Later On

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

Archive for November 19th, 2012

Steadfast refusal to face reality

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Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call, but many prefer to continue sleeping. Michael Kimmelman reports in the NY Times:

Not a month after Hurricane Sandy there’s a rough consensus about how to respond. America is already looking to places like London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo, where sea walls, levees and wetlands, flood plains and floating city blocks have been conceived.

New York clearly ought to have taken certain steps a while back, no-brainers after the fact. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority ought to have installed floodgates and louvers at vulnerable subway entrances and vents. Consolidated Edison should have gotten its transformers, and Verizon its switching stations, out of harm’s way, and Congress should have ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study the impact of giant barriers to block parts of the city from the sea.

Scientists, architects, planners and others have, of course, been mulling over these issues for years. They’ve pressed for more parkland and bike lanes, green roofs and energy-efficient buildings, and warned about the need for backup generators, wetland edges along Lower Manhattan and barrier islands for the harbor to cushion the blow of rushing tides.

Hurricane Sandy was a toll paid for procrastination. The good news? We don’t need to send a bunch of Nobel laureates into the desert now, hoping they come up with some new gizmo to save the planet. Solutions are at hand. Money shouldn’t be a problem either, considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost.

So the problem is not technological or, from a long-term cost-benefit perspective, financial.

Rather it is the existential challenge to the messy democracy we’ve devised. The hardest part of what lies ahead won’t be deciding whether to construct Eiffel Tower-size sea walls across the Verrazano Narrows and Hell Gate, or overhauling the city’s sewage and storm water system, which spews toxic waste into rivers whenever a couple of inches of rain fall because the sea levels have already risen so much. These are monumental tasks.

But more difficult still will be staring down the pain, dislocation and inequity that promise to upend lives, undo communities and shake assumptions about city life and society. More than requiring the untangling of colossal red tape, saving New York and the whole region for the centuries ahead will become a test of civic unity.

In New York last week to tour the damage, President Obama named Shaun Donovan, his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a New Yorker and former housing official in the city, to spearhead federal recovery efforts. Mr. Donovan is an obvious choice. But then the president reflexively pledged (and the vice president followed up with the same promise on Sunday) to restore ravaged neighborhoods and homes in Queens and on Staten Island to the way they were before Hurricane Sandy.

 That was business as usual, and the last thing the region or the country needs. At this point there’s no logic, politics and sentiment aside, to FEMA simply rebuilding single-family homes on barrier islands like the Rockaways, where they shouldn’t have been built in the first place, and like bowling pins will tumble again after the next hurricane strikes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 5:52 pm

Congressional Representatives ask DoJ to back off on marijuana prosecutions in CO and WA

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Very interesting development, reported in Nation of Change by Nicole Flatow:

In light of the marijuana legalization measurespassed in Washington and Colorado, 18 members of Congress are asking the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration not to take enforcement action against any individual complying with state law, while two others introduced a bipartisan bill Friday to formally exempt states with marijuana laws from the federal counterpart.

In a letter to the two agencies Friday, U.S. House members from states with marijuana legalization laws, as well as civil rights champions including Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), implored federal officials to permit states to serve as the “laboratories of democracy” and implement a drug policy that may finally eliminate disproportionate racial impact and get to the root of public health and safety problems associated with the illicit marijuana trade:

The people of Colorado and Washington have decided that marijuana ought to be regulated like alcohol, with strong and efficient regulation of production, retail sales and distribution, coupled with strict laws against underage use and driving while intoxicated. The voters chose to eliminate the illegal marijuana market controlled by cartels and criminals and recognized the disproportionate impact that marijuana has on minorities. These states have chosen to move from a drug policy that spends millions of dollars turning ordinary Americans into criminals toward one that will tightly regulate the use of marijuana while raising tax revenue to support cash-strapped state and local governments. We believe this approach embraces the goals of existing federal marijuana law: to stop international trafficking, deter domestic organized criminal organizations, stop violence associated with the drug trade and protect children.

While we recognize that other states have chosen a different path, and further understand that the federal government has an important role to play in protecting against interstate shipments of marijuana leaving Colorado and Washington, we ask that your departments take no action against anyone who acts in compliance with the laws of Colorado, Washington and any other states that choose to regulate marijuana for medicinal or personal use. The voters of these states chose, by a substantial margin, to forge a new and effective policy with respect to marijuana. The tide of public opinion is changing both at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country. We believe that the collective judgment of voters and state lawmakers must be respected.

In the letter, the representatives criticize the DOJ for prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries in contradiction to statements in 2009 that the Department would not prioritize enforcement of those in compliance with state laws. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 5:42 pm

Ten very interesting numbers

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Here are some of the numbers: 3%; 4 out of 150; 1/2 the US GDP; 1/2… Can you complete the series? Probably not. Here are the ten numbers, in an article from Nation of Change by Paul Buchheit:

The numbers reveal the deadening effects of inequality in our country, and confirm that tax avoidance, rather than a lack of middle-class initiative, is the cause.

1. Only THREE PERCENT of the very rich are entrepreneurs.

According to both Market watch and economist Edward Wolff, over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), personal business accounts, the stock market, and real estate. Only 3.6 percent of taxpayers in the top .1% were classified as entrepreneurs based on 2004 tax returns. A 2009 Kauffman Foundation study found that the great majority of entrepreneurs come from middle-class backgrounds, with less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs coming from very rich or very poor backgrounds.

2. Only FOUR OUT OF 150 countries have more wealth inequality than us.

In a world listing compiled by a reputable research team (which nevertheless prompted double-checking), the U.S. has greater wealth inequality than every measured country in the world except for Namibia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, and Switzerland.

3. An amount equal to ONE-HALF the GDP is held untaxed overseas by rich Americans.

The Tax Justice Network estimated that between $21 and $32 trillion is hidden offshore, untaxed. With Americans making up40% of the world’s Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, that’s $8 to $12 trillion in U.S. money stashed in far-off hiding places.

Based on a historical stock market return of 6%, up to $750 billion of income is lost to the U.S. every year, resulting in a tax loss of about $260 billion.

4. Corporations stopped paying HALF OF THEIR TAXES after the recession.

After paying an average of 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, corporations have paid an annual rate of 10% since. This represents a sudden $250 billion annual loss in taxes.

U.S. corporations have shown a pattern of tax reluctance for more than 50 years, despite building their businesses with American research and infrastructure. They’ve passed the responsibility on to their workers. For every dollar of workers’ payroll tax paid in the 1950s, corporations paid three dollars. Now it’s 22 cents.5. Just TEN Americans made  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 5:26 pm

Computer-generation art that evokes specific emotions

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Amazing. Article by Hal Hodson in New Scientist:

Ecstasy. Joy. Sadness. Despair. The sweeping lines and blocks of colour in abstract art prompt us to respond emotionally in ways that we do not really understand. Now computers are getting in on the act, and the results could add a new dimension to the weird world of artificial creativity.

The pioneering abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky (whose work is pictured) suggested that the emotional effects of abstract art are “objective, determined by the characteristics of the colours and their interactions”. If that is true, machines should be able to get a handle on those emotions, too.

It turns out that they can. A team led by Nicu Sebe at the University of Trento in Italy used machine vision to analyse 500 abstract paintings at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto. The system measured how colour is distributed across each work, as well as the occurrence of different shapes or outlines. Using data on how 100 people responded to the paintings, the system then worked out what emotional impact these elements had. For example, black, spiky features tended to correspond to the bleaker end of the emotional spectrum, whereas bright, smooth features were more feel-good.

To test the system, the team gave it other artworks to scan and asked it to predict the typical viewer’s emotional response on a sliding scale, from extremely negative to extremely positive. Nearly 80 per cent of the time the system came up with a score that matched the average response of 100 volunteer viewers. The study was presented to the ACM Multimedia conference in Nara, Japan, at the end of October.

James Wang of Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, says that the work opens the door to using emotional data in the creation of more advanced machine art. At the conference, he presented a similar system which predicts the emotions that certain images are likely to arouse. . .

Continue reading. (Later in the article, a link to an interesting video.)

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Art, Science, Software

Five reasons the Feds should not (will not?) crack down on legal marijuana

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Ethan Nadelmann is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. He writes:

On Election Day, Washington State and Colorado became the first two states in the country — and indeed the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world — to approve legally regulating marijuana like alcohol.

It would be a mistake to call these ballot initiative victories “pro-pot.” Most of those who voted in favor don’t use marijuana; indeed many don’t like it at all and have never used it. What moved them was the realization that it made more sense to regulate, tax and control marijuana than to keep wasting money and resources trying to enforce an unenforceable prohibition.

Whether or not the two state governments move forward with regulating marijuana like alcohol will depend on two things: how the Obama administration, federal prosecutors and police agencies respond; and the extent to which the states’ senior elected officials commit to implementing the will of the people. The fact that federal laws explicitly criminalize marijuana transactions, and that the federal government can continue to enforce those laws, means that federal authorities could effectively block the initiatives from being fully implemented. But there are also good reasons why the Obama administration should, and may, allow state governments to proceed as voters have demanded.

First, keep in mind that no one needs to do anything right away. The provisions legalizing personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and (in the case of Colorado) also allowing the cultivation of up to six plants in the privacy of one’s home, will become state law once the initiatives are certified in coming weeks. But those provisions, while contrary to federal law, are unlikely to excite the attentions of federal authorities, who will be more concerned with how the states propose to regulate larger scale production and distribution. The Colorado government, however, has until July 1, and the Washington State government until the end of next year, to issue a statewide regulatory plan. That affords plenty of time for consultation and dialogue.

Second, senior state officials, including Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper and Attorney General Suthers, as well as Washington’s newly elected governor, Jay Inslee, and attorney general, Bob Ferguson, have all said that they will work to uphold the new laws, notwithstanding their pre-Election Day opposition. The two incoming officials in Washington may also be moved by the fact that the marijuana reform initiative garnered more votes than either of them did.

Third, whereas Attorney General Eric Holder warned California voters in October 2010 that the federal government would not allow the marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot at the time to be implemented if it won (which it did not), no such warning was forthcoming this year. Former drug czars and DEA chiefs banded together to urge Holder to speak out again, but both he and President Obama remained silent, perhaps influenced by polls showing strong support for marijuana legalization among young and independent voters in the swing state of Colorado and elsewhere.

Fourth, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 1:12 pm

Personality predicts placebo effects

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Interesting article by Dan Cossins in The Scientist:

Individuals who are altruistic, resilient, and straightforward show greater activity in brain regions associated with reward and are more likely to enjoy pain relief when a placebo is administered during a painful experience, according to a study reported this week (November 15) in Neuropsychopharmacology. The findings suggest that simple personality tests could be used to improve the accuracy of clinical trials by identifying people likely to skew results with high placebo responses.

“This is interesting because it’s one of the first studies to look at how personality traits are associated with placebo analgesia not only in terms of subjective reports of pain relief, but also with quite solid objective measures in key parts of the brain,” said Tor Wager, a neuroscientist at the University of Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved in the study.

Placebos are known to have strong analgesic effects. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Medical, Science

The real Republican adversary? Population density

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Once the population density goes above 800/sq mile, watch out, Republicans! Fascinating post pointed out by The Eldest.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 11:54 am

Posted in Politics

Coolest tool I never knew existed

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Who knew? Rivet spacer—use for spacing anything evenly: nails, buttonholes, and so on.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 10:07 am

Posted in Daily life

Tabula Rasa, Brent, and Krampfert

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Excellent BBS shave today. First I use my Brent’s brush to work up a superb lather from the Tabula Rasa shaving cream. “Work up” overstates the effort involved: this shaving cream lathers quickly and easily for me, though apparently some find it difficult. However, I think those who do are of the “scoop out some and make the lather in a bowl” school: I load the brush directly on the shaving cream. Here’s what I did.

I wet the Brent’s brush—which, BTW, I’m liking more and more: the texture and feel of the wood handle is very nice indeed—and brushed the surface of the Tabula Rasa briefly, until the brush was loaded. I brought that to my (wet, washed) beard and brushed briskly about, working up the lather. I start at the chin, work there, and then spread the lather over my beard, working it in.

It struck me that I needed a little more water, so I ran a driblet of hot water into the center of the brush, worked that into the lather on my chin, and again moved about the beard, working the lather up and into the stubble. Another small driblet of water, worked in again as described, and: perfecto.

Three smooth passes of the bakelite slant with the Astra Superior Platinum blade, and then a good splash of Krampfert’s Finest Bay Rum. This is a “shake well before using” bay rum, and in the palm it is a brown liquid that seems to have some content in suspension. Went on well, felt great—no stinging whatsoever—and has a fine fragrance. Good stuff.

A terrific shave, if I say it myself, and left me puzzled at comments I’ve read that Tabula Rasa is hard to lather. Not at all, I would say.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2012 at 9:01 am

Posted in Shaving

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