Later On

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

Archive for October 13th, 2010

States screwing up kids in their care

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Government requires an active, alert, and investigative press corps, but as journalism focuses more and more on celebrity gossip and entertainment, bad things will increase. One certainly cannot expect business to serve as a watchdog: business is the main corrupter. Marian Wang reports in ProPublica:

Though the use of antipsychotic drugs on children is believed to carry significant risks even when used properly to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, it’s not uncommon in some states for juveniles in detention to be prescribed antipsychotics simply to counter mood disorders or aggressive behavior, according to an investigation by Youth Today, which covers the juvenile justice system and youth services.

Data on antipsychotic expenditures and individual diagnoses show that for juvenile detention facilities in Connecticut, Louisiana, New York, Texas and West Virginia, 70 percent of prescriptions were filled for conditions other than bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — the disorders for which these drugs generally are FDA-approved. (Doctors can still prescribe the drugs for off-label uses, or to treat conditions for which they have not been approved.)

Most states, when surveyed, either could not or would not demonstrate that they were even monitoring the use of these drugs on incarcerated juveniles, Youth Today reported. Of the 34 states that provided no answers when queried, 16 refused to answer.

A piece in The New York Times over the weekend provided additional context on the subject. Over the years, drug companies have aggressively marketed second-generation antipsychotics — known as “atypicals” — to be safer than the first-generation drugs. While some side effects appear to be less severe, the atypicals have a range of other side effects, and the safety claims regarding these second-generation drugs have been “greatly exaggerated,” Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of Columbia University’s psychiatry department, told the Times.

The industry’s response? Again from the Times:

The drug companies say all the possible side effects are fully disclosed to the F.D.A., doctors and patients. Side effects like drowsiness, nausea, weight gain, involuntary body movements and links to diabetes are listed on the label. The companies say they have a generally safe record in treating a difficult disease and are fighting lawsuits in which some patients claim harm.

In recent years, four major drug companies Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and AstraZeneca — have settled lawsuits brought by the government, which accused them of illegal practices related to the marketing and promotion of antipsychotic drugs. Some of these lawsuits were related to promotion of off-label use — which doctors may prescribe, but drug makers are not allowed to promote once a drug has been approved by the FDA for specific uses.

Youth Today’s report raised the question of whether these drugs are being used off-label as chemical restraints or sedatives for youth with behavioral problems that could be treated more effectively by other means. Not all psychologists have a problem with the use of antipsychotics to alter behavior, the piece pointed out: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 3:18 pm

Should we now drop “America the Beautiful”?

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Greenwald:

From The Washington Post today:

A Syrian man released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay last year sued the U.S. military Wednesday, saying that he was the victim of a “Kafkaesque nightmare” in which he was tortured by al-Qaeda after being accused of being U.S. spy, liberated, then tortured by the Americans, who held him for seven more years by mistake.

Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak al-Janko, 32, who has been resettled outside the United States, filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, the court that ordered his release in June 2009. At the time, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon concluded that the U.S. government’s case for holding Janko “defies common sense.”

Janko was tortured by al-Qaeda and imprisoned by the Taliban for 18 months on suspicion of being a spy for the United States or Israel. Leon found no evidence that the Syrian was loyal to either group.

Janko “is the victim of a decade-long Kafkaesque nightmare from which he is just awakening,” the suit says.

Janko says that he was urinated on by his American captors, slapped, threatened with loss of fingernails, and exposed to sleep deprivation, extreme cold and stress positions. . . .

Spokesmen for the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment late Wednesday on the case, which had not been entered into the court’s electronic database.

Fortunately, the Obama DOJ — which fought unsuccessfully to keep Janko imprisoned at Guantanamo — has been so consistent in its standards that one need not wait to hear from them to know how they will respond.  It’s the same way they’ve responded in similar cases:  whatever was done to this person is a State Secret that no court can review; those who are responsible for the abuse do and should enjoy full legal immunity; and, besides, we should all be Looking Forward, Not Backward at “unnecessary battles” like this one.  I don’t know why Janko can’t just accept that what was done to him is a big secret that cannot possibly be compensated without jeopardizing American National Security and, more important, realize that he should just get on with his life and the Glorious Future and stop asking us all to Look Backward to what was done to him (all the way back to the ancient past of 2004 and 2007 and 2009).  That’s the only just thing to do.

Note this similarity as well:  Janko was, as the Court found, first “not only imprisoned, but tortured by Al Qaeda into making a false ‘confession'” that he was an American spy, and then, lawlessly imprisoned for 18 months by the Taliban as a spy, only thereafter to be abducted and lawlessly detained by the U.S. for seven years, where he was also tortured.  All that, despite no evidence whatsoever that he was loyal to Al Qaeda and plenty of evidence that he was not (namely, the fact that they detained and tortured him as an American spy).  Cases such as this one really underscore how wise it is to vest the President with the power to decide — on his own, with no review or oversight — who is and is not a Terrorist worthy of death.

UPDATE:  The always-thorough Andy Worthington last June wrote an excellent narrative on the heinous plight of Janko, which is well worth reading (h/t harpie).  That the Obama DOJ’s tactics virtually ensure he will receive no accountability or justice is horrifying, though par for the course by now.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 2:00 pm

Decline of the US, cont’d

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Greenwald:

It’s easy to say and easy to document, but quite difficult to really internalize, that the United States is in the process of imperial collapse.  Every now and then, however, one encounters certain facts which compellingly and viscerally highlight how real that is.  Here’s the latest such fact, from a new study in Health Affairs by Columbia Health Policy Professors Peter A. Muennig and Sherry A. Glied (h/t):

In 1950, the United States was fifth among the leading industrialized nations with respect to female life expectancy at birth, surpassed only by Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands.  The last available measure of female life expectancy had the United States ranked at forty-sixth in the world.  As of September 23, 2010, the United States ranked forty-ninth for both male and female life expectancy combined.

Just to underscore the rapidity of the decline, as recently as 1999, the U.S. was ranked by the World Health Organization as 24th in life expectancy.  It’s now 49th.  There are other similarly potent indicators.  In 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics ranked the U.S. in 30th place in global infant mortality rates.  Out of 20 “rich countries” measured by UNICEF, the U.S. ranks 19th in “child well-being.” Out of 33 nations measured by the OECD, the U.S. ranks 27th for student math literacy and 22nd for student science literacy.  In 2009, the World Economic Forum ranked 133 nations in terms of “soundness” of their banks, and the U.S. was ranked in 108th place, just behind Tanzania and just ahead of Venezuela.

There is, however, some good news:  the U.S. is now in fifth place in total number of executions, behind only China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and comfortably ahead of Yemen and Sudan, while there are two categories in which the U.S. has been and remains the undisputed champion of the worldthis one and this one.  And, of course, the U.S. is not just objectively the greatest country on the planet, but the greatest country ever to exist in all of human history — as Dave Roberts put it in response to these life expectancy numbers:  “but we’re No. 1 in bestness!” — so we’re every bit as exceptional as ever.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 1:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Why terrorists target the US

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Some research has been done, and it turns out that the terrorists do NOT hate the US for its freedoms at all. Laura Rozen in Politico:

Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political science professor and former Air Force lecturer, will present findings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that argue that the majority of suicide terrorism around the world since 1980 has had a common cause: military occupation.

Pape and his team of researchers draw on data produced by a six-year study of suicide terrorist attacks around the world that was partially funded by the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency. They have compiled the terrorism statistics in a publicly available database comprising some 10,000 records on some 2,200 suicide terrorism attacks, dating back to the first suicide terrorism attack of modern times — the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 241 U.S. Marines.

“We have lots of evidence now that when you put the foreign military presence in, it triggers suicide terrorism campaigns, … and that when the foreign forces leave, it takes away almost 100 percent of the terrorist campaign,” Pape said in an interview last week on his findings.

Pape said there has been a dramatic spike in suicide bombings in Afghanistan since U.S. forces began to expand their presence to the south and east of the country in 2006. While there were a total of 12 suicide attacks from 2001 to 2005 in Afghanistan when the U.S. had a relatively limited troop presence of a few thousand troops mostly in Kabul, since 2006 there have been more than 450 suicide attacks in Afghanistan — and they are growing more lethal, Pape said.

Deaths due to suicide attacks in Afghanistan have gone up by a third in the year since President Barack Obama added 30,000 more U.S. troops. “It is not making it any better,” Pape said.

Pape believes his findings have important implications even for countries where the U.S. does not have a significant direct military presence but is perceived by the population to be indirectly occupying.

For instance, across the border from Afghanistan, suicide terrorism exploded in Pakistan in 2006 as the U.S. put pressure on then-Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf “to divert 100,000 Pakistani army troops from their [perceived] main threat [India] to western Pakistan,” Pape said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 1:49 pm

True scones

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Excellent recipe from Mark Bittman in today’s NY Times:

Classic Scones

Time: 20 minutes

2 cups cake flour, more as needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream, more for brushing.

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the flour, salt, baking powder and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal.

2. Add the egg and just enough cream to form a slightly sticky dough. If it’s too sticky, add a little flour, but very little; it should still stick a little to your hands.

3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead once or twice, then press it into a 3/4-inch-thick circle and cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or glass. Put the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Gently reshape the leftover dough and cut again. Brush the top of each scone with a bit of cream and sprinkle with a little of the remaining sugar.

4. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the scones are a beautiful golden brown. Serve immediately.

Yield: 8 to 10 scones.

Backstory on the scone recipe.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 12:42 pm

Jail ’em all

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All the politicians who created the mess—authorizing health benefits for retirees but failing to fund those benefits (aka “empty promises”, “dereliction of duty”, etc.)—should be jailed. Not indefinitely, as the US jails various suspects (“indefinitely” = “as long as the government can hold the victim while beating down court appeals with ‘state secrets'”), but simply until the retirees get their benefits. Mary Walsh reports in the NY Times:

The cities, counties and authorities of New York have promised more than $200 billion worth of health benefits to their retirees while setting aside almost nothing, putting the public work force on a collision course with the taxpayers who are expected to foot the bill.

The total cost appears in a report to be issued on Wednesday by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a research organization that studies fiscal policy.

It does not suggest that New York must somehow come up with $200 billion right away.

But the report casts serious doubt over whether medical benefits for New York’s retirees will be sustainable, given the sputtering economy and today’s climate of hostility toward new taxes and taxpayer bailouts.

The daunting size of the health care obligation raises the possibility that localities will be forced at some point to choose between paying their retirees’ medical costs and paying the investors who hold their bonds. Government officials aim to satisfy both groups, and have even made painful cuts in local services when necessary to keep up with both sets of payments.

Only a few places have tried to rein in their costs, by billing retirees for a portion of the premiums, for example. Retirees have responded with lawsuits, but ratings agencies and municipal bond buyers have shrugged off these warning signs.

“So far, the market doesn’t care,” said Edmund J. McMahon, the director of the Empire Center. “The market seems to assume, on the basis of nothing, that at some point all of these places are simply going to stop paying retiree health benefits.”

The health benefits are entirely separate from the pensions that New York’s public workers have earned. Governments have reported their pension obligations for years, but their retiree medical obligations have been building up unseen, because governments were not required to account for them. The information is starting to come to light because of a new accounting requirement.

One city, Schenectady, found the cost too overwhelming to calculate, warning that it “will be astronomical, with the potential of bankrupting municipalities.”

The city even said in a document accompanying a recent debt offering that it did not know whether it was really required to comply with the new accounting rule.

The $200 billion that New York State and its localities owe retirees in the aggregate is less than the amount they owe their bondholders, about $264 billion. But health costs are rising, and in some places the obligations have already eclipsed the value of the government’s outstanding bonds. Most credit analysts seem to expect that if a municipality has to default on something, it will default on its retiree health promises, not on its bonds. Pensions, meanwhile, are considered protected by the New York State constitution.

But no one knows for sure, and no one is predicting that retirees will take the loss of a valuable health plan lying down.

“It will be a mess. There will be a lot of disputes, a lot of litigation,” said Jerry A. Webman, chief economist for OppenheimerFunds. He said that defaults and bankruptcies by governments were still so rare that there was little legal precedent, and no way of knowing which pledges would survive a court challenge…

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Weird: I cannot seem to make that apostrophe in the title a “close quote” apostrophe, which is what it should be. Irritating.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

WordPress blogging software

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I moved from Blogger to WordPress quite a while ago and have never regretted it. I use WordPress.com (the free hosting service) rather than WordPress.org (the free software you host yourself). The former has restrictions that don’t apply to the latter, which has plug-ins not available to the former.

I just came across this handy exposition on the two and the trade-offs. Worth considering if you’re thinking about blogging.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in Software

My next laptop: Apple

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Okay, okay, okay. I get it. I’ve been using Apple laptops (I can’t recall the name, but it probably starts with “i”) on this trip: first the one belonging to The Daughter-In-Law, now the one belonging to TYD. There are many “oddities” (from the POV of a Windows native), but I’m gradually catching on. I have, for example, finally mastered the two-finger scroll: the pointer must be in the region being scrolled, which I didn’t at first realize. And I’ve even learned to push the touchpad firmly to click—and finally realized I don’t have to push it way over toward the left edge for a “left click,” since Apple is short one click: it has no “right click”.

I thus am lulled into believing that I could get used to it. And what is its true appeal? I can read the screen, even relatively small print. I can’t quite figure out why, and I’ll have to try a Windows laptop again to verify, but my earlier attempt to use a Windows laptop was stymied by not being able to read small print.

UPDATE: Just found the name: MacBook.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 10:48 am

Posted in Technology

Dumb, dumb, dumb

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Apparently when I used the ATM last night I took the money but left the card. In that case, the machine will wait a few moments and then will eat the card, cutting it in half through the magnetic stripe. I called the branch, but it is impossible (I was told) for them to check whether the card (cut in half) is in the machine until Friday. No way can they open the machine to check.

OTOH, I very quickly got a new ATM card mailed to me, and though it will take a few days, I won’t be home until the middle of next week, so that will probably work out. And the old card is worthless now, even if I happen to have dropped it someplace: it will now not work at all.

I once left my card in the ATM in Monterey. (It’s truly not a habit, but it did happen once before.) The bank called me the next day to tell me that the card had been recovered from an ATM in Berkeley, about 4-5 hours away (depending on traffic): someone tried to withdraw money, but after the third failure at entering the security code, the machine ate the card.

I feel sort of stupid—and will feel even stupider if I suddenly find the card in a pocket—but at least all is okay.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 10:27 am

Posted in Daily life

Lemon Barley Water

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I have quickly grown fond of Robinson’s Lemon Barley Water Concentrate, and I’ll be ordering some once I return home. It’s generally a hot-weather drink, but I like it anytime.

I’ll also be ordering some Barry’s Tea, which is also available as loose tea.

 

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 6:25 am

Posted in Caffeine, Drinks, Food

Maybe you should rethink running that marathon

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Because of your knees. Latest study results show damage. Final result are unambiguous, but it seems unlikely to me that running marathons can be good for your knees.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2010 at 4:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Medical

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