Later On

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

Archive for June 14th, 2008

The most dangerous drugs

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Via Balloon Juice, an interesting post on the drugs that present the most danger. The conclusion:

America’s real drug problem is its addiction to prohibition. It hasn’t worked in the last 40 and more years and it won’t ever work. For a fraction of the billions we spend on failed policies that rely on eradication, interdiction and incarceration, we could invest in treatment facilities that would actually solve the problems of addiction and abuse, which are the only real dangers of drug use and allow responsible substance consumers to live in peace and productivity.

But read the entire post: it’s short and informative—certainly contained some information that was new to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 3:46 pm

Does Google make one stupid?

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Another excellent article in the Atlantic Montly, this one by Nicholas Carr—and this one does seem to reflect my own experience. After blogging and reading on the Web, it becomes more difficult to immerse myself into a book. That is, in part,why I’ve been more determinedly reading lately: to keep up my reading chops. And now I see that I must also move to reading books that require more focused attention, not “chewing gum for the eyes” like thrillers and mysteries. A snippet from the article:

… Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets—reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

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Abortion in America

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Very good comment from Pratima Gupta, an obstetrician-gynaecologist and a board member of the US pro-choice doctors’ network Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health:

As an obstetrician-gynaecologist trained to rely on the best scientific evidence to diagnose and treat my patients, and as a professional who performs abortions, I’ve witnessed many examples of personal moral beliefs trumping scientific evidence. But these days, individuals’ personal beliefs are also being trumped – by the ideologies of powerful institutions. These pressures can produce abuses of science and self-censorship, even among doctors and scientists.

One of the most insidious examples of scientific abuse is the belief that abortion is psychologically damaging. A proposed law in South Dakota would ban most abortions on the grounds that “an abortion subjects the pregnant woman to significant psychological and physical health risks”. Anti-abortion advocates argue for a diagnosis of “post-abortion stress syndrome” despite the absence of evidence. The women to whom I offer abortion care feel a range of emotions – relief, sadness, even happiness – but their emotions confirm the scientific evidence that the best predictor of a woman’s mental health after an abortion is her mental health before it.

Yet in Gonzales vs Carhart (a Supreme Court case last year which upheld a law supported by the Bush administration, banning a specific abortion procedure), Justice Anthony Kennedy noted: “While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort.” Kennedy’s personal opinions have legitimised an idea that has no basis in medical fact. Already this year, politicians in 11 states have introduced laws mirroring aspects of the ruling.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 1:31 pm

The evolutionary origins of leadership/followership

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Very interesting article in New Scientist. A snippet:

The animal evidence supports the idea that adaptations for leadership and followership tend to evolve in social species. In humans, they were probably further shaped by our unique evolutionary history. There were three distinct stages in human development where the nature of leadership altered to reflect cultural and social changes (American Psychologist, vol 63, p 182).

The first and by far the longest phase extended from the emergence of the genus Homo, around 2.5 million years ago, until the end of the last ice age about 13,000 years ago. Natural selection for certain successful strategies of leadership and followership during this long era is likely to have shaped the distinctly human leadership psychology we still have to this day. Throughout this time, our ancestors probably lived in semi-nomadic, hunter-gatherer bands of between 50 and 150 mostly related individuals. Their lifestyle is widely thought to have resembled that of today’s hunter-gatherer societies such as the Kung San of the Kalahari desert and the Amazonian Yanomamo. These groups are fundamentally egalitarian, with no formal leader. Although there are “Big Men” – the best hunters and warriors or wisest elders, for example – the influence of each is limited to their areas of expertise and, crucially, it is only granted with the approval of followers. This suggests that collaboration among subordinates allowed early humans to move beyond the dominance hierarchies found in other primates, towards a much flatter prestige-based hierarchy with a more democratic style of leadership.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Science but almost like fiction

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The building blocks of life came from outer space:

Scientists have confirmed for the first time that an important component of early genetic material which has been found in meteorite fragments is extraterrestrial in origin, in a paper published on 15 June 2008.

The finding suggests that parts of the raw materials to make the first molecules of DNA and RNA may have come from the stars.

The scientists, from Europe and the USA, say that their research, published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, provides evidence that life’s raw materials came from sources beyond the Earth.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

House leaders roll over for Bush

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Glenn Greenwald reports an outrageous development:

Two articles — one from Congressional Quarterly and one from The Hill — yesterday reported what has appeared inevitable for some time. Specifically, Democratic Congressional leaders (i.e., Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and Silvestre Reyes) have now reached agreement with the White House and the GOP to pass a FISA bill that would give the President, in essence, everything he wants: guaranteed dismissal of the telecom lawsuits and vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers. I’m trying to get some more details about this deal — and am also trying to minimize the less rational aspects of my reaction — before I write about it, which I’ll do tomorrow at the latest. Suffice to say, the Democrats are about to reverse the only worthwhile act they’ve undertaken since being handed control of the Congress 18 months ago, and will endorse and authorize yet another aspect of the Bush lawbreaking regime. I ask this literally, not rhetorically: can someone identify even one meaningful event from the past 18 months that would have been different had the GOP retained control of both houses of Congress? Just one.

My email to Nancy Pelosi:

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 11:28 am

The crime explosion in mid-size cities

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A thoughtful and alarming article by Hanna Rosin in the new Atlantic Monthly, well worth reading. It begins:

To get to the Old Allen police station in North Memphis, you have to drive all the way to the end of a quiet suburban road until it turns country. Hidden by six acres of woods, the station seems to be the kind of place that might concern itself mainly with lost dogs, or maybe the misuse of hunting licenses. But it isn’t. Not anymore. As Lieutenant Doug Barnes waited for me to arrive one night for a tour of his beat, he had a smoke and listened for shots. He counted eight, none meant for buck. “Nothing unusual for a Tuesday,” he told me.

Barnes is white, middle-aged, and, like many veteran cops, looks powerful without being fit. He grew up four miles from the station during the 1960s, he said, back when middle-class whites lived peacefully alongside both city elites and working-class African Americans. After the 1968 riots, Barnes’s father taught him the word curfew and reminded him to lock the doors. Still, the place remained, until about 10 years ago, a pretty safe neighborhood where you could play outside with a ball or a dog. But as he considered more-recent times, his nostalgia gave way to something darker. “I have never been so disheartened,” he said.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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The world’s dirtiest cities

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Only one of the ten is in the US: Pittsburgh, PA. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 10:42 am

Posted in Daily life

Traffic over-management reduces safety

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John Staddon has a very interesting article in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly on how American roads are made less safe by being over-protective. Worth a read. It begins:

There is a stretch of North Glebe Road, in Arlington, Virginia, that epitomizes the American approach to road safety. It’s a sloping curve, beginning on a four-lane divided highway and running down to Chain Bridge, on the Potomac River. Most drivers, absent a speed limit, would probably take the curve at 30 or 35 mph in good weather. But it has a 25-mph speed limit, vigorously enforced. As you approach the curve, a sign with flashing lights suggests slowing further, to 15 mph. A little later, another sign makes the same suggestion. Great! the neighborhood’s more cautious residents might think. »

We’re being protected. But I believe policies like this in fact make us all less safe.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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Saudi Arabia: a harsh society for children

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Saudi Arabia has a long way to go:

In Saudi Arabia, breaking the law can lead to the chopping block for a public beheading—even for minors, according to a new report. The first fact-finding visit by a human-rights group allowed by the Saudi government turned up disturbing evidence about the country’s justice system: children under 18 are routinely tried as adults, with potential sentences of flogging, amputation, or death; legal counsel is often unavailable for youth offenders; and juvenile-detention facilities are so overcrowded and poorly supervised that minors sometimes end up in the same cells as hardened criminals. Many of the tens of thousands of children trafficked into the country—for use as beggars or for sexual exploitation—end up on the streets, where they’re treated as criminals and risk deportation. Youths can be detained for exchanging phone numbers with the opposite sex, and girls can face prosecution for “seclusion,” or being alone with a male who’s not a relative. The authors report that at least 12 children have been sentenced to death in recent years, and that at least three were executed in 2007.

“Adults Before Their Time: Children in Saudi Arabia’s Criminal Justice System,” Human Rights Watch

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 10:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Cyberfraud is doing well

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Even today, when people should know better. Take a look:

Despite spending ever more time and money on the Internet, Americans don’t seem to be wising up to online scams. According to a report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, while total complaints about online scams remained flat last year (at some 200,000), fraudsters made off with more dough than ever—$239 million, up about 20 percent over 2006. Fraud on auction sites like eBay caused the most complaints. But with an average loss of $484 per incident, such schemes are small change compared with investment fraud ($3,548 per incident), check scams ($3,000), and Nigerian e-mail rope-a-dopes ($1,923—no joke). The feds also warn about secret-shopper scams, in which victims are hired to help evaluate retail outlets or restaurants. They get a bad check in the mail and are told to quickly wire a percent of the total to a third party to cover costs; by the time the check bounces, their money is gone. Scammers also snared many victims through their hearts, on dating and social-networking sites. In these cons, the putative love interest asks for money to pay for travel to an amorous meeting, then claims to undergo a series of expensive disasters—and asks for more cash.

“2007 Internet Crime Report,” [PDF] Internet Crime Complaint Center, FBI

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 10:30 am

Posted in Daily life

Better teaching from better teachers

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Interesting:

Critics of the Teach for America program, which recruits top college graduates to teach in poorly performing public schools, have long questioned whether the program’s instructors are properly prepared, citing evidence that links teacher effectiveness to experience. However, the first study to examine Teach for America at the secondary-school level, recently released by the Urban Institute, finds that its teachers are in fact more effective than those with traditional training—at all levels of experience. The study measured performance on state exams and found that students of Teach for America instructors did significantly better in all subject areas tested, and especially in math and science. The authors found that even though the program’s teachers are assigned to “the most demanding classrooms,” they’re able to compensate for their lack of experience with better academic preparation and motivation. As a result, the authors say, students are better off with Teach for America instructors “than with fully licensed in-field teachers with three or more years of experience.”

“Making a Difference?: The Effects of Teach for America in High School,” by Zeyu Xu, Jane Hannaway, and Colin Taylor, the Urban Institute and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 10:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Brand awareness in the Middle Ages

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Brands go way back. From the Atlantic Monthly:

Shopping at medieval markets was a risky business, in which “caveat emptor” was the wisdom of the day. But according to an economist at the University of California at Irvine—who analyzed mercantile records, internal guild documents, and other commercial artifacts—the market evolved to compensate for this risk through the proliferation of “conspicuous characteristics” that helped customers identify which guild had produced their goods. The author notes that because medical treatments were unreliable in the Middle Ages, the stakes for purchasing quality products, especially tools, were high: one out of every six accidental deaths took place in an agricultural field, on a construction site, or in a workshop. But high costs meant that buyers couldn’t easily replace flawed goods. To make matters worse, it was hard to hold manufacturers accountable for the quality of their products, because buyers usually dealt with roaming merchants, not local craftspeople. As a consequence, buyers were willing to pay more for goods that came from reputable outlets, and this encouraged manufacturers to fashion their products with identifying features, such as uniquely colored cloth, fabric with a recognizable weave, or pewter that resonated at a particular pitch when dinged. Cooks familiar with the distinctive pattern of Damascus steel will not be surprised to learn that the knives’ lacy look was a conspicuous characteristic that identified swords forged in Damascus as “stronger, sharper, and sturdier” than the competition’s.

“Brand Names Before the Industrial Revolution,” Gary Richardson, National Bureau of Economic Research

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 10:26 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Apollo Mikron and a smooth shave

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This morning I noticed how strongly the Apollo Mikron resembles the Merkur Progress: both are German, chunky razors, and both have the same loading method and adjustment mechanism. And both give very nice shaves—the Mikron this morning with a previously used Wilkinson Sword blade.

And when I made the lather, using Geo. F. Trumper Almond soap and the Rooney Style 2, I realized that the premium soaps—Trumper, Taylor’s, Truefitt & Hill, D.R. Harris, Floris London, Tabac, and others—use a simple lift-off lid: you don’t have to unscrew a cap. Since I’ve struggled to unscrew the lid of the soap tub these past several shaves, my wet, soapy hands slipping on the lid—I suddenly saw why the lift-off lid is such a good idea. (The lift-off lid does have some package implications though: soaps with such a lid have to keep the lid with the bowl. The usual approach is to use either a box (expensive) or a logoed paper strip glued to the bowl and across the lid (D.R. Harris does this). Shrink-wrap would work as well.

At any rate, a great shave, and Booster’s Mosswood aftershave made for a nice finish.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2008 at 10:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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