Later On

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

Archive for May 2nd, 2013

What slavery meant if you were a slave

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Photo from this NY Times column by Ted Widmer. Column includes a video. The South was willing to fight a war to preserve the institution of slavery.

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 6.39.00 PM

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Algorithm-driven robot bricklayers; 3-D printing a house; and so on

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Amazing new building capabilities described in New Scientist by Hal Hodson (with a video at the link):

Editorial: “Will digital architecture build follies or glories?

THERE’S a winery outhouse in a field in Fläsch, Switzerland, that was built using robots and algorithms. Each one of its 20,000 bricks was laid at a precise angle and interval – by a robot arm. One hour away, in the town of Pfungen, the twisting brick facade of an office building has the same algorithmic origins. These are arguably the world’s first digital constructions in which computer designs have become a large-scale structural reality thanks to automated machine labour.

The outhouse and the office were built by ROB Technologies, a company spun out from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich by architect-cum-roboticist Tobias Bonwetsch. ROB has developed a mobile robotic construction platform (pictured above) which can be wheeled to any construction site, where it spits out customised brickwork. The bricks are laid according to any design chosen in the customised software which underpins the system. A robotic arm made by Kuka Robotics based in Augsburg, Germany, grabs each brick off a slide, daubs it with sticky epoxy resin and lays it with superhuman precision. The robot means designers can experiment with mathematically complex designs, knowing that every brick will be effortlessly, perfectly placed.

“We do things with the robot that would never have been done in a traditional, manual way,” Bonwetsch says. “As soon as every brick must be positioned differently, it’s very hard for a builder. But the robot doesn’t care.”

Swiss construction company Keller has given ROB more than half a million Swiss francs ($540,000) to develop its bricklaying robot. Upcoming projects include a robot-built wooden slat ceiling and a 3500-square-metre brick facade – Bonwetsch’s biggest project yet. A robot that could handle the tiling of a whole room with the same level of autonomy as a Roomba vacuum cleaner is also on the list.

Meanwhile, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, robo-arms and design software are being unleashed to create a whole house. Steven Keating at the MIT Media Lab took delivery of a truck with a 15-metre-long boom-arm last week. That vehicle is now being transformed into a giant robotic print head, capable of 3D-printing building-sized versions of the curvaceous mini-structures that festoon Keating’s office. “No one has ever built a robotic arm this large,” he claims. “Our end goal is a digital construction vehicle which would allow what we call print-in-place construction.” In other words, a system that can drive onto a construction site and automatically print a completely unique building directly from digital designs.

While Bonwetsch has succeeded in bringing digital construction to an industry niche, Keating is aiming to revolutionise the way we build. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 6:36 pm

Posted in Technology

Obama’s litany of broken promises continues

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Obama gives promises too readily, it seems, so that he feels it doesn’t matter if he breaks the promise once he’s elected. For example, both Obama and Eric Holder promised that the Federal government would not take action against marijuana used in accordance with state laws. Paul Armentano points out:

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama stated, “The basic concept of using medical marijuana … [is] entirely appropriate,” and pledged, “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue.”

As president, Obama promised, “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide [the] decisions of my administration.”

Yet recent actions of the administration belie these assurances. These actions include:

  • The Department of Justice sent letters this past spring to state lawmakers that were debating legislation to allow for the licensed distribution of medical cannabis, threatening prosecution of those involved with said efforts if the measures went forward;
  • The IRS has assessed crippling penalties on taxpaying medical cannabis facilities in California by denying these operations the right to file standard expense deductions;
  • The Department of Treasury has strong-armed local banks and other financial institutions into closing their accounts with medicinal cannabis operators;
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a nine-year-old administrative petition that called for hearings regarding the federal rescheduling of cannabis for medical use, ignoring extensive scientific evidence of its medical efficacy;
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse rejected an FDA-approved protocol to allow for clinical research assessing the use of cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, stating, “We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”

Most recently, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, along with the four U.S. attorneys from California, announced plans for a coordinated effort against operations in California that provide above-ground access to cannabis for those patients qualified to use the substance in accordance with state law. . . .

Continue reading.

And now Natasha Lennard reports in Salon:

In the latest act in the ongoing drama pitting federal drug laws against state legislation permitting the sale of marijuana, a U.S. attorney is threatening the landlords housing medical marijuana dispensaries with 40 years in federal prison. After ballot measures legalizing the sale and possession of recreational pot use passed in Colorado and Washington state, we wondered whether Obama’s second term would see the beginning of the end of the federal war on drugs.

But as the San Jose crackdown, among others, suggests, the Justice Department will not be backing down. In January, Southern California medical marijuana dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for running a business deemed legal in his state since California legalized marijuana for qualified patients, caregivers and collectives in 1996 and 2003. Now, as the East Bay Express reported, “a new round of actions against lawful medical cannabis dispensaries in the South Bay” has begun following crackdowns in 2011:

Landlords are receiving threatening letters from US Attorney Melinda Haag, warning of forty-year-prison sentences if landlords do not evict their dispensary tenants…

In October 2011, Haag and three other US Attorneys declared war on California’s estimated $1.3 billion medical marijuana industry, threatening hundreds of landlords with forfeiture. Hundreds of dispensaries across the state moved or closed. Haag is attempting to seize Harborside Health Center in Oakland, as well as its sister club in San Jose.

Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown asked the feds to call off their crackdown, saying California didn’t need “federal gendarmes” kicking in the doors of lawful businesses. In January, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano told a San Francisco crowd that Haag had “gone rogue,” adding, “I’m sorry a house fell on her sister,” alluding to the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. Last week, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom called for decriminalizing, regulating, and taxing California’s multi-billion dollar marijuana industry.

The second-term Obama administration was presented an aperture to push back against the ruinous war on drugs. The Department of Justice is choosing to continue to act against good reason and the general will.

Obama should consider his promises more carefully. Now he looks faithless.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 4:48 pm

Molly, after getting a trim

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It wasn’t so much an issue of hot weather (which we generally don’t have), it was an issue of mats, which her long fine hair is prone to.

Molly after light trim

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Molly

Drone victim: U.S. strikes boost al-Qaida recruitment

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The CIA seems on the whole to be counter-productive when it conducts operational missions to overthrow governments—e.g., overthrowing the legitimate government of Allende to allow a Pinochet to become a dictator and begin killing citizens. That didn’t work out. And in 1953 we overthrew the legitimate government of Iran to install the Shah, and we’re still dealing with that resentment. Wajahat Ali writes in Salon:

On April 17, a 23-year-old Yemeni activist and journalist named Farea Al-Muslimitweeted about a U.S. drone strike on his village, Wessab, which he describes as “the Yemen capital of misery with its beautiful mountains no one from outside remembers.” In the strike, five alleged members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were killed. The U.S. droned Yemen 53 times last year, tripling the number of attacks from 2011, and incurring a civilian casualty rate between 4 to 8.5 percent. On April 23, Al-Muslimi gave stirring testimony at the first U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the legality of drone wars.

In the exclusive conversation below, Al-Muslimi tells Salon about the drone strikes’ devastating toll on Yemeni civilians and how the current U.S. counterterrorism policy in Yemen is like “reading from a manual ’10 Steps on How to Lose a War.’”

You testified at the first U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on drone wars describing the consequences of a drone strike on your village. What was the U.S. justification for the strike on Hammed Al-Radmi, a man from your village?

I don’t know (laughs). There is no justification for the U.S. in every case I’ve seen in Yemen where they’ve done a drone strike — either in my village or other villages. They say they need to use these [predator] planes, because otherwise they cannot capture these [targeted] people, but that is misleading and not true. This is why I came here – to ask what’s the justification? I don’t know. You should really direct this question to the U.S. government.

Even right now, the U.S. still hasn’t said why they killed Al-Radmi. And for many people in the area, including government officials, Al-Radmi was a social figure who was helping and solving many of the problems. He might have been accused of having ties with AQAP, but the U.S. didn’t capture him or question him. Basically, the U.S. just killed a very normal person who just three years ago was actually studying economics in Cuba, under the government of Castro, before returning to Yemen. And then the U.S. ordered a drone strike on him and they still don’t really know why. I don’t see the justification for using a strike, because [due to his visibility] it would have been easier to capture him than perhaps any other Yemeni in the capital.

In May of 2011, the U.S. government launched a drone strike meant for Anwar Al-Arshani. However, 24 civilians were also killed that day. Al-Arshani was alleged to be a member of al-Qaida, but many Yemenis say that allegation was uncorroborated. What’s your take?

This is a good, good question. Al-Arshani’s house was the first drone strike I ever visited. I interviewed most of the survivors. I visited them almost a month after the strike, and I still found a few pieces of his house. It is one of the places in Yemen where most civilians were killed ever [as a result of a drone strike]. Whether Al-Arshani was part of al-Qaida or not, the U.S. killed 24 innocent Yemenis. They could have been more efficient and accurate with their strike — at least if this policy was well thought out.

I interviewed a woman whose husband was killed in that strike. The day of the strike, he went to the souk to look for a job. He was a jobless man; he was working day by day. The woman was so happy, she said today her husband will find work and he’ll come home in the afternoon with food for their four kids. Unfortunately, she learned later that he was killed. It was one of the most tragic cases where a U.S. strike killed innocent civilians.

There was no working hospital around that strike for civilian victims. So, neighbors carried the victims to the local post office around the corner; that was the only space available to carry so many civilian victims. It became a makeshift hospital, because the real hospital was bombed. I visited this “hospital” [the post office] and I said, “This is anything but a hospital.” It was full of trash; there was no equipment – I mean it was a post office that became uglier, dirtier. If you went in and weren’t injured, you’d walk out of it with diseases and infections. It was one of the worst places I’ve seen. I’ve never seen a toilet as bad as the one I saw in this “hospital.” It’s a tragic place.

Also, even after a month, the site of the strike was so fresh that I could still see some flesh and blood of civilian victims in the sand. Nothing has been done for these people. Not even an apology almost one year after the strike. Every single person I interviewed said Al-Arshani was not AQAP. Whether he was not, there was a massacre of civilians that had nothing to do with him.

There’s some disagreement in the U.S. over whether these drone strikes breed anti-American resentment in the average Yemeni. What do you think? . . .

Continue reading. I think if another country fired a missile into my town and killed a bunch of civilians, and it was done not as a rogue action but as considered government policy, I might well hate that country and its people. But probably others are more forgiving.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 2:41 pm

US embraces a totalitarian outlook

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The US is moving rapidly toward an authoritarian society, and it is starting to try to put people in prison to show the government’s power. Yesterday a girl is charged with a felony for doing a science experiment outside in which no one was in any danger and no one was hurt, and today we get this:

Methuen Police Chief Joe Solomon told the Valley Patriot this afternoon that D’Ambrosio a sent text message and posted terrorist threats on social media.

“We took this very seriously,” Chief Solomon said.

“He posted a threat in the form of  rap where he mentioned the White House, the Boston Marathon bombing, and said ‘everybody you will see what I am going to do, kill people.”

Superintendent of Schools Judy Scannell said that the student was not in school today, but that a student at Methuen High School saw the posting on Facebook and notified the school administration who notified police.

“Once again we have to commend the Methuen High School Student who came forward, we always say, if you see something, say something, and that’s what this student did. We also want to commend the school safety officers and the administration for bringing this to our attention immediately. Threats of this kind of violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, not in Methuen they won’t.”

The police chief says that D’Ambrosio faces up to 20 years for felony charges of communicating terrorist threats under MGL. Ch. 269, Section 14.  Bail has been set at $1MIL.

D’Ambrosio lives at 19 Glenn Avenue in Methuen and was arrested on Pleasant Street near Highland.

“We got the tip around 1pm and by 1:30 we had him in custody,” the chief said.

“I do want to make clear he did not make a specific threat against the school or any particular individuals but he did threaten to kill a bunch of people and specifically mentioned the Boston Marathon and the White House. The threat was disturbing enough for us to act and I think our officers did the right thing.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

How the GOP views elections

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The GOP basically wants to prevent people from voting unless they vote for the GOP. Ian Millhiser provides an example at

In 1979, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision holding that state cannot place unique burdens on college student votes that do not apply to other members of the electorate. Nevertheless, Ohio Republicans now want to punish state universities that encourage students to cast a ballot. Under a budget amendment filed by Republicans in the Ohio House, state universities that provide documents enabling students to register to vote in their college town, rather than in the state where their parents reside, will be forbidden from charging those students out-of-state tuition. Thus, the amendment would effectively reduce the funding of state schools that assist their students in registering to vote.

This is the second GOP attempt to restrict college students from voting in just the past month. About a month ago, a North Carolina Republican lawmaker filed a bill that would raise taxes on families with college students if the student registers to vote at school rather than in their parents’ hometown.

It’s not difficult to guess why Republicans support these — and other — efforts to make it harder for college students to cast a ballot. As former New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien (R) said when explaining his support for measures to make it harder to vote, “the kids coming out of the schools and basically doing what I did when I was a kid, which is voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do.”

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

FDA being called to account for allowing arsenic to be fed the chicken and pigs

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I’m very glad to see that at least one Federal regulatory agency is being called to account. Congress will not do its job, but individuals and organizations can attempt to take up the slack. Rebekah Kern writes at

Lax federal regulators allow arsenic-based additives in chicken and swine feed that can cause cancer in humans, the Center for Food Safety claims in court.

Eight other watchdogs joined the Center for Food Safety in suing Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in San Francisco Federal Court.

“Petitioners are requesting immediate action because the use of arsenic-based feed additives in food-producing animals poses a serious yet completely avoidable health risk to humans,” the complaint states.

The FDA approved the use of arsenic-based food additives in animal feed in the 1940s. “More than seventy years later, arsenic-containing feed additives – namely Roxarsone, arsanilic acid, nitarsone, and carbarsone – are still used in chicken, turkey, and swine production,” the complaint states.

“In 2004 and 2005, plaintiff Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy tested for total arsenic residues in retail packages of raw chicken and in ‘fast food’ chicken sandwiches and nuggets. Test results revealed detectable levels of arsenic in the majority of supermarket chicken and in all ‘fast food’ chicken. Arsenic levels in chicken from birds for which there was a claim of ‘no arsenic given’ contained no arsenic or such a small amount that it was below the detection limit. These results strongly suggest that the use of arsenic-containing compounds in poultry feed leads to arsenic residues in chicken marketed and eaten in the United States.

“Inorganic arsenic is a known human carcinogen. It can contribute to cancers, heart disease, diabetes, declines in intellectual function, and can decrease a body’s ability to respond to viruses. The organic form of arsenic – the form found in arsenic-containing compounds – was once considered safe at low levels. Recent studies show that organic arsenic can easily convert to inorganic arsenic. Further, organic arsenic may also be toxic in its own right, though an earlier history of organic arsenical toxicity has been largely overlooked by FDA.”

The plaintiffs say the FDA failed to respond to their request to revoke approval for New Animal Drug Applications that use “arsenic-containing compounds” in feed for chicken, turkeys and swine.”

Since they filed that petition in 2009, several “significant events have occurred” that failed to draw a response from a complacent FDA, the plaintiffs say.

Among other things,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 2:14 pm

More on how businesses relish—and depend on—secrecy

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Earlier today I pointed to the Ag-Gag laws as an effort by businesses to conceal their crimes. It’s not just agriculture: Dan Cossins has a note in The Scientist:

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) recent drive toward making preclinical and clinical data on experimental drugs more freely available was hampered this week after a European court ordered the agency not to release information from two US pharmaceutical companies, reported ScienceInsider.

The temporary injunction imposed by the General Court of the European Union backs Chicago-based AbbVie and California-based InterMune, which both filed complaints claiming that the release of information about their therapies would jeopardize their commercial interests.

The EMA began pushing for increased sharing of preclinical and clinical data on experimental drugs in 2010, after a European watchdog body ruled that it should release data in response to requests from a nonprofit organization. The agency has since responded to 613 requests for clinical data and released roughly 1.9 million pages of information, according to ScienceInsider.

The EMA has made it clear that it does not aim to aid competitors by allowing access to such information, however, and often redacts certain details. On the other hand, the agency’s head of communications Martin Harvey-Allchurch told ScienceInsider, “our position is that clinical trial data cannot, per say [sic], be considered confidential. There is a legitimate public interest to what we’re doing.”

Because the ruling only applies to these two particular cases, the agency plans to continue releasing data when individuals and companies request it and will proceed with the publication of released data on it website.


Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 12:34 pm

Kimberly Rivera, Pregnant Mom of 4, Sentenced to Military Prison for Refusing to Serve in Iraq

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Amy Goodman has an interesting interview. The video is at the link, along with a transcript.

Private First Class Kimberly Rivera — a conscientious objector and pregnant mother of four — has just been sentenced to military prison for refusing to serve in the Iraq War. Rivera was on a two-week leave in December 2006 when she decided she would not return to Iraq for a second tour of duty. She and her family fled to Canada in February 2007, living there until their deportation back to the United States last year. On Monday, a military court sentenced her to 10 months behind bars. Her fifth child is due in December. We’re joined by Mario Rivera, Kimberly’s husband and now the primary caretaker of their four young children, and by James Branum, a lawyer who represents Kimberly and dozens of other conscientious objectors.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: We turn now to the case of Private First Class Kimberly Rivera. She is a conscientious objector and a pregnant mother of four children, who has just been sentenced to military prison. Rivera first deployed to Iraq in 2006. During a two-week leave back in the U.S., she decided to refuse a second tour of duty in Iraq. In January 2007, Rivera and her family packed up their car and crossed the border into Canada. She was later charged with desertion and faced up to five years in prison if convicted. Well, on Monday she was sentenced to 14 months. Under a pretrial agreement, she will serve 10 months of that sentence.

This is Kimberly Rivera speaking late last year about her case.

KIMBERLY RIVERA: If you want to know, my biggest fear is being separated from my children and having to—having to sit in a prison for politically being against the war in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Since their arrival to Canada in early 2007, Kimberly Rivera, her husband and two children settled in Toronto. She had two more children there and made several attempts to legally immigrate. Canada’s War Resisters Support Campaign championed the case, drawing endorsers including Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. But Canadian officials refused. In August, they ordered the Rivera family to leave the country or face deportation. A provincial lawmaker representing Rivera’s Toronto district, Cheri DiNovo, condemned the order.

MPP CHERI DINOVO: As the member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park, which is home to a number of war resisters, I know Kimberly personally. I see her in our—in our neighborhood, see her with her family. I know that she participates in the community. She’s a volunteer. She works with children. And she is a person who has shown great integrity and courage and principle. Surely, she is exactly the kind of person that we want to embrace and welcome here in Canada. Canada has a proud history of welcoming conscientious objectors from other wars in the past. Why not now? Especially given that this is a war that Canadians are proud not to have participated in.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ontario lawmaker Cheri DiNovo speaking last August.

Kimberly Rivera turned herself in at the U.S.-Canadian border just days later. She’s now on her way to a military prison for 10 months. Her fifth child is due while she’s behind bars.

Well, we’re joined right now by her husband, by Mario Rivera. He will now become the primary caretaker for their four young children. We’re also joined by James Branum, the defense attorney who represented Kimberly during her court-martial yesterday, Monday, at Fort Carson. He’s also represented dozens of other conscientious objectors, is legal director for the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research. They’re speaking to us from the Tim Gill Center for Public Media in Colorado Springs, home to Rocky Mountain PBS and KRCC public radio.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mario, you’ve just come out of the court yesterday. Can you respond to the sentencing of your wife Kimberly to 10 months in jail for refusing to return to Iraq and go to Canada instead?

MARIO RIVERA: I think it was severely harsh, and I personally feel that the judge already made up his mind before the trial had even started. It’s just too much. The kids need her.

AARON MATÉ: Mario, tell us about the reaction of your children. How have they handled this whole ordeal? And what did they say yesterday? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 12:25 pm

Watch out for NPR

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Mark Ames has an article at AlterNet:

Just over a week ago,  my Twitter feed started getting bombarded with links to the latest — and quite possibly the scummiest — Planet Money/This American Life propaganda piece on NPR for the financial industry, disguised as highbrow progressive journalism.

The piece was called “Unfit For Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America” [4] and it essentially argued — using wildly flawed research and straight-up lies — that our Social Security program is burdened by a glut of freeloader disability queens, faking their disabilities in order to live high on the Social Security disability insurance hog.

Why would NPR run such a flawed, biased story? The answer takes us right to the heart of Wall Street’s plans to privatize government benefits, which Wall Street bond holders want to slash for their own profits. This battle pits powerful Wall Street interests and their media and political lackeys on the one side, versus an overwhelming majority of Americans — Republicans and Democrats both — on the other. In the middle stands a radio piece from a trusted source, NPR/This American Life/Planet Money, telling its progressive, educated audience that there is in fact a problem with Social Security, and that problem is a bunch of human parasites faking disability to suckle from the Social Security teat.

It’s the sort of rancid old 1930s anti-New Deal propaganda that the American Liberty League or NAM or the Chamber of Commerce used to puke out on a regular basis. But this is 2013, meaning this time around, the battleground is on the putative left, pitting the Democratic Party leaders including Obama against the people who voted for him, and who have nowhere else to turn. On the Democratic Party’s side: their funders on Wall Street, and their neoliberal propagandists in pundit-land and in universities. The key isn’t winning over right-wing conservatives, but rather affluent progressives — i.e., Planet Money’s and NPR’s audience. If they can flip that demographic, Social Security is privatized toast.

The good thing is that the piece was such obvious crap, so intellectually flawed and propaganda-soaked, that Ira Glass and the This American Life/Planet Money/NPR people were forced to respond to their critics. The downside is that the critics were far too respectful, basing their criticism on factual flaws rather than on the corruption that made the flawed reporting not just possible, but inevitable.

Here’s a U Illinois professor respectfully critiquing [5] the piece on the Huffington Post:

Ms. Joffe-Walt, who is neither an economist nor a specialist on disability, is making a claim that in an economics class would be red penciled with the corrective…

The logical error in her reporting comes from simply assuming that the rising number of people on disability is the result of the collusion between poor unemployed people and cash-strapped states. But the reality may be closer to the fact that the Baby Boomer generation, as it ages, becomes more and more subject to impairments that lead to disabilities. Since a third of people with disabilities are those with mental disorders, it is also no surprise that the dramatic rise in diagnoses of depression, OCD, and autism in the same period have had an impact on these statistics.

In These Times [6] and the great Dean Baker [7] also went after the Planet Money piece with padded kid gloves; perhaps they were thrown off by the fatal assumption that Planet Money and NPR are on the same progressive team as they.

Only Media Matters offered something like a comprehensive critique of the piece, debunking the Planet Money PR falsehoodsone by one [8].

Not surprisingly, the right-wing blogosphere . . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more—and Ira Glass has dirty hands. I used to respect him.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 12:19 pm

How not to die

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None of us are getting out alive, so it’s worth while paying attention to choices regarding death. Jonathan Rauch has an eye-opening article in the Atlantic:

Dr. Angelo Volandes is making a film that he believes will change the way you die. The studio is his living room in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston; the control panel is his laptop; the camera crew is a 24-year-old guy named Jake; the star is his wife, Aretha Delight Davis. Volandes, a thickening mesomorph with straight brown hair that is graying at his temples, is wearing a T-shirt and shorts and looks like he belongs at a football game. Davis, a beautiful woman of Guyanese extraction with richly braided hair, is dressed in a white lab coat over a black shirt and stands before a plain gray backdrop.

“Remember: always slow,” Volandes says.

“Sure, hon,” Davis says, annoyed. She has done this many times.

Volandes claps to sync the sound. “Take one: Goals of Care, Dementia.”

You are seeing this video because you are making medical decisions for a person with advanced dementia. Davis intones the words in a calm, uninflected voice. I’ll show you a video of a person with advanced dementia. Then you will see images to help you understand the three options for their medical care.

Her narration will be woven into a 10-minute film. The words I’m hearing will accompany footage of an elderly woman in a wheelchair. The woman is coiffed and dressed in her Sunday finest, wearing pearls and makeup for her film appearance, but her face is vacant and her mouth is frozen in the rictus of a permanent O.

This woman lives in a nursing home and has advanced dementia. She’s seen here with her daughters. She has the typical features of advanced dementia …

Young in affect and appearance, Volandes, 41, is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School; Davis, also an M.D., is doing her residency in internal medicine, also at Harvard. When I heard about Volandes’s work, I suspected he would be different from other doctors. I was not disappointed. He refuses to let me call him “Dr. Volandes,” for example. Formality impedes communication, he tells me, and “there’s nothing more essential to being a good doctor than your ability to communicate.” More important, he believes that his videos can disrupt the way the medical system handles late-life care, and that the system urgently needs disrupting.

“I think we’re probably the most subversive two doctors to the health system that you will meet today,” he says, a few hours before his shoot begins. “That has been told to me by other people.”

“You sound proud of that,” I say.

“I’m proud of that because it’s being an agent of change, and the more I see poor health care, or health care being delivered that puts patients and families through—”

“We torture people before they die,” Davis interjects, quietly.

Volandes chuckles at my surprise. “Remember, Jon is a reporter,” he tells her, not at all unhappy with her comment.

“My father, if he were sitting here, would be saying ‘Right on,’ ” I tell him.

Volandes nods. “Here’s the sad reality,” he says. “Physicians are good people. They want to do the right things. And yet all of us, behind closed doors, in the cafeteria, say, ‘Do you believe what we did to that patient? Do you believe what we put that patient through?’ Every single physician has stories. Not one. Lots of stories.

“In the health-care debate, we’ve heard a lot about useless care, wasteful care, futile care. What we”—Volandes indicates himself and Davis—“have been struggling with is unwanted care. That’s far more concerning. That’s not avoidable care. That’s wrongfulcare. I think that’s the most urgent issue facing America today, is people getting medical interventions that, if they were more informed, they would not want. It happens all the time.”

Unwanted treatment is American medicine’s dark continent. No one knows its extent, and few people want to talk about it. The U.S. medical system was built to treat anything that might be treatable, at any stage of life—even near the end, when there is no hope of a cure, and when the patient, if fully informed, might prefer quality time and relative normalcy to all-out intervention. . .

Continue reading. The story of the author’s father had a lot of impact on me.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 12:13 pm

Ag-Gag Laws Could Make America Sick

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Businesses strongly oppose activities and regulations that expose dangerous practices, corner cutting, and other questionable (and often illegal) activities. Now that they are gaining control of the government, they are trying to make it illegal to expose business wrong-doing. Brandon Keim writes at Wired Science:

A wave of laws that target animal welfare activists who take undercover videos at factory farms has been criticized for chilling free speech and allowing cruelty to continue in secret. But it’s not only animal well-being at issue. So is public health.

Some food safety experts say these so-called ag-gag laws will cloak disease-spreading industry practices, such as processing ill cattle and housing poultry in filthy conditions, in secrecy, raising risks of food contamination.

“The ag-gag laws are touted as preventing animal activists from getting access to private places, but there’s a much broader concern the public should have,” said Elisabeth Holmes, a staff attorney at the nonprofit Center for Food Safety. “Public health issues, food safety issues, environmental issues: all those things can be exposed through undercover investigations.”

The first-ever ag-gag prosecution, involving a Utah woman who took roadside videos of cows at a Draper City slaughterhouse, was announced this this week. Charges were soon dropped, but the incident hinted at a future in which farms are largely hidden from public sight.

Ag-gag laws were passed in Iowa, Missouri and Utah in 2011 and 2012, and submitted for consideration in ten state legislatures — Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Vermont — this year. Broadly speaking, they make it illegal to take photographs or videos without farmer consent, though some go further. Pennsylvania’s proposed law, criminalizes downloading such material over the internet.

The laws have drawn disapproval from many quarters, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Press Photographers Union, who say they threaten public discourse, though most criticisms focus on abuse of animals that might go unchecked in the absence of activist attention.

Against these criticisms, farm industry advocates argue that activists often misportray what actually happens on farms, turning isolated incidents into inflammatory narratives of routine abuse that further anti-meat-eating goals. The industry also portrays undercover video-taking as a violation of farmer rights.

“At the end of the day it’s about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy,” said Bill Meierling, a spokesman for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business group that drafted the model for many of the ag-gag laws, to the Associated Press. “You wouldn’t want me coming into your home with a hidden camera.”

The nation’s food, however, doesn’t come from people’s homes. It comes from farms — and in a food system that’s both vulnerable and productive, with a single burger containing meat from multiple farms, making problems at a single facility a potentially national issue, hidden cameras are often the only cameras. Much of what’s publicly known about factory farms comes from activities that could soon be illegal. . .

Continue reading.

It’s amazing to see what are obviously bad-faith or fallacious arguments advanced in favor of the ag-gag laws. If those are the best reasons in favor of the laws, the laws are extremely bad.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 11:38 am

Posted in Business, Food, Government, Law

For the record: A walk

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I have found that it’s surprisingly easy to postpone a walk from day to day, but today—after yesterday’s beautiful day—I was determined to start, so I walked from here to Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, about a 45-minute round trip. Not bad, and walking along the shore is nice. But now to keep it up.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 11:22 am

Posted in Fitness, Health

Another fine May shave

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SOTD 2 May 2013

Extremely nice shave. I love that Mühle silvertip: wonderful brush with both handle and knot having a good feel. And it made a dynamite lather from Honeybee Soaps’ Sandalwood Musk.

Three passes of the Gillette Sheraton holding a Kai blade, a good splash of TOBS Mr. Taylor’s aftershave, and I’m ready for a walk in this great May weather.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2013 at 9:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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