew about the integrity of the data, the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kellyappointed a panel of former federal prosecutors in January to study the crime-reporting system. The move was unusual for Mr. Kelly, who is normally reluctant to invite outside scrutiny.

The panel, which has not yet released its findings, was expected to focus on the downgrading of crimes, in which officers improperly classify felonies as misdemeanors.

But of nearly as much concern to people in law enforcement are crimes that officers simply failed to record, which one high-ranking police commander in Manhattan suggested was “the newest evolution in this numbers game.”

It is not unusual for detectives, who handle telephone calls from victims inquiring about the status of their cases, to learn that no paperwork exists. Detectives said it was hard to tell if those were administrative mix-ups or something deliberate. But they noted their skepticism that some complaints could simply vanish in the digital age. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2011 at 8:50 am

Posted in Daily life

Viral videos

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Salon has a collection of viral videos from the past year. Two that appealed to me:

The baby clearly thinks his dad is the wittiest comic going. :)

And this baby finds mom’s nose-blowing astounding, but funny in retrospect:

And there’s the kitten having the bad dream:

That one I’ve blogged before, but I do like it.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2011 at 8:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Sleep sound machine report

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I got this Sound+Sleep device and used it last night. My goal is to sleep through the late-night parties (and conversations) of neighbors. (I live in an apartment with thin walls.)

First impressions are positive. It’s compact in size—clock-radio or smaller—and the controls are well thought out. Good display lights enable you to see what the settings are in a dark room, and you can toggle the display lights on and off. Controls are easily found and identified by a sleepy man in a dark room.

The sounds are pretty good, though “Meadow” didn’t work for me. I sent them a suggestion:

For the next model, I suggest you add the option to download (perhaps after purchasing them) additional sound samples—add-on sales to supplement the basic unit sales, plus makes the unit more interesting. In particular, I strongly recommend that you make the device “open-architecture” so that customers can load their own sounds into the unit. I’m thinking that you give the device a mini-USB port and allow users to connect it to their computer to transfer MP3 files for sounds, those files downloadable from the Sound+Sleep site or created by the user.

This makes the device a “platform” and should greatly increase product appeal and extend product life.

The product runs $130 (after discount) on Amazon.com, but (oddly) it can be brought directly through the site for $100 including a two-year warranty extension (not included in the Amazon price).

One thing that is appealing is the “adaptive” technology: if the level of noise increases, the unit responds by increasing the level of the masking sounds:

In Adaptive Mode, SOUND+SLEEP dynamically adds sounds to the SoundStory and automatically adjusts volume to offer superior sound masking or neutralizing capabilities. All that’s left to hear is a soothing natural sound that minimizes disruptions that disturb or interrupt sleep. As intrusive noises subside, SOUND+SLEEP gradually and automatically returns to normal playback settings.

They also suggest specific tracks for specific sorts of sounds:

SOUND+SLEEP responds to a wide variety of noises, responding best to loud, sudden changes in background noise that can be detected by the microphone and readily differentiated from the sound being played by the unit.

The louder the noise, the more readily SOUND+SLEEP responds. If the noise is too faint to be detected by the microphone, SOUND+SLEEP’s responsiveness is reduced, but the likelihood that anyone but the most acute listener will detect the noise is equally low.

Finally, certain SoundStories are more effective than others in neutralizing certain sounds because they’re in a similar frequency to the noise you want to neutralize. This following table suggests SoundStories you may find more effective in minimizing certain common sound intrusions.

Background Noise Suggested SoundStory
Traffic, road noise Ocean
Jackhammer, electric drill Rainfall
Jet aircraft Ocean, Brook
Sirens Brook, Meadow
Barking dogs Rainstorm, brook
Noisy neighbors Ocean, Rainstorm

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2011 at 8:11 am

Final shave (2011 edition)

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That’s it for the year, shaving-wise. At a commenter’s request, I compared the Weber and Merkur HD, but to begin at the beginning:

MR GLO, then an enjoyable face lathering using the Thäter brush—a very nice little brush indeed—and Martin de Candre’s excellent shaving soap. I took my time, and then made sure both razors were using the same blade: a new Swedish Gillette blade.

The shave is similar—indeed, on inspecting the head, the Weber head very closely matches the configuration of the Merkur Classic head, which the HD uses. However, the razor has a different feel because of the Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coating it uses: slick and smooth. The longer handle also gave the Weber a different feel from the HD. That said, however, the two are quite similar in their action. Both use the traditional straight-ahead cut (unlike the Slant), and—as I wrote—the two heads seem remarkably similar in shape.

Three very smooth passes, a splash of the Klar Seifen Sandalwood, and I’m ready to wrap up the year.

UPDATE: The more I inspect the head, the more I think this is the Merkur Classic head with a new finish—which does indeed make a difference in the feel, as I note.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2011 at 7:31 am

Posted in Shaving

Evidence of the plutocracy

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The fact that the wealthy rule the country is a fact. Take a look. And do not forget that outcomes that benefit wealthier Americans—like those in Congress and the Senate who are voting on the measures—may not be so beneficial to their constituents whose incomes are closer to national medians. As the interests of legislators and constituents diverge, look for tighter controls—all those domestic drones and military-oriented police forces—and looser and looser definitions of  “terrorist”, though the definition is already so loose it can be worked around to lasso anyone—”speaking in support of terrorist organizations” is pretty loose. Of course, Rep. Peter King (D-NY) won’t be touched for all his vocal and heartfelt support for the IRA (a terrorist organization),  and this exemplifies the breakdown of the rule of law: laws no longer apply to the powerful and those they protect (as, for example, those guilty of war crimes before and during the Iraq War).

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2011 at 5:08 pm

Should prosecutors not be accountable for malfeasance?

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The Supreme Court seems to believe that a prosecuting attorney is free to do whatever s/he wants to secure a conviction, even if that means hiding evidence that would show that the accused is innocent (as in the case of Harry Connick, Sr., who sent an innocent man to Death Row). This kind of protection of prosecutors as agents of state policy is, of course, quite familiar from the practices of the Soviet Union (with its show trials and forced confessions), but I had hoped that the US would take a more enlightened view.

An effort is now underway to investigate whether another one-time prosecuting attorney, now a judge, should face criminal charges in a similar case. It will be interesting indeed if the Supreme Court decides that prosecutors have absolute immunity for any misbehavior in their official capacity. An editoral from the NY Times a couple of days ago:

Michael Morton was exonerated by DNA evidence this month after being wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and serving nearly 25 years in prison in Texas. In seeking to prove Mr. Morton’s innocence, his lawyers found in recently unsealed court records evidence that the prosecutor in the original trial, Ken Anderson, had withheld critical evidence that may have helped Mr. Morton.

The judge reviewing the case allowed Mr. Morton’s lawyers, including those from the Innocence Project, which represents prisoners seeking exoneration through DNA evidence, to gather facts about the prosecutor’s conduct. The Innocence Project’s report makes a compelling case thatMr. Anderson, now a state judge, disobeyed “a direct order from the trial court to produce the exculpatory police reports from the lead investigator” in the case.

Mr. Morton’s lawyers have asked that the judge recommend a “court of inquiry” to investigate whether Mr. Anderson violated the law and should be charged in a criminal proceeding. While this process is an urgent matter for Mr. Morton, it is also a test of American justice — whether a prosecutor who flouts his duty under the Constitution to disclose crucial evidence to a defendant is subject to any meaningful sanction.

Prosecutors have enormous power in determining who is subjected to criminal punishment because they have broad discretion in deciding criminal charges. The Brady rule, established by the Supreme Court in 1963, is supposed to be an important check on that power. It requires prosecutors to disclose evidence favorable to the defendant. But their failure to comply is rarely discovered, and, even then, prosecutors are almost never punished.

The Supreme Court, in an outrageous decision earlier this year, further weakened the ability of wronged defendants to make prosecutors’ offices liable by giving them nearly absolute immunity against civil suits. Justice Clarence Thomas justified the ruling, noting that an “attorney who violates his or her ethical obligations is subject to professional discipline, including sanctions, suspension, and disbarment.” But bar associations hardly ever punish this behavior; judges seldom discipline prosecutors for such violations; and criminal sanctions are rarely imposed against prosecutors.

This is why the Morton inquiry is crucial. The Innocence Project report found that Mr. Anderson willfully failed to disclose police notes that another man committed the murder, concealed from the trial judge that he did not provide the full police report and advised his successor as prosecutor “to oppose all of Mr. Morton’s postconviction motions for DNA testing.” If a court confirms these findings, it must hold Mr. Anderson accountable — or it will send a message to prosecutors in Texas and elsewhere that the criminal justice system is incapable of deterring or punishing this conduct.

There are, however, a small but growing number of prosecutors’ offices around the country that have systems to prevent the gross miscarriage of justice that Mr. Morton suffered. Like the New York County District Attorney’s Office, they allow open records so defendants can have a copy of almost anything in the case file, and they support having courts audit their compliance with Brady.

Courts should more closely supervise prosecutors by using pretrial conferences where prosecutors must say what they are disclosing under the Brady rule and what they are withholding. Prosecutors must understand that they will be held accountable — with strong criminal sanctions — when they violate their constitutional duties.

I fear, though, that the US is moving in the direction of not being so concerned about guilty vs. innocent, focusing instead on powerful vs. weak, connected vs. isolated, wealthy vs. poor, with the former in each pair getting a free ride regardless of harm done to the latter.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2011 at 10:47 am

Posted in Government, Law

Taking good care of your kitty

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Thanks to TYD for this:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2011 at 8:28 am

Posted in Cats, Video

Semi-vegan recipes by Mark Bittman

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Mark Bittman has a nice Web page that displays (and includes links to recipes for) ten vegan dishes that look quite tasty.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2011 at 7:40 am

Proving Keynes was right, once more

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Once again we have a large-scale experiment being run on the economic lives of millions as affluent leaders demand austerity for the people. Paul Krugman, who has an excellent record for accuracy and an unmatched record for not mincing words nor suffering fools gladly, has a good column in the NY Times on the findings from the experiment:

“The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.” So declared John Maynard Keynes in 1937, even as F.D.R. was about to prove him right by trying to balance the budget too soon, sending the United States economy — which had been steadily recovering up to that point — into a severe recession. Slashing government spending in a depressed economy depresses the economy further; austerity should wait until a strong recovery is well under way.

Unfortunately, in late 2010 and early 2011, politicians and policy makers in much of the Western world believed that they knew better, that we should focus on deficits, not jobs, even though our economies had barely begun to recover from the slump that followed the financial crisis. And by acting on that anti-Keynesian belief, they ended up proving Keynes right all over again.

In declaring Keynesian economics vindicated I am, of course, at odds with conventional wisdom. In Washington, in particular, the failure of the Obama stimulus package to produce an employment boom is generally seen as having proved that government spending can’t create jobs. But those of us who did the math realized, right from the beginning, that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (more than a third of which, by the way, took the relatively ineffective form of tax cuts) was much too small given the depth of the slump. And we also predicted the resulting political backlash.

So the real test of Keynesian economics hasn’t come from the half-hearted efforts of the U.S. federal government to boost the economy, which were largely offset by cuts at the state and local levels. It has, instead, come from European nations like Greece and Ireland that had to impose savage fiscal austerity as a condition for receiving emergency loans — and have suffered Depression-level economic slumps, with real G.D.P. in both countries down by double digits.

This wasn’t supposed to happen, according to the ideology that dominates much of our political discourse. In March 2011, the Republican staff of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee released a report titled “Spend Less, Owe Less, Grow the Economy.” It ridiculed concerns that cutting spending in a slump would worsen that slump, arguing that spending cuts would improve consumer and business confidence, and that this might well lead to faster, not slower, growth.

They should have known better even at the time: the alleged historical examples of “expansionary austerity” they used to make their case had already been thoroughly debunked. And there was also the embarrassing fact that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2011 at 7:33 am

Nullification of the Federal government

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The GOP has done all it can as a minority party in the Senate to hold the country and the government hostage and in general see how much damage they can do by refusing to confirm presidential appointments (even when candidates are fully qualified: it’s simply spite), require super-majorities for any actions in the Senate, block legislation through holds as much as possible, and so on. Kevin Drum takes a look in his Mother Jones column:

In the 19th century, the theory of nullification, and the crisis it provoked, was all about states rights. Nullification advocates argued that the constitution was a compact between sovereign states, and therefore states could choose to ignore federal laws that they considered unconstitutional.

The Civil War largely put an end to this clash, but in the 21st century there’s a new theory of nullification. This one, though, isn’t about a conflict between states and the federal government. It’s about a conflict within the federal government. There isn’t yet any modern-day John Calhoun to articulate this new theory of nullification in detail, but the nickel version is pretty simple: it says that a single senator can nullify a duly passed statute of the United States.

In one sense, this is just the latest front in the Republican war against executive branch nominees of the Obama administration. But until now, that war has been merely an escalation: more nominees are being filibustered than ever before, creating logjams in the federal court system and a shortage of leadership in the executive branch. It’s a big problem, but nothing has actually been shut down because of it.

That’s now changing. Republicans are refusing to allow votes on President Obama’s nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and on his nominees to fill vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board. In both cases, the Republican refusal is explicity aimed at shutting down these agencies. In the case of the CFPB, it’s because the law that created it gives certain powers to its director, and without a director those powers can’t be exercised. In the case of the NLRB, it’s because they can’t function at all unless a minimum of three out of five seats are filled. When Craig Becker, already a recess appointment because of a  Republican filibuster last year, finishes his term at the end of 2011, only two seats will remain filled and the NLRB will grind to a halt.

Republicans make no bones about why they’re doing this. They opposed the CFPB from the start, and they’re now using the filibuster as a way of unilaterally preventing it from operating even though it was lawfully created by a vote of Congress and signed into law by the president. Likewise, they’re afraid the NLRB is about to make some rulings they dislike, so they’re using the filibuster as a way of shutting it down by denying it a quorum. Since, in practice, a single senator can place a hold on a nominee, this means that a single senator is now able to shut down an entire agency of the federal government simply out of dislike for what it’s doing. . .

Continue reading. I think this will play a significant part in the continuing decline of the US: once the government cannot govern, things go to hell quickly.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2011 at 7:27 am

Bananas: The Long Goodbye

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The demise of the domestic banana has been on the horizon for quite a while, and it is drawing nearer. Dan Koeppel reports in The Scientist:

Our standard supermarket banana, a variety called Cavendish, may be at the brink of disaster. Chosen for its resistance to a fungal pathogen that wiped out its predecessor, the Gros Michel banana, the popular fruit has long battled a related fungus, which has all but devastated the banana industry in certain parts of the world. Now, it appears the Cavendish variety is facing a new threat—the very same fungal disease that drove Gros Michels off the market.

Cavendish bananas account for about 45 percent of the fruit’s global crop, with an annual export value of US$8.5 billion, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. It was chosen to replace the original Gros Michel banana after a deadly fungal infection, known as Panama disease (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cubense), wiped out much of the world’s banana crop in the first half of the 20th century.

Farmers adopted the Cavendish variety because it appeared to resist the blight, as well as about a dozen other banana diseases that also threaten the worldwide crop. But it wasn’t long before it too started suffering from disease. In the late 1980s, a mysterious malady began to wipe out Asian Cavendish plantations. Soil samples were sent to plant pathologist Randy Ploetz of the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center, who made the shocking identification: Panama disease was back, in the form of a new strain, which he dubbed Tropical Race 4.

Race 4 is just as virulent to Cavendish as Race 1 was to Gros Michel. The fungus enters the plant via its roots through infected soil or water and spreads via the plant’s vascular system. Once exposed, the plant yellows, and begins to look obviously sick—dried-out, sunken, and sagging. As the disease progresses, brown and purple stripes appear on the trunk, and the plant eventually dies. The disease, however, lives on, spreading via infected soil from plant to plant, plantation to plantation.

Today the disease has spread across Asia, into the Pacific, and to Australia, where it has devastated the island country’s banana industry. Though Race 4 has yet to hit Latin America, where bananas imported to the United States are grown, there’s little doubt it will, said Ploetz.

But it turns out that Race 4 is not the only threat to Cavendish bananas. As banana growers have fled from Race 4, replanting their Cavendish trees in areas only known to harbor Race 1, they quickly learned that Gros Michel’s old foe was now tormenting Cavendish bananas as well.

In 2010,  scientists conducting a survey of plants infected in India, which grows and consumes more bananas than any other country in the world, were the first to conclusively identify the presence of Race 1 in the Cavendish banana. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2011 at 7:15 am

Weber and Klar Seifen

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Once again, a truly wonderful shave. My pre-shave soap this morning was a bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap, and the lather with the Vie-Long horsehair shaving brush and Klar Seifen shaving soap was excellent—horsehair brushes are overachievers in the lather-making department.

Three passes with the Weber holding a Personna Medical Prep blade and I have an extremely smooth face. I find these blades okay, but others do a smoother job for me—YMMV, of course: blade performance is notoriously shaver-dependent.

A good splash of Klar Seifen Klassik aftershave, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2011 at 7:01 am

Posted in Shaving

Evolution of a dinner dish; or, how I think about a meal

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I was sitting here thinking about tomorrow’s dinner since I have only one meal’s worth of grub left. I had stopped by the little produce stand to get some extremely ripe (and thus with no trace of astringency) Hachiya persimmons.

These are for my fruit snacks, of course. I also picked up some roasted squash seeds and a little box of 4 “kumatoes”: brown tomatoes, which looked intriguing.

So I was sitting here thinking of those and how I should use them, and I got an image of Pacific swordfish and the Meyer lemons I have, and my thoughts immediately turned to a clear sort of fish stew, with white rice (Uncle Ben’s Converted, lower glycemic index). I have some chicken stock open, so I can use up that. I didn’t want the greens to take over the dish, so I decided to go with just Italian parsley as the greens: one bunch of that.

Onion, garlic, and celery are sort of a given, but I decided to go with leeks instead of onion. The swordfish will be the protein, the rice the starch, the parsley the greens, so now I start thinking of vegetables to add to bulk it out in a tasty direction.

Well, the tomatoes, of course, which started this particular ball rolling, with the diced Meyer lemon, and a diced yellow bell pepper will add good color as well. Fresh fennel bulb will be good, and zucchini adds fiber and bulk and tastes pretty good as well. Mushrooms are a stretch, but why not?

I was thinking crushed red pepper, but in the interests of bulk, I think a couple of jalapeños is better.

If I did put some greens in, I think it would be cabbage. But parsley is it for this dish.

So that’s what I’m making tomorrow. The swordfish will be added at the end, after the vegetables have cooked a while. I might use some of the Emeril’s Essence seasoning I mixed up for the duck breast.

I think this is a recipe for the 4-qt pot, but surprisingly often I have to move up a pot size in the process. But surely this is 4-6 meals. So I’m going with a whole tablespoon of olive oil—maybe two.

UPDATE: After looking at the pile of vegetables, I went with the 7-qt pot and good that I did. I got two leeks—white part was short—and also used half a large onion. Rest pretty much as described—6 large cloves garlic, 1 c chopped celery, 1 yellow bell pepper (an enormous one), a good-sized bunch of parsley. They didn’t have fennel, drat it, and I was looking forward to that, but they did have red Fresno peppers, so I chopped four of them for the pot along with two jalapeños—and the spiciness factor is just right: definite presence with no burn.

I do have some Penzeys Seafood Soup Base, so I used a tablespoon of that along with about a pint of chicken stock and a quart of water. I used 3/4 cup of converted rice (3 servings) and the swordfish was just under a pound (4 servings)—but this pot is clearly going to be 6-8 servings easily. I poured in about 1 Tbsp homemade Worcestershire, and cut up six large domestic white mushrooms in pretty good-sized chunks and diced two small zucchini. Quite a few grindings of black pepper. No salt added whatsoever—and it doesn’t need it.

Also added 4 kumatoes, diced, 1 Meyer lemon, diced (including peel), and 1 small wad slivered dried tomatoes. I cooked everything for about 20 minutes without the swordfish, then added the swordfish, cut into small chunks, and cooked 10 minutes more.

Very hearty, very tasty.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2011 at 10:03 pm

Speculations regarding our voluntary exile from natural settings

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The past century saw the US urbanize at an accelerating rate. Moreover, the proportion of the American diet based on processed foods increased with equal rapidity. The result: a large and rapidly increasing proportion of the population lives at some remove from nature and have little interaction with a natural environment (no walking through fields, hiking wooded hills, climbing trees, sleeping in the open under the stars) and a diet based mainly on manufactured food-like substances.

I saw this news [link updated for better article - LG], about how plant RNA is found in animals and affects gene expression there, and I got to thinking about the seamless web of life—we consider ourselves at least separate from, if not above, the other lifeforms on the planet, but in fact we are totally embedded in the interactive on-going relationships that constitute a kind of Gaian web of life—and a strong example is that we require plant RNA to be part of us, working in our internal machinery—a completely integral part, for all the RNA’s external origin, since it affects the expression of our genes. It’s like the relationship of the fig and fig wasp: each requiring the other to a degree that makes the two a kind of bipartite organism, not merely transpecies but transkingdom. It’s odd, but since neither can survive without the other, to consider either in isolation, as an independent entity, evades if not ignores reality.

So, given that these cross-kindom effects can occur and even be pivotal, what would happen if you isolated a large group and kept them away from natural environments and fed them an artificial diet, carefully laced with hormone-mimicking chemicals like BPA (ubiquitous for decades in soft plastic storage containers, can linings, and so on)? Would the result be increases in various dysfunctions, such as increasing rates of asthma and various auto-immune diseases? would epidemic obesity become a problem as the body’s regulating systems went out of whack? how about manifestations of neurological changes, such as the autism spectrum of ailments? would those show an increasing trend?

Much of the mechanism of damage and destruction has been worked out, strongly resisted and fought by businesses making money from the death-dealing product (the cigarette industry is the poster child, but the same overall response comes from each industry as the public becomes aware of the damage the industry does, and industry responses grow more sophisticated and effective as learning occurs and strategy and tactics improve—and as business interests gain ever greater control of the government).

This is speculation, but a combined graph of trends would be interesting, even if correlation does not equal causation. We are in any event running a very large scale experiment of the effects of artificial environment and diet on the human organism. And who knows? it may work out quite well. What’s the worst that could happen?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2011 at 6:45 pm

Bacteria 1, FDA 0

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Mark Bittman points out in the NY Times how we’re not getting our money’s worth from the FDA:

Earlier this month, the Maine-based grocery chain Hannaford issued a ground beef recall after at least 14 people were infected with an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella. Chances are this is the first you’ve heard of it. After all, it’s not much compared to the 76 illnesses and one death back in August that led Cargill to recall almost 36 million pounds of ground turkey products potentially contaminated with drug-resistant salmonella. The particulars get confusing, but the trend is unmistakable: our meat supply is frequently contaminated with bacteria that can’t readily be treated by antibiotics.

A study earlier this year by a nonprofit research center in Phoenix analyzed 80 brands of beef, pork, chicken and turkey from five cities and found that 47 percent contained staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that can cause anything from minor skin infections to pneumonia and sepsis, more technically called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), and commonly known as blood poisoning — but no matter what you call it, plenty scary. Of those bacteria, 52 percent were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics. So when you go to the supermarket to buy one of these brands of pre-ground meat products, there’s a roughly 25 percent chance you’ll consume a potentially fatal bacteria that doesn’t respond to commonly prescribed drugs.

It’s not like this is happening without a reason; the little germs have plenty of practice fighting the drugs designed to kill them in the industrially raised animals to which antibiotics are routinely fed. And although it’s economical for producers to drug animals prophylactically[1], there are many strong arguments against the use of those drugs, including their declining efficacy in humans.

Probably you’d agree with the couple of people I described this situation to earlier this week, one of whom said something like, “Ugh, that’s crazy,” and the other simply, “They gotta do something about that!”

The thing is, “they” did. In 1977.

That’s when the Food and Drug Administration, aware of the health risks of administering antibiotics to healthy farm animals, proposed to withdraw its prior approval of putting penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed. Per their procedure, the F.D.A. then issued two “notices of opportunity for a hearing,” which were put on hold by Congress until further research could be conducted. On hold is exactly where the F.D.A.’s requests have been since your dad had sideburns.

Until last week, when the agency decided to withdraw them.

Not because the situation has gotten better, that’s for sure; the agency is well aware that it’s only gotten worse. A staggering 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to farm animals, mostly, as I said, prophylactically: the low-dose drugs help the animals fatten quickly and presumably help ward off diseases caused by squalid living conditions. The animals become perfect breeding grounds for bacteria to gain resistance to the drugs, and our inadequate testing procedures allow them to make their way into stores and our guts.

The F.D.A. knows all about this; in 2010 . . .

Continue reading. The details are what count. His conclusion:

Here’s the nut: The F.D.A. has no money to spare, but the corporations that control the food industry have all they need, along with the political power it buys. That’s why we can say this without equivocation: public health, the quality of our food, and animal welfare  are all sacrificed to the profits that can be made by raising animals in factories. Plying “healthy” farm animals (the quotation marks because how healthy, after all, can battery chickens be?) with antibiotics — a practice the EU banned in 2006 — is as much a part of the American food system as childhood obesity and commodity corn. Animals move from farm to refrigerator case in record time; banning prophylactic drugs would slow this process down, and with it the meat industry’s rate of profit. Lawmakers beholden to corporate money are not about to let that happen, at least not without a fight.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2011 at 9:02 am

New starter razor

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In keeping with trying beginner-level equipment, this morning I used my new Diamond Edge Classic razor ($15 at Amazon). It’s a TTO and seemed reasonably good. It’s light because the handle is purely plastic,with the metal mechanism at the top. As seems typical with inexpensive razors (well, at least I had the same problem with the Timor), the corners are left sharp and are uncomfortable on the face, though with no marks or cuts: just the discomfort of a sharp corner digging into the skin.

It did come with blades that work extremely well for me: the Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge.

I worked up a good lather with the Omega boar I’ve been breaking in, the 11648, and the Haslinger Soap seems quite nice. I did have to return to the soap for the third pass—the brush is somewhat small in addition to being new—but no problem. The brush worked well and felt good.

I did use the Edwin Jagger Hydrating Preshave Cream, rubbing it thoroughly into my beard after washing with MR GLO and rinsing. The EJ stuff has a fair amount of menthol, so it was chilly. Then I applied the lather atop that.

Three passes with the Diamond Edge. Not a bad razor, but I really disliked the sharp corners. Suitable as a beginning razor, but so much less than one of the EJ DE8x series—but $15 instead of $30.

A nice splash of Pashana, and I’m getting the apartment ready for cleaning ladies.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2011 at 7:13 am

Posted in Shaving

More on causes of obesity

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Interesting and lengthy article by Tara Parker-Pope in the NY Times:

For 15 years, Joseph Proietto has been helping people lose weight. When these obese patients arrive at his weight-loss clinic in Australia, they are determined to slim down. And most of the time, he says, they do just that, sticking to the clinic’s program and dropping excess pounds. But then, almost without exception, the weight begins to creep back. In a matter of months or years, the entire effort has come undone, and the patient is fat again. “It has always seemed strange to me,” says Proietto, who is a physician at the University of Melbourne. “These are people who are very motivated to lose weight, who achieve weight loss most of the time without too much trouble and yet, inevitably, gradually, they regain the weight.”

Anyone who has ever dieted knows that lost pounds often return, and most of us assume the reason is a lack of discipline or a failure of willpower. But Proietto suspected that there was more to it, and he decided to take a closer look at the biological state of the body after weight loss.

Beginning in 2009, he and his team recruited 50 obese men and women. The men weighed an average of 233 pounds; the women weighed about 200 pounds. Although some people dropped out of the study, most of the patients stuck with the extreme low-calorie diet, which consisted of special shakes called Optifast and two cups of low-starch vegetables, totaling just 500 to 550 calories a day for eight weeks. Ten weeks in, the dieters lost an average of 30 pounds.

At that point, the 34 patients who remained stopped dieting and began working to maintain the new lower weight. Nutritionists counseled them in person and by phone, promoting regular exercise and urging them to eat more vegetables and less fat. But despite the effort, they slowly began to put on weight. After a year, the patients already had regained an average of 11 of the pounds they struggled so hard to lose. They also reported feeling far more hungry and preoccupied with food than before they lost the weight.

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.

“What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight,” Proietto says. “This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment.”

While the findings from Proietto and colleagues, published this fall in The New England Journal of Medicine, are not conclusive — the study was small and the findings need to be replicated — the research has nonetheless caused a stir in the weight-loss community, adding to a growing body of evidence that challenges conventional thinking about obesity, weight loss and willpower. For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2011 at 8:29 pm

When mores change

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Muslim fundamentalists who stone to death a raped woman are generally condemned in the US, despite our much-vaunted “freedom of religion,” and a religion that attempted such things in the US would run afoul of secular law to (I believe) general acclaim. We endorse freedom of religion, but we mostly consider still that religion is a private matter, and if your religion calls for you to punch me in the nose, then we have a problem, religious freedom or not: I also have the right to be secure from harassment.

We are seeing more and more instances in which people who hold certain religious beliefs seek employment in fields that present conflicts to those beliefs. It’s not clear why a person would seek a field that conflicts with their religion, but apparently they do. So we get things like this story, about a religious group up in arms that it is being forced by secular law to practice tolerance and simulate love and acceptance, things totally at odds with the teachings of their God (who, weirdly, never even mentioned homosexuality, but did prattle on about how important it is to love and accept one’s fellows, to avoid casting stones until one is oneself free of sin, and other such teachings).

The story, by Laurie Goodstein in the NY Times, begins:

Catholic Charities in Illinois has served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children. But now most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois are closing down rather than comply with a new requirement that says they can no longer receive state money if they turn away same-sex couples as potential foster care and adoptive parents.

For the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, the outcome is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are now the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme not just for Catholic bishops, but also for Republican presidential candidates and conservative evangelicals.

“In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer who helped drive the church’s losing battle to retain its state contracts for foster care and adoption services.

The Illinois experience indicates that the bishops face formidable opponents who also claim to have justice and the Constitution on their side. They include not only gay rights advocates, but also many religious believers and churches that support gay equality (some Catholic legislators among them). They frame the issue as a matter of civil rights, saying that Catholic Charities was using taxpayer money to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Tim Kee, a teacher in Marion, Ill., who was turned away by Catholic Charities three years ago when he and his longtime partner, Rick Wade, tried to adopt a child, said: “We’re both Catholic, we love our church, but Catholic Charities closed the door to us. To add insult to injury, my tax dollars went to provide discrimination against me.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2011 at 2:14 pm

Secret of Happiness

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Perhaps not “the” secret of happiness, but certainly one of them: the Lee Valley Little Shaver Pencil Sharpener and a dozen Palomino Blackwing Pencils (and these are, in my opinion, better than the Blackwing 602 Pencils (gray in color)). Fantastic pencil sharpener. Every pencil in the apartment now sharp (and rather short). Considering new career as itinerant pencil sharpener.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2011 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Daily life

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