Later On

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

Archive for January 1st, 2012

Resistance to change: Due to physical structures in the brain?

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I just happened across an old review by Vaughn Bell of a book that sounds quite interesting: Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change, by Bruce Wexler.

American Scientist reviews a new book that suggests an intriguing hypothesis – that the reason that the distrust of people with a different skin color, different values or a different ideology is so prevalent is because the early development of crucial brain pathways makes it hard for people to accept new and unfamiliar experiences.

Wexler argues that when people are faced with information that does not agree with their internal structures, they deny, discredit, reinterpret or forget that information. When changes in the environment are great, corresponding internal changes are accompanied by distress and dysfunction. The inability to reconcile differences between strange others and ingrained notions of “humanness” can culminate in violence. The neurobiological imperative to maintain a balance between internal structures and external reality fuels this struggle for control, which contributes to making the contact zone a place of intractable conflict.

The Amazon.com book description in its entirety:

Research shows that between birth and early adulthood the brain requires sensory stimulation to develop physically. The nature of the stimulation shapes the connections among neurons that create the neuronal networks necessary for thought and behavior. By changing the cultural environment, each generation shapes the brains of the next. By early adulthood, the neuroplasticity of the brain is greatly reduced, and this leads to a fundamental shift in the relationship between the individual and the environment: during the first part of life, the brain and mind shape themselves to the major recurring features of their environment; by early adulthood, the individual attempts to make the environment conform to the established internal structures of the brain and mind. In Brain and Culture, Bruce Wexler explores the social implications of the close and changing neurobiological relationship between the individual and the environment, with particular attention to the difficulties individuals face in adulthood when the environment changes beyond their ability to maintain the fit between existing internal structure and external reality. These difficulties are evident in bereavement, the meeting of different cultures, the experience of immigrants (in which children of immigrant families are more successful than their parents at the necessary internal transformations), and the phenomenon of interethnic violence. Integrating recent neurobiological research with major experimental findings in cognitive and developmental psychology–with illuminating references to psychoanalysis, literature, anthropology, history, and politics–Wexler presents a wealth of detail to support his arguments. The groundbreaking connections he makes allow for reconceptualization of the effect of

It breaks off there. The reader reviews are complete and favorable (three 5-star and one 4-star).

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2012 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Our first “Big Bucks” election

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With the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court allowed unlimited corporate money to be spent to influence (as directly as possible, short of actually buying votes) future elections. This is the first election where we are getting a look at the results. Tom Hamburger and Melanie Mason report in the LA Times:

Political committees unfettered by donation limits are dominating the last weeks of the presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, funding aggressive attack campaigns that are swamping the efforts of the candidates themselves.

In Ohio, $3 million in ads funded by secret donors have already been aired against the state’s incumbent Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown — a year before the election.

In California, three of the committees financed by unlimited donations have formed in recent weeks to back Rep. Howard L. Berman of Valley Village, who has been forced by redistricting into a primary battle against fellow Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks.

The early activity at all levels heralds a transformation across the country in the first presidential cycle since a 2010 Supreme Court decision lifted the limits on individual and corporate donations to independent political organizations, known as “super PACs.”

Super PACs are now outspending the GOP presidential candidates on ads in what could be a $6- or 7-billion election year for federal races, rendering obsolete the old system under which donations were strictly limited to candidates and party committees.

“This is a radical change,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican election lawyer who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in his 2008 presidential bid.

If present trends continue, the 2012 election will reverse more than a century of efforts to curb the influence of big money on politics.

During his second term, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke with alarm about the ability of corporate and financial elite — “malefactors of great wealth” — to steer government decisions. In 1907, he signed legislation banning corporate contributions to federal candidates.

In future decades — including during Richard Nixon’s presidency — Congress expanded campaign regulation, requiring disclosure of contributions and limiting the size of donations in federal races. Those restrictions have unraveled since the high court’s Citizens United decision. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2012 at 1:05 pm

DEA now block prescription drug supply

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The DEA is completely out of control, near as I can tell. They’re typical of an agency that, failing at its mission, redoubles its efforts and succeeds only in increasing the failure. Time to delete the agency, rethink laws regulating the access of adult citizens to drugs (that they are getting in any event), and put this on a rational footing. Chances of that happening: not great, but eventually (perhaps) people will get fed up. Gardiner Harris in the NY Times describes the latest DEA effort. (BTW, I am sure that most in the DEA are well-meaning, just as most in the TSA are well-meaning. Nevertheless, both organizations are obnoxious and doubtless frustrating because they both operate from flawed (incorrect, untrue, false, poorly conceived, ill-considered) premises based on ideological convictions rather than rational thinking and reality.)

Medicines to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are in such short supply that hundreds of patients complain daily to the Food and Drug Administration that they are unable to find a pharmacy with enough pills to fill their prescriptions.

The shortages are a result of a troubled partnership between drug manufacturers and the Drug Enforcement Administration, with companies trying to maximize their profits and drug enforcement agents trying to minimize abuse by people, many of them college students, who use the medications to get high or to stay up all night.

Caught in between are millions of children and adults who rely on the pills to help them stay focused and calm. Shortages, particularly of cheaper generics, have become so endemic that some patients say they worry almost constantly about availability.

While the Food and Drug Administration monitors the safety and supply of the drugs, which are sold both as generics and under brand names likeRitalin and Adderall, the Drug Enforcement Administration sets manufacturing quotas that are designed to control supplies and thwart abuse. Every year, the D.E.A. accepts applications from manufacturers to make the drugs, analyzes how much was sold the previous year and then allots portions of the expected demand to various companies.

How each manufacturer divides its quota among its own A.D.H.D. medicines — preparing some as high-priced brands and others as cheaper generics — is left up to the company.

Now, multiple manufacturers have announced that their medicines are in short supply. The F.D.A. has included these pills on its official shortageslist, as has the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which tracks the problem for hospitals. And the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has told the more than 8,000 doctors in its membership that shortages seem to be “widespread across a number of states” and are “devastating” for children.

Officials at the Food and Drug Administration say the shortages are a result of overly strict quotas set by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which, for its part, questions whether there really are shortages or whether manufacturers are simply choosing to make more of the expensive pills than the generics, creating supply and demand imbalances.

The situation has made for a rare open disagreement between two federal agencies.

“We have reached out to the D.E.A. and told them that there are shortage issues,” said Valerie Jensen, associate director of the F.D.A.’s drug shortage program. “But the quota issues are outside of our area of responsibility.”

Still, Special Agent Gary Boggs of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Diversion Control, said in an interview, “We believe there is plenty of supply.”

Some high-priced pills are indeed readily available, and D.E.A. officials said that so long as that is the case, they believe that A.D.H.D. drug supplies are adequate. Agent Boggs attributed any supply disruptions to decisions made by manufacturers. . .

Continue reading. Agent Boggs seems, for example, simply unable to grasp the problem: generics are all that many people can afford. But Agent Boggs is not in the business of giving a damn about patients’ problems—his interest is making drugs unavailable.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2012 at 12:58 pm

Getting Things Done (GTD)

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Getting Things Done is a book, which describes a methodology that has been successful for many. James Fallows, to take a notable example, is a proponent of the GTD approach. In poking around through my records as a part of general clean-up and organizing, I came across once more Vitalist.com, a Web 2.0 (interactive) application based on GTD. I’ve already mentioned WeekPlan.net, and this covers some of the same territory from a slightly different angle.

I find that Covey’s approach encourages a long-term view, which his book emphasizes as well, so the focus of his method is efficacy: doing the right things.

GTD seems to focus more on efficiency: doing things right. The two can work together, with the Covey weekly review helping you focus on what things you actually should be getting done.

Hint: make sure you spend time every week on the important but not urgent category, which will in time greatly decrease demand for urgency (since you will be getting things done in a timely way), thus giving you increasing control over the timing and content of your work, a major goal (as Bill Oncken explains in his wonderful (and useful) book Managing Mangement Time—in fact he describes exactly the strategy to achieve this goal).

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2012 at 12:37 pm

Caramelized onion tart with gorgonzola and brie

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Take a look.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2012 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Critical-thinking skills

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Time for a brush-up? Have kids at home who could use some critical-thinking skill development? Check out this little course.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2012 at 8:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Lessons from a personal financial crisis

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Hitting the wall financially is unpleasant in the extreme, but sometimes forces one onto a better path. Here’s one account.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2012 at 8:19 am

Posted in Daily life

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