Later On

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

Archive for September 18th, 2008

Walkies

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1 hour 3 minutes 11.17 seconds.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

McCain’s health records

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Via this post (which you should read):

From the post:

… That’s why it was so unusual for the McCain campaign to only release his health records for a 3 hour period of time and only to a select group of journalists. What was surprising to me was that there were over 1173 pages of health records for the past 8 years alone. That’s a lot of health issues by just about any measure, almost 150 pages of health records per year! I don’t think I am alone in thinking that it is disingenuous to only release them for 3 hours. No one could review all that material in that time. …

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Election

Why stories are important to us

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Interesting article by Jeremy Hsu in the Scientific American. It begins:

Key Concepts

  • Storytelling is a human universal, and common themes appear in tales throughout history and all over the the world.
  • These characteristics of stories, and our natural affinity toward them, reveal clues about our evolutionary history and the roots of emotion and empathy in the mind.
  • By studying narrative’s power to influence beliefs, researchers are discovering how we analyze information and accept new ideas.

When Brad Pitt tells Eric Bana in the 2004 film Troy that “there are no pacts between lions and men,” he is not reciting a clever line from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter. He is speaking Achilles’ words in English as Homer wrote them in Greek more than 2,000 years ago in the Iliad. The tale of the Trojan War has captivated generations of audiences while evolving from its origins as an oral epic to written versions and, finally, to several film adaptations. The power of this story to transcend time, language and culture is clear even today, evidenced by Troy’s robust success around the world.

Popular tales do far more than entertain, however. Psychologists and neuroscientists have recently become fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling. Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?

The answers to these questions seem to be rooted in our history as a social animal. We tell stories about other people and for other people. Stories help us to keep tabs on what is happening in our communities. The safe, imaginary world of a story may be a kind of training ground, where we can practice interacting with others and learn the customs and rules of society. And stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy.

A Good Yarn
Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 12:50 pm

FDA in bed with industry

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It’s a problem when those who are to regulate business become advocates for the business. Matthew Blake in the Washington Independent:

Democrats, Republicans and even the Food and Drug Administration’s White House-appointed commissioner have said that the cash-strapped FDA is dire straits.

But internal agency emails show that what resources FDA does have may go to regulatory changes favored by the pharmaceutical and drug-device industry, as opposed to the wishes of the FDA’s own science board.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, (D-Calif.) chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach sharply critical of agency priorities. Waxman drew upon agency emails obtained by the committee.

In one June 2007 email Sheldon Bradshaw, FDA’s former chief counsel, writes to his assistant, Scott Danzis, asking Danzis to lay out the agency priorities. Danzis responded with a list that Waxman, in his letter, assails as “long-sought goals of the drug and device industries.”

The recommendations from Danzis include lifting restrictions on companies that wish to write journal articles that promote uses of off-label drugs not approved by the FDA. The emails also seek to expand a Bush administration favorite—the “preemption principle”—which argues that an FDA regulation of a product preempts consumers from suing the product manufacturer.

The emails recommendations were passed on to Tevi Troy, deputy secretary of the Dept. of Health Human Services, which the FDA is under. And in the past year HHS and FDA have acted on the email: rules have been finalized to permit journal articles on alternative drug uses and expand the preemption principle.

In the meantime, Danzis and Bradshaw have left FDA for jobs at law firms where they each represent the pharmaceutical industry.

When the FDA’s own Science Advisory Board blasted the agency last November, they said nothing about journal articles or the preemption principle. Their focus was on a “broken” system of safely importing food and drugs, leading to an increasingly dangerous food supply. Those will soon be the problems of the next administration’s FDA.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 12:47 pm

Belated progress

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Mike Lillis in the Washington Indpendent:

Yesterday, Sen. Russ Feingold examined ways to rein in executive power. Today he took a first step toward doing just that.

The Wisconsin Democrat introduced legislation Wednesday that would require the Justice Dept. to tell Congress whenever the agency issues a legal opinion deeming the White House to be exempt from federal law.

The bill arrives in response to a string of decisions passed down by the DoJ’s Office of Legal Council, allowing the Bush administration to ignore federal statures. Most famously, a 2003 OLC decision claimed the torture of war-on-terror detainees to be legal. A statement from Feingold’s office provides a more nuanced legal reasoning for the legislation:

Current law requires the Attorney General to report to Congress when the Justice Department decides not to enforce or defend a federal statute. But a loophole in that law allows the Justice Department to secretly depart from the terms of a statute under the guise of interpreting it. At a hearing of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the topic of “secret law” chaired by Feingold on April 30, 2008, Dawn Johnsen, a former Clinton official, and Bradford Berenson, a former counsel to President George W. Bush, agreed that Congress should close that loophole.

In the House, the same bill is being sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who said: “We can’t allow another administration to operate in secret the way the Bush administration has.”

That’s great, but how about not allowing the Bush administration to operate in secret the way the Bush administration has?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 12:45 pm

Another conservative for Obama

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Very interesting post by Wick Allison, one-time publisher of the National Review:

The more I listen to and read about “the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate,” the more I like him. Barack Obama strikes a chord with me like no political figure since Ronald Reagan. To explain why, I need to explain why I am a conservative and what it means to me.

In 1964, at the age of 16, I organized the Dallas County Youth for Goldwater. My senior thesis at the University of Texas was on the conservative intellectual revival in America. Twenty years later, I was invited by William F. Buckley Jr. to join the board of National Review. I later became its publisher.

Conservatism to me is less a political philosophy than a stance, a recognition of the fallibility of man and of man’s institutions. Conservatives respect the past not for its antiquity but because it represents, as G.K. Chesterton said, the democracy of the dead; it gives the benefit of the doubt to customs and laws tried and tested in the crucible of time. Conservatives are skeptical of abstract theories and utopian schemes, doubtful that government is wiser than its citizens, and always ready to test any political program against actual results.

Liberalism always seemed to me to be a system of “oughts.” We ought to do this or that because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether it works or not. It is a doctrine based on intentions, not results, on feeling good rather than doing good.

But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who …

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Election

Save big bucks: Stanford University courses for free

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From Lifehacker.com:

The Stanford Education Everywhere program offers online access to full courses in the school’s engineering program—including classes in computer science and artificial intelligence. Courses include lecture videos, reading lists, handouts, quizzes, tests, and even a social network for fellow online students. Not quite your speed? Check out other ways you can get a free college education online.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 11:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Magical thinking

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Very interesting comment from a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

Regarding the “odd lies” of Sarah Palin. I grew up in a deeply evangelical family, and through the lens of evangelical thinking the world is magical, populated with demons and angels, devils and gods. You are taught not to believe your eyes or your senses, that the wisdom of man is foolishness to god. That belief is Truth.  That belief is Truth before reality is truth.  What comes out of this is what I’ll call magical thinking.

You feel the presence of God, feel Him talking to you, feel the mission of your life, the purpose the plan the direction given to you by God. So everything becomes like a mythic fairy tale. You get in the habit of fitting the day to day realities into a ‘story’ the life story of God’s purpose in your life.

This is how Sarah becoming Governor is destiny.

Her memory is constantly rewriting the reality to fit her proscribed vision within an evangelical Christianity that has direct contact with god. If you see all of her ‘lies’ through this lens they begin to make perfect sense.

Thought I would share: I can totally feel what she is feeling. And if you look at those leaked emails, the prayer talk, and faith talk and god talk, it completely fills your thoughts every moment of every day.

I once worked at a company owned and run by Biblical literalists, and I was one of very few hires who did not fall into that category. I well recognize the mindset the commenter describes. For example, when the company lost an important contract, there was much discussion of why God had chosen to punish the company. I suggested that perhaps God was simply rewarding the other company, which got the contract. People were not convinced, since they lived in a mindset in which they were at the center of God’s concerns.

The same thing happened some years back when a plane crash killed everyone on board. A small group of Christian singers—a quartet, I believe, who specialized in Christian songs—failed to make the flight by the narrowest of margins: the driver asked at a turn on the way to the airport, “Left?” and the reply was “Right,” which he took to mean “Correct,” so he turned the wrong way. The singers were interviewed about their narrow escape, and they said that they felt that God had downed the flight and killed everyone on board to send them (the singers) a message about the importance of their work.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 9:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

When scientists go bad

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It gets ugly:

“The Ear and Hearing Journal has rebuked a Washington University researcher for failing to disclose that he was working as a paid expert for a siren manufacturer when he published a study saying firefighters weren’t at risk for job-related hearing loss,” reports David Armstrong. The study’s author, William W. Clark of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, claimed that “no external funding was received for this study.” In fact, Federal Signal Corp., which manufactures emergency equipment, helped conceptualize the study and acquired the original data for Clark, according to documents uncovered in a lawsuit filed by Chicago firefighters. The Center for Science in the Public Interest pointed out in 2006that “Federal Signal lawyers paid Clark $9,300 in consulting fees while the study was underway and a $25,000 retainer for future testimony shortly after its publication.”

Source: Wall Street Journal (sub req’d), September 12, 2008

This is also an entry in the series “Trusting Big Business.”

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 9:36 am

Loss of standing: Supreme Court version

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George Bush has presided over a period of precipitous decline in US prestige and influence. His “go-it-alone” mentality and rhetoric have persuaded other countries that they should stop looking to the US for leadership, so world leadership is starting to change. Latest evidence is the loss of leadership by the US Supreme Court. Adam Liptak has the story in the NY Times:

Judges around the world have long looked to the decisions of the United States Supreme Court for guidance, citing and often following them in hundreds of their own rulings since the Second World War.

But now American legal influence is waning. Even as a debate continues in the court over whether its decisions should ever cite foreign law, a diminishing number of foreign courts seem to pay attention to the writings of American justices.

“One of our great exports used to be constitutional law,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “We are losing one of the greatest bully pulpits we have ever had.”

From 1990 through 2002, for instance, the Canadian Supreme Court cited decisions of the United States Supreme Court about a dozen times a year, an analysis by The New York Times found. In the six years since, the annual citation rate has fallen by half, to about six.

Australian state supreme courts cited American decisions 208 times in 1995, according to a recent study by Russell Smyth, an Australian economist. By 2005, the number had fallen to 72.

The story is similar around the globe, legal experts say, particularly in cases involving human rights. These days, foreign courts in developed democracies often cite the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning equality, liberty and prohibitions against cruel treatment, said Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School. In those areas, Dean Koh said, “they tend not to look to the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 9:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Good news: psychologists abandon torture role

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Benedict Carey reports good news in the NY Times today:

Members of the American Psychological Association have voted to prohibit consultation in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or so-called black sites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency overseas, the association said on Wednesday.

The vote, 8,792 to 6,157 in a mail-in balloting concluded Monday, may help to settle a long debate within the profession over the ethics of such work. Psychologists have helped military and C.I.A. interrogators evaluate detainees, plan questioning strategy and judge its psychological costs. The association’s ethics code, while condemning a list of coercive techniques adopted in the Bush administration’s antiterrorism campaign, has allowed some consultation “for national security-related purposes.”

The referendum, first posted on the Internet as a petition in May, prohibits psychologists from working in settings where “persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the U.S. Constitution, where appropriate,” unless they represent a detainee or an independent third party. The association’s bylaws require that it institute the policy at the next annual meeting, in August 2009.

“The good part of this is that the membership has spoken, the process worked, and we’re going to follow it,” said Alan E. Kazdin, the association’s president and a psychologist at Yale University. “Will everyone be happy? Well, it’s a typical human enterprise, and there are nuanced positions on both sides. So, we’ll see.”

Steven Reisner, a New York psychoanalyst running for the association presidency on the issue, called the vote “fabulous news.”  …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 9:06 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with ,

Scale back Executive power?

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Mike Lillis has a good article in the Washington Independent on whether the new Congress will scale back the Executive powergrab that Cheney’s office accomplished. The article begins:

Pointing to the Bush years as a dark age in the annals of abusive executive might, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) called Tuesday for the next president to denounce the last decade’s White House power grab and return the notion of legal accountability to Pennsylvania Ave.

The push is just the latest in a series of moves by congressional Democrats to rein in the executive branch, whose go-it-alone approach has sparked myriad controversies in the past eight years. Feingold’s effort is unique in that, instead of targeting the Bush administration directly, he hopes to make its tactics an example — warning policy-makers of the dangers of unilateral White House decision-making.

Applying the lessons, however, might not be as easy as the Wisconsin Democrat hopes. The separation-of-powers debate — ignited during the Nixon administration nearly four decades ago — resurfaced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when Congress, in effect, enabled the White House to conduct its global war on terror however it pleased. That absence of congressional — and, at times, even judicial — oversight allowed the Bush administration to skirt federal and international laws in ways that many critics, including Feingold, have deemed unprecedented.

Seven years later, the pendulum is swinging back ever-so-slowly. But Feingold, the chairman the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, who convened a hearing on executive power Tuesday, hopes to expedite that process by convincing the next president that the re-empowerment of Congress is vital for the national health.

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:53 am

New essay in Peter Gray’s education series

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Nitrogen a climate-change threat?

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This is interesting: Robert Boyd has an article in the Washington Independent on the effects of nitrogen on global warming. It begins:

Scientists are raising alarms about yet another threat to Earth’s climate and human well-being. This time it’s nitrogen, a common element essential to all life.

For years, people have been bombarded with warnings about the harmful effects of carbon — especially in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas widely blamed for global warming.

Now, it’s becoming clear that human activities, such as driving cars and raising crops, also are boosting nitrogen to dangerous levels — polluting air and water and damaging human health.

An expanding flock of international scientists is concentrating on the nitrogen threat. There’s a reactive nitrogen conference somewhere in the world almost every month.

“The public has learned a lot about carbon and its contribution to global change,” said James Galloway, an authority on nitrogen at the University of Virginia. “However, they know less about nitrogen and its numerous impacts on environmental issues, including global change.”

“It’s crucial for people to become aware of the nitrogen problem,” said Cheryl Palm, an expert on tropical agriculture at Columbia University.

Pure nitrogen is a colorless, odorless gas and the largest single component of Earth’s atmosphere. Every breath you take is almost 80 percent nitrogen.

However, about 1 percent of the stuff is so-called “reactive nitrogen.” It combines with other elements, such as oxygen and hydrogen, to form hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds — some beneficial, some harmful.

Many of these compounds are valuable in industry and agriculture. They preserve foods and wine, enhance oil production, make plastics and explosives and fill automobile airbags. They form the building blocks of life: DNA, genes and proteins. Their biggest use is in synthetic fertilizers.

“We estimate that nitrogen fertilizers are currently responsible for feeding 48 percent of the world’s population,” Galloway said.

On the other hand, reactive nitrogen has many negative effects. Its compounds create smog, cause cancer and respiratory disease, and befoul rivers, lakes and coastal waters. They create “dead zones” in the ocean, corrode roads and bridges, weaken the ozone shield and add another greenhouse gas to the already overburdened atmosphere. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:47 am

Terrorism prosecutor tapped to close case against Palin

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Daphne Eviatar has a very good note in the Washington Independent:

There’s something bizarre about Presidential candidate John McCain hiring chief terrorism prosecutor Edward O’Callaghan to head up his effort to thwart an ethics investigation of his running-mate, Sarah Palin, as Newsweek reported this week.

Not just the obvious bizarreness of the so-called “maverick” defender of political integrity hiring a top-gun lawyer to argue that the potential next vice president is effectively above the law. (O’Callaghan is arguing that a bipartisan Congressional investigation into the firing of an Alaska state trooper — Palin’s former brother-in-law — ought to be closed down simply on the governor’s own lawyers’ say-so.) But hiring the chief of the national security and terrorism unit in the US Attorney’s office in New York implicitly endorses the man’s prowess in the prosecution of terrorism. It also suggests that prosecuting terrorism in the federal courts is a worthwhile thing to do.

Yet McCain, like Bush, has repeatedly insisted that prosecution in a US federal court is not an appropriate way to battle terrorists. No, we need a “war” on terror, he’s insisted. And that means the federal government needs to lock up potential terrorists and throw away the key – or, as they do at Guantanamo and at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, just hold prisoners there indefinitely, until the so-called “war” is over.

Yet many former prosecutors from the same office as McCain’s new top lawyer, O’Callaghan, vehemently disagree. In a recent report published by Human Rights First, for example, former terrorism prosecutors who now work at the corporate law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld argue, based on an analysis of every terrorism case prosecuted since 9/11, plus significant cases brought before that, that the federal courts are well-equipped to track down and punish terrorists. There’s no need to create special military commissions that deny them due process rights and sully the United States’ international reputation in the process.

So which is it: McCain’s new lawyer was an admirable prosecutor doing a worthwhile job prosecuting terrorists, or he was wasting his time with needless legal procedures and now can do the important work of shielding the Republican vice-presidential candidate from accountability under the law?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:44 am

When does normal sadness tip into clinical depression?

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Hard question. Ronald Pies, MD, has a good column on it.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:41 am

More soup, and it’s getting better

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I suddenly remembered that I have some Parmesan rinds (extremely high in umami) in the freezer—and I have 3 heads of broccoli. So another batch of even better broccoli soup. The recipe I’m thinking about involves something like the following:

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 serrano peppers, chopped (with seeds)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
salt, pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil

Sauté onion, garlic, peppers, and oregano in oil for about 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper and 1 bunch Italian parsely, chopped, and sauté a bit longer.

Add 1 qt Wolfgang Puck Roasted Chicken Stock, the broccoli (coarsely chopped), a zucchini, chopped, a stalk of celery, chopped, a carrot, chopped, a good dash of shoyu sauce, and the Parmesan rind. Bring to boil and simmer for 35-40 minutes.

Use immersion blender to blend soup. Add a lot of chopped crisp bacon and one cup grated Romano cheese, stir, and serve. (I would have used grated cheddar, but Romano is what I have on hand.)

I’m anticipating much pleasure and good nutrition.

RESULT: Bacon at end was sheer genius. Forgot the Parmesan rind was in the soup when I blended, so blended it in. It worked fine. What with the cheese and the bacon, soup needs no additional salt.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Being polite

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It’s so important to be courteous, especially when you feel you’re in the right—because you might be wrong. I early in life learned that when writing a memo (or, indeed, putting anything in writing), you should write it as though you will have to read it aloud in front of the person you least want to know about it.

A good example: look at the exchange of comments to this post. I’m looking forward to hearing from Cody.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:32 am

Posted in Daily life

BPA-free bottles

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I learned this morning that some bottles with the recycling category of 7 are BPA-free—and the number is increasing as the demand increases. See this post on BPA in containers in general, and this one for BPA-free water bottles. The third one down is the water bottle The Wife uses in her car.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Geo. F. Trumper Rose

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Trumper’s Rose shaving cream this morning—and, as expected, the rose fragrance of the shaving cream is more intense than that of the shaving soap. Very good lather, which I created with the Simpsons Duke 3 Best—the shaving cream is heavily dyed, so don’t use white-tipped shaving brushes with it. Another Gillette NEW razor, this one holding an Astra Superior Platinum blade that turned out to be past its prime. Still, a good shave (and blade retired at the end), and a nice finish with Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2008 at 8:03 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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