Later On

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

Archive for November 16th, 2009

Nice example of GOP scum

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

A Senate measure to help wounded veterans is on the verge of passing, and that’s clearly a positive development. There’s just one problem.

The urgently needed legislation consolidates more than a dozen improvements in veterans’ health care — most notably a new assistance program for family members who wind up providing lifelong home nursing to severely disabled veterans. These vital caregivers — who sacrifice careers and put huge strains on their own mental health — assume an obligation "that ultimately belongs to the government," Senator Daniel Akaka, the bill’s chief sponsor, properly notes.

The measure also expands benefits for women veterans who suffered sexual trauma on duty, extends veterans’ care in rural areas, tightens quality control at V.A. hospitals, and ensures that catastrophically disabled veterans will not be charged for emergency services in community hospitals.

Sounds great, right? Senators seemed to think so — it sailed through committee with unanimous support. But it’s currently stuck, because right-wing Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma refuses to let it advance. As he sees it, the five-year, $3.7 billion price tag for the veterans’ program is too high a price unless is offset by budget cuts elsewhere.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted the strange standards Coburn applies to these spending bill — Coburn doesn’t care about paying for the war itself, but he balks when it comes to caring for the vets when they come home. "Where was he when we were spending a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq?" Reid asked. "That wasn’t paid for. I didn’t hear him stopping the bill from going forward at that time. I think he should become more logical and understand we have people who are suffering."

Or as the NYT editorial put it this morning, "Sheer embarrassment should drive the senator into retreat as he trifles with veterans’ needs and burnishes his petty role as Dr. No."

I’m also reminded of something House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said just a year ago, "[T]here is a clear distinction between saying you support the troops and backing up those claims with genuine action."

A variety of veterans’ groups have organized an effort to urge Coburn to let the Senate vote on the benefits bill. VoteVets.org has posted an online petition on the effort.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2009 at 4:45 pm

The science of success

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Very interesting article by David Dobbs in the Atlantic Monthly. The blurb:

Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.

Read the article—especially interesting, of course, to parents who have orchid kids.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2009 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Good article on miso and its use

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2009 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Is free will all in your head?

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Interesting article by Christof Koch in Scientific American:

Surely there must have been times in high school or college when you laid in bed, late at night, and wondered where your “free will” came from? What part of the brain—if it is the brain—is responsible for deciding to act one way or another? One traditional answer is that this is not the job of the brain at all but rather of the soul. Hovering above the brain like Casper the Friendly Ghost, the soul freely perturbs the networks of the brain, thereby triggering the neural activity that will ultimately lead to behavior.

Although such dualistic accounts are emotionally reassuring and intuitively satisfying, they break down as soon as one digs a bit deeper. How can this ghost, made out of some kind of metaphysical ectoplasm, influence brain matter without being detected? What sort of laws does Casper follow? Science has abandoned strong dualistic explanations in favor of natural accounts that assign causes and responsibility to specific actors and mechanisms that can be further studied. And so it is with the notion of the will.

Sensation and Action
Over the past decade psychologists such as Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard University amassed experimental evidence for a number of conscious sensations that accompany any willful action. The two most important are intention and agency. Prior to voluntary behavior lies a conscious intention. When you decide to lift your hand, this intention is followed by planning of the detailed movement and its execution. Subjectively, you experience a sensation of agency. You feel that you, not the person next to you, initiated this action and saw it through. If a friend were to take your hand and pull it above your head, you would feel your arm being dragged up, but you would not feel any sense of being responsible for it. The important insight here is that the consciously experienced feelings of intention and agency are no different, in principle, from any other consciously experienced sensations, such as the briny taste of chicken soup or the red color of a Ferrari.

And as a plethora of books on visual illusions illustrate, often our senses can be fooled—we see something that is not there. So it is with the sensation of intentionality and agency. Decades of psychology experiments—as well as careful observation of human nature that comes from a lifetime of living—reveal many instances where we think we caused something to happen, although we bear no responsibility for it; the converse also occurs, where we did do something but feel that something or somebody else must have been responsible. Think about the …

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2009 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

How to remember things

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Very interesting article by Alex Lickerman, MD:

I once came up with a metaphor I thought perfectly captured the sheer mass of material my classmates and I were expected to memorize in our first two years of medical school: it was like being asked to enter a grocery store and memorize the names of every product in the store, their number and location, every ingredient in every product in the order in which they appear on the food label, and then to do the same thing in every grocery store in the city.

When I look back now I can’t imagine how any of us were able to do it. And yet we did. The mind’s capacity to store and recall information is truly wondrous. Since I attended medical school we’ve learned a lot about memory and learning. Though much of what follows are techniques I used to survive my first two years of medical school, much of the science that proves they work is new.

STRATEGIES FOR REMEMBERING

  1. Become interested in what you’re learning. We’re all better remembering what interests us. Few people, for example, have a difficult time remembering the names of people they find attractive. If you’re not intrinsically interested in what you’re learning or trying to remember, you must find a way to become so. I have to admit I wasn’t so good at this in medical school. The Krebs cycle (I provided the link only to prove how immensely boring it is) just didn’t excite me or relate to anything I found even remotely exciting (though I made myself learn it anyway).
  2. Find a way to leverage your visual memory. You’ll be astounded by how much more this will enable you to remember. For example, imagine you’re at a party and are introduced to five people in quick succession. How can you quickly memorize their names? Pick out a single defining visual characteristic of each person and connect it to a visual representation of their name, preferably through an action of some kind. For example, you can remember Mike who has large ears by creating a mental picture of a microphone (a "mike") clearing those big ears of wax (gross, I know—sorry—but all the more effective because of it). It requires mental effort to do this, but if you practice you’ll be surprised how quickly you can come up with creative ways to create these images. Here’s another example: how often do you forget where you left your keys, your sunglasses, or your wallet? The next time you put something down somewhere, pause a moment to notice where you’ve placed it, and then in your mind blow it up. If you visualize the explosion in enough detail, you won’t forget where you put it. Remember: memory is predominantly visual (unfortunately, I can’t think of a good image to help you remember this fact right at this moment).
  3. Create a mental memory tree...

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    Written by LeisureGuy

    16 November 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Posted in Daily life, Science

    Let me analyze your personality

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    Lean closer to the screen, please. If possible, place your forehead on the screen so I can get a clear reading…  it’s coming through… Here it is:

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    Written by LeisureGuy

    16 November 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Posted in Daily life, Science

    Walkies

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    Nice walk again today. I think I’ve discovered that what Dianne M. told me is correct: listening to music or recorded books is a distraction that ends up making the walk harder, not easier. In fact, cognitive dissonance reduction ensures that listening to music while you walk will make you view walking as more difficult—else why would I be trying to distract myself when I do it?

    OTOH, carrying a camera makes the walk entertaining in itself—and I do note that walking is seeming easier this time: the distances don’t seem so long, and the time flies by. And, of course, I’m looking around more and enjoying the break.

    It’s certainly not the MBT shoes, though I do like walking in them. As they point out, your calves will work harder with MBT shoes than regular shoes—which is all to the good, since I walk for exercise.

    One thing I saw today is a couple of deer from the Pacific Grove herd:

    deer

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    Written by LeisureGuy

    16 November 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Posted in Daily life

    What makes jihadists give up the fight

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    Via Glenn Greenwald, this very interesting article by Johann Hari in The Independent:

    Ever since I started meeting jihadis, I have been struck by one thing – their Britishness. I am from the East End of London, and at some point in the past decade I became used to hearing a hoarse and angry whisper of jihadism on the streets where I live. Bearded young men stand outside the library calling for "The Rule of God" and "Death to Democracy".

    In the mosques across the city, I hear a fringe of young men talk dreamily of flocking to Afghanistan to "resist". Yet this whisper never has an immigrant accent. It shares my pronunciations, my cultural references, and my national anthem. Beneath the beards and the burqas, there is an English voice.

    The East End is a cramped grey maze of council estates, squashed between the glistening palaces of the City to one side and the glass towers of Docklands to the other. You can feel the financial elites staring across at each other, indifferent to this concrete lump of poverty dumped in-between by the forgotten tides of history. This place has always been the swirling first stop for immigrants to this country like my father – a place where new arrivals can huddle together as they adjust to the cold rain and lukewarm liberalism of Britain.

    The Muslims who arrive here every day from Bangladesh, or India, or Somalia say they find the presence of British Islamists bizarre. They have come here to work and raise their children in stability and escape people like them. No: these Islamists are British-born. They make up 7 per cent of the British Muslim population, according to a Populous poll (with the other 93 percent of Muslims disagreeing). Ever since the 7/7 suicide bombings, carried out by young Englishmen against London, the British have been squinting at this minority of the minority and trying to figure out how we incubated a very English jihadism.

    But every attempt I have made up to now to get into their heads – including talking to Islamists for weeks at their most notorious London hub, Finsbury Park mosque, immediately after 9/11 – left me feeling like a journalistic failure. These young men speak to outsiders in a dense and impenetrable code of Koranic quotes and surly jibes at both the foreign policy crimes of our Government and the freedom of women and gays. Any attempt to dig into their psychology – to ask honestly how this swirl of thoughts led them to believe suicide bombing their own city is right – is always met with a resistant sneer, and yet more opaque recitations from the Koran. Their message is simple: we don’t do psychology or sociology. We do Allah, and Allah alone. Why do you have this particular reading of the Koran, when most Muslims don’t? Because we are right, and they are infidel. Full stop. It was an investigatory dead end.

    But then, a year ago, I began to hear about a fragile new movement that could just hold the answers we journalists have failed to find up to now. A wave of young British Islamists who trained to fight – who cheered as their friends bombed this country – have recanted. Now they are using everything they learned on the inside, to stop the jihad.

    Seventeen former radical Islamists have "come out" in the past 12 months and have begun to fight back. Would they be able to tell me the reasons that pulled them into jihadism, and out again? Could they be the key to understanding – and defusing – Western jihadism? I have spent three months exploring their world and befriending their leading figures. Their story sprawls from forgotten English seaside towns to the jails of Egypt’s dictatorship and the icy mountains of Afghanistan – and back again.

    I. The Imam

    My journey began when, sitting in one of the grotty greasy spoon cafés that fill the East End, I heard a young woman in hijab mention that the imam of one of the local mosques was a jihadi who had fought in Afghanistan, but is now facing death threats from the very men he once fought alongside. His "crime"? To renounce his past and call for "a secular Islam".

    After a series of phone calls, Usama Hassan cautiously agrees to talk. I meet him outside his little mosque in Leyton. It sits in the middle of a run-down sprawl of pound stores ("Everything only £1!!!"), halal kebab shops, and boarded-up windows at the edge of the East End.

    Usama is a big, broad bear of a man in a black blazer and wire-rimmed glasses. He greets me with a hefty handshake; he has a rolled-up newspaper under his arm. He takes me upstairs to a pale-green prayer room…

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    Written by LeisureGuy

    16 November 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

    Greenland’s ice loss is accelerating—why?

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    Very interesting post at Skeptical Science. From the post:

    Greenland_GRACE_vs_SMB

    Figure 1: Surface Mass Balance – Discharge (red) compared with GRACE data (blue). GRACE data is offset vertically. Short horizontal lines indicate GRACE uncertainty. Dashed lines indicate linear trends. The scatter plot in the inset shows a direct linear regression between monthly GRACE values as a function of the cumulative SMB – D anomaly (van den Broeke et al 2009).

    Read the entire post. Note that the graph is zero-based.

    Greenland’s ice cap, unlike the Arctic ice in the ocean, will raise sea levels considerably when it all melts.

    Written by LeisureGuy

    16 November 2009 at 11:49 am

    Finding an expert to deliver pre-determined opinion

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    This is so very, very wrong. Michael Shear in the Washington Post:

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an assortment of national business groups opposed to President Obama’s health-care reform effort are collecting money to finance an economic study that could be used to portray the legislation as a job killer and threat to the nation’s economy, according to an e-mail solicitation from a top Chamber official.

    The e-mail, written by the Chamber’s senior health policy manager and obtained by The Washington Post, proposes spending $50,000 to hire a "respected economist" to study the impact of health-care legislation, which is expected to come to the Senate floor this week, would have on jobs and the economy.

    Step two, according to the e-mail, appears to assume the outcome of the economic review: "The economist will then circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document."

    James P. Gelfand, the e-mail’s author, confirmed its authenticity in a brief telephone conversation Sunday evening. He said the campaign against Democratic health legislation would only be launched "if that’s what it found," but declined further comment and referred questions to a Chamber spokesman.

    The behind-the-scenes effort by the business groups to influence the legislative debate is part of an intensifying series of attacks by the opponents of Democratic health-care plans. President Obama has said he wants a final bill on his desk by the end of the year, leaving opponents little time to raise new objections as the legislation marches forward…

    Continue reading. Interesting approach. Not very open-minded, but perhaps they’ll run the ads if it turns out that the expert finds that the bill will not hurt jobs or the economy but instead is helpful.

    Written by LeisureGuy

    16 November 2009 at 11:45 am

    The military tries to ignore the problem

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    This is incredible. Mark Benjamin in Salon:

    Last April, two Marines at Camp Lejeune predicted to a psychiatrist that some Marine back from war was going to "lose it." Concerned, the psychiatrist asked what that meant. One of the Marines responded, "One of these guys is liable to come back with a loaded weapon and open fire."

    They weren’t talking about Marines suffering from a tangle of mental and religious angst, like news reports suggest haunted the alleged Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. The risk they reported at Camp Lejeune was broader and systemic. Upon returning home, troops suffering mental health problems were getting dumped into an overwhelmed healthcare system that responded ineptly to their crises, the men reported, and they also faced harassment from Marine Corps superiors ignorant of the severity of their problems and disdainful of those who sought psychiatric help.

    As Dr. Kernan Manion investigated the two Marines’ claims about conditions at the North Carolina military base, the largest Marine base on the East Coast, he found they were true. Manion, a psychiatrist hired last January to treat Marines coming home from war with acute mental problems, warned his superiors of looming trouble at Camp Lejeune in a series of increasingly urgent memos.

    But instead of being praised for preventing what might have been another Fort Hood massacre, Manion was fired by the contractor that hired him, NiteLines Kuhana LLC. A spokeswoman for the firm says it let Manion go at the Navy’s behest. The Navy declined to comment on this story.

    While military officials and the media examine whether the Army missed warning signs that might have indicated an unhinged Nidal Hasan was capable of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Manion’s Camp Lejeune story is a cautionary tale of what happens to those who blow the whistle on conditions for military personnel with mental problems.

    Manion says the April incident with the two Marines was just one of a series of disturbing events and serious problems with mental healthcare he saw at Camp Lejeune, a base that may be best known for a water contamination scandal that led to high rates of cancer and birth defects among Marines and their families who lived there. He was particularly concerned to see that troubled Marines were stricken with the overwhelming impulse to commit suicide or murder, telltale signs of severe combat stress.

    In a telephone interview from his Surf City, N.C., home, Manion talked of overburdened staff and inadequate resources at the Naval hospital at Camp Lejeune. The psychiatrist charged that medical officials failed to study and discuss violent events among returning Marines in an effort to prevent further, similar events, and did little planning to improve handling distraught Marines who were killing themselves and others in shocking numbers. In 2008, for example, 42 Marines committed suicide and 146 attempted to do so, according to the Marine Corps.

      Continue reading.

      Written by LeisureGuy

      16 November 2009 at 11:39 am

      Medical marijuana success story

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      John Hoeffel in the LA Times:

      A few miles from Los Angeles City Hall, a small experiment in marijuana regulation has been underway for years. While the state’s largest city passed a flawed moratorium, failed to enforce it, debated proposed rules endlessly and watched flummoxed as dispensaries multiplied, West Hollywood pressed ahead.

      Confronted with its own dispensary explosion in 2005, the city surrounded by L.A. imposed a moratorium on dispensaries, clamped interim rules on the ones that were open, passed a strict ordinance and capped the number allowed at four, all within two years.

      When the West Hollywood City Council updated its ordinance earlier this month, the vote was unanimous, no residents spoke in opposition and the city’s dispensary operators lined up in support.

      Today, in contrast, two Los Angeles council committees will hold what is sure to be a boisterously contentious hearing as they try to finish an ordinance now in its fifth draft.

      In West Hollywood, city officials say, it’s been more than two years since a resident has complained about a dispensary. Neighborhood watch leaders say their streets are safer because the dispensary guards are required to walk nearby blocks. School officials welcome dispensaries as neighbors. And the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which patrols the city, says there have been no recent crimes at dispensaries and no calls from agitated neighbors.

      "We’ve been on top of this from Day 1," said Lisa Belsanti, a senior management analyst with the city who helped draw up its rules. "There’s a problem, but it’s in Los Angeles, it’s not in West Hollywood."

      Cities with no medical marijuana regulations, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Long Beach, have seen an outcry from neighborhoods upset that dispensaries open wherever they want, often in close proximity, and attract nuisances, such as traffic, and real dangers, such as robberies.

      But some cities, notably San Francisco and Oakland, have tightly regulated their dispensaries, and officials there say they have had little or no trouble with them…

      Continue reading.

      Written by LeisureGuy

      16 November 2009 at 11:29 am

      Boar brush and shave stick

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      SOTD091116

      One problem with boar brushes is their lather-holding capacity: much less than badger brushes, though it improves as the brush is broken in. My Omega Pro 48 is getting well broken in, so I wondered whether it would work with a shave stick.

      With the Irisch Moos shave stick, I did get an excellent lathers, which I worked as vigorously as I could into the brush. First pass was great, second pass was sparse, and I had to go to a tub of soap to work up lather for the final pass.

      It looks like shave sticks require badger, and boar doesn’t work that well. But I’ll try again as the boar brushes become better broken in.

      The Hoffritz slant bar with a newish Astra Keramik blade did a fine job, very smooth. And Alt Innsbruck was a nice aftershave to use.

      Written by LeisureGuy

      16 November 2009 at 10:04 am

      Posted in Shaving

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