Later On

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

Archive for November 15th, 2012

My alma mater in the news

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The Eldest passes along this story by Rachel Monroe in Baltimore Fishbowl:

Every now and then I daydream about going back to school and getting a PhD, just to spite my little brother who’s in medical school. (No way I’m going to let that little twerp be the only doctor in the family.) If I decided to do so, I would fit right in at certain Maryland universities, which are known for minting graduates who go on to get their doctorates. In fact, one Maryland school outranks every other institution in the nation in terms of producing PhD candidates. Can you guess who it is?

Yep, it’s those croquet-playing, great books-reading intellectuals at St. John’s College in Annapolis. Well, to be specific, they top the list of graduates who get humanities PhDs, and come in 19th for overall degrees. The next Maryland school on the list was Goucher, which came in 68th, putting it in the top 5 percent of PhD-producing schools. Johns Hopkins came in surprisingly low:  146th. Maybe that’s because Hopkins students are all busy getting medical degrees instead?

St. John’s director of career services told the Baltimore Sun that 70 percent of students earn an additional degree within 5 years of graduation. Not bad for a school whose other claim to fame is its ridiculously nerdy fight song.

Full disclosure: I do not have a Ph.D. Fuller disclosure: I instigated the office of director of career services when I was director of admissions there (1971-74).

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

California refineries operated during periods blamed for gas price spikes

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Another example of why I do not trust corporations. (One blog reader comment a while back that we can trust companies to do the right thing; I think we can trust companies to do anything that will grow profits, whether it’s right or wrong.)

Here’s a recent example from California: a spike in gas prices due to refinery shutdown, only the refineries did not shut down. Reported in McClatchy by Kevin Hall:

West Coast gasoline price spikes in May and October were widely blamed on refinery outages, but new research to be released at a California hearing Thursday shows that refiners continued to produce gasoline in periods when the public was told the contrary.

The information, shared exclusively with McClatchy, comes from Oregon-based McCullough Research, which combed through thousands of pages of environmental documents to conclude that refineries were in fact operating during supposed outages and maintenance shutdowns.

Specifically, the report alleges that in May, at a time when Royal Dutch Shell’s Martinez, Calif., plant was reported to be down for maintenance for two weeks, it appears to have been making gasoline for at least half that time. That conclusion is reached from state environmental documents showing nitrogen oxide emissions had returned to normal at the refinery a full week before it was reported to have come back on line.

Similarly, Chevron’s Richmond, Calif., refinery was reported down for maintenance for two weeks in May, but emissions data suggests the refinery never ceased operation.

The research also concludes that gasoline inventories actually were building in May during a time in which West Coast motorists paid at least 50 cents more per gallon than the national average. This inventory building, evident in data from the California Energy Commission, happened even as four refiners were supposedly down for some portion of May.

At the time, media reports, citing analysts and industry officials, blamed the price hikes on outages and maintenance shutdowns.

But the shutdowns, which energy companies said had been planned long in advance, have not traditionally happened in May, the research showed, in part because it is a high-demand month for gasoline usage.

The October price spike, which mostly affected California, was shown by the research to be about 66 cents higher per gallon of gasoline than should have been the case based on historical patterns of oil prices and gasoline inventories. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 10:45 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Omega-3s: How do they do that?

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I take 4g of wild salmon oil (in capsules) daily: 2g with breakfast, 2g in the evening. I’ve been doing this for years. I also try to get omega-3s in my diet, avoiding catfish and tilapia (farmed fish artificially high in omega-6 due to what they’re fed: corn), eating wild fish frequently, particularly oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel). Lots of plants, little beef (and when I eat that, I eat grassfed rather than grain-fed). Still: how do the omega-3s work?

Ethan J. Anderson and David A. Taylor take a look in The Scientist:

Four decades ago, Danish medical students Jørn Dyerberg and Hans Olaf Bang traveled west across the Greenland ice sheet on dogsleds to test a theory. For many years prior to their journey, there had been anecdotal reports that Greenland Eskimos had an extremely low incidence of heart disease, and Dyerberg and Bang speculated that this was linked to the high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the fish the native people consumed on a daily basis. After collecting and analyzing scores of blood samples, their hypothesis was borne out, and ever since, the medical and scientific community has been on a quest to determine exactly how PUFAs impart protective effects, and what amount must be ingested in order to achieve such benefits. Nearly 40 years and thousands of published studies later, however, these questions remain largely unanswered.

Cardiovascular disease continues to have an enormous impact on the world’s health and economy, making it all the more urgent that health-care practitioners find and implement low-cost prevention strategies. Dietary intake of PUFAs, specifically the n-3 PUFAs found in fish (commonly known as omega-3s), could serve as a perfect solution, but the lack of understanding of how PUFAs work—and continuing controversy over whether they really do work—has made it nearly impossible to properly implement their use in the clinic. Thus, a coordinated effort is needed to establish a mechanism for how n-3 PUFAs function in normal metabolism in order to develop proper therapeutic paradigms and to clarify their effectiveness in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease can affect any part of the circulatory system, from the heart and major arteries to veins and capillaries. Its causes are diverse, as are its treatments, which include compounds that exert vasodilating, anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic (reducing the formation of blood clots), anti-arrhythmic (suppressing abnormal heart rhythms), and heart rate–lowering effects. PUFAs from PUFA-rich foods and dietary supplements have shown therapeutic promise in virtually all of these areas. One of the more intriguing therapeutic potentials for n-3 PUFAs is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 10:27 am

Posted in Food, Health, Medical, Science

The blowback from drone warfare

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Although Obama seems heavily to favor drone warfare, the coming consequences are likely to be severe—both from the increasing anger at civilian deaths from a fighting force that is not at risk and from the inevitable acquisition of the (relatively inexpensive) technology from our adversaries. In The Washington Monthly Haley Sweetland Edwards reviews a book on the subject:

Early last year, wandering through the turbulent carnival of Change Square in Sana’a, Yemen, I found myself sharing a tent with an old jihadi, his tangled beard glowing orange in the filtered afternoon light. He said he’d fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets—the infidels,” he called them, still spitting the word after twenty-five years—and would do it again, no question. But when I raised the topic of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen and the most dangerous of the diffuse terrorist network’s regional organizations, the old jihadi glowered. “Those young men are fighting a different war than we were,” he said, refusing to meet my eye. “It’s on a different scale, for different ends.”

Then, for quite a while, my notes are sparse. The old jihadi and I talked about U.S.-backed drone strikes, and U.S. support for Israel and “the hypocrisy of the West,” until, eventually, we came back around to al-Qaeda. This time, he looked right at me. His generation had fought for Islam so they could “come home and live,” he said. “The young men of al-Qaeda today don’t care about living. For them, fighting is life,” he said. “Go and tell the Americans it’s never going to be over.”

That old jihadi’s chilling prediction emerges as one of the major themes in writer Gregory D. Johnsen’s excellent new book, The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia. Part modern history, part explanatory narrative, it begins in the chaotic aftermath of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in the late 1980’s and ends in a smoldering al-Qaeda stronghold in southern Yemen earlier this year. In the intervening quarter century, we watch from the sidelines as Johnsen describes the birth and bloody unification of North and South Yemen in the early ‘90’s and the simultaneous emergence of al-Qaeda in the region, first as a controversial boys’ club for wannabe jihadis, and then as a deadly and increasingly well-oiled global force.

The young men who’ve formed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the last fifteen years are indeed, as the old jihadi in Change Square suggested, more fanatical, more uncompromising in their vision of jihad, and broader in the scope of who constitutes their enemies, than ever before. Many of these young men were educated in Yemen’s radical religious schools in the ‘70, ’80s, and ’90s, and had “grown up on stories of the jihad in Afghanistan,” Johnsen writes, “watching grainy videos from the 1980s as they listened to preachers extol the glory of fighting abroad.” By 2006, the generational shift that started at the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan had widened into a schism, with today’s al-Qaeda leaders giving the old guard an ultimatum: either you’re with us in global jihad, or you’re an enemy, too. “It was time for them to pick a side,” Johnsen writes, summarizing a 2006 audiotape by Qasim al-Raymi, AQAP’s military commander. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 10:05 am

The declining competence of America’s senior military commanders

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Thomas Ricks has a new book out that exposes how our top military commanders have become less and less competent over recent decades. Jacob Heilbrunn reviews the book for The Washington Monthly:

Tom Ricks, the former Washington Post military correspondent who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the better part of a decade, and currently edits the blog “The Best Defense” at ForeignPolicy.com, has become the go-to guy for understanding how the American military works. In 2006, Ricks published Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005, a blistering (and definitive) indictment of George W. Bush’s Pentagon and its mishandling of the war in Iraq. Next, he wrote The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, a probing history of the surge. And now he has written a book that tries to explain what makes a great American general— that is, a general whom soldiers can follow, and not just to their deaths.

The genesis for this most recent book was atop a Sicilian ridge, where, on leave from covering Iraq, Ricks heard the story of Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen, a hugely successful World War II general who was relieved of leadership of the 1st Infantry Division (for lax discipline of his troops) soon after helping to win the Sicily campaign in July 1943. It wasn’t good enough just to be successful; the success had to come in the right way—otherwise, as the military leadership knew, disaster could loom later on. “I was stunned,” writes Ricks. “How could this be? [My] mind was still focused on [the Iraq] war, where even the most abject failure did not get a general fired.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 9:58 am

Woman’s life sacrificed for religious reasons regarding abortion

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No abortion even when mother’s life is at risk: that’s the rule scrupulously observed by a hospital in Ireland, so the woman dies (as did the baby: she was miscarrying, which was why the abortion was required—but rules are rules).

Mary Elizabeth Williams reports the story in Salon:

Here’s your horrible, heartbreaking reminder for today, world: When religion guides your government and reproductive rights are denied, women die.

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist living in Galway, was 17 weeks pregnant when she appeared at her University Hospital on Oct. 21, complaining of pain. Doctors there determined that she was miscarrying, but would not remove the fetus because it still had a heartbeat. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, told reporters this week that the hospital staff informed the couple that “This is a Catholic country.” Mr. Praveen who came to Ireland from India, told the staff, “I am neither Irish nor Catholic,” but they said they couldn’t do anything.

“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive … Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby,” Mr. Halappanavar said. ”When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning, Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a fetal heartbeat we can’t do anything.’” It was only after the heartbeat stopped on its own that the fetus was removed and Savita was moved to intensive care. She died on Oct. 28 from septicaemia. As Dublin writer Michael Nugent surmises on his blog, “Because her cervix remained fully open for this time, Savita was in prolonged danger of infection, comparable to having an untreated open head wound.” . . .

Continue reading.

Keep this story in mind as the GOP works hard to outlaw abortion. The GOP believes that it has the right to make a medical decision for the entire country, regardless of consequences. No individual circumstances or individual choice allowed.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 9:36 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Law, Medical

BP accepts criminal liability in Gulf oil spill and 11 deaths; no one will go to prison

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Once again corporations show that they are the best protection money can buy for criminal misbehavior. From an email sent by the LA Times:

BP accepts criminal liability in gulf oil spill, will pay $4-billion fine

Energy giant BP has accepted criminal liability and will pay at least $4 billion in connection with the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters.

In an announcement today from its London headquarters, BP confirmed an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve all federal criminal charges and all claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission against the company stemming from the events that began with the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

As part of the agreement, BP said it has agreed to plead guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect in connection with the 11 deaths caused by the rig’s explosion. It also agreed to plead guilty to other charges, including one felony count of obstruction of Congress. The agreement is subject to U.S. federal court approval.

Eleven men killed, and the company just writes a check. No one goes to prison. No company executive suffers any sanctions or punishment. Perfect immunity.

I think those responsible should serve prison terms.

UPDATE: I was wrong, and I’m glad to see that appropriate steps are being taken. From the NY Times story:

The Justice Department also filed criminal charges against three BP employees on Thursday.

The government charged the top BP officers aboard the drilling rig, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, with manslaughter in connection with each of the men who died, alleging that they were negligent in supervising tests before the well blowout and explosion that destroyed the rig.

Prosecutors also charged BP’s former vice president for exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, David Rainey, with obstruction of Congress and making false statements about the rate at which oil was spilling from the well.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 9:06 am

Posted in Business, Law

Ecotools Powder Brush and Geo. F. Trumper

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Today I again used a makeup brush as a shaving brush: the Ecotools Powder Brush. This handle, like the Bronzer Brush handle, is not well adapted to shaving-brush purposes, and it would also would be not so easily fixed. (You could simply cut the Bronzer Brush handle to a better (shorter) length.)

Still, I got a decent lather. This has the longest loft of the three brushes and the smoothest, lightest feel, but it worked. I think this one is more a novelty item, though. I would rate them: Kabuki brush: works fine, in regular rotation; Bronzer brush: works okay and worth using from time to time after shortening handle; Powder brush: interesting how soft it is, but would rarely use.

Trumper Rose soap is very nice and the lather was fine. On request, I tried the Tradere Solid Bar head (with a Gillette Rubie blade) on a Bulldog handle, this one from Weber. It works, but on the whole I prefer the regular Tradere handle.

Three passes to smoothness, a splash of Trumper Coral (rose) Skin Food, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2012 at 9:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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