Later On

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

Archive for November 23rd, 2012

Chia in the news

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As readers know, my standard breakfast includes 2 Tbsp of chia seeds in my hot cereal. I also use it as a thickener in stews. Stephanie Strom reports in the NY Times on its growing popularity:

First there were Chia Pets; now there are chia people.

Ubiquitous in television ads that began 30 years ago, Chia Pets were called “the pottery that grows.” Mixing chia seeds and water on the outside of an animal-shaped terra-cotta figurine produces a plant resembling green hair almost overnight.

Now, chia is having a second life as a nutritional “it” item. Whole and ground chia seeds are being added to fruit drinks, snack foods and cereals and sold on their own to be baked into cookies and sprinkled on yogurt. Grown primarily in Mexico and Bolivia, chia is rich in the same omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, along with antioxidants, protein and fiber. Recognition of its nutritional value can be traced as far back as the Aztecs.

Companies like Dole and Nature’s Path have introduced chia products, which have begun showing up on shelves in mainstream grocery stores like Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. Mintel, a market research firm, counted 100 products containing chia in a presentation it did in March on the potential of increasing the use of the seeds in dairy products.

“About two years ago, our retailers came to us and said, ‘We need you to be in this business everyone is talking about, the business of chia seeds,’ ” said Michael P. Hirsch, vice president of Joseph Enterprises, which sells Chia Pets and other novelty products and has now added chia seeds and milled chia called — what else? — Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Omega.

Last spring, high demand collided with weather patterns that depressed production, raising prices and the awareness that chia had moved beyond the realm of health food stores into the broader market. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2012 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Health

Give marijuana a chance

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Timothy Egan writes in the NY Times:

SEATTLE – In two weeks, adults in this state will no longer be arrested or incarcerated for something that nearly 30 million Americans did last year. For the first time since prohibition began 75 years ago, recreational marijuana use will be legal; the misery-inducing crusade to lock up thousands of ordinary people has at last been seen, by a majority of voters in this state and in Colorado, for what it is: a monumental failure.

That is, unless the Obama administration steps in with an injunction, as it has threatened to in the past, against common sense. For what stands between ending this absurd front in the dead-ender war on drugs and the status quo is the federal government. It could intervene, citing the supremacy of federal law that still classifies marijuana as a dangerous drug.

But it shouldn’t. Social revolutions in a democracy, especially ones that begin with voters, should not be lightly dismissed. Forget all the lame jokes about Cheetos and Cheech and Chong. In the two-and-a-half weeks since a pair of progressive Western states sent a message that arresting 853,000 people a year for marijuana offenses is an insult to a country built on individual freedom, a whiff of positive, even monumental change is in the air.

In Mexico, where about 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence, political leaders are voicing cautious optimism that the tide could turn for the better. What happens when the United States, the largest consumer of drugs in the world, suddenly opts out of a black market that is the source of gangland death and corruption? That question, in small part, may now be answered.

Prosecutors in Washington and Colorado have announced they are dropping cases, effective immediately, against people for pot possession. I’ve heard from a couple of friends who are police officers, and guess what: they have a lot more to do than chase around recreational drug users.

Maine (ever-sensible Maine!) and Iowa, where the political soil is uniquely suited to good ideas, are looking to follow the Westerners. Within a few years, it seems likely that a dozen or more states will do so as well.

And for one more added measure of good karma, on Election Day, Representative Dan Lungren, nine-term Republican from California and a tired old drug warrior who backed some of the most draconian penalties against his fellow citizens, was ousted from office.

But there remains the big question of how President Obama will handle the cannabis spring. So far, he and Attorney General Eric Holder have been silent. I take that as a good sign, and certainly a departure from the hard-line position they took when California voters were considering legalization a few years ago. But if they need additional nudging, here are three reasons to let reason stand: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2012 at 1:46 pm

Interesting thoughts on the minimum wage

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These are interesting thoughts from a variety of viewpoints. My personal thought is that the minimum wage should be set as a fraction of the annual salary of a member of the House of Representatives, so that when Congress gives itself a pay raise, minimum-wage workers get one as well.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2012 at 1:05 pm

GOP continues its war on Planned Parenthood

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The GOP really wants very much to outlaw abortion, totally: no exceptions for rape or incest or mother’s health. They’ve made that clear, and we’ve seen in Ireland recently what those laws can do (the death of a woman having a miscarriage because the hospital and doctors refused to perform an abortion of the non-viable foetus).

The GOP also does not like contraception and vigorously supports efforts to refuse contraceptives, especially contraceptives sold to women (birth control pills, Plan B,a nd the like).

Here’s how the fight against Planned Parenthood is proceeding in Ohio, reported in Mother Jones by Kate Sheppard:

Democrats did well in Ohio on November 6, with President Obama claiming the state’s electoral college votes and Sherrod Brown pulling out a tight race for his Senate seat. But the state’s Republicans weren’t going to let defeat in the statewide races slow them down. Instead, they immediately returned to their pre-election agenda: targeting Planned Parenthood.

On Nov. 14, House Republicans voted in a lame-duck session to advance House Bill 298, which would likely strip public funding for Planned Parenthood in the state.

The Ohio House Health and Aging Committee voted to approve the bill on a party-line vote. The measure will reprioritize how state and federal family planning funds are administered, bumping Planned Parenthood providers to the bottom rung of eligibility. The bill states that priority for the funds should go to state, county, or local government entities. If “all eligible public entities have been fully funded,” then some of the money can go to private groups, but those are also ranked to put Planned Parenthood providers dead last. This would replace the current competitive grant process.

The committee’s chairman, Lynn Wachtmann, is among the Ohio House’s most anti-abortion lawmakers. He is the sponsor of the state’s “Heartbeat bill,” which would ban abortions if a doctor can detect a heartbeat—which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. At the beginning of this term, Wachtmann pledged “push the pro-life agenda as far as we can.”

Wachtmann insists that the bill changing how family funding plans are awarded has nothing to do with abortion—and had some choice words for anyone who accused him of that. “There are Democrats who call us anti-woman—they are abhorrent, crazy people intent on killing every baby they can,” Wachtmann told the Dayton Daily News on Nov. 18.

Democratic lawmakers were somewhat surprised to see HB 298 resurface after the election. The House tried to do the pretty much the exact same thing back in March as part of a budget bill, but ended up scrapping the idea. This particular bill was last introduced in July 2011, but had been dormant since a hearing back in May. “I hoped that cool heads would prevail, and people would maybe take a step back and think about what they’re hearing from the people of Ohio,” Rep. Nickie Antonio, a member of the committee, told Mother Jones. “The people of Ohio are not clamoring for less availability of reproductive healthcare for women.”

Stephanie Kight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2012 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Law, Medical

Bacterium forces host cells to give it protein

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Very interesting note in The Scientist by Edyta Zielinska:

The paper

C.T.D. Price et al., “Host proteasomal degradation generates amino acids essential for intracellular bacterial growth,” Science, 334:1553-57, 2011.

The finding

When University of Louisville’s Yousef Abu Kwaik and colleagues stumbled upon a eukaryotic protein inLegionella bacteria, he suspected the prokaryotes had stolen the gene from its host to help it co-opt their eukaryotic prey–either an amoeba or a human cell. Their investigations revealed that the protein, called AnkB, forces the host cell to degrade its own proteins into amino acids to provide sufficient quantities of nourishment for the parasitic bacterium.

The digest

The protein AnkB was known to tag perfectly healthy proteins with ubiquitin–an address label that marks misfolded proteins for proteasomal degradation–but it was unclear how this process benefited the bacterium. And, although bacteria are known to steal nutrients, “such strategies vary a lot with the pathogen being studied, and we still do not know much about most of them,” writes Rui Appelberg from University of Porto, Portugal, in an e-mail.

The food factory

“This bacterium really lives on an Atkins diet,” says Abu Kwaik, consuming only proteins in the form of free amino acids. When researchers blocked the host cell’s protein degradation machinery, replication of theLegionella ceased, only to be restarted if pure amino acids–in particular cysteine or serine–were added to the culture medium.

The application

Infection with Legionella can only occur by exposure to contaminated water. In theory, these water sources could be treated with currently available proteasome inhibitors to starve the bacteria to death, says Abu Kwaik.


The Literature

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2012 at 11:21 am

Posted in Food, Science

Chris Mooney on the Republican mind/brain

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Paul Krugman’s column linked to this post, and it’s sufficiently interesting to be pulled out for a separate post. In it, Grist‘s David Roberts interviews Chris Mooney:

Science journalist Chris Mooney became well-known — and controversial — after his debut book, 2005′s The Republican War on Science, which charted the extraordinary, decades-long assault by the U.S. conservative movement on scientists, scientific institutions, and inconvenient scientific results (see: climate change). He admits to some level of naive hope that a full accounting of the phenomenon would lead to change. But, he says, no one changed their mind about anything. The right just retrenched.

For his new book, The Republican Brain, he set out to discover why. That led him into a burgeoning body of research on the roots of political ideology in deeper psychological traits, brain structures, and even genes — correlations that show up again and again in different circumstances and in different countries. Social scientists, it seems, are busy confirming our gut sense that conservatives and liberals do not merely disagree on matters of policy, but are different kinds of people, who process information differently.

On average, conservatives prefer simplicity and clear distinctions, where liberals display “integrative complexity” and are more comfortable with ambiguity and nuance. Conservatives are “hierarchs” and highly sensitive to in-group/out-group distinctions, where liberals are egalitarians. Conservatives come to decisions quickly and stick to them; liberals deliberate, sometimes to the point of dithering. Conservatives are more sensitive to threats while liberals are more open to new experiences.

As Mooney emphasizes over and over again in the book, this is not determinism. No substantive belief is “hard-wired.” Our nature does not determine our fate any more than our nurture does. These are averages and tendencies, not destinies, and individuals can found all along a broad spectrum. Some of the scientific results, particularly the ones related to genetics, are early and highly tentative. Nonetheless, the totality of the science is substantial enough that it no longer makes sense to ignore it. The way we think about politics and democracy must incorporate a fuller picture of human cognition and cultural identity.

Q. One of the objections to the book I’ve seen around is that it places too much value on the social-science behavioral and psychology studies that don’t meet proper scientific standards of rigor — asking people questions outside of bars, etc.

A. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2012 at 10:26 am

Posted in GOP, Science

The mechanisms of the conservative mind

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Paul Krugman has an interesting column today:

Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.”

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us.

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold.

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” which was not, as you might think, a partisan screed. It was, instead, a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true. . .

Continue reading.

See also this article in The Week:

HERE’S A SIMPLE definition of ideology: “a set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.” And here’s the most basic of all ideological questions: Should we preserve the present order or change it?

Political theorists long assumed that people chose ideologies to further their self-interest. The rich and powerful want to preserve and conserve; the workers want to change things. But that link has been largely broken in modern times, when the rich go both ways (industrialists mostly right, tech billionaires mostly left), and so do the poor (rural poor mostly right, urban poor mostly left). So for most of the late 20th century, political scientists embraced blank-slate theories in which people soaked up the ideology of their parents.

But then came the studies of twins in the 1980s, which found that genes contribute to just about every aspect of our personalities. We’re not just talking about IQ and basic traits such as shyness. We’re talking about the degree to which you like jazz, your likelihood of getting a divorce, your religiosity, and your political orientation as an adult. Whether you end up on the right or the left of the political spectrum turns out to be just as heritable as most other traits.

Researchers have found several genes that differ between liberals and conservatives. Most of them relate to the functioning of neurotransmitters, particularly glutamate and serotonin, both of which are involved in the brain’s response to threat and fear. Other studies have focused on genes related to receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is tied to sensation seeking and openness to experience. Even though the effects of any single gene are tiny, these findings are important because they illustrate one pathway from genes to politics: The genes (collectively) give some people brains that are more (or less) reactive to threats and that produce less (or more) pleasure when exposed to novelty, change, and new experiences. Many studies have shown that conservatives react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger, while novelty seeking and openness to experience are among the best-established correlates of liberalism.

Let’s imagine a pair of fraternal twins, a brother and sister raised together in the same home. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2012 at 9:26 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Science

RazoRock again

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Another go with a RazoRock razor. But first, the prep. Beard washed with MR GLO, as usual, then a very nice lather indeed from Dr. Selby’s 3x shaving cream—which is totally like a (very good) shaving soap—made by the doughty little Kabuki. I like this little brush.

I tried a different brand of blade this morning: Astra Keramik Platinum, a very good brand for me, and used the RazoRock Jaws three-piece razor, which seems to have the same head as yesterday’s RazoRock, as one would expect. As before, a fairly harsh shave. Tomorrow I’m going to use the new Edwin Jagger/Mühle head to contrast (and give my face a break), but I’m getting the idea that the RazoRock razors, though well made and of good materials, have a head design that may not work for me. Still, I have a couple more to try. Tomorrow’s razor will be a rebranded Mühle Sophist with the new head (sold as a Gerson razor).

A splash of Paul Sebastian and the shave is done. But not quite satisfactory in terms of comfort.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2012 at 9:17 am

Posted in Shaving

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