Later On

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

Archive for April 3rd, 2009

"I smoke pot and I like it"

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The post title is from Will Wilkinson’s article from The Week:

“The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.” President Obama said it with a chuckle last week at a town hall-style forum. The idea was for Obama to answer some questions about the economy submitted to the White House website. The most popular ones all had something to do with the virtues of legalizing and taxing marijuana. “I don’t know what this says about the online audience,” Obama joshed, and the good Americans assembled at the forum shared a little laugh. What does it say about the online audience? Maybe it says that advocates of marijuana legalization have hope that a president who once inhaled will, even in the middle of a recession, devote some attention to our country’s disastrous drug policies.

Have you heard of Santiago Meza Lopez? They call him “The Soupmaker.” In January he confessed to Mexican authorities that he had dissolved over 300 dead human bodies in acid. There’s a lot of money to be made in America’s black market for drugs and Mexican suppliers are willing to kill a lot of people to control those markets and capture the gains. Conservative estimates put the death toll of the war between rival Mexican gangs at over 5,000 in the last year alone. When you kill so many people it’s hard to know what to do with all of the rotting bodies. One way to handle the problem is to call in the Soupmaker. Six hundred American dollars per corpse.

Did you know that the United States of America, the Land of the Free, puts a larger portion of its population behind bars than any country on earth? Thanks in large part to the War on Drugs, Americans lock more of their own in cages than do the thuggish Russians or those “Islamofascist” Saudis. As it happens, American drug prohibition and sentencing policies hit poor black men the hardest, devastating already disadvantaged black families and communities—a tragic, mocking contrast to the achievement of Obama’s election. Militarized police departments across the nation month after month kick down the wrong doors, terrify innocent families, shoot lawful citizens, and often kill the family dog.

So why is Obama laughing? To be fair, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2009 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

A robot scientist

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Not a scientist who studies robots, but a robot who does scientific research. Ed Yong tells about it in his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science:

In a laboratory at Aberystwyth University, Wales, a scientist called Adam is doing some experiments. He is trying to find the genes responsible for producing some important enzymes in yeast, and he is going about it in a very familiar way. Based on existing knowledge, Adam is coming up with new hypotheses and designing experiments to test them. He carries them out, records and evaluates the results, and comes up with new questions. All of this is part and parcel of a typical scientist’s life but there is one important difference that sets Adam apart – he’s a robot.

Adam is the brainchild of Ross King and colleagues at Aberystwyth, who have described it as a "Robot Scientist". The name is "almost an acronym" for "A Discovery Machine" and it also references Scottish economist Adam Smith and the obvious Biblical character. It has been loaded with equipment and software that allows it to independently design and carry out genetics experiments without any human intervention. And it has already begun to contribute to our scientific knowledge.

In a space the size of a small van, Adam contains a library of yeast strains in a freezer, two incubators, three pipettes for transferring liquid (one of which can manage 96 channels at once), three robot arms, a washer, a centrifuge, several cameras and sensors, and no less than four computers controlling the whole lot. All of this kit allows Adam to carry out his own research and to do it tirelessly – carrying out over 1000 experiments and making over 200,000 observations every day. All a technician needs to do is to keep Adam stocked up with fresh ingredients, take away waste, and run the occasional clean…

Continue reading for more information, photos, and a diagram.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2009 at 1:10 pm

New head of census understands statistics; GOP nervous

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The GOP prizes ignorance, so have the Census Bureau headed by a respected social scientist who understands statistics makes them very nervous. David Stout reports for the NY Times:

Robert M. Groves, a former census official and now a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, was nominated Thursday by President Obama to run the Census Bureau, a choice that instantly made Republicans nervous.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke described Mr. Grove as “a respected social scientist who will run the Census Bureau with integrity and independence.”

Even before the official White House announcement, rumors about the choice drew criticism on Thursday from Republicans already anxious about the 2010 census, a multibillion-dollar enterprise that will determine which states gains seats in Congress and which ones lose them, as well as the allocation of federal dollars to states and cities based on population.

Mr. Groves, 60, was not available for comment on Thursday. He faces confirmation by the Senate but, given the Democrats’ 58-to-41 advantage, would appear to have an excellent chance.

Republicans expressed alarm because of one of Mr. Groves’s specialties, statistical sampling — roughly speaking, the process of extrapolating from the numbers of people actually counted to arrive at estimates of those uncounted and, presumably, arriving at a realistic total.

If minorities, immigrants, the poor and the homeless are those most likely to be missed in an actual head count, and if political stereotypes hold true, then statistical sampling would presumably benefit the Democrats.

Republicans have generally argued that statistical sampling is not as reliable as its devotees insist. “Conducting the census is a vital constitutional obligation,” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, said Thursday. “It should be as solid, reliable and accurate as possible in every respect. That is why I am concerned about the White House decision to select Robert Groves as director of the Census Bureau.”

Representative Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, also issued a statement of dismay. “This is an incredibly troubling selection that contradicts the administration’s assurances that the census process would not be used to advance an ulterior political agenda,” Mr. Issa said.

The Census Bureau is part of the Department of Commerce, whose secretary, Mr. Locke, said during his recent confirmation hearings that “there are no plans to use any type of statistical sampling with respect to population count.” …

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2009 at 1:00 pm

The Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare

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Very interesting.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "The Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare", posted with vodpod

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2009 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

Caul fat

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I’m dying to use it in cooking. Take a look and read how to use it.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2009 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Marion Nestle on the pistachio recalls

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Good points by Marion Nestle from her blog Food Politics:

The interesting part about this latest recall – now 2 million pounds and involving 74 products so far – is how the Salmonella contamination was discovered.  According to a lengthy account in USA Today, a small nut company in Illinois, Georgia’s Nut, routinely tests for Salmonella and found the bacteria in nuts purchased from Setton Pistachio of California.  Georgia’s Nut recalled products distributed in the Chicago area.  This company also produces a trail mix for Kraft Foods.  It notified Kraft Foods, which also promptly recalled its products.

I’m guessing that Georgia Nut must follow a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) plan.  HACCP is a science-based food safety procedure that requires analyzing where contamination might occur in production processes (hazard analysis), taking steps to prevent contamination at those critical control points, and using pathogen testing to make sure the steps were followed and the plan is working.

HACCP, as I keep complaining, is only required for meat and poultry production on the USDA regulatory side (where is it poorly enforced) and for sprouts, fresh juices, seafood, and eggs on the FDA side.  The producers of everything else are supposed to follow Good Manufacturing Processes, which are considerably less rigorous and, as we saw with the peanut butter recalls (more than 3,800 products from 200 companies) and their health consequences (nearly 700 sick, at least 9 deaths), clearly do not work.

How about HACCP for all foods?  Worth a try?

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2009 at 12:28 pm

Free Java-based notetaking app

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Take a look—I’m going to try it.

UPDATE: I got a bot warning when I started the download. I’ve decided not to install at this point. Lifehacker is usually more reliable. Note the comment below.

UPDATE 2: This from a comment at the link above:

A quick search on the app’s forum shows that the developer is aware that AVG is flagging the installer (not the zip version): [] If you’re still worried, you can try the zip version – AVG shouldn’t have a problem with it.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2009 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

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