Later On

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

One minute a day of strenuous exercise has same health and fitness benefit as 45 minutes of moderate exercise

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Very interesting article in the NY Times by Gretchen Reynolds. The core:

. . . One group was asked to change nothing about their current, virtually nonexistent exercise routines; they would be the controls.

A second group began a typical endurance-workout routine, consisting of riding at a moderate pace on a stationary bicycle at the lab for 45 minutes, with a two-minute warm-up and three-minute cool down.

The final group was assigned to interval training, using the most abbreviated workout yet to have shown benefits. Specifically, the volunteers warmed up for two minutes on stationary bicycles, then pedaled as hard as possible for 20 seconds; rode at a very slow pace for two minutes, sprinted all-out again for 20 seconds; recovered with slow riding for another two minutes; pedaled all-out for a final 20 seconds; then cooled down for three minutes. The entire workout lasted 10 minutes, with only one minute of that time being strenuous.

Both groups of exercising volunteers completed three sessions each week for 12 weeks, a period of time that is about twice as long as in most past studies of interval training.

By the end of the study, published in PLOS One, the endurance group had ridden for 27 hours, while the interval group had ridden for six hours, with only 36 minutes of that time being strenuous.

But when the scientists retested the men’s aerobic fitness, muscles and blood-sugar control now, they found that the exercisers showed virtually identical gains, whether they had completed the long endurance workouts or the short, grueling intervals. In both groups, endurance had increased by nearly 20 percent, insulin resistance likewise had improved significantly, and there were significant increases in the number and function of certain microscopic structures in the men’s muscles that are related to energy production and oxygen consumption.

There were no changes in health or fitness evident in the control group. . .

The research was done by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2016 at 4:18 pm

Hillary Clinton, the most hawkish of the candidates, with an aggressive foreign-policy stance

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Hillary Clinton is in all likelihood going to be the next US president, and her willingness if not eagerness for military action dismays me: Iraq, Libya, Honduras—her positions and actions seem strikingly bad to me, and (in my mind) show poor judgment. The US does not need to expand its attacks on various peoples.

Mark Landler reports in the NY Times:

Hillary Clinton sat in the hideaway study off her ceremonial office in the State Department, sipping tea and taking stock of her first year on the job. The study was more like a den — cozy and wood-paneled, lined with bookshelves that displayed mementos from Clinton’s three decades in the public eye: a statue of her heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt; a baseball signed by the Chicago Cubs star Ernie Banks; a carved wooden figure of a pregnant African woman. The intimate setting lent itself to a less-formal interview than the usual locale, her imposing outer office, with its marble fireplace, heavy drapes, crystal chandelier and ornate wall sconces. On the morning of Feb. 26, 2010, however, Clinton was talking about something more sensitive than mere foreign affairs: her relationship with Barack Obama. To say she chose her words carefully doesn’t do justice to the delicacy of the exercise. She was like a bomb-squad technician, deciding which color wire to snip without blowing up her relationship with the White House.

“We’ve developed, I think, a very good rapport, really positive back-and-forth about everything you can imagine,” Clinton said about the man she described during the 2008 campaign as naïve, irresponsible and hopelessly unprepared to be president. “And we’ve had some interesting and even unusual experiences along the way.”

She leaned forward as she spoke, gesturing with her hands and laughing easily. In talking with reporters, Clinton displays more warmth than Obama does, though there’s less of an expectation that she might say something revealing.

Clinton singled out, as she often would, the United Nations climate-change meeting in Copenhagen the previous December, where she and Obama worked together to save the meeting from collapse. She brought up the Middle East peace proc­ess, a signature project of the president’s, which she had been tasked with reviving. But she was understandably wary of talking about areas in which she and Obama split — namely, on bedrock issues of war and peace, where Clinton’s more activist philosophy had already collided in unpredictable ways with her boss’s instincts toward restraint. She had backed Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, before endorsing a fallback proposal of 30,000 (Obama went along with that, though he stipulated that the soldiers would begin to pull out again in July 2011, which she viewed as problematic). She supported the Pentagon’s plan to leave behind a residual force of 10,000 to 20,000 American troops in Iraq (Obama balked at this, largely because of his inability to win legal protections from the Iraqis, a failure that was to haunt him when the Islamic State overran much of the country). And she pressed for the United States to funnel arms to the rebels in Syria’s civil war (an idea Obama initially rebuffed before later, halfheartedly, coming around to it).

That fundamental tension between Clinton and the president would continue to be a defining feature of her four-year tenure as secretary of state. In the administration’s first high-level meeting on Russia in February 2009, aides to Obama proposed that the United States make some symbolic concessions to Russia as a gesture of its good will in resetting the relationship. Clinton, the last to speak, brusquely rejected the idea, saying, “I’m not giving up anything for nothing.” Her hardheadedness made an impression on Robert Gates, the defense secretary and George W. Bush holdover who was wary of a changed Russia. He decided there and then that she was someone he could do business with.

“I thought, This is a tough lady,” he told me.

A few months after my interview in her office, another split emerged when Obama picked up a secure phone for a weekend conference call with Clinton, Gates and a handful of other advisers. It was July 2010, four months after the North Korean military torpedoed a South Korean Navy corvette, sinking it and killing 46 sailors. Now, after weeks of fierce debate between the Pentagon and the State Department, the United States was gearing up to respond to this brazen provocation. The tentative plan — developed by Clinton’s deputy at State, James Steinberg — was to dispatch the aircraft carrier George Washington into coastal waters to the east of North Korea as an unusual show of force.

But Adm. Robert Willard, then the Pacific commander, wanted to send the carrier on a more aggressive course, into the Yellow Sea, between North Korea and China. The Chinese foreign ministry had warned the United States against the move, which for Willard was all the more reason to press forward. He pushed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, who in turn pushed his boss, the defense secretary, to reroute the George Washington. Gates agreed, but he needed the commander in chief to sign off on a decision that could have political as well as military repercussions.

Gates laid out the case for diverting the George Washington to the Yellow Sea: that the United States should not look as if it was yielding to China. Clinton strongly seconded it. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” she had said to her aides a few days earlier. (The Vince Lombardi imitation drew giggles from her staff, who, even 18 months into her tenure, still marveled at her pugnacity.)

Obama, though, was not persuaded. The George Washington was already underway; changing its course was not a decision to make on the fly.

“I don’t call audibles with aircraft carriers,” he said — unwittingly one-upping Clinton on her football metaphor.

It wasn’t the last debate in which she would side with Gates. The two quickly discovered that they shared a Midwestern upbringing, a taste for a stiff drink after a long day of work and a deep-seated skepticism about the intentions of America’s foes. Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence analyst who conducted Obama’s initial review on the Afghanistan war, says: “I think one of the surprises for Gates and the military was, here they come in expecting a very left-of-center administration, and they discover that they have a secretary of state who’s a little bit right of them on these issues — a little more eager than they are, to a certain extent. Particularly on Afghanistan, where I think Gates knew more had to be done, knew more troops needed to be sent in, but had a lot of doubts about whether it would work.”

As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism [?? says who? – LG] about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.

“Hillary is very much a member of the traditional American foreign-policy establishment,” says Vali Nasr, a foreign-policy strategist who advised her on Pakistan and Afghanistan at the State Department. “She believes, like presidents going back to the Reagan or Kennedy years, in the importance of the military — in solving terrorism, in asserting American influence. The shift with Obama is that he went from reliance on the military to the intelligence agencies. Their position was, ‘All you need to deal with terrorism is N.S.A. and C.I.A., drones and special ops.’ So the C.I.A. gave Obama an angle, if you will, to be simultaneously hawkish and shun using the military.”

Unlike other recent presidents — Obama, George W. Bush or her husband, Bill Clinton — Hillary Clinton would assume the office with a long record on national security. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2016 at 1:23 pm

Slime molds and slant razors

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I periodically get into a discussion about whether slant razors work—well, obviously they work, but whether the slant of the blade has anything to do with the ease of cutting and the high efficiency of a good slant. I think it does, and the main counter-argument (so far as I can understand it) is “The slant cannot make a difference in cutting ease because the slant is too small to make a difference.” I interpret this to mean that the person making the statement is, in effect, “I don’t see how such a small slant could make a perceptible difference.”

But of course we fairly often observe phenomena that we can explain how they’re happening even though it is obvious that they are happening. Indeed, that’s one common way for science to advance. As Isaac Asimov commented, the statement that accompanies a major scientific discover is not “Eureka!” but “Huh! That’s odd.”

For example, if one were told that a one-celled lifeform without a brain or nervous system was capable of learning, he would probably deny it. And if it were demonstrated that, yes, the single cell can indeed learn, I think most would say, “I don’t see how.” But the demonstration is fairly solid, and even though we don’t (yet) understand exactly how, we have to recognize that learning does occur. And (so far as I’m concerned) even though we don’t see how a small slant in the blade can make a razor better, it is my experience that it does—that is, with equally well-designed razors, the one with a slanted blade cuts more easily and efficiently, in my experience.

Regarding the observation that slime molds learn, read this article in the LA Times by Amina Khan:

You don’t need a brain to learn something new – not if you’re a slime mold, anyway. Scientists who watched Physarum polycephalum search for food found that the slime mold could learn to ignore certain chemical threats.

The findings, described in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, contradict the idea that learning always requires neurons, and may shed light on the early evolution of learning in living things.

Learning and memory are essential tools in this critter-eat-critter world; they allow animals to use information from their past experiences to make better decisions in the present. And for a long time, scientists thought only creatures with nerves and noggins truly had access to these special skills.

“We usually think of learning as a trait that is limited to organisms with brains and nervous systems,” the study authors wrote. “Indeed, learning is often equated with neuronal changes such as synaptic plasticity, implicitly precluding its existence in non-neural organisms.”

But that view has been changing in recent years as scientists have been confronted with the astounding abilities of brainless creatures. Take the slime mold, for example. It’s an amoeba-like, single-celled organism filled with multiple nuclei, part of a primitive lineage that’s been munching on bacteria, fungi and other forest detritus for hundreds of millions of years. And yet, this very simple living thing manages all kinds of intellectual feats. . . . [examples in article of surprising slime-mold feats. – LG]

Cunning as the slime mold may seem, can it actually learn? To find out, scientists at Toulouse University in France tested slime molds’ behavior in the lab, focusing on a very basic form of learning: habituation, when a living thing’s behavioral response decreases to a repeated stimulus — whether good or bad — over time.

The researchers placed the slime molds near a bridge; across the bridge, they placed a delicious pile of oats. Some of the bridges were made of plain agar gel, and the slime molds crossed those with ease. But for other slime molds, the scientists left an unpleasant surprise: bitter-tasting quinine or caffeine, which in large amounts can be toxic for some creatures.

At first, there was a clear difference between the slime molds with a bitter bridge and those without. With a plain agar bridge, the slime molds sped across and pounced on the oats in about an hour. With quinine, slime molds entered the bridge only after two and a half hours, and it took them four hours in all to cross. On caffeine-covered bridges, the slime molds took almost five hours to enter the bridge but then quickly sped across.

For both bitter bridges, the slime mold didn’t simply move its body across; it extended a long, thin tendril across the bridge, minimizing the area that touched the surface, as if it were trying to tiptoe over hot sand. When it reached the oats, it quickly moved the rest of its body over through that tendril and over to the oats. Once the slime mold had consumed the food source, the scientists connected it to another bridge, with a fresh food source at the other end. If the slime mold wanted its next meal, it would have to brave the bridge again.

Here’s the strange thing: The slime molds dealing with the alarmingly bitter compounds seemed to get used to it, realizing that it wasn’t a threat. With every bitter bridge they crossed, they moved more quickly and easily and seemed less concerned with minimizing their “footprint” that touched the surface. By the sixth day, Boisseau said, the slime molds were acting essentially as if the bitter compounds were not there.

So had the slime molds learned anything in the first place? Or was it simply that their receptors became dulled to the chemical onslaught, or that they grew too tired to keep their bodies away from the bitter compounds?

To make sure, the scientists took slime molds that had learned to cross a quinine bridge without flinching and exposed them to caffeine. After all, if the slime molds were simply just tired from the effort of carefully crossing the bridge, they should react to the caffeine the same way they did to the quinine, with nonchalance. But no dice: Slime molds that had been habituated to the quinine reacted with extreme prejudice to the caffeine. The slime molds, it seemed, really had learned a specific reaction to a specific chemical.

The researchers also gave the slime molds a couple of days of rest, allowing them to potentially “forget” this lesson. Sure enough, after a couple of days away from the bitter compounds, the slime molds reacted to a quinine or caffeine-laced bridge as if they had never touched one before. They had forgotten that the bitter bridges were safe.

“They were behaving as if it was the first day they had ever encountered the bitter compound,” Boisseau said.

How these critters manage this feat is still a great mystery to scientists, Boisseau said, and will have to await future study. But it does show that we may have to start thinking about the nature of this particular aspect of intelligence in a very different light. . .

Continue reading.

More in these articles:

In Motherboard, by Sarah Emerson: “Scientists Think Intelligent Life Could Have Evolved Before Brains

In the Washington Post, by Fred Barbash: “Slime mold: The next wet thing in computing?

In the NY Times, by Andrew Adamatzky and Andrew Ilachkinski: “The Wisdom of Slime

I sure don’t see how the slime mold does it, but I can see that it does. And I don’t understand how the slight slant adds a perceptible advantage, but I experience that it does—and so do others.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2016 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Science, Shaving

A Study on Fats That Doesn’t Fit the Story Line

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Aaron Carroll reports in the NY Times:

There was a lot of news this week about a study, published in the medical journal BMJ, that looked at how diet affects heart health. The results were unexpected because they challenged the conventional thinking on saturated fats.

And the data were very old, from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This has led many to wonder why they weren’t published previously. It has also added to the growing concern that when it comes to nutrition, personal beliefs often trump science.

Perhaps no subject is more controversial in the nutrition world these days than fats. While in the 1970s and 1980s doctors attacked the total amount of fat in Americans’ diets, that seems to have passed. These days, the fights are over the type of fat that is considered acceptable.

Most of our fat comes from two main sources. The first is saturated fats. Usually solid at room temperature, they’re in red meat, dairy products and partly in chicken. The second is unsaturated fats, usually softer and more liquid at room temperature. They’re in fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Many doctors and nutritionists still argue, quite strongly, that the key to health is to emphasize the unsaturated fats. Others believe that’s misguided.

This week’s news came to us by way of a randomized controlled trial, which I’ve argued repeatedly is the best kind of study to determine how one thing causes another.

The Minnesota Coronary Experiment was a well-designed study that was conducted in one nursing home and six state mental hospitals from 1968 to 1973. More than 9,400 men and women, ages 20 to 97, participated. Data on serum cholesterol were available on more than 2,300 participants who were on the study diets for more than a year.

At baseline, participants were getting about 18.5 percent of their calories from saturated fat, and about 3.8 percent from unsaturated fats. The intervention diet was considered a more “heart healthy” one. It encouraged a reduction in the amount of calories from saturated fats (like animal fats and butter) and more from unsaturated fats, particularly linoleic acids (like corn oil). The intervention diet lowered the percent of calories from saturated fats to 9.2 percent, and raised the percent from unsaturated fats to 13.2 percent.

Continue reading the main story

The average follow-up for these participants was just under three years. In that time, the total serum cholesterol dropped significantly more in those on the intervention diet (-31.2 mg/dL) than in those on the control diet (-5 mg/dL).

There was, however, no decreased risk of death. If anything, there seemed to be an increased mortality rate in those on the “heart healthy” diet, particularly among those 65 years and older. More concerning, those who had the greater reduction in serum cholesterol had a higher rate of death. A 30mg/dL decrease in serum cholesterol was associated with a 22 percent increase in the risk of death from any cause, even after adjusting for baseline cholesterol, age, sex, adherence to the diet, body mass and blood pressure.

Of course, this is only one study. It involved only institutionalized patients. Only about a quarter of the participants followed the diet for more than a year. The diets don’t necessarily look like what people really ate, then or now. But this is still a large, randomized controlled trial, and it’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t at least discuss it widely.

Moreover, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of all studies that looked at this question. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2016 at 9:07 am

Former Tax Lobbyists Are Writing the Rules on Tax Dodging

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Congress too often shrugs off its responsibilities to the public in favor of getting money from wealthy donors and corporations. So it is with tax policy, as reported by Lee Fang in The Intercept:

The secret tax-dodging strategies of the global elite in China, Russia, Brazil, the U.K., and beyond were exposed in speculator fashion by the recent Panama Papers investigation, fueling a worldwide demand for a crackdown on tax avoidance.

But there is little appetite in Congress for taking on powerful tax dodgers in the U.S., where the practice has become commonplace.

A request for comment about the Panama Papers to the two congressional committees charged with tax policy — House Ways & Means and the Senate Finance Committee — was ignored.

The reluctance by congressional leaders to tackle tax dodging is nothing new, especially given that some of the largest companies paying little to no federal taxes are among the biggest campaign contributors in the country. But there’s another reason to remain skeptical that Congress will move aggressively on tax avoidance: Former tax lobbyists now run the tax-writing committees.

We researched the backgrounds of the people who manage the day to day operations of both committees and found that a number of lobbyists who represented world-class tax avoiders now occupy top positions as committee staff. Many have stints in and out of government and the lobbying profession, a phenomenon known as the “reverse revolving door.” In other words, the lobbyists that help special interest groups and wealthy individuals minimize their tax bills are not only everywhere on K Street, they’re literally managing the bodies that create tax law: . . .

Continue reading.

The way that Congress now serves the wealthy and not the public is another sign of the decline of the US, IMO.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2016 at 8:59 am

Obamacare’s Competitive Markets Are Starting to Work Pretty Well

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Some good news, reported in Mother Jones by Kevin Drum:

The decision last week by United Healthcare to drop out of Obamacare got a lot of attention, but the truth is that UH was a pretty small player in the exchanges. What’s more important—but hasn’t gotten much attention—is the fact that more and more Obamacare insurers are getting close to profitability. Richard Mayhew comments:

2014 was a year where there were only guesses about both the Exchange population, the market structure, and federal policy structure (specifically the risk corridor revenue neutrality restrictions. 2015 had a bit more clarity on who was coming into the market, what was working and what was not working, and what federal policy on risk corridors would actually be. 2016 is the first year where the policies are priced on functionally decent real information and some of the amazingly dumb strategic decisions have been unwound through either course changes or through exiting the market.

As a simple reminder, competitive markets should see some companies make money and some companies that offer more expensive and less attractive products lose money. I would be extremely worried if everyone was making money after three years, just like I would be extremely worried that everyone was losing money after three years of increasingly better data.

Obamacare critics have spent a lot of energy trying to pretend that premiums on the exchanges have skyrocketed, but that’s never been true. What is true is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2016 at 8:27 am

A whistle-blower behind bars

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Eyal Press has a follow-up to his story (blogged earlier) on how Florida Department of Corrections abuses mentally ill prisoners:

On January 24, 2013, the Florida Department of Corrections received a grievance letter from an inmate named Harold Hempstead, who was imprisoned at the Dade Correctional Institution. The letter was brief and its tone was matter-of-fact, but the allegations it contained were shocking, raising troubling questions about the death of a mentally ill inmate named Darren Rainey, who had collapsed in a shower seven months earlier, on June 23, 2012—a case that I wrote about in the magazine this week. According to Hempstead’s letter, the death had been misrepresented to disguise the abuse that preceded it. The reason Rainey collapsed in the shower, Hempstead alleged, was that he had been locked in the stall by guards, who directed scalding water at him. Hempstead’s cell was directly below the shower. That night, he had heard Rainey yelling, “I can’t take it no more,” he recalled. Then he heard a loud thud—which he believed was the sound of Rainey falling to the ground—and the yelling stopped. Hempstead concluded his letter by calling for an investigation.

A week after receiving this information, the Florida D.O.C. sent Hempstead a terse response. “Your grievance appeal is being returned without action,” it stated. In the months that followed, Hempstead continued to file grievances with the D.O.C. He also wrote to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department and to the Miami-Dade police. At first, nothing appears to have been done in response to the letters, which is perhaps not surprising: prisoners routinely level false accusations at guards. Hempstead’s allegations might have carried more weight if an employee at Dade had backed them up. However, as I noted in my article, the psychiatrists in the mental-health ward at Dade feared (reasonably) that reporting even minor misconduct could trigger harsh retaliation from the guards, putting their own safety at risk. When Hempstead turned to some counsellors for support and guidance, they urged him to keep his accusations vague and to stop “obsessing” about Rainey. But Hempstead, who has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, was determined to get the word out. With the help of his sister, Windy, he eventually contacted the Miami Herald, which on May 17, 2014, published a front-page story on Darren Rainey, called “Behind bars, a brutal and unexplained death.”
The literature on whistle-blowers is full of stories about moral crusaders who risk everything to expose misconduct and succeed only in upending their own lives. (This is one of the themes of my own book on the subject, “Beautiful Souls.”) At first glance, Hempstead’s story appears to veer dramatically from this script. Prompted in part by the revelations he made, the Justice Department has launched an investigation to determine whether Rainey’s death was part of a broader pattern of abuse. Some of the guards in the mental-health ward at Dade have been reassigned. The Florida D.O.C. has adopted a series of reforms, including crisis-intervention training for corrections officers and other steps that may deter future violence.
But it is also possible that Hempstead’s story will end less happily, particularly when it comes to the question of whether justice will be done. Although investigations are ongoing, none of the guards who allegedly took Rainey to the scalding shower have been charged with any crimes. (They have since resigned, and their files included no indication of wrongdoing.) Earlier this year, an autopsy of Rainey that was forwarded to state prosecutors ruled the death “accidental,” and did not recommend criminal prosecution.
Meanwhile, Hempstead has paid a steep price for exposing the circumstances under which Rainey died. After the reporter Julie Brown, of the Miami Herald, interviewed him, several corrections officers threatened him with solitary confinement. Hempstead has since been transferred to another prison and placed in “protective management” status by the D.O.C., but his reputation as a whistle-blower (“Miami Harold,” as some now put it) has not been forgotten, and will follow him as long as he remains behind bars.
That will be a long time: specifically, until 2161, the year Hempstead will be released, if he somehow lives long enough to serve the hundred-and-sixty-five-year sentence that Judge Brandt Downey handed him, in 2000, for his involvement in dozens of house burglaries. Hempstead, who is now forty, was twenty-two at the time. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2016 at 8:21 am

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