Later On

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

Archive for February 2013

The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer

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In Rolling Stone by Sabrina Rubin Erdeley:

The first thing Petty Officer 2nd Class Rebecca Blumer realized upon waking was that she was freezing cold and naked. The second thing was that her body ached all over. Blumer groggily scanned the unfamiliar room for clues. She saw a concrete floor splotched with vomit, a metal door and a window onto a hallway, where a woman in an orange jumpsuit was sweeping.

“Where am I?” Blumer called hoarsely.

“Richmond County jail,” the inmate told her.

Blumer shivered. “I need to see a doctor,” she whispered.

The woman nodded. “You’ve been screaming that all night.”

Blumer sat back in shock. She was a normally cheerful 23-year-old Navy intelligence analyst stationed at Fort Gordon, a vast Army base of 15,000 military employees in Augusta, Georgia. Blumer, whose job was to sift through top-secret data, was part of a thousand-­member naval unit. The night before, February 12th, 2010, she and some friends had gone to a bar not far from base for a couple of beers. Three Army guys – one with light hair, the other two dark-haired – had sent Blumer a shot of Jägermeister, a drink she didn’t care much for but had downed anyway. The light-haired man had rounded the bar to talk to her. The last thing ­Blumer remembered was being overwhelmed by a dizzy, sluggish feeling, her limbs and head too heavy to lift, the ­noises in the bar rising up and caving in on her. Only later would Blumer find out the rest: that at 1:40 a.m., police had noticed her driving with her headlights off. That she’d barely been able to stand upright during her field sobriety test, but when placed under arrest she’d gone berserk, trying to break free of the police car and screaming incoherently. In jail, she’d yelled for a doctor and fought with the cops so ­wildly that she’d been hosed down in an effort to quiet her. Now, crouching in her cell with a swollen jaw; bruises smudging her wrists, ankles and neck; her abdomen sore inside; and her lower back and buttocks afire with what felt like rug burn, it dawned on ­Blumer. She’d been roofied and raped.

The Kill Team: How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians

She was desperate to get back to the safety of Fort Gordon. “I need to go to the hospital,” a panicked Blumer told the master-at-arms when he arrived to return her to base. Sitting in the car wearing the previous night’s turtleneck and jeans, Blumer reminded herself that she was in good hands. She came from a long military tradition; while in the cavalry, her great-grandfather had once been stationed at this very base. So Blumer was confused when, arriving at Fort Gordon, the master-­at-arms drove her not to the military hospital but to the Judge Advocate General’s offices, where a half-dozen members of her chain of command were ­solemnly waiting in their black dress uniforms to discipline her for driving under the influence.

Blumer, a standout sailor with an unblemished record, was sure she could clear things up. She wrote a statement in the crowded office that described her suspicions about what had actually occurred, and her urgent need for medical attention. Then she obediently left the room so her superiors could discuss the matter. When she was allowed in a few minutes later, Blumer was told that she would be taken to the hospital – but with orders only for a toxicology report, to see if there really were date-rape drugs in her system. “Whether you get a rape kit is up to you,” the female JAG prosecutor cautiously told Blumer, who struggled to make sense of what was happening: The military she’d trusted to care for her wasn’t interested in caring for her at all. She was even more shaken by the JAG’s jarring question later on: “Did you inflict your injuries yourself?”

The implication floored Blumer. “How could anyone even think that I would do that to myself?” she says now. It was ­Blumer’s first glimpse of a hidden side of military culture, in which rapes, and the sweeping aside of rapes, happen with disturbing regularity. And it was her first sense of what lay in store after coming forward as a military rape victim: that she would be treated with suspicion by those charged with helping her, penalized by command and ostracized by her unit. “Once my assault happened,” Blumer says, “my whole future disappeared.”

The scandal of rape in the U.S. Armed Forces, across all of its uniformed ser­vices, has become inescapable. Last year saw the military’s biggest sex-abuse scandal in a decade, when an investigation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio revealed that 32 basic-training instructors preyed on at least 59 recruits. In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair is currently facing court-martial for sex-crimes charges, including forcible sodomy, for alleged misconduct against five women. In October, an Air Force technical sergeant filed an administrative complaint describing a work environment of comprehensive harassment – in which all women are “bitches”; and claimed that during a routine meeting in a commander’s office, she was instructed to take off her blouse and “relax” – edged with menace and punctuated by violent assaults. In December, a Department of Defense report revealed that rape is rampant at the nation’s military academies, where 12 percent of female cadets experienced “unwanted sexual contact.” And an explosive series of federal lawsuits filed against top DOD brass on behalf of 59 ­service members (including Rebecca Blumer) allege that the leadership has done nothing to stop the cycle of rape and ­impunity – and that by failing to condemn sexual assault, the military has created a predators’ playground. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 4:15 pm

Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition

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Totally fascinating review of Garry Wills’s new book Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition. By Kyle Minor, in Salon:

It takes a long time to write and publish a book, so Garry Wills certainly could not have predicted that his newest, “Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition,” would arrive at precisely the moment in history in which many thoughtful Catholics must be asking the same question.

If you’re expecting a polemic, you might get a quiet one, but you won’t get much in the way of bombast or grandstanding. Wills is a scholar, and his opposition is rooted in a position firmly inside the church. The book is dedicated to the memory of a priest, Henri de Lubac, S.J., and it begins with a long appreciation of the priests Wills has known and loved in a professional lifetime of reading and writing about religion which itself began in a Jesuit seminary, where Wills studied for five years in hopes of becoming a priest.

This brief memoiristic opening quickly gives way to a historical account of the rise to prominence and power of the priestly class in the Roman Catholic tradition, which begins with the first generation of a priestless movement that hadn’t yet begun to call itself Christianity, and it is here that the reviewer of the audiobook edition begins to experience a special pleasure. So often the better audiobooks get their traction and build their momentum through their narrative qualities — the urgency of scene-making, the building tension of information that the listener is gaining alongside the speaker, the carefully modulated rising and falling of carefully shaped juxtapositions of events.

But when listening to “Why Priests?” in the pleasantly near-professorial cadences Michael Prichard expertly delivers, the pleasure rises from that calm authority, which so well matches Wills’s method of offering information in a steady, measured way, and then giving words to the ideas about the information that the listener has already begun to formulate for himself because the case has been prepared so intelligently. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Books, Religion

History will not be kind to Antonin Scalia

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Indeed, Scalia himself is not being kind to Scalia: he has turned him into a racist clown, mocking the principles by which he is supposed to judge. He already looks close to mania and delusion—as does Bob Woodward, come to think of it. These guys can really get out of touch. Scalia first, in this Salon piece by Joan Walsh:

Four slow-moving ambulances brought up the rear as student leader John Lewis led 600 peaceful protesters dressed for church on the voting rights march that would become known as Selma’s Bloody Sunday, on March 7, 1965. They stayed peaceful; law enforcement officials didn’t.  Trampled by police horses, choked by tear gas, beaten with billy clubs – Lewis had his skull fractured – the marchers would need more medical help than the four cars could provide. The ugly melee made national news that night: ABC broke into its presentation of “Judgment at Nuremberg” with footage of the violence, and viewers couldn’t be entirely sure where Nazi atrocities ended and their own country’s began.

Now, not far from Selma, Shelby County, Ala., is trying to take the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act that Lyndon B. Johnson hustled through Congress after Bloody Sunday. Even though the act was reauthorized by a Republican-dominated Congress in 2006 on a 98-0 vote in the Senate (it was 390-33 in the House), and signed by President Bush, and even though its constitutionality has been upheld by the Supreme Court four times, there is evidence that the current right-wing court majority would like to overturn at least part of it. Court conservatives once represented a reaction against the court’s supposed overreach into realms best left to Congress, and its willingness to ignore earlier court decisions. Now they seem set to say Congress has no business here, and that their Supreme Court predecessors who upheld the act were either mistaken or the blinkered creatures of their idiosyncratic eras.

Unbelievably, Antonin Scalia derided the act as a “racial entitlement,” prompting gasps from the crowd gathered to hear the arguments Wednesday. (As Rachel Maddow noted, Scalia seems to live for those gasps.) And he blamed Congress for pandering for votes by keeping that “racial entitlement” alive. The cynical Scalia sounded like Mitt Romney blaming his loss on President Obama delivering “gifts” to his coalition:

I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution …They are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?

Indeed, the name of it is wonderful. With that remark, Scalia made clear (if he hadn’t already) that he’s more suited for the talk radio dial alongside Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity than he is for the Supreme Court bench.

The right-wing justice’s rant goes to the heart of long-held conservative ambivalence about democracy: that corrupt politicians will be able to buy off the rabble, with “spoils” or patronage or jobs; even outright gifts of cash. Only men of wealth, property and education could be trusted to rise above such rank bribery, which is why many states had property requirements and other limits on voting in the early days of our country; universal suffrage didn’t even reach all white men until 1830.

Still, Romney only railed against Obama providing “gifts” like healthcare to Latinos and contraceptives to women. Limbaugh called him “Santa Claus,” one of his nicer names for the president, for those popular new programs. A majority of Americans, O’Reilly opined during his election night self-pity party, “want stuff. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it, and he ran on it.”

But not even O’Reilly implied that the “stuff” Obama gave his voters included their constitutional right to vote.

As is his trademark, . . .

Continue reading.

And Bob Woodward, eviscerated by Alex Pareene:

Bob Woodward rocked Washington this weekend with an editorial that hammered President Obama for inventing “the sequester” and then being rude enough to ask that Congress not make us have the sequester. Woodward went on “Morning Joe” this morning, and he continued his brutal assault:

“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document?’” Woodward said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“Or George W. Bush saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to invade Iraq because I can’t get the aircraft carriers I need’ or even Bill Clinton saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to attack Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters,’ as he did when Clinton was president because of some budget document?” Woodward added. “Under the Constitution, the president is commander-in-chief and employs the force. And so we now have the president going out because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can’t do what I need to do to protect the country. That’s a kind of madness that I haven’t seen in a long time.”

Speaking of kinds of madness, Woodward’s actual position here is insane. As Dave Weigel points out, “some budget document” is a law, passed by Congress and signed by the president. Woodward is saying, why won’t the president just ignore the law, because he is the commander in chief, and laws should not apply to him. That is a really interesting perspective, from a man who is famous for his reporting on the extralegal activities of a guy who is considered a very bad president!

Also, that George W. Bush analogy is amazing. It would have been a good thing for him to invade and occupy Iraq without congressional approval? Say what you will about George W. Bush, at least he was really, really devoted to invading Iraq. (And yes the Reagan line, lol.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 4:00 pm

Same Genetic Basis Is Found in 5 Types of Mental Illness

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That finding surprises me, though I can see how it’s possible—well, given that it’s true, it’s obviously possible. I mean I can just about see how it might work: very slight differences resulting in different expressions, like being threat-tolerant or not sets in motion a chain of outcomes and influences that result in totally different political outlooks. Gina Kolata writes in the NY Times:

The psychiatric illnesses seem very different — schizophreniabipolar disorderautismmajor depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Yet they share several genetic glitches that can nudge the brain along a path to mental illness, researchers report. Which disease, if any, develops is thought to depend on other genetic or environmental factors.

Their study, published online Wednesday in the Lancet, was based on an examination of genetic data from more than 60,000 people world-wide. Its authors say it is the largest genetic study yet of psychiatric disorders. The findings strengthen an emerging view of mental illness that aims to make diagnoses based on the genetic aberrations underlying diseases instead of on the disease symptoms.

Two of the aberrations discovered in the new study were in genes used in a major signaling system in the brain, giving clues to processes that might go awry and suggestions of how to treat the diseases.

“What we identified here is probably just the tip of an iceberg,” said Dr. Jordan Smoller, lead author of the paper and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “As these studies grow we expect to find additional genes that might overlap.”

The new study does not mean that the genetics of psychiatric disorders are simple. Researchers say there seem to be hundreds of genes involved and the gene variations discovered in the new study only confer a small risk of psychiatric disease. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Mental Health, Science

Technology control

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I was thinking about a title I saw — “Will technology help humans conquer the universe or kill us all?“—and went down the train of thought of the oncoming catastrophe (climate change) that is totally due to our use of technology, and how Monsanto is using technology and the powers of a modern corporation to gain monopoly control of our food supply, and this photo, and so on. And the next step is how the problem is not technology so much as how the technology is used—the knife that kills can also cure (surgery), and all that: it’s not the technology, it’s human nature that’s the problem.

And boy! did that ring a bell: It’s exactly the same patter you hear from gun zealots: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and you have to point out yet again that without the guns (as we know from multiple examples in other countries), people do not kill people nearly as much. While correlation is not (always) from causation, one might consider whether guns contribute to the problem rather than the solution, and perhaps access should be limited….

And I saw that the exact same thing holds for technology—I didn’t recognize it, because I’m a technology zealot, so I fell into the same thought patterns as the gun zealot: “You can’t blame X for flaws in human nature”—no, you can’t. But given that those flaws do indeed exist, you’d damn well better control or fix X so that it doesn’t fail due “human nature”. That’s like the NATO self-aiming, self-firing tank cannon that aimed itself at a reviewing stand of generals, who proved surprisingly agile, considering their age, at leaping to their feet and clearing the platform in record time. The cannon did not, as it happens, fire, and the primary contractor explained that the dolts had washed the tank, so the electronics got wet. And of course the obvious question: Doesn’t it rain in Eastern Europe?

So just a the cannon must accommodate rain—for that it will encounter—human use of X (product, technology, whatever) had better turn out to work well with human flaws, or we might be in for a bad time.

Technology apparently doesn’t work well with human flaws: the states of the world—looking at our environment, our economies, our political structures, our communities, our physical health, our educational achievement, our infrastucture, our quality of life—pretty clearly demonstrate the fact. And to say that technology is not responsible for this, that people are, is to repeat a tired argument in a new context.

Our primary failure has been that we did not control technology—and I am loath to say it, because I am indeed a technology zealot, and just as for the gun zealot, my mind instantly fills with all the things that could go wrong from limiting technology. Since it’s a common theme in science-fiction, plenty of examples came to mind: the folly of trying to suppress scientific knowledge and how, even if it succeeds, it horribly distorts society into those who have the technology as distinct from (and superior to) those from whom the technology is kept.

Technology does seem to have ruined much and is close on destroying us. I suppose the problem is that we have no other group: no examples of successful limitation of technology… well, no: the samurai class in Japan pretty much kept firearms at bay for a while. But then the superiority of those who had the technology to those who lacked it pushed a familiar button in human nature and those who were behind struggled to catch up.

Technology control would be difficult. But it certainly would not be impossible. One immediately thinks jiggering the transportation system so that everyone ends up doing a lot of walking—cf. New York City. Shape the use of technologies so that people make good life-choices as a by-product of simply doing things they want to do: e.g., going from A to B (which someone wants) will necessarily involve walking and going uphill and down (not necessarily wanted in itself, but satisfying an essential human need (for exercise) and so the city layout and transportation options are designed so that such walks are always or commonly required. Similar designs could be used to insure the ingestion of healthful foods, the avoidance of toxins (in foods, in environment, etc.). We thus arrive at a technocratic society with a lot of restrictions, and I don’t know how viable it would be given the inevitability of power struggles.

Maybe technology itself is the poison pill: agriculture, most likely, is the thing that put us on the fatal track, and the invention of writing simply nailed shut the lid.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Daily life

The non-moral objections to drones: They’re cheap

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So the military-industrial complex will lose obscene profits. Gary Brecher wrote this for Not Safe For Work Corporation, and Alternet picked it up:

All the talk about drones focusses on their “morality.” But there’s a funny thing about morality talk: most of it seems to come down to money. This time’s no different.

The worst thing about drones is that they’re cheap. That’s interfering with the vacation-home budgets of a lot of very sleazy DoD contractors and their pet Texas congressmen, and that’s why you’re hearing a consensus around how “immoral” drones are.

Remember this: Drones are a threat to the sleaziest acquisition program in the history of defense contracting: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. There have been some pretty disgusting lemons in the sorry history of the DoD — you just have to think back to SDI, also known as “Star Wars,” to find a weapons system that not only didn’t work but was never meant to work — but I’d have to say that the F-35 is an even bigger con job than Star Wars.

Don’t just take it from me — serious hawks who actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to military aviation are saying this. John McCain, who crashed a few fighter jets in his time, joined Robert Gates when he was still SecDef to go public with what every Pentagon insider already knew: The F-35 is a godawful piece of boondoggle junk, and nobody wants it.

I can’t sum up the F-35 better than McCain did [4]:

“It has been an incredible waste of the taxpayers’ dollar and it hurts the credibility of our acquisition process, our defense industry…[and]…reinforces the view of some of us that the military-industrial- congressional complex that President Eisenhower warned us about is alive and well.”

So there’s the lineup: In the blue corner, everybody with any decency or sense. In the red corner, a bunch of Texas Congressmen who own stock in the companies involved. My money’s on the Texans, I’m sorry to say, because there’s just too much money to be made on the F-35 for these pigs to pass up.

I’m talking about more money than you can possibly imagine. Guess how much each F-35 is supposed to cost. (That’s not what it’s actually going to cost, which is always way more, just what they say it’ll cost.) You may think you know that fighters are expensive toys, but let’s play The Price Is Wrong — write down your guess.


The correct answer is “$200 million for the base model.” Two. Hundred. Million. For just one billion dollars, folks, you can get five of these dogs, which will do almost as well as an F-16 that cost about 8% of what we’re gonna pay for the F-35! That, folks, is what the F-35 backers consider a deal too wasteful to resist.

Now let’s move on to advanced math, with lots of extra zeroes, to figure out how much the whole program will cost. We’ll make it a story problem: “If the American people are stupid enough to pay $200 million for each barks-like-a-dog F-35, and they go through with the planned purchase of 2,443 of these flying cash dispensers, how many billions in treasury bonds will we have to sell to the Chinese just to line the pockets of some sleazy Texas congressmen and their contractor pals?” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Military

It’s the sugar, after all

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Mark Bittman in the NY Times:

Sugar is indeed toxic. It may not be the only problem with the Standard American Diet, but it’s fast becoming clear that it’s the major one.

A study published in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal PLoS One links increased consumption of sugar with increased rates of diabetes by examining the data on sugar availability and the rate of diabetes in 175 countries over the past decade. And after accounting for many other factors, the researchers found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates independent of rates of obesity.

In other words, according to this study, obesity doesn’t cause diabetes: sugar does.

The study demonstrates this with the same level of confidence that linked cigarettes and lung cancer in the 1960s. As Rob Lustig, one of the study’s authors and a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said to me, “You could not enact a real-world study that would be more conclusive than this one.”

The study controlled for poverty, urbanization, aging, obesity and physical activity. It controlled for other foods and total calories. In short, it controlled for everything controllable, and it satisfied the longstanding “Bradford Hill” criteria for what’s called medical inference of causation by linking dose (the more sugar that’s available, the more occurrences of diabetes); duration (if sugar is available longer, the prevalence of diabetes increases); directionality (not only does diabetes increase with more sugar, it decreases with less sugar); and precedence (diabetics don’t start consuming more sugar; people who consume more sugar are more likely to become diabetics).

The key point in the article is this: “Each 150 kilocalories/person/day increase in total calorie availability related to a 0.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence (not significant), whereas a 150 kilocalories/person/day rise in sugar availability (one 12-ounce can of soft drink) was associated with a 1.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence.” Thus: for every 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverage introduced per person per day into a country’s food system, the rate of diabetes goes up 1 percent. (The study found no significant difference in results between those countries that rely more heavily on high-fructose corn syrup and those that rely primarily on cane sugar.) . . .

Continue reading.

In fact, when I was a young boy, the name for the disease (so far as I knew) was “sugar diabetes” and it was commonly held that eating lots of sugar (very sugary iced-tea, pastries and cakes, candy bars, and so on) would “give you diabetes; that’s why they call it sugar diabetes.” I think I probably still held to that at some level.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 9:56 am

Interesting approach: Look for outliers, find out what they do

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Extremely interesting article in the NY Times by Tina Rosenberg:

Jerry and Monique Sternin and their son were among the very first Americans to move to Hanoi when they arrived in Vietnam in 1990. They had come from the Philippines, where Jerry had been director of Save the Children’s program there.

At the time, Vietnam was losing its imports of subsidized rice from ideological backers and shifting from collectivized to private agriculture. The dislocation was deadly — “a near-famine situation,” Monique Sternin said in an interview from Addis Ababa this weekend. About two-thirds of children were malnourished. International feeding programs had helped, but when the programs ended, villages fell back into hunger. The government had asked Save the Children to try to find a lasting solution. Some officials didn’t like having Westerners brought in. You have six months to show results, the government warned. If you don’t, you’re out.

The Sternins had seen in their previous work how big programs run by outsiders created dependency. “The essence of development is to help people build capacity to do things themselves,” said Monique (Jerry died in 2008). “We were struggling to find something.”

They had just read a book, however, by Marian Zeitlin, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, called “Positive Deviance in Nutrition.” The word deviant usually has negative connotations, but Zeitlin wrote about children who thrived even as those around them were poorly nourished. Zeitlin suggested that nutrition could be improved if a village looked at what these children’s families were doing right.

The Sternins were not experts in fighting malnutrition. But they thought they knew where to find some.They went into villages and asked for volunteers to weigh all children under 3, and to characterize each family’s level of income. The volunteers concluded the obvious: the poorer the family, the more likely the children would be malnourished. Then the Sternins asked if any of the families characterized as “very, very poor” had well-nourished children.

The volunteers checked the list and excitedly reported that there were some.

“So it’s possible for a very, very poor child in the village to be well nourished?” asked the Sternins.

“Let’s go see what their families are doing differently,” the volunteers said.

The volunteers fanned out to interview these “positive deviant” families — in each village there were a few, perhaps 5 or 6. They found several practices in common. Children in the village were fed twice a day, mostly rice. Local custom held that an adult diet was harmful for young children. But the positive deviant parents were collecting tiny crabs or shrimps from rice paddies and giving them to the children along with the greens from sweet potatoes. While village wisdom held that you don’t feed a child who has diarrhea, the positive deviant families did. They also fed their children often throughout the day, and washed their children’s hands before they ate.

The Sternins knew that helping villagers to learn about these deviant behaviors would not be enough. “Knowledge doesn’t change behavior,” said Monique. “Practice changes behavior.” They convened meetings of villagers to discuss how best to spread the behaviors. The villagers decided that parents of malnourished children would gather with their children daily at a neighbor’s house for two weeks. Each family had to collect a handful of shrimps, crabs or greens and bring it to the gathering. With a trained health volunteer, the families cooked meals using the nutritious foods and tried out the new practices. If they didn’t become habit and the children were still malnourished, the families could do another two-week cycle the next month. “Trying something new always makes you a little scared. People got confidence through their peers,” said Monique.

Five and a half months after the Sternins had arrived in Vietnam, authorities weighed the children in the district who had participated in the program. More than 40 percent were now well nourished, and another 20 percent had moved from severe to moderate malnutrition. The Sternins got their visa extended. Vietnam eventually replicated the program in 250 communities.

Poor-country development usually works like this: . . .

Continue reading. In business, this system is called “emulating best practices,” and of course it depends heavily on identifying “best practices,” which does require defining the criteria by which a practice is measured, which is where it often runs into trouble. (Business has trouble assigning importance to any criterion save “greater profit.”) It’s also sporadically used in education, in which exemplary teachers are identified (again, how they are identified is critical) and then their methods, tools, and approach is studied.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 9:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Salary negotiations for the beginner

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Very interesting article in The Scientist on salary negotiation by Stephanie Eberle. I usually recommend Fisher & Ury’s Getting to Yes as the best single resource regarding negotiation, with an emphasis on spending effort (time, and money) to improve your BATNA: the most powerful tool at your disposal and one that’s totally up to you.

Eberle writes:

Yuki sat in my office at the Stanford University School of Medicine Career Center, as many graduate students have before, and detailed the two postdoc job offers she had received in spite of an ongoing recession. She had heard she should negotiate, but had no idea how to proceed. When asked what she wanted to get out of the agreement, she responded, “I’m not good at this. I mean, why would they want to hire me?”

Weeks earlier, one of her classmates, Ray (both Ray and Yuki are fictitious names to protect the identities of my students), was in the opposite predicament. He came to my office because all three of his job offers had been rescinded after he attempted to negotiate, which he had done because he felt he should. When asked how he approached the negotiations, he said, “I simply told them I needed more money because I graduated with a PhD from Stanford.”

With recent legislation mandating equal pay for women, and reports that a woman makes, on average, 77–80 cents for every dollar a man earns, it is tempting to see these two scenarios as “gendered”: to assume that Yuki may settle for less because she is not confident in the process, as women “tend to be,” and that Ray’s overconfidence cost him three jobs, a mistake commonly attributed to men. In fact, both faced the negotiation question with unhealthy assumptions about the process, which ultimately hurt their cases. Here are the most common job negotiation myths and what to do about them.

Myth 1: You must negotiate

There are two types of negotiations: distributive and integrative. Negotiating a painting’s price with an art dealer, for example, is distributive. You may never see the dealer again, so focusing on the best bargain is more important than concerning yourself with maintaining a relationship.

Negotiations with future employers are integrative, which means you will (if all goes well) see them again; starting and maintaining a good relationship is therefore your most important concern.

The best approach is to enter the negotiation with a rationale that fits both parties. The Harvard Negotiation Project within Harvard Law School provides research and resources focused on the theory and practice of conflict resolution and negotiation. Researchers within the program recommend knowing the following before you begin:

• Best alternative to a negotiated agreement: What are your other options?
• Reservation price: What is the least you can accept?
• Zone of possible agreement: Where are you willing to settle?

Through answering these questions, you may find the offer reasonable or even better than you had anticipated. It’s also a good idea to know your own worth. Comparing standards in your field on sites like the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Career Insider, Radford, Glassdoor,, and The Scientist’s own Salary Survey can help. It’s important to remember that these rarely offer precise benchmarks of salary. However, comparisons of the information can offer a good sense of range. Additionally, in some fields, such as management consulting, negotiation is not even common. In effect, if you have found no solid reason for negotiating other than simply wanting a little more cash for extracurricular activities, it may be better for your professional relationship not to do so.

Myth 2: Negotiation is a disingenuous process . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 9:10 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Great pencils deserve a great sharpener

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I buy these pencils, and I use this sharpener.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 8:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

Another great shave

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SOTD 28 Feb 2013

Yet another wonderful shave, BBS mostly. My Omega boar, after soaking while I showered, worked up a wonderful lather from the vintage Yardley shaving soap: good stuff. The Frankenrazor today is the UFO red bronze handle and the Gillette long-toothed NEW head, holding a Wilkinson Sword blade. Three very smooth and sweet passes, a splash of Floris No. 89, and I’m almost ready for the weekend…

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2013 at 8:21 am

Posted in Shaving

Work/life balance for entrepreneurs

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The balance turns out to be “work = 100%; life = 0%”. Cliff Oxford explains in a NY Times column:

“How can fast-growth entrepreneurs lead a more balanced life?” is one of those agonizing questions that I am often asked. The good news is that there is a rather simple answer: “You can’t.” Save your money, and don’t waste your time on the books and coaches who want to sell you advice. Here is why.

Fast growth is a 24/7 proposition. It is not just the hours you put in at work; it’s that it owns your head. You think about work in the shower and on vacation, and you get lost in all of the ideas while you are sitting at dinner. It is exciting and dangerous. Of course, the collateral damage on the big three — family, health, and faith — can be disastrous. Nothing describes it better than F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”

Hero entrepreneurs have big egos and the audacity to want to create or change a market. In fact, many want to change the world, which is a very demanding job. And once you start to smell success, it is hard to stop. You become an addict, but instead of getting drunk at a bar, you get high on work. And that is fine until you have to go home and deal with routine family matters like changing diapers, taking out the trash or attending meetings of the P.T.A., or God forbid, the homeowner’s association. You are always in a hurry, and everybody else is so slow.

I remember one evening when my human resources director, Harriet McCormick, called me into her office and said, “We need to talk,” which is never a good thing coming from H.R. — even if you are the chief executive. She said, “Cliff, you have a mistress, your work. This company is going places, and you need to make up your mind if you are ready to give up your life for it.” I blew the conversation off because I was having a great time. I loved my family, I felt good about what we were doing at work, and I assumed I could maintain the balance. Five years later, I had three Inc. 500 plaques hanging on my wall — and I was divorced. This is the danger of the balance propaganda. You think you can have it all, and you wind up losing what means most to you.

Now I work with hundreds of fast-growth entrepreneurs who struggle to find the balance they read about in airplane magazines as they zip off to see the next customer, and I see these tragedies happen over and over. I tell fast-growth entrepreneurs not to get married while they are in fast-growth mode. They always do. I tell them to consider building a successful small business or consider making their current office more profitable instead of opening five new offices over the next year. They never do.

Entrepreneurs think they want balance, but . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

What could possibly go wrong?: Cutting gun training division

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Rebecca Leder posts at ThinkProgress a note about something that later will elicit remarks along the lines of, “No one could have predicted….” (from gun lovers) and “What on earth were they thinking?” (from everyone else).

UPDATE: Texas School Worker Shot During Handgun Training Class. That didn’t take long, did it? Probably rushing the class to cut time.

Leder’s note:

Fearing tighter gun violence prevention, Texans have bought guns in droves since the Sandy Hook tragedy. To accommodate the frenzy, state Rep. Dan Flynn introduced a bill to cut down the training required of concealed carry permit holders from 10 hours to just four.

Flynn claimed there would be no difference between the two classes. WFAA reports:

“You spend a lot of time taking breaks, you spend a lot of time hearing stories,” Flynn said. “A lot of people who try to get their license, they have to take a day off of work, or they have to take a whole Saturday to go do this where, four hours, range time, you can do the same thing and it accomplishes it.”

Naturally, shooting instructors call the change unsafe. “It takes me four hours just to go through one segment, which is the lawful use of deadly force,” Travis Bond, a National Rifle Association member who runs a firearm training academy, said. “There’s no way you can teach people what they need to know.”

Currently, the 10-hour class covers at least four required topics — “use of force; non violent dispute resolution; handgun use; and safe and proper storage of handguns and ammunition” — according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. It is far more likely the shorter class would omit material more substantial than water cooler breaks, especially when Texas’ neighboring states all require between 8-15 hours of training.

Gun accidents may make up a smaller portion of firearm deaths than homicides and suicides, but adding more poorly trained gun owners to the mix does not help a state where roughly 500,000hold concealed gun permits.

Texas lawmakers will also consider a second bill that capitalizes on the increased demand for guns. This one would create a tax-free holiday for guns and ammunition on “Texas Independence Day.”

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Guns, Law

White Rose: The Germans who tried to topple Hitler

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Lucy Burns reports at the BBC News Service:

Seventy years ago today, three German students were executed in Munich for leading a resistance movement against Hitler. Since then, the members of the White Rose group have become German national heroes – Lilo Furst-Ramdohr was one of them.

In 1943, World War II was at its height – but in Munich, the centre of Nazi power, a group of students had started a campaign of passive resistance.

Liselotte Furst-Ramdohr, already a widow at the age of 29 following her husband’s death on the Russian front, was introduced to the White Rose group by her friend, Alexander Schmorell.

“I can still see Alex today as he told me about it,” says Furst-Ramdohr, now a spry 99-year-old. “He never said the word ‘resistance’, he just said that the war was dreadful, with the battles and so many people dying, and that Hitler was a megalomaniac, and so they had to do something.”

Schmorell and his friends Christoph Probst and Hans Scholl had started writing leaflets encouraging Germans to join them in resisting the Nazi regime.

With the help of a small group of collaborators, they distributed the leaflets to addresses selected at random from the phone book.

Furst-Ramdohr says the group couldn’t understand how the German people had been so easily led into supporting the Nazi Party and its ideology.

“They must have been able to tell how bad things were, it was ridiculous,” she says.

The White Rose delivered the leaflets by hand to addresses in the Munich area, and sent them to other cities through trusted couriers.

Furst-Ramdohr never delivered the leaflets herself but hid them in a broom cupboard in her flat.

She also helped Schmorell make stencils in her flat saying “Down with Hitler”, and on the nights of 8 and 15 February, the White Rose graffitied the slogan on walls across Munich.

Furst-Ramdohr remembers the activists – who were risking their lives for their beliefs – as young and naive.

One of the best-known members of the group today is Hans Scholl’s younger sister Sophie, later the subject of an Oscar-nominated film, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Furst-Ramdohr remembers that Sophie was so scared that she used to sleep in her brother’s bed.

“Hans was very afraid too, but they wanted to keep going for Germany – they loved their country,” she says.

On 18 February, Hans and Sophie Scholl set off on their most daring expedition yet. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Wall Street corruption and takeover of government still continues

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But, by God, Elizabeth Warren in fighting back. Pat Garofalo reports at

During a Senate Banking committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grilled Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on whether Wall Street banks should have to pay back U.S. taxpayers for the implicit funding advantage those banks receive by virtue of being viewed as “too big to fail.” According to a Bloomberg News study, big banks are essentially subsidized by about $83 billion per year because investors anticipate that those banks will be saved by the government if they get in trouble.

“These big financial institutions are getting cheaper borrowing to the tune of $83 billion in a single year simply because people believe the government would step up and bail them out. If they are getting it, why shouldn’t they pay for it?” asked Warren:

WARREN: So I understand that we’re all trying to get to the end of “too big to fail.” But my question, Mr. chairman, is until we do, should those biggest financial institutions be repaying the American taxpayer that $83 billion subsidy that they are getting?…It is working like an insurance policy. Ordinary folks pay for homeowners insurance. Ordinary folks pay for car insurance. Andthese big financial institutions are getting cheaper borrowing to the tune of $83 billion in a single year simply because people believe that the government would step in and bail them out. And I’m just saying, if they are getting it, why shouldn’t they pay for it?

BERNANKE: I think we should get rid of it.

Watch it:

As Bloomberg found, the biggest banks wouldn’t even be profitable without the expectation that they would be rescued by the government. “The banks occupying the commanding heights of the U.S. financial industry — with almost $9 trillion in assets, more than half the size of the U.S. economy — would just about break even in the absence of corporate welfare. In large part, the profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders,” Bloomberg noted.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 1:30 pm

Five More States Consider ‘Ag Gag’ Laws Making It Illegal to Report Factory Farm Abuses

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The ominous aspect of businesses taking over the government: finding fault with businesses becomes treason. Aviva Shen reports at

As state legislatures begin their 2013 sessions, a flurry of new “ag gag” bills to protect factory farms from potential undercover whistleblowers have been introduced in 5 states. This week, the Indiana Senate is debating a proposal to criminalize taking photographs or videos inside an agricultural or industrial operation without permission.

Senate Bill 373 is the first of two ag gag bills introduced during Indiana’s 2013 session. New Hampshire, Nebraska, Wyoming and Arkansas are also considering them.

Since trespassing is already illegal, ag gag laws can only have one clear motive: to punish whistleblowers, advocates, and investigative reporters who use undercover recordings to reveal the abysmal conditions in which our food is produced. Undercover investigations have captured factory farms all over the country abusing livestock, passing off sick cattle as healthy, and discharging unregulated amounts of animal manure, which the US Geological Survey identified as the largest source of nitrogen pollution in the country.

The bill’s author, Sen. Travis Holdman (R), added a provision exempting anyone who turns over their video or photos to law enforcement within 48 hours — as long as they do not also share the footage with non-law enforcement, such as media or an animal rights group. But, as the Indy Star points out, many exposés are “undertaken precisely because the authorities failed to do their job. Sometimes, they have spotlighted conditions that were not illegal but were disturbing enough to inspire new laws.”

Indeed, factory farms have largely escaped regulatory and legal scrutiny. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency abandoned an effort to require these operations to . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 1:25 pm

At last: automatic Oreo cookie/cream separator!

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Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 1:17 pm

Why a one-room West Virginia library runs a $20,000 Cisco router

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Nate Anderson has an interesting article at Ars Technica:

Marmet, West Virginia is a town of 1,500 people living in a thin ribbon along the banks of the Kanawha River just below Charleston. The town’s public library is only open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. It’s housed in a small building the size of a trailer, which the state of West Virginia describes as an “extremely small facility with only one Internet connection.” Which is why it’s such a surprise to learn the Marmet Public Library runs this connection through a $15,000 to $20,000 Cisco 3945 router intended for “mid-size to large deployments,” according to Cisco.

In an absolutely scathing report (PDF) just released by the state’s legislative auditor, West Virginia officials are accused of overspending at least $5 million of federal money on such routers, installed indiscriminately in both large institutions and one-room libraries across the state. The routers were purchased without ever asking the state’s libraries, cops, and schools what they needed. And when distributed, the expensive routers were passed out without much apparent care. The small town of Clay received seven of them to serve a total population of 491 people… and all seven routers were installed within only .44 miles of each other at a total cost of more than $100,000.

In total, $24 million was spent on the routers through a not-very-open bidding process under which non-Cisco router manufacturers such as Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent were not “given notice or any opportunity to bid.” As for Cisco, which helped put the massive package together, the legislative auditor concluded that the company “had a moral responsibility to propose a plan which reasonably complied with Cisco’s own engineering standards” but that instead “Cisco representatives showed a wanton indifference to the interests of the public in recommending using $24 million of public funds to purchase 1,164 Cisco model 3945 branch routers.”

In other words, the project has been a stellar example of what not to do and how not to do it.

A million here, a million thereThe routers in question were purchased as part of a much larger grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which passed out several billion dollars to help upgrade broadband networks across America as part of President Obama’s initial stimulus package in 2009. West Virginia’s cash was meant to wire up the many “community anchor institutions” such as libraries, schools, police, and hospitals across the state with Internet access delivered over fiber-optic lines. As part of the project, the state also had to purchase some sort of router for each institution. Instead of “right-sizing” the routers for their intended destinations, the state group of officials charged with implementing the grant decided they would make things easy by purchasing the exact same router and installing it everywhere, even in the most rural locations they planned to reach.

This became controversial in 2012 when local newspapers brought the issue to light and questioned whether the state had not just been boondoggled. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Government

Wonder whether it was things like this that made Jesus drive the money-changers from the temple

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The one time I can recall Jesus getting angry was when he chased the money-changers from the temple. Lynn Stuart Parramore writes for Alternet:

It’s a place where angels fear to tread; where criminals, frauds and mysterious corpses turn up as regularly as rats in the metro. The Institute for Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank, was set up in 1942 by Pope Pius XII to manage the vast Vatican finances. Often referred to as the world’s most secret bank, the operation is run by a CEO and overseen by five cardinals who report directly to the Pope.

The bank’s official role is to safeguard and administer property intended for works of religion or charity. The actual activities of the bank are somewhat different. They include money laundering for narcotics traffickers, bribery, skimming charitable funds to enrich priests, and tax evasion for wealthy Italians.

Finance, Vatican-Style

The scandals associated with the Vatican bank, particularly over the last four decades, are so sordid and improbable as to strain the creativity of a supermarket tabloid. The Church’s past offenses of selling indulgences and charging fees for sacraments have been updated for the world of modern finance, complete with shell companies, speculation and secret transfers. (For more on the antecedents of the current bank, see Betty Clermont’s handy synopsis [3] at Daily Kos.) Last year, Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published a book [4] delving into the intrigue and corruption swirling in a bank that has been answerable to no one. It was an eye-opener.

In May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI’s butler was arrested for leaking documents bristling with claims of financial corruption and criminal activity involving major Italian companies. The last Vatican bank chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was shown the door when it was revealed that the bank was running afoul of international money-laundering standards. Leaked material and reporting reveals a bank that appears to be a kind of rogue offshore vehicle favored by various kinds of miscreants, including right-wing politicians, mafia types and tax evaders who wish to hide their financial transactions. Kind of like HSBC, only with God’s imprimatur.

Subsequent investigations have resulted in a shutdown of credit card transactions at all Vatican venues; right now, God can only take cash. In an attempt to restore relations with the international financial community, outgoing Pope Benedict appointed [5] a new director of the bank, German lawyer Ernst von Freyberg, as one of his final acts. So far that’s not looking so good, as Freyberg has been revealed to have unfortunate links [6] with a company with a history of making warships, including those produced for Nazi Germany.

Skeletons In the VaultThe same month the butler story broke, sinister echoes of earlier scandals emerged when the Catholic Church’s top exorcist (yes, you got that right) claimed [8] that a pile of bones buried in the tomb of a notorious gangster – and church doner — belonged to a missing schoolgirl who was forced to perform for priests’ sex parties. The gangster’s girlfriend at the time claimed that American monsignor Paul Marcinkus, the scandal-ridden chief of the Vatican bank from 1971 to 1989, was behind the abduction. Whether or not that’s true, the years of Marcinkus’ reign were certainly unusual.

In the 1980s, the Vatican bank was involved in a major political and financial ruckus involving the $4.7 billion collapse of

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 9:58 am

Posted in Business, Religion

Safety glasses for good sleep

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This Cool Tool has an unusual use. The Wife will be interested. Carla Sinclair writes:

Uvex Skypers are protective eyewear that have built-in side shields and a brow guard. Lightweight and comfortably snug, they fit me perfectly out of the box, but they do come with a nose bridge and an adjustable temple length for those who need to customize the fit. With great eye coverage and total comfort, I’m sure they fit the bill when it comes to safety glasses, but that’s not why I use them.

With interchangeable lenses that come in an array of colors, I’ve finally found the missing ingredient that completes my nighttime recipe to combat insomnia: the Extreme Orange Anti Fog lenses! For years I’ve had chronic insomnia, and have tried everything from herbal teas to hot baths to the occasional prescription. These things would help for a night or two, and then the insomnia would come back like a tenacious weed. I knew that looking at blue light after dark suppresses melatonin production (a hormone that regulates sleep), and I really did try for one night to avoid my iPhone, iPad, and television in the evening hours. Let’s just say that wasn’t a realistic solution.

Then my husband gave me these cool orange shades that block all ultraviolet, violet, and blue light while allowing green and red wavelengths to pass through, and it’s made a complete difference in my sleep! I try to remember to put them on a little after it gets dark, but even if I wait until just one or two hours before bedtime I still seem to get good sleep. The color might be too dark for those who want to work in their garage, but since the lenses are interchangeable that won’t be a problem.

— Carla Sinclair

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2013 at 9:36 am

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