Later On

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

Archive for June 17th, 2011

Obama acts as though he’s king, above the law

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Astonishing, but consistent with Obama’s general approach to the law and the powers of the President. Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.

Presidents have the legal authority to override the legal conclusions of the Office of Legal Counsel and to act in a manner that is contrary to its advice, but it is extraordinarily rare for that to happen. Under normal circumstances, the office’s interpretation of the law is legally binding on the executive branch. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2011 at 9:41 pm

Further signs the War on Drugs has been lost

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Synthetic drugs—quite legal until laws are passed making them illegal because they.. what? why is it so urgent to pass laws banning these? Shouldn’t there be some proof that the substance needs to be banned? That it actually does harm?

I think legislators do not want to go in that direction because that would lead to awkward questions about tobacco and alcohol, both significantly more harmful that, say, marijuana. So the laws are passed simply because …  why? The US likes to make things illegal? I don’t get it.

Here’s a good article in BusinessWeek about the synthetic drug business.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2011 at 4:33 pm

Persistence

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I’m gradually starting to understand the power of persistence. I tend to develop new interests quickly, and these can eat up available time, crowding out earlier interests. I had not thought much about the benefits of sticking with the old. But now I’m experiencing success not from intense effort, but from moderate effort sustained over weeks and months.

Quite a while back I realized that when people change it doesn’t happen with the speed of insight but at the pace of plant growth. Because of my interest in novelty, I’ve tended to overvalue insight—when one suddenly grasps an overall pattern or an explanatory connection. Insights are a great pleasure and quite useful, but they don’t get the job done. A friend who was a product manager for computer games valued a great game idea at somewhere around 2%-4% of the game’s worth. The idea is important, but 96%-98% of bringing the game to market and making it a success belongs to the effort to realize the idea: test the concept, design the interface, write the code, test everything, write supporting materials and develop a marketing campaign, etc. The idea amounts to less than the tip of the iceberg. There must be an idea to start the process, but—let’s face it—ideas are a dime a dozen. The value almost always in the work that transforms the idea into a real product.

I enjoy having ideas, but quite often my work in bringing an idea into practice has been interrupted by new ideas, making it difficulty to stay on task. And even when I could stay on task, I generally had in mind making a big push for a week or so: a sprint rather than going for distance and duration.

What I’ve experienced over the past year is that quite substantial changes can follow from a persistent albeit low-key effort. For example, my weight loss: it took one year to reach my current weight and, more important, my current habits and perceptions. Learning Spanish: It will take 18 months for three semesters of Spanish, along with a modest daily time investment (the Anki review each morning: once around 20 minutes a day, it’s now about 10-15, but it is indeed a daily exercise). Pilates I do twice a week now (though for a couple of months early on I did three times a week—I’m going to add a couple of sessions a week of floor exercises at home Real Soon Now.

But those three examples are enough to convince me of the value of persisting and the magnitude of what a persistent effort can accomplish even if the daily gains seem small.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2011 at 2:23 pm

City development in India

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This post by Alex Tabarrok on a strange corporate city—and its successes and failings—I found via Kevin Drum. Fascinating—and the comments are good, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2011 at 2:00 pm

Positive aspects of psilocybin

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Very interesting article in Mother Jones by Kevin Drum:

Here’s something a little offbeat for a Friday morning. A team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has recently documented a safe, long-lasting way of improving both your life and your personal feelings of well-being: shrooms.

Or, more precisely, psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Here’s the boring news first: ingesting psilocybin produces a mystical experience that can be quantified. “Noetic quality,” for example, increased from 19.4 on a placebo to 70.6 on the highest dose used in the study. “Transcendence of space and time” increased from 18.3 to 78.2. Etc. You probably already knew that.

Here’s the somewhat more interesting news: psilocybin can sometimes produces bad trips full of fear and anxiety, but the researchers have also figured out how to minimize this. Partly this was due to the experimental design: “The study was designed to optimize the potential for positively valued experiences by providing 8 hours of preparation, administering psilocybin in a pleasant, supportive setting, and instructing volunteers to focus explicitly on their subjective or inner experience.” They used soothing music, too. But they also tried various dosages of psilocybin on their subjects, and it turns out that nearly all of the episodes of anxiety happened at the highest dose. Crank it down one notch and you’re still likely to get most of the benefits but with significantly less chance of a bad experience.

But now for the most interesting result: psilocybin produces not only mystical experiences, but joy, happiness, and positive social effects. And it does it for a long time: in followup interviews 14 months after the study was completed, nearly all the subjects still reported positive changes in their lives, especially if they received their psilocybin in increasing dosages. (Half the study volunteers got the highest dose first and worked down, and half started with the lowest does and worked up. All volunteers also got a placebo tossed in at some point.) Here are the geeky charts you’ve been waiting for: . . .

Continue reading. Shouldn’t this drug be legal for use under a doctor’s direction?

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2011 at 1:53 pm

Small sample sizes can be good

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Interesting idea, again from The Scientist, this time by Tia Ghose:

Early stage research often gets dinged for not including enough trial subjects to be statistically valid. But adhering to the large sample-size dogma is counterproductive, says Peter Bacchetti, a biostatistician at the University of California, San Francisco. Large sample sizes waste time on unsuccessful ideas as most early stage trials fail, and can even prevent innovative treatments from moving forward if trials that don’t recruit enough patients are never performed, he argues in a perspectives piece published online today (June 15) in Science Translational Medicine.

This week, Bacchetti took time to speak with The Scientist about why sample size isn’t everything, and what scientists can use instead to measure a study’s worth.

The Scientist: Why does starting small make sense?

Peter Bacchetti: Because . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2011 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Medical, Science

Personalized prescription drugs, based on your DNA

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Very interesting development reported in The Scientist by Bob Grant:

The US Food and Drug Administration recommends that doctors genotype patients before prescribing more than 70 commonly-used medications for specific genetic biomarkers. These tests, the agency suggests, can help physicians identify those in which the drug is less efficacious, poorly metabolized, or dangerous. But medicine is still far from a day when drugs and treatment regimes are fitted precisely to a patient’s genomic profile.

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA) and Medco Research Institute, even though 98 percent of physicians agreed that the genetic profiles of their patients may influence drug therapy, only 10 percent believed they were adequately informed about how to test their patients for biomarkers that may predict the safety and/or efficacy of a particular drug. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2011 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Medical, Science

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