Later On

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

Archive for November 9th, 2008

Ten lessons from the election

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Very interesting story by the BBC. The first lesson:


With all the excitement surrounding the first black presidency, it is easy to forget that Barack Obama is the first northern Democrat to win since JFK.

Largely because of the fall-out from civil rights reforms of the 1960s, after which the Democrats lost their grip on the South, every Democratic President has come from below the Mason Dixon Line.

Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and, the diehards would contest, Al Gore.

Northern Democrats are back in the game.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 11:40 am

Posted in Election

Low potassium linked to high blood pressure

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Make sure your diet has sufficient potassium. (Here’s a chart of potassium-rich foods — and if you’re cooking those potatoes, the best way to preserve potassium is to bake or roast them.) Here’s why:

As a risk factor for high blood pressure, low levels of potassium in the diet may be as important as high levels of sodium—especially among African Americans, according to research being presented at the American Society of Nephrology’s 41st Annual Meeting and Scientific Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “There has been a lot of publicity about lowering salt or sodium in the diet in order to lower blood pressure, but not enough on increasing dietary potassium,” comments lead author Susan Hedayati, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, and the Dallas VA Medical Center. The new study suggests that low potassium may be a particularly important contributor to high blood pressure among African Americans, and also identifies a gene that may influence potassium’s effects on blood pressure.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 11:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Looks as though Al Franken may defeat Norm Coleman

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Norm Coleman is, alas, despicable. He is doing everything he can to derail the (legally required) recount in Minnesota, including filing lawsuits. You can donate to Al Franken here to give him the resources to fight those lawsuits. I learned of this via this post, which begins:

How much of an ass is Norm “thanks for the suits, Nasser!” Coleman being with his all-out effort to stop Minnesota’s legally-mandated recount (h/t Centristy)? As Ollie Ox at Bluestem Prairie notes, he’s managed to tick off the Fairmont Sentinel, one of the most conservative papers in the state, with his childishness:

This newspaper endorsed U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican, but it cannot agree with his pronouncement Wednesday that he has “won” his race against Democrat Al Franken and Independent Dean Barkley. With more than 2.9 million ballots cast, Coleman received a slim 438 votes more than Franken. The incumbent suggested Franken forego a recount and let the race end.

But that ignores the law, which provides for automatic recounts when the margin is so close.

Franken told Minnesota Public Radio on Thursday that “candidates don’t get to decide when an election’s over – voters do.”

Franken added that if the recount determines he lost, then “I’ll be the first to congratulate Senator Coleman.”

It’s hard to believe we’re writing this, but it’s clear that Franken – known for his over-the-top humor and partisan antics – is the one acting with class in this serious situation. [emphasis added]

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 11:23 am

Fascinating: how presidential transitions have worked

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Take a look at this chart, via this interesting post by Karen Tumulty. One of the many odd positions of the McCain campaign was that Obama’s getting an earlly start on planning the transition was a bad thing to do. Sometimes Republicans have difficulty thinking clearly.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 11:07 am

Fun with tardigrades

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If you have a microscope, like The Older Grandson, here’s a nice project.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 10:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Toxins and children

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Science News has a good review by Dina Fine Maron of Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children, by Philip Shabecoff and Alice Shabecoff:

In this powerful investigative work, the Shabecoffs tell the stories of communities from Dickson, Tenn., to Pittsfield, Mass., where chemicals have seeped into water, air and bodies—debilitating children and leaving parents searching for answers.

The authors capture community efforts to connect clusters of disease to chemicals—including TCE, phthalates, chromium 5 and Teflon—and illuminate the underlying policy reasons for gaps in governmental oversight.

Written in highly readable prose, the book critically examines why some of these chemicals have not been regulated in America and enumerates cases where companies settled with affected families out of court, paying off the families in exchange for “no fault” clauses.

Beyond identifying these important issues in consultation with experts, the Shabecoffs provide concrete safety tips on topics including purifying water, avoiding toxins in cars, keeping chemicals out of the home and buying safer plastics.

More than a hundred interviews with corporate researchers, public health leaders, government insiders and affected families support this cautionary tale of collusion that falls short of being alarmist. The authors ask readers to demand accountability and public health scrutiny for the benefit of future generations.

“We focused on children because people care about children, but they are only our canary in the coal mine,” Philip Shabecoff said at a September book talk in Washington, D.C. “We are all at risk.”

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 10:14 am

Diigo instead of Delicious

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Interesting post on the advantages of Diigo over Delicious as a social Web-bookmarking site. Here’s more info from Diigo itself:

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 9:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

American Library Association picks great software for kids

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Good to know as we approach gift season:

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), has selected its Fall 2008 list of Great Interactive Software for Kids (GISK), which recognizes high-quality computer programs and digital media for children 14 years of age and younger.

The selected products are:

  • Beep, Tool Factory.
  • GollyGee Blocks: 3-D Modeling for Kids, GollyGee Software, Inc.
  • LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, Lucasarts Entertainment.
  • Mastering Elementary School, Weekly Reader Corp.
  • Mastering Elementary and Middle School Math, Weekly Reader Corp.
  • Nancy Drew and the Phantom of Venice Her Interactive

More information here, including a detailed commentary on the games.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 9:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Fascinating wallpaper

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For your room, not your computer. I like the wallpaper that lights up, for example. See them here.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 8:56 am

Posted in Daily life

The Scientific Life

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Interesting review. It begins:

We are encouraged to think of the scientist as holding on to an unconventional, childlike curiosity into adulthood. But the ideal of science as lingering childhood has given way to one of timeless adolescence. Richard Feynman and James Watson are the poster boys for this kind of scientist, who bathes in the fountain of perpetual fun. The triumph of that cultural ideal coincided with the heightened recognition of a deeply serious role for science in affairs of state. The legend of Feynman originated during his time at Los Alamos, which he described as a delightful time of cracking safes and seducing girls in bars. Surely he was joking, and the blackness of the humor is made evident by juxtaposing his antics with disturbing images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Eniwetok, of tens of thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles poised to destroy life on Earth, and hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers laboring every workday to increase the power and precision of those weapons. The popular contemporary understanding that doing science is about fun has an aura of whimsical self-indulgence and offers comic relief and distraction from realities of this kind.

Steven Shapin, one of our most creative and productive historians of science, has spent much of his career writing about the 17th century against the background of the 20th. In The Scientific Life he reverses field, drawing on perspectives he worked out in writings on Robert Boyle, the Royal Society and the early-modern invention of laboratory science to comprehend the scientific role in our age of technoscience. At first glance, we see only contrasts. Boyle, a rich nobleman, was beholden to no one and claimed the authority to pronounce on matters of truth based on his status as an independent gentleman with landed wealth. Science now is a job, open to anyone with the appropriate training, and is supported on a large scale in many kinds of institutions.

Max Weber summed up these great historical changes in the character of science and scholarship when he wrote that Wissenschaft had been transformed from a calling into a career. Shapin highlights a doctrine of “moral equivalence” — the idea that the practice of science implies no higher morality — that arose with Weber and was formulated with epigrammatic clarity by the American sociologist Robert Merton. We no longer expect scientists to display qualities of personal integrity beyond what we would demand of lawyers, businesspeople or store clerks. Their involvement with war and their willing subordination to the expectations of profit-driven industry seem to support this doctrine of equivalence, and the modern intermingling of academic research with entrepreneurship exemplifies the decline of an ideal of disinterested truth. Yet Shapin is not so sure, and for him the persistence of a moral vocabulary in science is one of the key continuities between the 17th century and the 21st.

Moral vocation in science has never …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 8:26 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

A quiet, foggy morning

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I still have a post-election lassitude: a feeling of pleasure, but also of waiting. So far Obama seems to be taking sensible steps. Unlike some others, I think the choice of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff is excellent: Emanuel isn’t going to be setting policy, and I don’t see Obama as a president who will be controlled by his aides. But Emanuel is a high-energy guy who knows the White House and Congress and has served in both places. He’s competent and with good direction will accomplish much.

Last night I watched Trust the Man, which I thoroughly enjoyed. One mildly creepy aspect: David Duchovny plays the role of a sex addict whose marriage is in trouble because of his addiction to Internet porn.

I’m reading a fascinating book, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, by Patrick Boyer. In the first chapter he easily and quickly refutes my own views of the origins of religion—e.g., the role of religion in providing explanations for natural phenomena, the role of religion as a comfort. These easy explanations are the product of too little thought and too little knowledge. In particular, the range of religious thought is considerably greater than one thinks, so that basing one’s ideas on the more well-known religions leads one quickly astray. Very interesting book. Here’s how he sets out the common notions of the origins of religion just before he shows that the common notions all fail:


Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2008 at 8:14 am

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