Later On

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

Archive for July 6th, 2010

Obesity and anti-depressants

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Last night I was reflecting, and it suddenly struck me that my current obesity began shortly after I started taking an anti-depressant (a few months afterwards) and I jumped into the diet counseling and fitness programs shortly after discontinuing the anti-depressant. I do note that a weight change (up or down) is found in 3% of those taking the anti-depressant I was using (Effexor XR). So it’s possible that some of my obesity was not simply lack of discipline but may have external causes.

Clay Shirky in Cognitive Surplus talks about the fundamental attribution error: looking for causes in the character or psychology of the people being studied while ignoring external influences such as opportunities (present or missing), etc. A simple example: a programmer deciding that the reason people have trouble with an interface he designed is that they are stupid, won’t read the instructions, etc.: totally focusing on causes internal to the users and not looking at the design itself, which may be the source of the problem.

Of course, the error can go in the other direction: people beating themselves up for a failure that is not due to them but to external circumstances and the context in which they were working.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Best Philadelphia steakhouse?

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I am planning a trip East in October, and one of the stops I plan to make is a dinner in Philadelphia with one of my daughters. So, you who know the area, what is the best steakhouse? I’m interested in unobtrusive service, quiet atmosphere, and superb steaks. I’m thinking Smith & Wollensky just because I’ve read about them a fair amount (along with Pete Luger, but Luger doesn’t have a Philadelphia branch).

We’re using to do the planning. Pretty nice.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

The crux of our endless War on Terror

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As I wrote last week, the Obama administration finally purported to defend its presidential assassination program aimed at American citizens, when Obama’s Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, offered patently misleading claims to justify it.  Yesterday, Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff posed several good questions to Leiter about this program and the "War on Terror" generally — several of which are themes raised often here — and Leiter’s responses compellingly illustrate the utter illogic and counter-productive nature of our Terrorism and war policies.

First, Isikoff noted that CIA Director Leon Panetta said that there are at most 100 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan — which led Fareed Zakaria, with great understatement, to suggest that our ten-year war there seemed "disproportionate" to the ostensible problem — and then asked Leiter how many Al Qaeda members are in Pakistan:

Leiter: I think [CIA director] Leon Panetta said on Sunday, and I agree with him, that in Afghanistan, you have a certain number, a relatively small number, 50 to 100. I think we have in Pakistan a larger number.

Q:  How many?

Leiter:  Upwards –more than 300, I would say.

So between Afghanistan and Pakistan combined, there are a few hundred Al Qaeda members total.  All of this ongoing war and those hundreds of billions of dollars spent and those deaths and the decade of occupation, and those bombings and shootings and drone attacks and lawless prisons and habeas-stripping court precedents:  it’s all (ostensibly) for a few hundred extremists total hiding in remote tribal areas.  A few hundred.  Making matters so much worse is this:

Q:  Isn’t it true that in almost every one of the big cases where there’s been attempted attacks on the U.S., the individuals involved — Faisal Shahzad, Najibullah Zazi — have said they were motivated to go abroad to learn how to attack the United States by the [military] actions we are taking now in Afghanistan and in Pakistan to try to defeat Al Qaeda there?

Leiter:  Well I certainly will not try to argue that some of our actions have not led to some people being radicalized. I think that’s a given . . . .That doesn’t mean you don’t do it. That means you craft a fuller strategy to explain why you’re doing that and try to minimize the likelihood that individuals are going to be radicalized.

Actually, the recent attempted Terrorists referenced by Isikoff have said they were motivated by more than just our actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan; several have cited our attack on Iraq, our support for Israeli aggression, lawless prisons and torture.  Still, not only are we engaged in a ten-year-and-counting, highly destructive war and bombing campaign in that region all for a few hundred fighters, but Leiter concedes (as has been recognized by the U.S. Government for years) that those actions have the opposite effect of what is supposedly intended:  namely, these actions are what motivate so much of the very Terrorism (especially the recent Terrorism) that is cited to justify those policies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 11:18 am

A bad idea: Donations to Israel’s illegal settlements are tax-exempt

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But we should not be encouraging widescale law-breaking. Marc Tracy in Tablet:

The New York Times has a nearly 5,000-word article sure to provoke conversation amid Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting at the White House today. It reports that in the past decade U.S. law has allowed the tax-exempt donation of $200 million to further Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—which the U.S. government opposes.

Most of the money, which must pass through an American charity to become tax-exempt, goes to established settlements near the Green Line that are permitted under Israeli law; two-state endgames typically envision land-swaps that would place these conurbations in Israel proper.

But, to the consternation even of Israeli security officials, smaller (but impactful) amounts of tax-exempt funds flow to illegal outposts inhabited by radical settlers unlikely to leave without a fight.

The Times isn’t breaking this story; if anything, the news is that this dynamic has long been an open secret. “It drove us crazy,” former U.S. Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer says. “It was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

The article will likely prompt closer looks at and arguments over the current state of Israeli settlements and settlement policy; the Obama administration’s relative friendliness to Israel (or lack thereof); and even The New York Times, which pretty clearly intended to publish the piece on the day that was supposed to culminate the months-long reinforcement of U.S.-Israeli ties.

The piece certainly hits home in the context of the typical locution, “I don’t want my tax money going toward” a given cause.

Says the Times:

While a succession of American administrations have opposed the settlements here, Mr. Obama has particularly focused on them as obstacles to peace. A two-state solution in the Middle East, he says, is vital to defusing Muslim anger at the West. Under American pressure, Mr. Netanyahu has temporarily frozen new construction to get peace talks going. The freeze and negotiations, in turn, have injected new urgency into the settlers’ cause—and into fund-raising for it.

The article, co-written by Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner, quotes a “senior State Department official” on the tax policy: “It’s a problem. It’s unhelpful to the efforts that we’re trying to make.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 10:43 am

Willful ignorance in education

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A big story on something that’s been known for decades: teens should not start school early in the day. But the education establishment is incredibly resistant to change. The story:

Giving teens 30 extra minutes to start their school day leads to more alertness in class, better moods, less tardiness, and even healthier breakfasts, a small study found.

"The results were stunning. There’s no other word to use," said Patricia Moss, academic dean at the Rhode Island boarding school where the study was done. "We didn’t think we’d get that much bang for the buck."

The results appear in July’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The results mirror those at a few schools that have delayed starting times more than half an hour.

Researchers say there’s a reason why even 30 minutes can make a big difference. Teens tend to be in their deepest sleep around dawn — when they typically need to arise for school. Interrupting that sleep can leave them groggy, especially since they also tend to have trouble falling asleep before 11 p.m.

"There’s biological science to this that I think provides compelling evidence as to why this makes sense," said Brown University sleep researcher Dr. Judith Owens, the study’s lead author and a pediatrician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I.

An Archives editorial said the study adds to "a growing body of evidence that changing the start time for high schools is good for adolescents."

The fact that the study was in the exclusive setting of St. George’s School in Middletown, R.I., doesn’t necessarily weaken the results. Owens acknowledged that there might be more hurdles to overcome at poorer, public schools, including busing schedules, parents’ work hours and daycare for younger siblings. While these issues have killed many proposals elsewhere, some public high schools including those in Minneapolis and West Des Moines have adopted later starting times.

Mel Riddile, an associate director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, favors later class times for teens but said most districts oppose it.

"It’s about adult convenience, it’s not about learning," he said. "With budget cuts, it’s going to make it more difficult to get this done."

Many parents and teachers at St. George’s were opposed but reluctantly agreed to the study after a presentation by Owens, whose daughter was a junior there.

Overall, 201 high school students completed sleep habit surveys before and after the nine-week experiment last year. The results were so impressive that the school made the change permanent, Moss said.

Starting times were shifted from 8 to 8:30. All class times were cut 5 to 10 minutes to avoid a longer school day that would interfere with after-school activities. Moss said improvements in student alertness made up for that lost instruction time…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 9:18 am

Follow-up on BP’s police state down there in Louisiana

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Last week, I interviewed Mother Jones‘ Mac McClelland, who has been covering the BP oil spill in the Gulf since the first day it happened.  She detailed how local police and federal officials work with BP to harass, impede, interrogate and even detain journalists who are covering the impact of the spill and the clean-up efforts.  She documented one incident which was particularly chilling of an activist who — after being told by a local police officer to stop filming a BP facility because "BP didn’t want him filming" — was then pulled over after he left by that officer so he could be interrogated by a BP security official.  McClelland also described how BP has virtually bought entire Police Departments which now do its bidding:  "One parish has 57 extra shifts per week that they are devoting entirely to, basically, BP security detail, and BP is paying the sheriff’s office."

Today, an article that is a joint collaboration between PBS’ Frontline and ProPublica reported that a BP refinery in Texas "spewed tens of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the skies" two weeks before the company’s rig in the Gulf collapsed.   Accompanying that article was this sidebar report:

A photographer taking pictures for these articles, was detained Friday while shooting pictures in Texas City, Texas.

The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said that shortly after arriving in town, he was confronted by a BP security officer, local police and a man who identified himself as an agent of the Department of Homeland Security. He was released after the police reviewed the pictures he had taken on Friday and recorded his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information.

The police officer then turned that information over to the BP security guard under what he said was standard procedure, according to Rosenfield.

No charges were filed.

Rosenfield, an experienced freelance photographer, said he was detained shortly after shooting a photograph of a Texas City sign on a public roadway. Rosenfield said he was followed by a BP employee in a truck after taking the picture and blocked by two police cars when he pulled into a gas station.

According to Rosenfield, the officers said they had a right to look at photos taken near secured areas of the refinery, even if they were shot from public property. Rosenfield said he was told he would be "taken in" if he declined to comply.

ProPublica’s Paul Steiger said that the reporting team told law enforcement agents that they were working on a deadline for this story about that facility, and that even if DHS agents believed they had a legitimate reason to scrutinize the actions and photographs of this photographer, there was no reason that "should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company."

These are true police state tactics, and it’s now clear that it is part of a pattern.  It’s been documented for months now that BP and government officials have been acting in unison to block media coverage of the area; Newsweek reported this in late May:

As BP makes its latest attempt to plug its gushing oil well, news photographers are complaining that their efforts to document the slow-motion disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are being thwarted by local and federal officials — working with BP — who are blocking access to the sites where the effects of the spill are most visible. More than a month into the disaster, a host of anecdotal evidence is emerging from reporters, photographers, and TV crews in which BP and Coast Guard officials explicitly target members of the media, restricting and denying them access to oil-covered beaches, staging areas for clean-up efforts, and even flyovers.

The very idea that government officials are acting as agents of BP (of all companies) in what clearly seem to be unconstitutional acts to intimidate and impede the media is infuriating.  Obviously, the U.S. Government and BP share the same interest — preventing the public from knowing the magnitude of the spill and the inadequacy of the clean-up efforts — but this creepy police state behavior is intolerable.  In this latest case, the journalists were not even focused on the spill itself, but on BP’s other potentially reckless behavior with other refineries, and yet there are DHS agents and local police officials acting as BP’s personal muscle to detain, interrogate, and threaten a photographer.  BP’s destructive conduct, and the government’s complicity, have slowly faded from public attention, and there clearly seem to be multiple levels of law enforcement devoted to keeping it that way, no matter how plainly illegal their tactics are.

UPDATEMore evidence here (h/t bamage):

Journalists who come too close to oil spill clean-up efforts without permission could find themselves facing a $40,000 fine and even one to five years in prison under a new rule instituted by the Coast Guard late last week.

It’s a move that outraged observers have decried as an attack on First Amendment rights. And CNN’s Anderson Cooper describes the new rules as making it "very easy to hide incompetence or failure". . . .

[S]ince "oil spill response operations" apparently covers much of the clean-up effort on the beaches, CNN’s [] Cooper describes the rule as banning reporters from "anywhere we need to be" . . . .

A "willful" violation of the new rule could result in Class D felony charges, which carry a penalty of one to five years in prison under federal law.

The new rule appears to contradict the promises made by Adm. Thad Allen, the official leading the Coast Guard’s response to the oil spill.

"Media will have uninhibited access anywhere we’re doing operations, except for two things, if it’s a security or safety problem," Allen told ABC News in June. . . .

"[T]o create a blanket rule that everyone has to stay 65 feet away from boom and boats, that doesn’t sound like transparency," [said Cooper].

The rule has come under severe criticism not only from journalists but from observers and activists involved in the Gulf Coast clean-up.

"With this, the Gulf Coast cleanup operation has now entered a weird Orwellian reality where the news is shaped, censored and controlled by the government in order to prevent the public from learning the truth about what’s really happening," writes Mike Adams at NaturalNews. . . .

Reporters have been complaining for weeks about BP, the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard working to keep reporters away from wrenching images of oil-covered birds and oil-soaked beaches.

We’ve frequently heard excuses that the Federal Government has little power to do anything to BP, but they certainly seem to have ample power to do a great deal for them.  Public indifference about such things is the by-product of those who walk around like drones repeating the mantra that political officials know what’s best about what must be kept secret, and that the Threat of Terrorism (which is what is exploited to justify such acts) means we must meekly acquiesce to such powers in the name of Staying Safe.

UPDATE IIFrom The New York Times, June 9, 2010:

Journalists struggling to document the impact of the oil rig explosion have repeatedly found themselves turned away from public areas affected by the spill, and not only by BP and its contractors, but by local law enforcement, the Coast Guard and government officials.

To some critics of the response effort by BP and the government, instances of news media being kept at bay are just another example of a broader problem of officials’ filtering what images of the spill the public sees.

This is clearly a deliberate and systematic pattern of preventing access and coverage that has been going on since the beginning of the spill.  And, as we find in so many realms, it’s impossible to know where government actions end and corporate actions begin because the line basically does not exist.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 9:14 am

Trusting business: Medical supply division

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Whoever it was who used to comment that we could simply trust businesses to do the right thing, without the need for government regulation and third-party inspections and swift, harsh sentences for executives who break the law. But it really doesn’t seem that businesses are particularly trustworthy, given that their sole motivation is to increase profits. Mariah Blake reports in the Washington Monthly:

When Thomas Shaw gets worked up, he twists in his chair and kneads his hand. Or he paces about in his tube socks grumbling, “They’re trying to destroy us,” and “The whole thing is a giant scam.” And Shaw, the founder of a medical device maker called Retractable Technologies, spends a lot of time being agitated.

One of the topics that gets him most riled up these days is bloodstream infections. And with good reason—while most people rarely think about them, these are the most dangerous of the hospital-acquired bugs that afflict one in ten patients in the United States. Their spread has helped to make contact with our health care system the fifth leading cause of death in this country.

A few years ago, Shaw, an engineer by training, decided he wanted to do something to help solve this problem and quickly homed in on the mechanics of needle-less IV catheters. Rather than using needles to inject drugs into IV systems, most hospitals have moved to a new design, which involves screwing the threaded tip of a needle-less syringe into a specially designed port. The problem is that if the tip brushes against a nurse’s scrubs, or a counter, or the railing of a hospital bed, it can pick up bacteria. And the rugged threaded surface makes it difficult to get rid of the germs once they’re there. Often, the bacteria go straight into the patients’ bloodstream—which explains why, according to some studies, the rate of bloodstream infections is three times higher with needle-less systems than with their needle-based counterparts.

After months of trial and error, Shaw hit on the idea of surrounding the tip of the syringe with six petal-like flanges, which could flare open to make way for the catheter port. Unlike some of the solutions floated by big medical device makers, such as coating the ports with silver, Shaw’s innovation added only a few pennies to the cost of production. And it seemed to be remarkably effective: a 2007 clinical study funded by Shaw’s company and conducted by the independent SGS Laboratories found the device prevented germs from being transferred to catheters nearly 100 percent of the time.

Given these facts, you might expect that hospitals would be lining up to buy Shaw’s product. But that is not the case, even though his company is offering to match whatever price medical facilities are paying for their current, infection-prone IV catheter syringes. In fact, since the device hit the market two years ago, Retractable has sold fewer than 20,000 units, mostly to one New York hospital. Often, the company’s sales team can’t even get in the door to show their wares to purchasing agents. “The product does exactly what it is supposed to do,” Shaw says. “But it has one fatal flaw. Right there at the bottom of the handle it says Retractable Technologies.”

This is hardly the first time Shaw has found his path to market blocked. In fact, he has spent the last fifteen years watching his potentially game-changing inventions collect dust on warehouse shelves. And the same is true of countless other small medical suppliers. Their plight is just the most visible outgrowth of the tangled system hospitals use to purchase their supplies—a system built on a seemingly minor provision in Medicare law that few people even know about. It’s a system that has stifled innovation and kept lifesaving medical devices off the market. And while it’s supposed to curb prices, it may actually be driving up the cost of medical supplies, the second largest expenditure for our nation’s hospitals and clinics and a major contributor to the ballooning cost of health care, which consumes nearly a fifth of our gross domestic product…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 8:44 am

When cynicism works

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

I was watching a local public affairs show the other day when the host, a neutral reporter with no obvious ideological leanings, noted how upset many voters are that "Congress left town last week without extending unemployment benefits." The other panelists on program nodded their heads. Not a word was spoken, however, about who, specifically, was responsible for the developments.

Kevin Drum noted a similar situation he saw over the weekend.

Last night we had some friends over for the 4th and I got to talking with one of them about politics. He’s a conservative-leaning guy, but he was pretty upset about the unemployment situation. "Congress just took off for the holidays leaving this mess behind," he stewed. We went on to agree that everyone hates Congress. Its approval rating is somewhere between that of pedophile priests and Osama bin Laden.

But that’s as far as it went: Congress. Not Republicans. Just "Congress." And that’s why obstructionism works so well for them. Partisans are partisans and are going to hate the other party no matter what. But then there’s the vast middle ground of people who lean one way or the other but don’t spend all day reading blogs or listening to talk radio. And as long as they view the problem as "Congress," that’s bad news for whoever’s in charge at the moment.

Ben Nelson aside, there’s not much question which party is holding up unemployment benefits. You know it, I know it, reporters know it, and political junkies of all stripes know it. But lots of people don’t. They see a headline that says "Congress Adjourns Without Acting on Unemployment" and they don’t read much further. Every time that happens, it’s a big win for the GOP. And it happens a lot.

Greg Sargent writes about this dynamic fairly often, and it’s a persuasive, albeit frustrating, observation. Republicans deliberately create government dysfunction … which makes voters, who hate the dysfunction, angry … which leads them to vote for more Republicans since Democrats are the majority party and get blamed when the status quo breaks down.

Indeed, this goes further than just public perceptions about gridlock — the consequences fuel more public outrage. As Josh Marshall noted yesterday, "Republicans block any measures to buoy or resuscitate economy, call sputtering economy evidence of superiority of Republican policies, reap political benefit. Rinse. Restart."

When it comes to exploiting public anxieties and frustrations, it’s about the most cynical scam imaginable, isn’t it? The goal is to get the public to throw up its arms in disgust and think, "To hell with the whole bunch." Once that happens, Republicans are thrilled, creating an incentive for the GOP to do whatever it takes to make Washington even worse.

Best of all, there’s not a whole lot to be done since, institutionally, we have a system that gives the majority power and gives the minority the ability to stop the majority from exercising that power. Bringing majority-rule back to the Senate would no doubt help, but that’s not even on the table. An engaged, informed electorate, coupled with better political reporting from major media outlets, would make a huge difference, but that’s nowhere in sight, either. A more moderate, pragmatic Republican Party would transform Washington, but so long as the GOP is rewarded for its extremism, that’s a fanciful dream.

We’re left with a political landscape in which voters to punish Democrats for Republicans’ actions.

I will say that the LA Times frequently states clearly the cause when some legislation has failed due to GOP holds.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 8:39 am

Crises of Capitalism

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From Dan Colman’s Open Culture:

The economic/financial picture is looking ugly once again. Indeed, just yesterday, the most emailed New York Times article warned that the stock market might be on the verge of an epic crash, one that will bring the Dow below 1,000. So how did we wind up in this global credit mess? We’ve heard various explanations, most assuming that our capitalist system didn’t quite function as it should, and that a few regulations will take care of the problem. But this is not the position taken by David Harvey, an important social theorist and geographer (now at CUNY). Drawing on Marxian analysis (it’s still alive and well somewhere), Harvey suggests that the crisis is built into capitalism itself. It’s not the result of too few regulations. Rather it’s part of capitalism’s internal logic. (Mark Mancall, an emeritus Stanford history prof, echoes some of these basic thoughts on “Entitled Opinions” by the way.) The animated video above is an outtake from a longer lecture presented by Harvey at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in the UK. You can watch the video in full here. Meanwhile, David Harvey has also made available online a free, 26 hour course that offers a close reading of Karl Marx’s Capital. It appears in the Economics section of our collection of Free Online Courses.

Here’s the full lecture:

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 8:32 am

Truefitt & Hill 1805

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Truefitt & Hill’s 1805 has a nice fragrance and made a fine lather with the Plisson HMW 12. The Gillette Fat Boy with a Swedish Gillette blade did three smooth passes, and a splash of TOBS Shaving Shop finished the morning ritual.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2010 at 7:28 am

Posted in Shaving

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