Later On

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

Archive for July 4th, 2010

Clever idea for idea people

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People generally get ideas and inspirations when they are doing something physically and mentally undemanding, so that their mind is free to wander a bit: driving, showering, and the like.

The result is that quite often people get ideas in the bathroom—while shaving, for example. So here’s the clever idea (which I’ve not seen elsewhere, but since it’s obvious, others have probably suggested it):

Hang a dry-erase marker from a string beside your bathroom mirror. When inspiration strikes, you can readily make a note—even a diagram—and then later erase it (when you realize that the idea wouldn’t work anyway 🙂 ).

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Daily life

Salt notes

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I may just have to get salt out of the kitchen. Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

What’s happening on the salt frontier:

The CDC says fewer than 10% of Americans meet sodium recommendations. Only 5.5% of adults who should be consuming low sodium diets(≤1,500 mg/day) actually do so.  Less than 20% of adults consume the amount currently recommended for healthy adults, ≤2,300 mg/day. Overall, only 9.6% of adults met their applicable recommended limit.

The British Food Standards Agency (FSA) says the U.K. is making great progress on reducing salt consumption. Even though UK salt intakes are still above the target of 6g/day after seven years of campaigning, FSA is happy about what the campaign achieved: a 10% reduction in average daily intakes from 9.5g/day to 8.6g/day.  This is substantial progress, given “the complexity of the task and the FSA’s modest budget.”

The New York Times explains part of the complexity: food industry resistance.  In an article titled, “The hard sell on salt” (May 29), the Times interviews food company executives who talk about why they must, must use salt and lots of it in processed foods.

The Salt Institute attacks the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report.The report recommends a limit of 1,500 mg/day sodium because 70% of the U.S. population is at risk of high blood pressure. According to Food Chemical News (June 16), the Salt Institute claims that reducing salt intake to recommended levels would only make the obesity epidemic worse: “Most nutritionists agree that reduced sodium in food preparations will very likely increase the obesity crisis because individuals will consume more calories just to satisfy their innate sodium appetite.”

Most?  I don’t think so.  Because 77% of salt (sodium chloride) is in processed and restaurant foods, I see the salt issue as one of consumer choice.  Consumers can always add salt to foods.  They cannot take it out.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Howard Zinn on the self-deception of exceptionalism

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Happy 4th of July, and on our nation’s birthday, I’m posting (via Rag Blog) a highly appropriate article by Howard Zinn:

[People’s historian Howard Zinn died on January 7, 2010. This piece was originally distributed by the Progressive Media Project in 2006. Though Zinn was writing during the presidency of George W. Bush, the message is certainly no less relevant today, as we observe the Fourth of July weekend throughout the land.]

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking — cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on — have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours — huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction — what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession."

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our "Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence." After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: "We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country."

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, "to civilize and Christianize" the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: "The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness."

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government’s lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for "liberty," for "democracy"?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

© 2010 The Progressive

[Howard Zinn (1922-2010) authored many books, including A People’s History of the United States, Voices of a People’s History (with Anthony Arnove), and A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.]

Source / The Progressive / CommonDreams

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 10:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Botox slows recognition of negative emotions

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Interesting how closely our bodies and our minds are connected. This pretty much blows away any hope of uploading our "minds" into a digital computer, however advanced. Bruce Bower reports at Science News:

Botox treatment to erase unsightly frown lines may cause unforeseen emotional wrinkles. First-time Botox patients become slower at evaluating descriptions of negative emotions, possibly putting the patients at a social disadvantage, a new study indicates.

For more than a century, scientists have posited that facial expressions trigger and intensify relevant feelings, rather than simply advertise what an individual already feels. Botox patients provide a novel line of support for this idea, as well as for the notion that facial expressions activate links between brain regions responsible for emotions and language, says psychology graduate student David Havas of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Botox is short for botulinum toxin-A, a neurotoxic protein that causes temporary muscle paralysis beginning one to three days after an injection and lasting for three to four months.

Two weeks after their first Botox injections, 40 women took an average of about one-third of a second longer to read sentences describing angry and sad situations than they did immediately before the procedure, Havas and his colleagues found.

Critically, Botox patients show no decline in the speed with which they read sentences about happy situations, Havas’ team reports in an upcoming Psychological Science.

“These findings suggest that facial expressions are involved in assessing specific emotions or emotional situations,” Havas says.

Havas hypothesizes that Botox-induced paralysis of the frown muscle — which runs across the forehead just above the eyes, allowing it to pull the eyebrows inward and down — may gradually weaken brain circuits that coordinate negative emotions.

A 2009 fMRI study, led by German neurologist Andreas Hennenlotter, supports that idea…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 10:49 am

BP may be engaged in a literal cover-up

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Namely, pushing sand over oil on beaches to cover it up. More here, including videos.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 9:50 am

Fructose sweeteners may hike blood pressure

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More strikes against agave (and HFCS). Janet Raloff in Science News:

The more fructose American adults add to their diets, the higher their blood pressure tends to be. The new finding adds fuel to a simmering controversy about whether this simple sugar — found in fruits, table sugar, soft drinks and many baked goods — poses a health hazard that goes beyond simply consuming too many empty calories.

If the new data are confirmed, they might go a long way toward explaining a more than tripling in hypertension rates over the past century — a period when “fructose consumption has increased dramatically in industrialized nations including the United States,’ the authors say.

The idea that fructose might play a role in hypertension is not new. In 2008, an international team of researchers found that among mice, “Fructose feeding decreased salt excretion by the kidney and resulted in hypertension.” The scientists also homed in on a potential mechanism: the activity of a gene responsible for helping the small intestine absorb salt and secrete bicarbonate. When these researchers fed fructose to mice without the functioning gene or to animals eating a salt-free diet, the animals’ blood pressure remained unaltered.

But that was in rodents.

Diana Jalal and fellow nephrologists at the University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center in Aurora decided to look for evidence that fructose might have a similar effect in people. So they pulled data collected from a representative cross-section of Americans as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Conducted every few years, the new study’s data came from the 2003 to 2006 survey and included more than 4,500 adults with no prior diagnosis of hypertension.

Sure enough, when Jalal’s group stratified the participants by blood pressure — and many had undiagnosed prehypertension or outright vascular disease characterized by significantly elevated blood pressure — mean intake of added dietary fructose climbed by group. Their findings appear in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, published online July 1 ahead of print.

Their focus was “added” fructose. The qualifier refers to fructose intake other than that occurring as a natural constituent of any fruits or other produce. And the reason: Americans are not renowned for downing even the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, much less an excess…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 9:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

The Third Reich at War: 1939-1945

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Sounds like a good read:

The Third Reich at War: 1939-1945

by Richard J. Evans

A review by Doug Brown

With The Third Reich at War, Richard J. Evans has finally concluded his trilogy on the Third Reich. The Coming of the Third Reich covered the post-WWI period, detailing how a democracy became a dictatorship. The Third Reich in Power covered from 1933 to 1939, during which the Nazi party consolidated their hold on power and rebuilt Germany — and Germany’s war machine. The Third Reich at War covers 1939 to 1945, from the start of the war to the post-war trials. Altogether, this magisterial work is an important resource for folks interested in the period.

While the military aspects of the war are of course covered in The Third Reich at War, the emphasis is on the people. The movements of armies provide the backdrop for the primary story Evans has been telling all through his work. The Reich leaders of course form much of the focus, but day-to-day life for ordinary Germans is a major theme. I was surprised to learn how open the press was, and how people often protested against actions of the Nazi party. SS security reports gave surprisingly honest accounts of the mood of the people, often including popular jokes which Evans relates. One example from the time when nightly bombing raids were becoming common:

People were officially advised to snatch some sleep in the late afternoon before the bombings started. The joke then ran that when someone came into the air-raid shelter and said ‘good morning’, this meant that they had indeed been sleeping. If someone arrived and said ‘good evening’, this meant they hadn’t. When a few arrived and said ‘Hail, Hitler!’ this meant they had always been asleep.

The Holocaust gets a full section of the book, detailing its piecemeal origins. While Hitler may not have issued a direct order to carry out the killings, his rhetoric made it clear how his underlings were intended to solve the Jewish question. The story is of course told in more depth in books devoted to the subject like Christopher Browning‘s the Origins of the Final Solution, but Evans provides a solid overview. This is an area of Third Reich history he researched in depth when he worked defending Deborah Lipstadt against the Holocaust denier David Irving in British court (Irving lost his bid to sue her for libel when she stated he deliberately misrepresented evidence about the Holocaust). Evans wrote about the trial in his book Telling Lies About Hitler, which deals not just with the court case but how we know what we know in history.

As the war wore on, Hitler took over more and more of the military leadership. His generals secretly maintained that they could have won the battle in the Eastern Front if Hitler had just let them get on with it. Evans argues that this was just a myth; Germany simply didn’t have the resources, either in material or men, to defeat Russia. Germany was outproduced on all fronts. Evans makes a good case that the eventual outcome would have been the same even if the strategy favored by the generals had been followed.

There’s not much to say in conclusion beyond highly recommending this work to anyone interested in WWII in Europe, and particularly the Third Reich. In these three volumes Evans has created a history of the Reich to stand alongside Burleigh‘s single volume tome The Third Reich: A New History. Evans is skilled at telling a vast story in human terms, often by letting diary entries and letters speak for themselves. The Third Reich at War completes a trilogy that will certainly be a primary general reference on one of recent history’s darker hours.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 9:44 am

Posted in Books

Men 50 and older

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Solon’s constitution for Athens included a rule that (male) citizens 50 and older would speak first in the assembly. I was telling this to The Wife and offered the opinion that this rule was so that the younger Athenians could just arrive at assembly a little late and miss all the old farts rambling on. She, OTOH, said it was because the old farts had to speak first because otherwise they’d be asleep. Some truth to that.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 9:39 am

Posted in Daily life

As Oil Industry Fights a Tax, It Reaps Billions From Subsidies

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Personally, I would cut the subsidies to zero and go ahead and tax. David Kocieniewski in the NY Times:

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform set off the worst oil spill at sea in American history, it was flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. Registering there allowed the rig’s owner to significantly reduce its American taxes.

The owner, Transocean, moved its corporate headquarters from Houston to the Cayman Islands in 1999 and then to Switzerland in 2008, maneuvers that also helped it avoid taxes.

At the same time, BP was reaping sizable tax benefits from leasing the rig. According to a letter sent in June to the Senate Finance Committee, the company used a tax break for the oil industry to write off 70 percent of the rent for Deepwater Horizon — a deduction of more than $225,000 a day since the lease began.

With federal officials now considering a new tax on petroleum production to pay for the cleanup, the industry is fighting the measure, warning that it will lead to job losses and higher gasoline prices, as well as an increased dependence on foreign oil.

But an examination of the American tax code indicates that oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process.

According to the most recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, released in 2005, capital investments like oil field leases and drilling equipment are taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent, significantly lower than the overall rate of 25 percent for businesses in general and lower than virtually any other industry.

And for many small and midsize oil companies, the tax on capital investments is so low that it is more than eliminated by various credits. These companies’ returns on those investments are often higher after taxes than before.

“The flow of revenues to oil companies is like the gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico: heavy and constant,” said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, who has worked alongside the Obama administration on a bill that would cut $20 billion in oil industry tax breaks over the next decade. “There is no reason for these corporations to shortchange the American taxpayer.”

Oil industry officials say that the tax breaks, which average about $4 billion a year according to various government reports, are a bargain for taxpayers. By helping producers weather market fluctuations and invest in technology, tax incentives are supporting an industry that the officials say provides 9.2 million jobs.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry advocacy group, argues that even with subsidies, oil producers paid or incurred $280 billion in American income taxes from 2006 to 2008, and pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than most other American corporations.

As oil continues to spread across the Gulf of Mexico, however, the industry is being forced to defend tax breaks that some say are being abused or are outdated.

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday announced that it was investigating whether Transocean had exploited tax laws by moving overseas to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Efforts to curtail the tax breaks are likely to face fierce opposition in Congress; the oil and natural gas industry has spent $340 million on lobbyists since 2008, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors political spending…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 8:31 am

Human evolution continues

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And I continue to be astonished that there still exist people who don’t understand that evolution is real. Rachel Bernstein reports in the LA Times:

The Tibet plateau is a land of yaks and sherpas — and rapid evolution.

Over a mere 3,000 years, a blink of an evolutionary eye, Tibetan highlanders have developed a unique version of a gene that apparently helps them cope with life at extremely high altitudes, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science.

The research group, led by UC Berkeley biologist Rasmus Nielsen, found the gene by comparing DNA from 50 Tibetans and 40 neighboring Han Chinese. The two ethnic groups are closely related, with one important difference: The Tibetans live at elevations of 14,000 feet and higher, while the Han population generally lives relatively close to sea level. The genetic variant was found in 87% of the Tibetans and 9% of the Han Chinese.

"The change at this particular position in Tibetan highlanders represents one of the most dramatic examples of genetic change in recent human history," said University of Nebraska evolutionary geneticist Jay Storz, who was not involved in the study. "It really is a great story about how the human gene pool is still being shaped by the forces of natural selection."

The researchers calculated that the Tibetan and Chinese populations separated about 3,000 years ago.

"This is not the distant past," said John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin. "This is stuff that’s happened in 40 human generations."

It makes sense that the harsh environment of the Himalayas promotes fast evolutionary adaptation. High altitude, with its lower levels of oxygen, is associated with reproductive difficulties such as miscarriages, low birth weight and increased infant mortality. In response, Tibetans have adapted in a way that may seem counterintuitive but is remarkably effective: their blood hemoglobin levels do not rise too high.

Scientists still don’t know exactly how the low hemoglobin levels help the Tibetans, but they do know that too much hemoglobin makes the blood too viscous, making oxygen distribution more difficult. By maintaining hemoglobin levels about the same as those seen in people at sea level, the Tibetans have avoided this damaging effect.

Still, they must have other adaptations that allow them to thrive at an elevation where each breath of air has 40% less oxygen than at sea level.

Researchers also don’t know exactly how the EPAS1 gene …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 8:26 am

Little Butterstick, back home and all grown up

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See him here.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 7:08 am

Posted in Daily life

Damn Fine Shave

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I don’t shave on Sundays—only so that at least once a week I can shave a two-day stubble. So this is not a typical post of a particular shave, but rather a post to call your attention to get a lot of shaving loot: is having a summer membership drive. Details here. So far, the prize includes:

  • D.R. Harris razor (a rebranded Edwin Jagger Chatsworth with the new head)
  • GEM G-bar razor with appropriate single-edge blades
  • 100 sealed Lord Stainless Steel blades
  • 25 Astra Superior Platinum blades OR 25 Red Pack Israeli Personna blades (Winner’s choice)
  • A brand new Semogue Owners Club brush
  • A tube of Tom’s of Maine Mint shaving cream
  • A puck of Van Der Hagen glycerin shaving soap
  • 2 copies of Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving (one for winner, one for his buddy)

That’s so far. More prizes may be offered.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2010 at 6:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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