Later On

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CIA admits breaking law, violating Constitution

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The CIA is not permitted to mount operations inside the US—and the Executive Branch is not allowed to spy on the Judiciary or the Legislative Branches. The CIA? Here’s the NY Times headline: “C.I.A. Admits Penetrating Senate Intelligence Computers”.

Mark Mazzetti reports:

An internal investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency has found that its officers improperly penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, a C.I.A. spokesman said that agency’s inspector general had concluded that C.I.A. officers had acted inappropriately by gaining access to the computers.

The statement said that John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, had apologized to the two senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and that he would set up an internal accountability board to review the matter. The board will be led by former Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana.

The statement gave almost no specifics about the findings of the report, written by David Buckley, the agency’s inspector general.

Officials said there was a tense meeting earlier this week when Mr. Brennan briefed the two senators — Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. The officials said Ms. Feinstein had confronted Mr. Brennan about past public statements on the issue, in which he defended the agency’s actions.

When the C.I.A.’s monitoring of the committee became public in March, Mr. Brennan said, “When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.” [And indeed Mr. Brennan, who never should have even been offered his job, has been proved wrong. One hopes he will resign---clearly the CIA is not under his control.- LG]

Last year, the C.I.A. gained access to a computer network, reserved solely for Senate investigators working at an agency facility in Northern Virginia, after officials suspected the intelligence committee had improperly obtained an internal C.I.A. report about the detention program, which is now defunct.

Shortly after the C.I.A. action was made public, Ms. Feinstein gave a blistering speech on the floor of the Senate accusing the agency of infringing on the committee’s role as overseer. The C.I.A. statement was first reported by McClatchy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2014 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life

Self-reflexive metapost on why we’re here (on-line)

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Interesting. In my meme-oriented view, the internet would be an emergent phenomenon of memes, drawing in more and speeding up their evolution. And, of course, the most successful of those memes would (by definition) capture the attention of the greatest number of people. That’s quite a fertile environment for meme evolution—and of course it’s attractive by (more or less) necessity/definition: the most successful memes are the most attractive, so the Internet, which allows more or less free evolution, would quickly (in human terms) evolve to a high level of addictiveness.

Or maybe not. But it’s clear that the entire Internet is a creation built of memes. That’s what the whole thing is—nothing but memes (in the Richard Dawkins sense). And it’s clear that the Internet (i.e., the memes that comprise it) is evolving rapidly—just look at the Internet’s underlying technology as one group of its memes and see the rapid advance there—and that’s mainly, I would think, because the environment is uncontrolled. That is, it’s not a medium where the big content makers totally predominate: we are all on-line, and networks have developed that quickly draw the attention of the Internet denizens  to things of greater interest (thus the origins of its addictive nature). Those networks are all the various link-exchange sites of whatever level—even news stories now include many hyperlinks. So this network of connections surfaces things more quickly, thus allowing more rapid memetic evolution.

It all sort of hangs together, doesn’t it? What we’re seeing and a part of (and a part of us if I’m right that one’s identity is constructed from memes) is a meme Cambrian Explosion.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2014 at 2:16 pm

On the (often difficult and dangerous) public service of the police

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Here is a tough story. There are indeed some very bad and dangerous people around, and the police are our protection from this kind of day-to-day threat (as opposed to a war, when the military is our protection, though lately more used in aggression). It’s not an easy job, I would think.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2014 at 1:44 pm

Weakening security to give NSA more power

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NSA’s work to make cryptographic systems insecure is well-known—NIST specifically recommends against one encryption method that NSA weakened. And now the intelligence community (NSA) wants to weaken security social media, instant messaging, and chat services so that they are easier to wiretap. In our efforts to become more secure, we are becoming less secure.

Ellen Nakashima writes in the Washington Post:

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies want to be able to wiretap social media, instant message and chat services. But building in ways to wiretap these kinds of communication can lead to less secure systems, say technical experts, including former National Security Agency officials.

Some security experts suggest hacking as an alternative, but other experts – including FBI officials — say that method poses serious risks.

Right now, only phone companies, broadband providers and some Internet phone services are required by law to build in intercept capabilities, but the government wants to extend that requirement to online communication providers.

“From a purely technical perspective, when you add this sort of law enforcement access feature to a system, you weaken it,” said Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University. “First, it creates an access point that previously didn’t exist. Second, you’ve added complexity to the system … and most security problems are due to buggy code.”

In 1994, the government passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which mandated that phone companies make their systems wiretap-ready.

Richard “Dickie” George, a former NSA technical director until he retired in September 2011, recalled how in the mid-1990s, “in the early days of CALEA,” the NSA tested several commercial phone systems with intercept capabilities and “we found problems in every one.” Making the systems hack-proof, he said, “is really, really hard.”

He said, however, that over the years, “We’ve come a long way.”

Susan Landau, a faculty member in the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Department of Social Science and Policy Studies in Massachusetts, said that phone services are more complicated now — and so the switches are, too. “It’s highly doubtful,” she said, “that the new switches are secure.”

The United States, she said, “has a lot more to lose by building ways into communications networks than it has to gain, because those ways last for a very long time, and we enable others who couldn’t afford to build [backdoors] in themselves with ways to get into our communications systems.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 9:29 pm

Why civilians who like to carry weapons are generally conservative

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I think this article does indeed explain it.

I actually blogged some time back that it seemed evident on the face of it that if you divide civilian adults into two groups, one group whose members carry weapons routinely and the other group those who don’t, those in the first group are clearly more fearful.

That evoked quite strong pushback. I think the term “threat sensitive” is more accurate: while the unarmed group can sort of see that there’s a threat, they are not sensitive to it. The other group, who carry weapons, are threat-sensitive.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Daily life, Guns

What is learned from a careful reading and discussion of the Declaration of Independence

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Gordon Wood writes at the NY Review of Books:

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality
by Danielle Allen
Liveright, 315 pp., $27.95

This is a strange and remarkable book. There must be dozens of books on the Declaration of Independence written from every conceivable point of view—historical, political, theoretical, philosophical, and textual—but no one has ever written a book on the Declaration quite like this one. If we read the Declaration of Independence slowly and carefully, Danielle Allen believes, then the document can become a basic primer for our democracy. It can be something that all of us—not just scholars and educated elites but common ordinary people—can participate in, and should participate in if we want to be good democratic citizens.

Allen, who is a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, came to this extraordinary conclusion when she was teaching for a decade at the University of Chicago. But it was not the young bright-eyed undergraduates whom she taught by day who inspired her. Instead, it was the much older, life-tested adults whom she taught by night who created “the single most transformative experience” of her teaching career.

As she slowly worked her way through the 1,337 words of the Declaration of Independence with her night students, many of whom had no job or were working two jobs or were stuck in dead-end part-time jobs, Allen discovered that the document had meaning for them and that it was accessible to any reader or hearer of its words. By teaching the document to these adult students in the way that she did, she experienced “a personal metamorphosis.” For the first time in her life she came to realize that the Declaration makes a coherent philosophical argument about equality, an argument that could be made comprehensible to ordinary people who had no special training.

By reading and analyzing the words of the Declaration deliberately and with care, her night students

found themselves suddenly as political beings, with a consciousness that had previously eluded them. They built a foundation from which to assess the state of their political world. They gained a vocabulary and rhetorical techniques for arguing about it.

The entire experience with her students “re-gifted to me a text that should have been mine all along. They gave me again the Declaration’s ideals—equality and freedom—and the power of its language.”

Allen is most interested in the idea of equality, and rightly so. Equality has always been the most radical and potent idea in American history. Once released by the American Revolution, it has torn through American society and culture with awesome power. It became what Herman Melville in Moby-Dick labeled “the great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy!” This “Spirit of Equality,” said Melville, did not merely cull the “selectest champions from the kingly commons,” but it spread “one royal mantle of humanity” over all Americans and brought “democratic dignity” to even “the arm that wields a pick and drives a spike.”

Allen doesn’t cite Melville and doesn’t accept his emphasis on the overwhelming power of equality in American culture. In fact, she thinks that we Americans have tended to neglect the idea of equality. Between liberty and equality, “equality,” she says, “has always been the more frail twin,” and “it has now become particularly vulnerable.” She assumes that “libertarianism currently dominates our political imaginations.” Indeed, she contends that for the past half-century we Americans have emphasized liberty at the expense of equality. Are these judgments correct? Aren’t the movements for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights all about equality? With politicians everywhere now talking about inequality, and President Obama even claiming that inequality is “the defining issue of our time,” ideas about equality seem alive and well.

But Allen’s book is not about equality in this conventional sense. She is not really interested in equalities of income or social status. Instead, she wants to focus on what she calls “equal political empowerment.” This involves an

egalitarianism of co-creation and co-ownership of a shared world, an expectation for inclusive participation that fosters in each citizen the self-understanding that she, too, he, too, helps to make, and is responsible for, this world in which we live together.

Allen assumes that there are five facets of her conception of equality embedded in the Declaration and that a slow and deliberate reading of it can bring them to the fore. First, the colonists asserted that their new states were equal to the other powers on the earth. Second, by declaring that “all men are created equal,” the Declaration affirms that each person is the judge of his or her own happiness. Third, the Declaration assumes that each person, however common, contributes to the collective knowledge of the community. Fourth is

the importance of reciprocity or mutual responsiveness to achieving the conditions of freedom. Securing conditions in which no one dominates anyone else requires a form of conversational interaction that rests on and embodies equality in the relationships among the participants.

Finally, the document contends that all of us have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 12:14 pm

Interesting story on the very start of the Catholic church’s pedophile scandal

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From the first chapter of a four-chapter series published by Minnesota Public Radio and written by Madeleine Baran:

Lafayette, La. — The Diocese of Lafayette stretches from the city south to Vermilion Bay, whose waters lead to the Gulf of Mexico. Down among the bayous and sugar cane fields of southern Louisiana, Catholicism runs deep.

Many of the 300,000 Catholics who live here trace their history back to the late 1700s, when their French ancestors fled Canada to escape British rule. In this humid, undeveloped land, they discovered waters filled with shrimp, oysters and crawfish, and they built churches on patches of dry ground.

For generations, they believed the priest served as the living face of Jesus Christ. He forgave their sins, baptized the young and anointed the sick. In his purity, he gave the faithful a glimpse of what heaven would be like.

No one had ever heard of a priest raping a child.

So when the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe arrived in the 1970s and showed an interest in young boys, no one paid much attention.

The priest took boys on camping trips and invited them for sleepovers in the rectory. He claimed to hold practices for altar boys every day at 6 a.m. and encouraged parents to let their boys spend the night.

His sexual appetite was uncontrollable. He put bars on the windows of a rectory. He kept a gun by the side of his bed, and when children refused to submit he threatened to use it. At night, he raped the boys, forced them to perform sex acts on each other, and took photographs on his Polaroid camera.

It went on this way for more than a decade. Gauthe remained in ministry even when his bishop learned that he had abused one boy and licked the faces of two others. After the second complaint, the bishop transferred Gauthe to a small church in the isolated town of Henry, La. On Sundays, the priest stood at the altar and surveyed his victims.

Finally, in 1983, a boy told his father, Wayne Sagrera, and Sagrera reported it to the diocese. The bishop sent Gauthe away for psychological treatment and offered nine families confidential settlements of more than $4 million.

One family refused to settle and went public, and the community awoke to the horror of what the priest had been doing to its children.

The Gastal family sued the diocese for failing to protect their 10-year-old son, Scott, who had been abused by Gauthe for more than a year. When Scott was hospitalized for rectal bleeding caused by the abuse, Gauthe stopped by to give him a toy car. The boy later worried that Gauthe would break into his parents’ home and attack him. He would stay up all night checking the locks.

The boy testified graphically in court in 1986, struggling at times to find the words to describe what had happened. He said Gauthe had put his “pee-pee” inside him. The jury awarded $1 million.

The case made headlines around the country, especially after freelance reporter Jason Berry dug into the details and found a cover-up. As months passed, it became clear that Gauthe had been abusing children for decades. He later told a psychologist that he had abused more than 300 children. The scandal grew even after Gauthe pleaded guilty to 34 criminal counts and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

More parents threatened to come forward. Other priests were accused. Reporters began to wonder whether this was truly an isolated incident or an example of something that ran deeper and farther than a single diocese.

Their suspicions would prove correct. And the events unfolding in Louisiana would prove key to understanding a story that would play out decades later in Minnesota.

Vatican ‘feared a domino effect’

The news from Louisiana soon reached the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., where the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a young canon lawyer and fast-rising star in the church hierarchy, became alarmed. He wondered: How many other priests had abused children? And how many bishops had covered it up?

Doyle quickly concluded that the scandal of priests sexually abusing children – and the failure of the church hierarchy to stop it – could destroy the Catholic Church in the United States. The Vatican “feared a domino effect,” he recalled in a recent interview. “The risk was the loss of prestige, the loss of power, the loss of respect,” and the loss of money.

There was also the spiritual risk of scandal, a word that has a different meaning in the Catholic Church. Scandal threatens to separate believers from God. It could send people to hell. [OTOH, Jesus reportedly praised knowing the truth because the truth would set one free. But the Catholic church is much more wary of the truth than was Jesus. - LG]

As the crisis unfolded in 1985, Doyle teamed up with Ray Mouton, Gauthe’s criminal defense attorney, and the Rev. Michael Peterson, who ran a treatment center in Maryland for priests with sexual disorders. They wrote a confidential report called “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy.” It warned that hundreds of priests might be abusing children and that lawsuits and settlements could cost the U.S. Catholic Church $1 billion in 10 years.

No one listened.

“They literally laughed that off,” Doyle said. “You know, they were the Catholic Church, much too big and powerful to ever fall prey to these lawyers and these people.”

He watched as Lafayette Bishop Gerard Frey, then 71, failed to repair the scandal. “There was no playbook at that time. Nobody knew how to do it,” Doyle said.

Frey had offered prayers, policies and promises, but he couldn’t undo his failure years earlier to act on the complaints about Gauthe. A local newspaper called for his resignation. In an interview, Frey said Gauthe had tricked him into thinking he was cured.

Frey wouldn’t directly admit that he had been wrong to keep Gauthe in ministry. “Unfortunately, circumstances have proven that my subjective evaluation was in error,” he said.

Doyle read the news reports with dismay. He suggested that the pope send a new bishop to Lafayette to serve alongside Frey for the next three years and then replace him when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.

He recommended a parish priest named Harry Flynn. . .

Continue reading. It’s an amazing story, and full of “the ends justify any means” thinking by the Catholic church. And apparently it occurred to no one that the Church should obey the law, rendering unto Caesar, etc.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 11:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota

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A very interesting (and somewhat lengthy) article on the turbulent changes in North Dakota from the boom.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 10:39 am

Heritage Foundation economist defends Sam Brownback, attacks Paul Krugman, but then … oops

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Yael Abouhalkah writes in the Kansas City Star:

Poor Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Even when he gets some high-profile love, things can go wrong.

The tax-cutting efforts of the embattled Brownback were praised in a recent opinion column by Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, a well-known conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

However, my research shows Moore used outdated and inaccurate job growth information at a key point in his article in early July. It appeared in slightly different versions in The Star, The Wichita Eagle, and on websites such as the Heritage Foundation’s.

The wrong data undermined one of Moore’s arguments — that low-tax states have shown tremendous job gains and that employment often doesn’t grow as strongly in high-tax states.

Moore is a supporter of the low-tax mantra of Arthur Laffer, an economist who led Brownback and Kansas into the tax-cut wasteland and the subsequent decimation of state revenues in 2014.

In part of his article, Moore pointedly criticized a column written by Paul Krugman of The New York Times, who had lambasted the Kansas tax cut strategy and wondered “how did the charlatans and cranks end up dictating policy in Kansas…?”

Moore responded that states following “Krugman’s (and President Obama’s) economic strategy to a tee are getting clobbered by tax-cutting states.”

Revved up, Moore then added:

“No-income-tax Texas gained 1 million jobs over the last five years; California, with its 13 percent tax rate, managed to lose jobs. Oops. Florida gained hundreds of thousands of jobs while New York lost jobs. Oops.”

I reread Moore’s column a few days ago, after I had finished research for an editorial on the anemic job growth rate in Kansas under Brownback’s time in office.

Here are the four problems I subsequently found in that single paragraph written by Moore, which led to a corrected version of his column being posted on The Star’s website. Moore approved the correction in an email exchange with The Star.

No. 1: When Moore wrote about job creation “over the last five years,” he told The Star that he had measured from December 2007 to December 2012, using federal Bureau of Labor Statistics information.

That was an odd and ultimately misleading decision for readers. The bureau’s data is updated monthly, so “the last five years” easily could and should have been from mid-2009 to mid-2014. That would have provided more up-to-date figures, not 18-month-old data.

No. 2: Texas did not gain 1 million jobs in that 2007-2012 period. The correct figure was a gain of 497,400 jobs.

No. 3: Florida did not add hundreds of thousands of jobs in that span. It lost 461,500 jobs.

No. 4: New York, which has one of the highest income tax rates, did not lose jobs during that time. It gained 75,900 jobs.

As someone who has pored over the Bureau of Labor Statistics sheets for many months, I know figures can be skewed and cherry-picked by people on both sides of this tax-cut debate.

(For example, California since December 2012 — when Moore stopped measuring employment growth — has added 541,000 jobs, which is more than Texas’ 523,400. So, high taxes are good?) . . .

Continue reading.

The GOP accepts lying as a way of winning: the goal is to win, and anything that helps is acceptable.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman also responds.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 10:27 am

Posted in Daily life

Best calendar apps for the iPhone

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Forgotten knowledge: Rapid-fire archery edition

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

A tale of two experiments: Tax adjustments in Kansas and California

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Kansas cut taxes drastically. The reasons offered are probably not the real reason (the real reason to allow the wealthy to keep more of their wealth), but the claim was that cutting taxes would boost their economy. And California raised taxes (and went all-in on Obamacare, which Kansas has fended off as best it can: no Medicare expansion, for example). Paul Krugman notes:

The states, Justice Brandeis famously pointed out, are the laboratories of democracy. And it’s still true. For example, one reason we knew or should have known that Obamacare was workable was the post-2006 success of Romneycare in Massachusetts. More recently, Kansas went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent in the belief that this would spark a huge boom; the boom didn’t happen, but the budget deficit exploded, offering an object lesson to those willing to learn from experience.

And there’s an even bigger if less drastic experiment under way in the opposite direction. California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.

I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

What has actually happened? . . .

Continue reading.

Experiments work best, of course, if you actually learn from them. The GOP seems unable to do the “learning” thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 11:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

An incredible win-win-win

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Veronika Scott is the 24-year-old CEO and founder of Detroit-based nonprofit, The Empowerment Plan, which employs and trains homeless women to become full-time seamstresses who make a coat that turns into a sleeping bag at night and a bag during the day. Funded by donations from foundations, companies, and individuals, The Empowerment Plan is headquartered at Ponyride and has been featured by the New York Times, NPR, The Discovery Channel, The Today Show, and more.

By all means read the interview at the link. This is a person who knows how to put aside your preconceptions and to develop her approach from what she learned by observing and listening—and also looking for ways to improve her entire approach. A wonderful article.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 9:12 am

Wired to fail?

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I was reading this very interesting New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert, and you may also find it of interest. She raises some interesting points.

Agriculture was invented several times, and it seems likely that it was born of necessity, notoriously the very mother of invention. The reason it was a pressing matter is that the large animals that had served as prey were getting scarce on the ground. See this interesting brief article for a modern example of overhunting (and overfishing). Similarly, when humans entered the Western Hemisphere, quite a few animals (the mastodon, for example) went extinct. Human hunting, particularly after the invention of projectile weapons, was highly effective, and prey became harder to find.

So we got agriculture, and with it (as described in the article) a litany of ills: diabetes, tooth rot, and infectious diseases, among others. Kolbert writes:

According to a study of human remains from China and Japan, the height of the average person declined by more than three inches during the millennia in which rice cultivation intensified. According to another study, of bones from Mesoamerica, women’s heights dropped by three inches and men’s by two inches as farming spread. A recent survey of more than twenty studies on this subject, published in the journal Economics and Human Biology, found that the adoption of agriculture “was observed to decrease stature in populations from across the entire globe,” including in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America.

Early farmers were not just shorter than hunter-gatherers; they were also more sickly. They had worse teeth—one analysis from the Near East suggests that the incidence of cavities jumped sixfold as people started relying on grain—and they suffered from increased rates of anemia and infectious disease. Many now familiar infections—measles, for instance—require high population densities to persist; thus, it wasn’t until people established towns and cities that such “crowd epidemic diseases” could flourish. And, by living in close proximity to their equally crowded farm animals, early agriculturalists helped to bring into being a whole set of diseases that jumped from livestock to people.

“The adoption of agriculture,” Diamond notes in his most recent book, “The World Until Yesterday,” provided “ideal conditions for the rapid transmission of microbes.” According to Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard and the author of “The Story of the Human Body,” “farming ushered in an era of epidemics, including tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis, plague, smallpox and influenza.”

So that was a bad development (in terms of health, though not human culture: denser populations create a better environment for memes to arise and evolve rapidly. Kolbert points out, “Anatomically modern humans have, after all, been around for about two hundred thousand years. The genus Homo goes back another two million years or so. On the timescale of evolutionary history, it’s agriculture that’s the fad.”

And yet humans cannot really eat as hunter-gatherers. First, our food animals and food crops are substantially different from their wild ancestors that were food for hunter-gatherers—to the point that modern corn/maize cannot grow without cultivation. Second, the human population, already far too large to survive with intensive agriculture globally, continues to grow rapidly, putting ever more strain on natural resources. Kolbert notes:

The last time most of humanity followed, by necessity, a paleo diet, there were maybe five million people on the planet. Yet already they were having a big impact; it’s been theorized that one of the impetuses for the development of agriculture was that large, easy-to-kill prey were becoming harder to find. As grain-growing spread, it produced what’s been called the “first population explosion.” Farmers can wean their children at a much younger age than hunter-gatherers can—they have foods like porridge to feed them—and thus can produce new ones more quickly. As a result, the sicklier agriculturists were able to outbreed the more robust hunter-gatherers. More farmers then needed even more land, which further reduced the resources available to foragers.

Whether or not agriculture was the “worst mistake in the history of the human race,” the choice, once made, was made for good. With a global population of seven billion people, heading rapidly toward eight billion, there’s certainly no turning back now (even if paleo does, in fact, prevent zits). Pound for pound, beef production demands at least ten times as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost twenty times as much energy. Livestock are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, not just because of the fuel it takes to raise them but also because they do things like belch out methane and produce lots of shit, which in turn produces lots of nitrous oxide. One analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that, in terms of emissions, eating a pound of beef is the equivalent of driving forty-five miles. (Grass-fed beef—recommended by many primal enthusiasts—may produce lower emissions than corn-fed, but the evidence on this is shaky.) Eating a pound of whole wheat, by contrast, is like driving less than a mile. All of which is to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “Let them eat steak” approach is a disaster.

Gary Taubes, in his excellent book Why We Get Fat And What to Do About It, notes:

Carbohydrate-restricted diets typically (if not, perhaps, ideally) replace the carbohydrates in the diet with large or at least larger portions of animal products—beginning with eggs for breakfast and moving to meat, fish, or fowl for lunch and dinner. The implications of that are proper to debate. Isn’t our dependence on animal products already bad for the environment, and won’t it just get worse? Isn’t livestock production a major contributor to global warming, water shortages, and pollution? When thinking about a healthy diet, shouldn’t we think about what’s good for the planet as well as what’s good for us? Do we have a right to kill animals for our food or put them to work for us in producing it? Isn’t the only morally and ethically defensible lifestyle a vegetarian one or even a vegan one?

These are all important questions that need to be addressed, as individuals and as a society. But they have no place in the scientific and medical discussion of why we get fat. And that’s what I am setting out to explore here—just as Hilde Bruch did more than seventy years ago. Why are we fat? Why are our children fat? What can we do about it?

So we seem to face a dilemma: the best diet for humans grows increasingly unsustainable. But even worse, humanity seems to be increasingly unsustainable. Our affect on the environment has been devastating (even apart from the Big Kahuna, global warming), and we despoil our natural resources faster than they can be replaced—not that we are devoting much effort to replacing them.

I think the human race is simply not wired for long-term success (in evolutionary terms). It looks increasingly as though human civilization is going to be short-lived blip—perhaps 20,000 years at the outside, more likely 15,000 (of which 10,000 are already used up).

Probably I’m wrong, but the overall long-term trends look quite bearish.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 9:02 am

Can meditation slow aging?

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Maybe so. From an interesting article by Jo Marchant in Pacific Standard:

. . . The paper triggered an explosion of research. Researchers have since linked perceived stress to shorter telomeres in healthy women as well as in Alzheimer’s caregivers, victims of domestic abuse and early life trauma, and people with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Ten years on, there’s no question in my mind that the environment has some consequence on telomere length,” says Mary Armanios, a clinician and geneticist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who studies telomere disorders.

There is also progress toward a mechanism. Lab studies show that the stress hormone cortisol reduces the activity of telomerase, while oxidative stress and inflammation—the physiological fallout of psychological stress—appear to erode telomeres directly.

This seems to have devastating consequences for our health. Age-related conditions from osteoarthritis, diabetes, and obesity to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and stroke have all been linked to short telomeres.

The big question for researchers now is whether telomeres are simply a harmless marker of age-related damage (like grey hair, say) or themselves play a role in causing the health problems that plague us as we age. People with genetic mutations affecting the enzyme telomerase, who have much shorter telomeres than normal, suffer from accelerated-aging syndromes and their organs progressively fail. But Armanios questions whether the smaller reductions in telomere length caused by stress are relevant for health, especially as telomere lengths are so variable in the first place.

Blackburn, however, says she is increasingly convinced that the effects of stress do matter. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Food shortages showing up in fishing, and the follow-on effects are bad

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Michelle Nijhuis writes in the New Yorker:

In 1998, a young American biologist named Justin Brashares, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, went to Ghana to research antelope behavior. But, as he hiked the West African forests and savannahs, he didn’t see many antelope. He also didn’t see many hippos, leopards, duikers, or lions. What he did see were large, aggressive troops of olive baboons. They had recently begun to raid maize crops and steal chickens, causing such serious and persistent damage that many Ghanaians were keeping their young children out of school to help guard family farms.

How had baboons gained influence over the education of Ghanaian children? In search of an answer, Brashares dug into the fantastically detailed records of wildlife populations and hunting activity that Ghana has kept since its days as a British colony. He found that as populations of large mammal species had declined in the country’s national parks over the decades, baboon populations had expanded into the newly predator-free habitat. Hunting intensified by human population growth was one reason for the over-all declines, but the mammal numbers didn’t follow a straight line toward extinction: they rose, then fell, then rose again.

Brashares asked Ghanaian farmers about the pattern. “Oh, it’s the fish,” he remembers them saying dismissively. Poor fishing on the Atlantic coast, they told Brashares, drove more people into the forest to hunt for bushmeat. More hunting meant fewer large mammals, more olive baboons—and, eventually, more kids kept home from school. Brashares’ analysis of data collected by researchers from his lab and elsewhere showed that, in 2009, sixty-five per cent of school-age children in sixty-four baboon-affected villages were withdrawn from school for at least one month, and many for much longer than that.

This causal chain from the health of ocean fisheries to educational success was so straightforward that Brashares initially didn’t believe it. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, but these uninformed people aren’t aware of some bigger dynamic,’ ” Brashares told me. “Of course, they were right all along.” With the Ghanaian park data and extensive surveys of twelve Ghanaian markets over several years, Brashares and his colleagues eventually showed that when fish populations were low, fish prices were high, and bushmeat hunting increased, a relationship that was especially strong near the coast. Other researchers documented similar patterns elsewhere in Africa and in South America, further proving what Ghanaian farmers already knew: wildlife declines aren’t only a result of social ills but also a cause.

Brashares and his students have since looked more closely at the global social effects of fish and wildlife declines. In a review article published today in the journal Science, and in a talk at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Missoula, Montana, last week, Brashares detailed examples: declining fish populations off the coast of southern Thailand are forcing Thai fishing fleets to work harder for the same catch, and the resulting desperation for labor has triggered an epidemic of indentured servitude and child slavery. (The United Nations estimates that ten to fifteen per cent of the global fisheries workforce now suffers some form of enslavement.) Over the past decade, more than a hundred “fishing militias” have formed in Thailand, and clashes over local fishing rights have killed an estimated three thousand nine hundred people. In surveys of Kenyan households conducted by Kathryn Fiorella, a graduate student who works with Brashares, a large proportion of women reported exchanging sex for fish because, they said, fish had become too scarce and expensive to secure otherwise. (More than half the women who had exchanged sex for fish were H.I.V.-positive.) In West Africa, where Brashares began his work, child labor and child slavery are increasing as both fishing and bushmeat hunting become more difficult.

These linkages are rarely discussed in academic circles, or even in the popular press. Not long after Brashares published his work on fisheries and bushmeat trends in Ghana, Science published a high-profile article on the decline of global fisheries; the same week, the Times published a story on forced child labor in the fishing industry, drawing on research and analysis by UNICEF and the International Labor Organization. Science made no mention of forced labor, and the Times made no mention of fisheries’ declines. “The science side is very focused on natural-resource trends and not really thinking about social consequences, while the policy side is looking at Somali pirates or elephant ivory, and totally disconnected from the root causes,” Brashares said.

Meanwhile, non-specialists—from Ghanaian farmers to English-speaking magazine readers—may well be surprised to learn that the people charged with solving such problems aren’t making what seem like patently obvious connections.

Academic institutions reward specialization, and specialists are invariably at risk of missing the larger problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 3:43 pm

Another thing that helps one psychological state: A walk in the park

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Tom Jacobs reports at Pacific Standard:

Plenty of research has suggested immersing yourself in nature has significant mental and physical health benefits. But can it also make you a better person? New research from France suggests it just might.

In two experiments, pedestrians who had just strolled through a beautiful park were more likely to come to the aid or a stranger who had just dropped a glove. Writing in the journal Environment and Behavior, Nicolas Guéguen and Jordy Stefan of the University of Bretagne-Sud refer to this as “green altruism.”

Their first experiment featured

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 11:30 am

Another reason for traditional wet-shaving’s appeal: By requiring more effort it provides a sense of control

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And a sense of control is exactly what people crave when the general situation, globally, nationally, and locally, feels out of control (cf. the three earlier posts on law enforcement, which was once a source of a sense of control). Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard:

As a proposed advertising slogan, “Requires Effort” wouldn’t pass muster with Don Draper. But surprising new research finds that, under certain circumstances, people are in fact drawn to products that demand some work.

Such items become more desirable when people feel a lack of control over their lives, according to Keisha Cutright of the University of Pennsylvania and Adriana Samper of Arizona State University. These “high-effort products,” they write, enable frustrated individuals to recapture a sense of personal power.

“Beyond seeking products that merely symbolize a given trait,” Cutright and Samper write in the Journal of Consumer Research, “consumers sometimes prefer products that give them an opportunity to actually demonstrate that they possess a trait.”

The researchers describe five studies that provide evidence for their thesis. In the first, . . .

Continue reading.

Feeling that one lacks control in his or her life puts one at serious risk for depression—or, as Martin Seligman termed it in his studies, “learned helplessness.” (His book Learned Optimism is quite interesting—inexpensive secondhand copies at the link.)

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 9:24 am

Meet the Online Tracking Device That is Virtually Impossible to Block

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Quick-Roasted Chicken With Mustard and Garlic

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I made this recipe last night, and it was quite tasty, cooking the chicken in my large cast-iron skillet. I did spatchcock the chicken, and I follow the video (linked in the post) and remove the breastbone as well, which makes the chicken fall naturally into two halves. The ingredients:

1 (4 lb) whole chickens, giblets and liver reserved for another use
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon herbes de provence
1/2 teaspoon salt

It was extremely tasty. My own chicken took 37 minutes, not 30 minutes, so I advise you to use a meat thermometer to determine whether it’s done.

Spatchcocking a chicken is easy if you have good poultry shears.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes


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